16 December 2015: Terrorism knows no race, ethnicity, religion

Terrorism knows no race, ethnicity, religion

With our national overheated debate on mass murders and terrorism raging, it would be wise to take a detached, more cerebral analysis of the problem. First, it is important to understand that while acts of terrorism usually if not always result in mass murders, not all mass murders are acts of terror. And the issue of guns, especially ones capable of withering fire, is tangential, not cause and effect.

As heinous as their crimes were, James Holmes of the Aurora theater shooting and Adam Lanza of the Sandy Hook murders did not likely carry out their sprees to cow a group of people. That probably can be said to be true as well for the Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who likely sought revenge. Holmes and Lanza became unhinged.

Syndicated columnist Froma Harrop makes a salient point about guns and terrorists. “Gun control laws,” she writes, “do not deter terrorists who can make bombs out of common household chemicals.” The sequitur to that, though, is that gun control laws could deter non-terrorist types of mass killings, but I’ll come back to that at another time.

Conflating our ability to understanding the nature of such killings is the issue of the perpetrators. We tend to melt down when we see the visages of some who have committed acts of terrors and resist labeling others as terrorists simply because they look, well, so American.

Out of respect for the niceties of our constitutional system in which we hold that a person is innocent until proven guilty, we use words such as “alleged” or “purported” when referring to a person about to face trial, no matter the obvious nature of his/her guilt. But Robert Dear, Jr. has proclaimed in court to the judge that he is guilty of massacring three people at the Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood office. So, I think it’s fair to take Dear’s word that not only he is guilty but that he is also a “warrior for babies.”

The two that carried out the San Bernardino massacre, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, too were warriors. They were warriors for Allah. We call such people “jihadists.”

Merriam-Webster defines a jihadist as a Muslim who participates or advocates a jihad, a holy war. It is synonymous in English to crusade. Crusades were holy wars waged by Christendom on Moslem countries ostensibly to rescue the Holy Land a millennium ago.

I honestly am unable to get my head around how any war can be called holy. How can any blood-letting can be seen as sacred?

Nevertheless, Dear, Farook, and Malik were warriors…from theirs and their supporters’ points of view. They held other in common as well: holding the delusionary belief they were acting as arms of God/Allah; taking lives indiscriminatingly; fleeing or surrendering when cornered. True martyrs for a cause willingly give their lives during the carnage. It’s their ticket into heaven. So all three compounded their cowardly acts of butchering unarmed people by trying to preserve their own.

Dear, Farook, and Malik are akin to Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter of the worshipers in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  That was an act of terror too.

But despite the commonality of their deeds, there is a reluctance to lump Dean and Roof in with Farook and Malik. Why? The trite but very true line says it all: A picture is worth a thousand words.

Superficial aspects—skin colors and religious affiliation—separate Dear and Roof from Farook and Malik.  For many, Farook and Malik are the faces of evil while Roof is the boy next door and Dear, the crazy neighbor.

All of this is certainly confusing to simple-minded, thirty-second sound bite minds that dominate cable TV, talk radio, and the Republican field of presidential candidates. They prefer seeing their reality in black-and-white, either-or contexts.

Critical thinkers, however, discern crucial differences in the various acts. One is that more stringent gun laws won’t necessarily prevent terrorists from acting, as Harrop points out. Two, being white and ostensibly Christian are not covers for being classified as terrorists. Roof, Malik, Dear, and Farook have more in common than they have differences.

One’s ability to grasp that is telling, which in turn tells us much about us as a people.

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