Not quite four years ago and not long after I joined Atheist Nexus, the incident with Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood happened. I wrote about it then and wondered at what motivated Hasan to do what he did. As the discovery process and the trial unfolded, we learned, about Anwar al-Awlaki and Hasan’s communications with him, about Hasan’s radicalization, at least in part from that association and his decision to become a jihadi agent against his own country.
Initially I was somewhat surprised at Hasan’s behavior during the trial: representing himself, his near lack of any meaningful opening statement, a total absence of defense and closing statement. Then it became clear – Hasan was falling on his sword. He wanted to lose the trial, wanted to be found guilty, and while the decision hasn’t been reached yet, there is no doubt in my mind but that he wants the death penalty levied against him. Nidal Malik Hasan wants to be a martyr.
He may get his wish, too. The evidence against him is overwhelming, I seriously doubt he’s shown the least bit of remorse or contrition, and those in the US Army, the wives, husbands, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons and daughters of the victims will very likely demand the death penalty for Hasan, on the basis of their losses and the heinousness of the crime. They want blood for blood and they are hardly to be blamed. The problem is that they’re playing directly into his hands. They are giving him precisely what he wants: to be a martyr for his cause.
It is for that reason that under no circumstances should Nidal Malik Hasan get the death penalty. His punishment should be life imprisonment, with absolutely no chance of parole. Rather than having his way, rather than being able to take the easy way out, the coward’s way out, he should be forced to live out his life, confronted each day with the people he plotted against, placed in a situation where he is utterly impotent and powerless against them, and forced to live a long life in that confrontation. For Hasan, living is a far worse punishment than death, and it is the utter antithesis of his aspiration to die the martyr’s death, the grandest goal Islam offers its faithful.
I realize this goes against the instinct of those who have had to face the dreadful harm Hasan has brought to those who lost loved ones, comrades and companions. I fully understand and respect their desire to see the same fate meted out to him as he arrogantly delivered to those they lost. In this case, though, there is a fate worse than death – the fate of having to live with what you’ve done and face that day after day, helplessly, and in the very hands of those he sought to undo.
Do not give Nidal Malik Hasan what he wants. Give him what he deserves.