I had the great pleasure of travelling by air this past weekend to Cleveland, Ohio. If you have to travel across the country in a sardine tin, I can suggest several places you might want to go that would offer a better destination experience, but this was a reunion trip with my spouse, and I survived both the air travel and the subsequent city experience.
I usually board early since I have a leg problem that requires that I be carted about airports in a wheeled conveyance, and that means that I get to sit there watching people come down the aisle and guess whether or not they are going to be my seatmate. My luck usually runs toward 300 lb. linebackers or 2 year-olds, but on the Chicago/Cleveland leg of this flight I drew a brown-skinned, bearded young man carrying a foreign passport along with his boarding pass and nodding politely at people as he passed.
As I got up to let this young man into the seat next to me I noticed that the passport read “IR…” and his thumb covered the rest of the country of origin. So being the white racist bigot I am, I immediately looked at his shoes and wondered if they had been properly x-rayed. And being immediately ashamed of being the white racist bigot I am, I gave myself a stern Gibb’s slap and told myself to be good, trying not to think about his underwear.
Since the plane showed no sign of wanting to go anywhere, I took out my tablet and checked to see if the airport WIFI extended so far as the tarmac. It did not. There were, however, a number of WIFI “hotspots” listed, all locked, the strongest of which came from “Mohammed’s iPhone.” A quick glance to my left confirmed that the reason Mohammed’s iPhone was so strong was that it was in Mohammed’s hand, about twelve inches from my own.
Since there was really nothing I could do about that due to a complete lack of explosive sniffing dogs on my part, I decided to pass the time reading. I opened the Kindle App on my tablet and brought up my most recent research project, a book entitled Islam Through the Looking Glass, a collection of essays and reviews by J. B. Kelly. It opened where I had left off, a new chapter titled, in large bold print, “Born Again Muslims.” After a quick glance to the side to make sure that Mohammed hadn’t noticed, I quickly shut down the tablet because, well, who needs jihad on a plane? Snakes were bad enough.
It was at about this point that I began to realize that there was some serious shit happening in my head and that I really needed to get a grip.
There is a very highly charged atmosphere in this country today involving anything remotely related to the religion of Islam or those who practice it. We have come to associate the very mention of the words “Islam” or “Muslim” with the term “terrorist.” We associate those words with war, murder, 911, and killing American marines on American soil. And we should not do that. But it is understandable that we do. Worse yet, perhaps, we dump the very name Mohammed into the same pot.
Many on the right would have you believe that every American Muslim is an extremist mole waiting to be activated. Many of those on the left paint a picture of Islam as essentially a peaceful religion with a few loose cannons that cause all the trouble. Both of these views are dead wrong. Really, people, it’s complicated.
Most of our feelings about Muslims have been shaped by the media. The media relies on a number of knowns to maintain its viewers and readers and one of those knowns is that good news isn’t nearly as interesting as bad news. Chances are that if you hear about Islam or Muslims in the media you are hearing about fighting in the Middle East or some terrible event here at home. It doesn’t take long for the mind to succumb to guilt by association. Muslims are associated with bad things. Facts don’t enter into this. Most mass murders in this country are committed by non-Muslims and yet we don’t associate mass murder with Christians.
On the internet where any and all burden of proof is ignored, the stereotype goes wild. Racism and bigotry thrive in those tepid waters. There you will find both the Islamic religion and the Muslims themselves all dumped into a gigantic cauldron of hate. Or you will find staunch apologists who, without knowing much of anything about the religion of Islam, apply the Christian values of love and forgiveness and point to the vast numbers of Muslims who don’t fit the terrorists mold as a reason to accept them into our culture with open arms. These same haters and apologists show up in the print and network media where they are held somewhat more accountable for their beliefs, but not much. The reason for this is that the complexity of the issue goes far beyond the time available to educate the viewers or in many cases the attention span of the readers, leaving this an emotional issue alone.
The pundits throw words around, comparing Shia to Sunni as if they were comparing Lutherans and Presbyterians, which is nothing short of dangerous thinking, but who has the time to sort it all out? Many others who actually do know the subject talk as if they expect that their audience is really as knowledgeable as they are.
A good example of the complexity of this issue is the case of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeeze.
Abdulazeeze was a young Muslim who killed 5 members of the US military in Chattanooga recently. The case is still under investigation and details are relatively scarce about the motives behind these killings. What we do know, and what was the departure point for the media was that Abdulazeeze was Muslim.
While the investigation into the Chattanooga shootings had proceeded as if this was a terrorist act, there had been no finding that it was, and the few facts that have been brought to light suggest something much more subtle and insidious.
That has not kept the media from playing on fear and stereotype.
Perhaps the worst example of this I have seen is a viral video being shared on social media and being touted as a “blistering viral slapdown of Obama.” The video is the conclusion of a show Called “On Point with Tomi Lahren” on a cable network named One America News, a “conservative” network based in San Diego, and founded in 2013 because Fox News wasn’t conservative enough. The absurdity of this political hatchet job is infuriating on any number of levels, not the least of which is that it keeps being re-shared over and over by people who apparently lack the ability to THINK about what is being said by Ms. Lahren.
“Four United States Marines are now dead,” she begins.
