Crisis Magazine | William Kilpatrick | Dec. 12, 2019
Do you get the feeling that you’ve seen this movie before?
On Friday, December 6, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi military, killed three and wounded seven others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The New York Times immediately reported that his motive was unclear. If standard procedure is followed, it won’t be clear for a long time to come—at least not until the authorities can dream up a motive that has nothing to do with Islam, Allah, and virgins in paradise.
Perhaps the motive will turn out to be anger at America’s pervasive “Islamophobia” or disgust that American troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia. That, supposedly, was one of Osama bin Laden’s motives. It’s highly likely that the motive-that-must-not-be-named will not be named.
That this might be the case was suggested in a CNN story that appeared on the day of the massacre. One of the headings read: “Was the motive terrorism?” That’s a fairly stupid question. Terrorism is an action, not a motive. Terrorizing people for the sake of terrorizing people is the act of a madman. The people that we usually think of as terrorists engage in terrorism because they are motivated by something else—some cause or some belief system. That journalists are still thinking in terms of terror as a motive, and still avoiding the ideology behind the terror, suggests that we’re still a long way from confronting the underlying problem.
In many ways, the Pensacola attack is similar to the one that took place ten years ago at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas. After Major Nidal Hasan gunned down thirteen people, the Army, the media, and the government had a difficult time discerning the motive. Was it job stress? Or was it PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)? The latter was eventually rejected as a motive when it became known that Major Hasan had never been in combat. Finally, the Army gave up on trying to find a motive, and simply chalked it up as a case of “workplace violence.” Will officer Alshamrani’s attack also be found to be a case of “workplace violence”? However his actions are explained, it’s unlikely that the motive will be found in the most likely place—the Islamic belief system.
In addition to the question of motive, the Pensacola attack raises another important question. What kind of vetting does our military have in place? Or, to put it another way, why was no one able to discern Alshamrani’s radicalism before he was placed in such a sensitive position? Had he not been killed by a sheriff’s deputy, he could have killed many more. And, since he was a pilot, he could, with more thorough planning, have caused much greater loss of life by flying a warplane into an office building or football stadium.
A related question is this: were there personnel at the base who were suspicious of the Saudi pilot but kept their suspicions to themselves? It’s certainly not an unthinkable question, because we know now of several cases in which colleagues of a terrorist saw something but said nothing.
Major Hasan’s fellow officers, both at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Fort hood, saw plenty that disturbed them, but they never said anything to superior officers. Hasan’s business card identified him as “So A”—Soldier of Allah. He gave a PowerPoint presentation to colleagues justifying jihad against enemies of Islam. And he praised the jihad murder of two soldiers at a recruitment center in Little Rock. One of his colleagues later described him as “a ticking time bomb.”
So why didn’t they do something? Well, for the usual reasons: nobody wanted to be accused of “Islamophobia” or racism, and possibly suffer demotion or dismissal in an Army which by 2010 had already become thoroughly soaked in the doctrines of political correctness. As the Associated Press put it, “a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a written complaint.”