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Nidal Hasan: Radicalized, Unstable, Or Both?


I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program, we'll speak with legendary director Spike Lee about his plan to fund his latest film, and he'll also talk about some of his provocative past work. That's later. First, though, we want to talk about the case of Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist. Maj. Hasan, as you probably recall, is being tried in military court in connection with a shooting rampage at Fort Hood Army base in 2009, shortly before he was set to deploy to Afghanistan.

The assault left 13 people dead, more than 30 people wounded; and this week, the case took another turn when Maj. Hasan acknowledged that he was the shooter. He is acting as his own lawyer, which is highly unusual given that this is a capital case.

Now this case has raised many challenging and difficult questions from the beginning, including whether and how Maj. Hasan was radicalized and how he was supervised by his superiors, and whether his increasingly disturbing behavior was properly noted, in part, because he is a Muslim. To talk about some of these issues, we've called Mohamed Elibiary. He's the founder of Lone Star Intelligence and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, and he's been with us before to talk about this important case. Welcome back. Thank you so much for joining us.


MARTIN: We've spoken with you before about this whole question of radicalization and how this happens. Have you learned anything about the process by which he became radicalized that is helpful to know?

ELIBIARY: I think there are certain lessons that we can draw from this unfortunate incident. One is that when servicemen and women are under a tremendous amount of stress, prior to deployment to (unintelligible) of operations and conflict zones, so there should be always a stepped-up effort to provide extra counseling and psychological support for that transition, as well as when they return back into those communities to reintegrate here back stateside. Nidal Hasan, for example, raised concerns to colleagues about the justness of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those kind of early indicators should be reported on by friends and colleagues, and that person should receive counseling as quickly as possible. And in a lot of these cases, like the Nidal Hasan's, you're going to find personal dysfunction in their personal lives as a contributing factor very early on in their violent radicalizations.

On the surface, Nidal Hasan looks like he's well-educated, he's got a great position in the military. Frankly, the military even paid for his education. And when you go and dig a little bit deeper into his life, you find that actually earlier on, even as he's e-mailing Anwar al-Awlaki, he's talking about - he's almost, like, hounding the guy. So the communication is not so much from Anwar al-Awlaki back to Nidal Hasan, as it's from Nidal Hasan to Anwar al-Awlaki, talking about, you know, a marriage, finding a wife - feeling things are just dysfunctional in his personal life and he's trying to look for a solution through a religious prism.

MARTIN: Is it possible that he's simply mentally ill? Having, you know, profound and significant beliefs that lead people to acts that other people might consider extreme has always been a mark of profound faith, but it can also be a mark of instability.

ELIBIARY: That is very possible. The mental illness component is something that I think is highly suspected in Nidal Hasan's case, but it's something that a medical doctor is going to have to actually examine and provide that diagnosis. I'm not going to be able to do it. But in previous homegrown cases, usually something that actually makes us feel comfortable is, if you're sitting down with an individual who's saying violence against the United States and all American civilians is legitimate for political purposes - i.e. violent radicalization - and you start having a conversation with them and you find them as actually logical in their arguments.

Meaning that they are willing to accept counter arguments and build counter-counter arguments and draw upon resources that they've read, so it's not an emotionally just driven or a dogmatic worldview, then that's an individual that you can actually dissuade from the pathway that they're on of violent radicalization leading to violent extremism, which is when they actually carry out violence or terrorisms. But if you see them as kind of dogmatic and you're not able to get them to think logically about the foundational assumptions in their arguments, then that's an individual that's, frankly, going to have to be deterrable through the criminal justice system.

MARTIN: Who failed here?

ELIBIARY: That is a very good question, Michel, because any kind of homegrown, violent case, you're going to find that there's a component for the society - because that individual feels a little alienated from the big environment, as well as their personal responsibility in the individual. He's an adult. He should've, frankly, been able to talk to a lot of different people, learn certain skills sets early on in life of when you encounter these kind of situations. And then there's the component of the government itself.

What did people in positions of authority know, when did they know it, who could have talked - taken more of a risk to kind of take him out of the assembly line, so to speak, and give him extra attention - personalized focus of the system, so to speak.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I wonder if you mind my asking, that as we are speaking it's Eid. It's the feast at the end of Ramadan. And I'm wondering if it's - is it disappointing? Is it painful that this trial and these issues are being raised at this special time?

ELIBIARY: Unfortunately, it is disappointing that it's happening. But, you know, whatever disappointment that I'm having as an average American-Muslim living outside of the Fort Hood community, as well as in the military, I actually see there are two other communities that have suffered more in - almost in silence. One is, fellow servicemen and women who are Muslims who serve just like Nidal Hasan.

There's also a mosque near Fort Hood that's been there for many decades and, largely, a lot of servicemen and women who've settled in that community, and they also had the tension from the wider society. So I was kind of happy to see the commander of Fort Hood come out to the mosque and meet with some of these community members who are servicemen and women and kind of try to - and let them know, just because Nidal Hasan did what he did, it's not a reflection upon the rest of ya'll.

MARTIN: Mohamed Elibiary is the founder of Lone Star Intelligence. We caught up with him in Dallas, Texas. Mohamed Elibiary, thank you so much for speaking with us. Eid Mubarack to you.

ELIBIARY: Thank you very much, Michel. Eid Mubarack. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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