We expect moral imbecility from Keith Olbermann on issues such as the Fort Hood murders and last night he didn’t disappoint. Enumerating the pressures Nidal Hassan must have felt, the Countdown host itemized especially Islamophobia (“They keyed his car!) and the brazen assault on the Major’s free speech rights (“And ripped off a bumper sticker!”)
But surprisingly, Olbermann was outdone a little later on the Bill O’Reilly Show where Geraldo Rivera, whose mind often seems as empty as Al Capone’s vault, insisted that the defining characteristic of the murder spree was not the specifics of Hassan’s behavior—criticizing the American mission, finding brotherhood with Iraqi and Afghan fighters, handing out commemorative Korans just before leaving to rendezvous with his evil destiny at the base, etc—but how similar he was to Jason Rodriguez, the Orlando shooter, and to other demented killers (even, under O’Reilly’s clumsy prodding, including Charlie Manson.)
This is a particularly bizarre form of moral equivalence. Yes, these psychopaths may share certain features—lack of success with women (although Manson seems to have slipped out of the archetype here); emotional withdrawal; self imposed isolation, etc. But such psychobabble, delivered in Rivera’s case with pontifical certainty, not only misses, but willfully obscures the point. To understand acts such as Hassan’s, one must acknowledge that God (or in this case, the Devil) is in the details. He decided to start murdering servicemen and women not because he didn’t feel good about himself, but because he felt that by doing so he was accepting Allah’s summons. Col. Ralph Peters redeemed the O’Reilly Show somewhat when, following Geraldo, he said that Nassan was a jihadi whose murders could be understood only in one way: as the most horrific act of Islamic terrorism on American soil since 9/11.
There will be many efforts in the days ahead to portray Hassan as wronged, misunderstood, displaced. All of the clanking machinery of psychiatry, ironically, will be brought to bear on “understanding” him. Worse yet, however, will be those who apply Geraldo’s universal solvent to this case and see Hassan as just another twisted dude.