EL-HAJJ MAURI'SAALAKHANTHIS writer had no problem calling the atrocity attributed to a mentally disturbed young couple in California (Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik) precisely what it was – an act of terrorism. But I should note for the record that, thus far, there have been 355 mass shootings in America in 2015; and of that number, this was only the second committed by Muslims! (You wouldn’t know that from the hype surrounding this latest American tragedy.)
While I can accept the uncomfortable truths related to such matters, once again the world is witnessing that many of my faith’s global critics cannot. Yesterday (12/4) in one of its many reports on the tragedy, Fox News, not surprisingly, referred to the San Bernardino attack as “the worse terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11.” (Not the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School carnage in Newtown, CT, where 20 children and six adults were murderously mowed down by one sick individual, 20 year old Adam Lanza, who fit the profile of the vast majority of these killers – i.e. a white, non-Muslim male).
Yellow journalism networks like Fox News aside, the larger question for me is why did this young couple who “appeared to have it all” do such a thing? Why did this young man who demonstrated no inclination toward violence prior to this tragedy, appear to snap, and go off the deep end the way that he did? How could a young mother partner in such a violent crime against her own humanity? What role did Muslims play, and what role did America play in this California tragedy? What can we learn from this?
Before I proceed any further, I invite the reader to watch this 12 minute MSNBC news video on that regrettable tragedy:
In the interview Nizaam Ali had nothing but good things to say about the man he knew as Syed Rizwan Farook - among other things describing Farook as “respectful” and “a really nice guy.” But it was the answer to a question posed to a second guest, regarding the “American radicalization of Muslims,” that really intrigued this writer.
Counterterrorism expert, Malcolm Nance, made a very insightful observation about the phenomenon of “self-hijrah,” or mental migration, which I do believe is taking place more often than we think. This is what he said:
“The first thing that I see here is…we see within people that are radicalizing that they come in two different flavors. For the most part the ones that we all know about are the people who are completely withdrawn, start talking all the jihadic rhetoric and making calls for action. But on the other hand, there’s another type of jihadist, or someone who could be radicalized into jihad, and that’s the person who goes on self-hijrah. Hijrah is the technical term that’s used among jihadists; it’s actually a religious term, to immigrate like the Prophet Mohammed did from Makkah to Madinah. Well amongst the groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda, they mentally immigrate to a safe zone where they live amongst themselves and essentially isolate themselves from the other community; and in this case it’s quite possible that that could have happened, wherein the entire Muslim community of San Bernadino-Redlands would have absolutely no idea that mentally this person has essentially gone off the reservation, and has brought himself to a state of mind to where he believes other things, and that actions should occur.”
Mr. Nance’s on-point analysis resonates with me, based upon what I’ve observed in my travels both here and abroad. The challenge for us is how do we address this tendency? Not criminalize it; not try to isolate it - by making the young bearer of this tendency persona non grata in our communities. How do we respond to this challenge in the most positive and effective ways? That is the question!
We must first understand where this tendency is coming from. I touched upon what I sincerely believed to be its roots in 1999, in an essay titled “Five Mistakes of US Policymakers in the Muslim World.” In its summary conclusion I stated the following:
“Unlike the [former] Soviet Union, sincere Muslims in every corner of the globe are threaded together by an ideology which is consciously or unconsciously imbedded within the very fiber of their being. No matter how uneducated, unsophisticated, or illiterate, the Muslim you happen to meet – and conversely, no matter how educated, sophisticated or westernized the Muslim you happen to meet – there is this instinctual awareness of being Muslim; an instinctual awareness of being part of a global community with an accountability to God. And this is something that the U.S. and its respective allies would do well to consider.
“No nation can indiscriminately bomb, maim, and kill innocent Muslims without the pain, grief, and anger being felt on some level by Muslims the world over. No matter how many official disclaimers are issued – such as, ‘This should not to be taken as an attack on Islam, or all Muslims’ – the actions are going to be seen for what they are, and the impact is going to be felt.” (source: March 1999 edition of The Washington Report On Middle East Affairs)
On the importance of engaging this understandable but potentially destructive tendency in productive ways, a non-Muslim friend (and human rights oriented attorney), Kathy Manley, wrote the following in an article that was published in USA Today, shortly after the attack at the Boston Marathon:
“Again, you have many angry young men who can’t go to their mosques and community centers and talk about how legitimately heartbroken and angry they are about the devastation wrought upon the lands of their birth. Wouldn’t it be better if they could voice their anguish openly, and could learn to see that if killing civilians is wrong in one place, it is wrong everywhere? In fact, Islam teaches that it is wrong to kill civilians, that suicide bombings are wrong, and that, similar to the Christian “just war” theory, war may only be fought defensively. They could then become involved in legitimate activism aimed at changing US policy. But the government would rather isolate them and target them in sting operations.”
Regrettably, the challenge is not just coming from the government, and hardcore Islamophobes in the public square; it’s also coming from fear stricken, opportunistic, spiritually compromised leaders of Muslim communities in the west. In my humble opinion, this is a tragedy that was primarily made in America. Muslims had a hand in it, and non-Muslims had a hand in it; and America’s relatively unchecked, violence prone, capitalistic-based gun culture made it possible.
As I conclude, I want to caution seekers of truth within our listserve to be very careful of the news and information they consume in today’s world (especially when it comes to matters like these). Fox is NOT the only news source with a tendency toward manipulative reporting and reckless, biased-based speculation.
On a final note, I want to remind my brethren in Southern California of the obligation we have to ALL of our Muslim brethren (“sinners and saints”) – so that we can avoid a shameful repeat of what occurred in Boston following the marathon tragedy. The reminder comes in the form of the fataawa provided below.
May ALLAH fortify us in the struggle for peace thru justice.
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan can be reached at SSaala@aol.com