There is a continuum in the media's coverage of terrorist incidents that runs from John Hinkley through Sirhan Sirhan and Oswald to McVeigh and the 19 of 9/11. Each was a political act, though in Hinkley's case there wasn't a "political" motive. But the "mental state" of a terrorist doesn't help the public sort through the implications of a terrorist act. Any crime of violence done to avenge a political grievance is an act of terrorism. Haq's murder of at least one employee of the Jewish Federation is an act of terrorism. What the public needs to know is the likelihood of other such acts being committed by similarly situated individuals. Introducing "mental illness" so early in the story is an invitation to say "lone whacko," and leave it at that. Mistake number one.
A huge debate has raged within the criminal law arena for almost 100 years: When is a person's mental state a defense against punishment for a crime. It would take a book or a shelf full of books to fully explore this subject. However, a new variation on this issue may be a huge component in how we think about and execute a war against terrorists.
If the "Muslim" who shot these defenseless Jewish women in Seattle did so party because of mental defect, does that, or should that, change our view on the entire event? Is it possible for someone to walk into a building with a loaded gun and start shooting perfect strangers for no other reason than that they are Jewish and not be mentally defective? Is it possible for someone to walk onto a bus load of perfect strangers with explosives strapped to their body, in order to kill unarmed women and children and themselves, and not be mentally defective.
Is it possible for someone to lob missles into civilian areas having no clue as to whether they will land on a grammer school, a hospital, or fellow Muslims, and be considered mentally "normal?"
Already some seem to believe that North Korean Premier Kim and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are certifiable. Does that diminish their culpability? If we try Kim for his crimes against humanity, should he go to a mental hospital instead of gulag?
In some ways, it would seem to make it easier to sell reluctant American citizens and European nations on the idea of irradicating Islamofacists if they were perceived as nutty beyond redemption. But in this era of compassion for those who are somehow deficient in one way or another, it might be the very perception of Islamofacists as Wackjobs that keep those folks from getting serious about destroying them before they destroy us.