The Inland Regional Center complex is pictured in an aerial photo following a shooting incident in San Bernardino, California December 2, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On December 2, Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik murdered 14 people and wounded 21 in an attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Most of the victims were county public health employees who had been attending an early Christmas party. The shooters fled in an SUV, but were killed in a shootout with law enforcement officials four hours later only four kilometers from the site.
Since the event, a debate has raged in the US about whether this was an act of terrorism, and whether the real message of this event is a need for stricter gun control.
Setting aside the gun control debate, which is a domestic US issue, it is important to take a strong and confident stand against this kind of lone-wolf terrorism, rather than hiding behind platitudes, candlelight vigils and fears of causing offense.
In the aftermath of the attack in San Bernardino, many reacted with confusion and fear. One student wrote at the MTV.com site about her feelings. “It’s important to understand that terrorism is not confined to a religion, wardrobe, appearance, ethnicity or heritage… it is absolutely essential to not project unchecked hatred onto entire categories of people for the actions of a few…. It is vital to be there for the Muslim community.” These are important values consistent with the American sense of openness as an immigrant society.
Openness and tolerance should, however, not be a reason to refrain from asking tough questions about how this slaughter occurred. Initial reports revealed no details about Malik, the wife of Farook. The two were recent parents, yet they had managed to spend some $30,000 on heavy firepower and constructed bombs. From every angle, the couple was portrayed as quiet, pious and unexceptional.
Farook was “shy and quiet,” according to a family member. “Relatives had no idea the couple had radical views,” CNN reported.
Farook’s motive for the attack remains mysterious. It was Malik who posted a note supporting Islamic State during the attack on a Facebook account linked to her.
Farook is thought to have had connections to extremists after his trips to Saudi Arabia in 2013 and 2014. He had “soft connections” with extremists on social media and by phone, but the FBI said he was not on any list related to potentially radicalized individuals.
Once police began digging into Malik’s background they found more convincing evidence of deep religious conversion, from someone who was more liberal in Pakistan to a woman wearing a “burka” and expressing extreme views on Facebook. However a professor who knew her at Bahauddin University told The Los Angeles Times, “She was a very hardworking and submissive student…. I cannot even imagine how she could murder people.”
The portrait is disturbing. A couple in their twenties with a newborn child. A man born in America and seemingly integrated. A woman who became increasingly religious, but was not in touch with extremists. Does this kind of mass killing come out of the blue like this? No one notices people who are stockpiling weapons, building bombs, and preparing for an attack? They had no friends that visited them, that saw signs of anger and extremism? They kept their personal details guarded on social media in this day and age? Many questions remain. Islamic State claimed that the married couple who carried the attack had been its followers.
One thing that is known is the identities of the victims.
Lost among the debates about gun laws and motives has been justice for the murdered. They represented the beautiful diversity of America. Benneta Betbadal was from Iran and had fled religious intolerance to come to America.
African-American Sierra Clayborn was remembered as a “super, super lady,” by someone who knew her. Juan Espinoza had grown up in Mexico and worked as a health inspector. Damian Meins was remembered in reports as a volunteer Santa Claus and beloved community member.
Tin Nguyen’s parents had fled Vietnam to come to the US.
Religiously-motivated hate terrorism must be confronted.
The more it is excused as something other than what it is, the more communities and individuals refuse to confront it when they see it. The extreme intolerance associated with US-based, KKK-style racism, or the kind of demagogues that spread Nazism, were not done away with by debates about their causes, but by confronting them deliberately and forcefully.