Living abroad, we have been spared the worst of TV's so-called "news" coverage, which no doubt consists, as usual, of a momentary report of the facts, followed by a stage-managed four-minute brawl among talking heads. We feel no abiding sense of loss.
But we did click through a series of op-ed pieces collected by Arts & Letters Daily. A series of conservative writers -- David Brooks at the Times; Forbes' Tunku Vadajaran, Dorothy Rabinowitz of the WSJ, and anti-Islamic polemicist Ibn Warraq -- offer variations on the same argument. They claim that Americans, who combine a "swaggering" pride in our ability to assimilate immigrants with a knee-jerk political correctness, were quick to point fingers at all the wrong things: the racist abuse to which Malik had been subjected, the nature of the wars abroad to which he would be deployed, and so forth. Come on, say the editorialists. The guy was a radicalized Muslim who shouted "Allahu akbar" as he began firing. Let's cut the PC nonsense and admit that the Army, like the rest of American society, has been pussyfooting around the question of who our real enemy is. Or something like that.
Frankly, they have a case. We have long believed, and said, that it is essential to recognize the religious element in the wars America is fighting. This includes both the Islamist conviction of the Taliban and al Qaeda and the far-less-commented-upon rise fundamentalist Christianity in the US armed forces. Ignoring matters of hegemony and petroleum, many combatants on all sides imagine that they are fighting a religious war. No analysis which ignores this deserves to be taken seriously.
So it is easy to see Malik as a sort of fifth-columnist, because he has made it pretty clear that he wants to be perceived as one. And religion clearly does play a role in this.
But what role, and how much of one? It will probably take a while to figure it all out. While we wait, let's toss the ball around. The Turkish Muslim Mehmet Ali Agca shot John Paul II. Was he the leading edge of worldwide jihad, or a just a crazy man? Lee Harvey Oswald had lived in Russia for nearly three years -- but does that make his various crimes here acts of Soviet aggression, or just more homegrown American violence? The juries are still out in both cases, but the smart money is on craziness.
More pointedly, what about those Americans who believe that are fighting, on behalf of Christianity, a religious war against the enemies of God? Does their claim, simply by virtue of having been made, make itself true, and thereby vindicate the warning of the various mullahs that our troops are modern-day Crusaders? We hope not.
What we're getting at, perhaps inelegantly, is that not every madman is part of a conspiracy -- even when they want to be. Sometimes they are pawns, sometimes they are wannabees, sometimes they are just plain crazy.