© Josh Sager – December 2015
On December 2nd, there was a terrorist attack in San Bernardino that took 14 lives and injured 21 Americans at the local Department of Health. This attack was carried out by a Muslim couple (I won’t name them because this kind of shooter wants to have their name plastered across the media and internet) who were clearly radicalized, but who may not have had any connection to a foreign terrorist group. As of yet, no terrorist group has taken credit for this attack, which tends to indicate that they were acting alone (terrorist groups almost always take credit for their attacks because that creates more terror and allows them to spread their manifesto).
The male shooter was an American who worked at the Department of Health as an inspector, while the female shooter was his fiancé who had recently emigrated to the US from Saudi Arabia (on a Pakistani passport) on a fiancé visa. They had a six month old daughter who is currently living with her paternal grandmother. Both shooters are now dead, after being killed in a shootout with police.
I have held off writing about this situation for the last two days because simply not enough is known about this couple to draw any concrete conclusions. This lack of information has led many to speculate and try to fill in the large gaps with their own preconceived notions, which is never a very productive exercise. While there are still many unknowns, enough information has been released today to draw a very cursory picture of what happened.
The San Bernardino shooters had been stockpiling large quantities of ammunition (1,600 rounds according to some sources), numerous weapons, tactical clothing that would allow them to conceal their identities, and had prepared several pipe bombs. Stockpiling these things would have taken some time, and it is clear that they had been planning some sort of violence for some time. