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Hasan's act

The Fort Hood killings and the consequences of Major Nidal Hasan’s horrific deed are destined to spread far and wide. On one level are the families of the dead whose lives have been tragically altered. If they had to have a son or a husband killed for their country, what could be worse than to have them murdered by a fellow American soldier?

On another is the army itself, stretched to the breaking point by multiple deployments and having to fight two wars with an all-volunteer army. Some say that a volunteer army was not meant to take this deployment strain. If there were going to be long wars the volunteer army would provide the core while a draft was reinstated. But no draft is even contemplated, and politicians know that it would have been politically impossible to commit draftees to the kind of “forever war” in which the military is now engaged. The American people would long ago have shut both Iraq and Afghanistan down if their sons and daughters had to go involuntarily.

The strain on the armed forces was one of the reasons President Barack Obama called in the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the White House the other day as part of his deliberations on whether and how much to reinforce Afghanistan. Hasan’s act will be in the President’s mind as he comes to make his painful decision.

That a psychiatrist would crack under strain is not surprising, given that army psychiatrists have to engage in all the horrors their patients bring home with them. It also appears that this particular army psychiatrist was hazed for his Muslim faith.

That he was a Muslim can be absorbed in this country. It is a special horror for Muslim Americans, of course, and there will inevitably be some scattered retaliation taken against them. It will make the lives of Muslim Americans more stressful, but it will be kept at a minimum here at home. Americans can accept that Hasan’s act was the act of an individual, not a representative of Islam.

Abroad, out in the greater Muslim world, Hasan’s act has done incalculable damage. Islamic extremists can and will say: You see, despite all the Americans talk about Iraq, Afghanistan and their support of Israel’s inhuman blockade of Gaza, not being a war against Islam, here was an American soldier that knew differently.

Here was an American, born in the U.S., who could not justify his Muslim identity or his Palestinian heritage with what the American military is doing to us. So on the eve of his deployment he sided with his religion and struck a blow for Islam right in the heart of America’s aggressive machinery geared to oppress the faith, extremists will say.

A new Al Qaeda martyr has been born, whether Major Hasan ever realized it or not. If Nidal Hasan, who wrote on a website about justifying suicide attacks and killing American soldiers, turns out to be the same man as Major Hasan — not known at this writing — then there is an indication that he did know how his act would play in the greater propaganda war. But the damage has been done and the tragedy will have political and military consequences far beyond the human tragedy for which we mourn.