Call it terrorism.
Of course it’s terrorism: From Oklahoma City through Columbine through Charleston and Chattanooga; from Sandy Hook and Newtown through Colorado Springs through this week’s massacre in San Bernardino, we’re witnessing terrorist carnage on an unprecedented scale – and that’s just in this country!
While it’s still unclear what motivated American Syed Farook and his young wife, Tashfeen Malik, married for just two years with a 6-month-old baby, to coldly attack and kill 14 people and wound 21, the cold-blooded massacre can only be called terrorism.
The Quran instructs humankind, “Because of this did We ordain unto the children of Israel that if anyone slays a human being unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth – it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” All terrorism is global. All terrorism is local.
We must witness all those who would save the lives of all mankind – to bear witness and praise the amazing courage of San Bernardino’s law enforcement officers and all citizens who without fear or hesitation served those American values that we protect.
We must witness and honor the suffering of the survivors and pray for those who lost loved ones.
We must search for the truth of what happened not as justification but as a path toward trying to understand what so distanced Farook and Malik from our common humanity.
I believe that when a couple abandons their 6-month-old baby and then kills 14, it’s mental illness. Mentally healthy parents don’t abandon 6-month-old babies; mentally healthy people don’t wear suicide visits or blow up apartment buildings and pizza parlors; mentally healthy people don’t attack pregnant women and kill strangers and friends.
Call it terrorism.
While the motive for the heinous attack is still unclear, it’s equally clear that the inhumanity, the callousness and the viciousness of the assault on all that we hold dear demands we tread cautiously.
No rush to judgment. Call it terrorism.
In order to develop a strategy to counter terrorism and extremism, one needs to deconstruct what happened in San Bernardino. America cannot defend itself against terror without understanding why it happened.
While MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough is probably correct when he says, “I’m fairly certain that most Americans would call this radical Islamic terrorism,” I’m fairly certain that such simplistic assertions, unsupported still by facts, is dangerous – and I’m not convinced enough Americans, including Scarborough, know enough about Islam to make that judgment.
It’s not “Radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s terrorism, plain and simple.
As satisfying as it may be, we must avoid scapegoating American Muslims. As satisfying as it may be we must avoid driving millions of American Muslims into virtual internment camps where they might live in fear – where they might be driven to abandon the American Dream – where they might fear sharing intelligence with local and federal authorities, as they did, for example, from 2001 to 2014, according to a University of North Carolina report, when over 100 plots were uncovered and shut down, mostly based on intelligence provided by local Muslims.
We must distinguish between Muslim terrorism and terrorism committed by Muslims (San Bernardino and Fort Hood, for example), just as we must distinguish between Christian terrorism and terrorism committed by Christians (Charleston and Colorado Springs, for example).
When Farook and Malik started killing they were silent – they didn’t even utter the obligatory code words “Allahu Akbar,” which so many Americans believe is the battle cry of the jihadists.
If this was a suicide mission against the “infidels,” why were they silent? If this was radical Islamic terrorism, why didn’t Farook and Malik name it?
Today, it’s easier for many to try to conflate Islam and terrorism than to try to deal with the corrosive cost of violence in America. America has a long and tight relationship with violence and terrorism. Today, there are more than 300 million guns in private American hands, and annually about 33,000 people die from gun violence in America.
Blaming Muslims for making us unsafe spares many Americans from being self-critical, spares Americans from the hard work of examining what we’re in danger of becoming.
The attempt by many Americans to differentiate between “domestic terrorism” and foreign terrorism” intimates that our violence is more acceptable than “theirs” – that Americans can be held to a different standard than The Other.
That’s racist, wrong and dangerous.
“They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand.” Isaiah 44:18.
GOP contenders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, through their divisive Islamophobic rhetoric, and their willingness to flaunt their ignorance of Islam in public, are doing their best to fracture the American Muslim community – on one side by driving those susceptible to Daesh efforts into dark corners and on the other making it harder for the general population to remain cohesive and focused.
They are making Muslims, and America, unsafe.
The embrace of such rhetoric only makes as more vulnerable. As Muslims struggle with the shame and humiliation of having co-religionists attack the country we love and support, we are being attacked in the most un-American of ways by bigots and craven politicians who are willing to demonize some Americans, and America’s security, for personal political gain.
So, once again Muslims are being called upon to express condemnations and sorrow over San Bernardino – even though they are not responsible. So, once again I, an American Muslim, prayed, “Please God don’t let it be a Muslim,” even through I’m not responsible.
This morning, on this Second Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar, Christians will listen to a reading from Luke: “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” We all, including Christians, Jews, Muslims, believers, non-believers, all who embrace our connected humanity, must recognize that to “give light to those who sit in darkness” is a challenge and duty – and the only path to justice and the way of peace.
Postscript: New evidence emerged via the New York Times on Friday afternoon that Malik had pledged allegiance on Facebook to the Islamic State and that the FBI uncovered evidence that Farook “communicated with extremists, domestically and abroad, a few years ago, but not recently.” Clearly, this report affirms that this was terrorism done by Muslims inspired by jihadist movements and not workplace violence. Whether they were “lone wolves” or a sleeper cell is still to be determined.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.