“Climate change didn’t kill them. Lack of free community college didn’t kill them. The income gap, wage inequality – nope, not those things either. Gay marriage? Nope. Oh, white racism? Not that either. So what did?
“President Obama, if you won’t say it, I will: radical Islam!”
So, after reciting a litany of progressive causes and then affirming that those causes did not crash the gate at a military facility in an automobile and kill four marines, this “journalist” invokes the name of the president, suggests that he is somehow at fault for not saying what was, at the time, unknown, and then blames the killings on “radical Islam.” Just how many trigger phrases is it possible to cram into 30 seconds?
Radical Islam did not kill our servicemen. Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeeze killed our servicemen.
And to make matters worse, she has taken a national tragedy and turned it into a political polemic without missing a beat.
“This was not a criminal act with motives unknown.”
But that’s exactly what it was. When this piece aired, authorities had no clue what the motives for this shooting actually were. They were pursuing it as a possible terrorist act, but they had no evidence to justify that and they said so. In fact, what little they did know seemed to contradict that as Ms. Lahren admits in the next part of her rant.
“This is terrorism,” she asserts flatly, “The shooter, Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeeze: a devout Muslim.” (Note: Muslim = Terrorist!)
“Do I care that he seemed like an all-American young man? Do I care that he was good at mixed martial arts, or a smart, quiet guy? Do I care that his classmates and high school friends wouldn’t classify him as overly religious?” (Even though that might contradict the idea that he was a devout Muslim?)
“NO! I don’t give a flying you know what about any of that. Was he linked to ISIS or Al Qaida or Hamas or any of the other 15 plus active terrorist groups? Does it matter? I’m sorry, but radical Islam is becoming the rule, not the exception.”
The logical jump from “does it matter?” that he wasn’t a member of a terrorist group to “radical Islam is the rule” is breathtaking. There is absolutely no connection.
All that matters, it seems, is that he was a Muslim. All Muslims are terrorists. And there is nothing else to say about the matter. Who this young man was and what prompted him to commit this crime are not important. He was a Muslim. End of story. What we might learn by studying his motives that might prevent another incident like this: not important. He was a Muslim. Muslim bad. Be afraid.
Abdulazeeze was not just a Muslim. He was also a man. From an Islamic perspective, it is enough to ascertain that a man is an infidel. That alone is enough to condemn him in the eyes of a jihadi. From a Christian perspective it is not enough to say a man is a Muslim. Christian ethics requires that we determine what kind of Muslim man he may be. There is a world of difference in these viewpoints. It is one of the major differences between the world views of these two religions.
So what kind of man was Mohammod Abdulazeeze?
To begin with, he was all of those things that Tomi Blatherbrain said she didn’t give a fuck about. Beyond that, he had been on anti-depressants since he was a young teen, had an addiction problem with prescription medications for pain as well as alcohol and marijuana. He had become an embarrassment to his family when he was arrested for drunk driving. When you bring shame on your family in the Islamic tradition, it is a serious thing.
His father was abusive. He lost a job in Ohio because he failed a drug test and spent several months unemployed. He had to tell his parents when he ran out of money and this was a further embarrassment to them. He was seeing a psychiatrist now and then but not taking his medications regularly for his depression.
He was in debt and considering bankruptcy. He made suicidal notes.
And he owned guns.
We see these same symptoms over and over in connection with mass shootings. This was not a man who set out to kill infidels for the glory of Allah. This was a man who was ashamed of his own actions and his own life and wanted to kill himself. But he was also a Muslim.
And in Islam your sins are forgiven if you die a martyr. You can become a martyr by dying in the act of killing the enemies of Islam, and the US military is seen by many, many Muslims as the enemy of Islam. He researched that on the internet before he rented a silver Mustang, went on a drug and alcohol binge, and drove around with friends at high speeds before dropping them off and opening fire on two military installations. He specifically researched whether his sins would be forgiven if he died a martyr.
He succeeded in getting himself killed. In his own mind he atoned for the shame and dishonor he had brought on his family by becoming a martyr.
This is one of the real dangers Islam poses in the west. Christians seek forgiveness through good works or absolution. Muslims can seek forgiveness through violence, sometimes through violence on Christians, but in this case on the more immediate enemy, the one that recently has been making a mess of Islamic homelands.
The blond blabber brain on One American News ought to care whether he had been a member of one of those 15 active terrorist groups. If he had been, chances are good that he would have been caught before he committed this act. Those guys are much easier to spot.
At this stage the FBI is treating Abdulazeeze as a “homegrown violent extremist” who appears to have acted alone. He was obviously violent at the end of his life. But what’s an “extremist?”
The foundation of religious extremism is a devout belief in a faith and a more-or-less literal acceptance of the scriptures of that faith. By that definition most of the Republican field of presidential candidates qualifies. Get enough Christian extremists and Islamic extremist in power at the same time and we can have ourselves another Crusade. Oh won’t that be fun?
The people who share drivel like that aired on One America News over social media and who spread fear and hate need to be told to just shut up and start learning what to really be afraid of if they have to be afraid of something.
The Mohammed to my left was simply on his way to visit his cousin in Cleveland. He declined to allow me to do a caricature of him to include in this essay.
Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley, The Willowbrook Curmudgeon