Inter Press Service
Senior military and Barack Obama administration officials have been on a full-court press to preempt an anti-Muslim backlash since the shooting spree by a Muslim soldier at Fort Hood, Texas, but right-wing pundits have wasted no time in characterising Major Nidal Malik Hasan's actions as an act of terrorism by a radical Islamic extremist.
When news of the Fort Hood massacre, which took the lives of 13 soldiers and wounded 30, first emerged on Nov. 5, White House and military leadership issued statements of condolence for the soldiers and families affected by the massacre but also emphasised that terrorism seemed an unlikely explanation for Hasan's violent rampage.
Gen. George Casey, the Army's top officer, spoke repeatedly in the days immediately following the shooting in attempts to avert an anti-Muslim backlash.
"I'm concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers. And I've asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that," Casey told CNN's "State of the Union".
"The speculation could potentially heighten the backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers," he told ABC's "This Week".
Casey emphasised that although the shooting was horrific, "It would be an even greater tragedy if our diversity became a casualty here."
While visiting the United Arab Emirates last week, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano echoed the sentiments expressed by Casey.
"This was a terrible tragedy for all involved," Napolitano told reporters in Abu Dhabi. "Obviously, we object to - and do not believe - that anti-Muslim sentiment should emanate from this."
"There does seem to be a rush to judgment about possible religious motivations for the tragedy," Thomas Cincotta, civil liberties project director at Political Research Associates, a Somerville, Massachusetts based progressive think tank, told IPS.
"People are using this as an opportunity to spread Islamophobia, this has to be contained. The White House and this administration have tried to contain this," he said.
Senator Joseph Lieberman broke ranks early on with the White House, declaring Hasan a "self-radicalised, home-grown terrorist" on Fox News Sunday.
Lieberman, an Independent, will be holding Senate hearings on the massacre next week.
While the Army and White House have remained consistent in their message that conclusions shouldn't be drawn until all the facts have been examined, right-wing pundits and politicians have been quick to label Hasan's shooting spree an act of Islamic terrorism.
They charge that the response from the White House and military leadership reflects a dangerous trend of political correctness which forbids "common sense" conclusions about what Hasan's motivation may have been.
"Such [politically correct] statements are an affront to most Americans' intelligence, which common-sensically applies a prosaic form of the scientific method: They look for the explanation that best fits the facts," wrote Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney.
"The facts - which are becoming ever more numerous by the day - are that the purported perpetrator of these crimes, Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, is 'a devout Muslim' who, as such, has had to follow at least since 2001 the dictates of the theo-political-legal and seditious program that authoritative Islam calls Shariah," Gaffney wrote.
"One of those dictates is that the faithful must engage in jihad, or holy war, to achieve the submission of unbelievers to Islam," he continued in his weekly column in the Washington Times.
"Every few months either an Islamic-inspired terrorist plot will be foiled, or a young Muslim male will shoot, run down, or stab someone while invoking anger at non-Muslims," opined historian Victor Davis Hanson in the National Review.
"In other words, the attack on Fort Hood happened on schedule. It was the rule, not the exception. And something like it will occur again - soon," he concluded.
Details have emerged suggesting Hasan followed the profile of many other mass shooters in U.S. history - quiet, a loner, exhibiting symptoms of emotional and psychological problems and frustrated with a perceived set of grievances against him - and felt isolated and under attack as a Muslim within the Army.
Other mass shooters in the past year have included: in April, Jiverly Wong, a Vietnamese immigrant whose failure to learn English and paranoia left him increasingly isolated and angry, leading to his killing of 13 people at an English class in Binghamton, New York; and in March, Michael McLendon, who failed at attempts to join both the Marines and the police and kept lists of companies and people which he perceived as having slighted him, killed 11 people in Alabama.
The similarities to other recent U.S. mass shootings are noticeable but Hasan's connections to radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki have received the most attention from right-wing pundits.
"Some have detected in the Fort Hood coverage a return to a pre-9/11 mindset, and there is some truth to this. In particular, the left-liberal tendency to stereotype servicemen and veterans as psychopaths, suckers and victims is a return to form," wrote The Wall Street Journal's editorial board member James Taranto.
"But the bending over backward to explain away the role of religious fanaticism in the Fort Hood massacre is, it seems to us, something new - something distinctly post-9/11, or post-post-9/11," he continued.
"The prescriptions coming from the right wing, trying to turn the Fort Hood massacre into an act of religious inspired terrorism, has potential to throw fuel on the fire," said Cincotta. "Any crackdown or overzealous response against communities of colour or Arab and Middle Eastern communities could do real harm in the future to our political freedoms."
Bryan Fischer, director of issues analysis at the conservative American Family Association, took the extreme position of suggesting that Muslims should no longer be allowed to serve in the military, earning him a mention in The Washington Post, the LA Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Palm Beach Post.
"Of course, most U.S. Muslims don't shoot up their fellow soldiers. Fine. As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we'll go back to allowing them to serve," wrote Fischer.
"You tell us who the ones are that we have to worry about, prove you're right, and Muslims can once again serve. Until that day comes, we simply cannot afford the risk. You invent a jihadi-detector that works every time it's used, and we'll welcome you back with open arms," he wrote.
"And don't give us reassurances about the oaths that Muslim soldiers take to protect and defend the Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Hasan took that oath, and it proved meaningless. In fact, the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to lie to you through his teeth, since lying to the infidel to advance the cause of Islam is commended, not just permitted, in the Koran," Fischer went on to say.
Cincotta strongly disagreed with Fischer's suggestion that Muslims should be purged from the military.
"Suggestions like that are absolutely preposterous. Already the military is facing a chronic shortage of Arabic and Farsi speakers," said Cincotta. "These solutions wouldn't make us any safer."
Eli Clifton writes for the Inter Press Service and is a contributor to Right Web (https://rightweb.irc-online.org/).