President Obama correctly stated that people should not "rush to judgment" regarding the motivation of Nidal Hasan -- the individual who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base. Unfortunately, the public often races to assign a collective narrative to extremely violent events. Typically, the earliest narratives rest on gross stereotypes and, consequently, miss the mark. For example, many commentators assumed that Arab terrorists bombed the Oklahoma federal building, until they learned that Timothy McVeigh -- a disgruntled, white former member of the military -- committed the heinous crime.
Recent acts of mass violence have pitted liberals and conservatives against one another. Both sides have argued that the killers' ideologically laced statements prove the bankruptcy of the others' political views. Neither side, however, seems to understand or appreciate the deep psychosis that causes acts of mass violence.
While mass murderers often embrace extreme political or religious views, mental illness makes them susceptible to extremism in the first place. According to Dr. Steven Dinwiddie, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago, commentators who blame religious zealotry for Hasan's killing spree miss the mark. Dinwiddie says:
I think it would be a mistake for people to theorize [he did this] because he is an adherent of this or that religious faith ... The mental illness comes first, then flowing from that is the adoption of perhaps, unusual, religious beliefs.
When commentators adhere to political agendas and discard intellectual integrity, facts rarely matter.
"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Hasan
Recent reports indicate that military officials knew that Hasan's upcoming deployment to Afghanistan caused him severe emotional distress. Also, according to unnamed sources quoted by ABC News, the military knew months ago that Hasan tried to establish contact with al-Qaida. Nevertheless, Hasan remained in the military and did not face discharge proceedings or questions about his fitness to serve.
Apparently, the military retained a person who suffered from known (or reasonably discoverable) psychological problems and who attempted to contact an anti-U.S. terrorist group. Meanwhile, the military continues to enforce "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and to discharge mentally fit and loyal gay and lesbian service members. No theory of military preparedness can justify this perverse outcome.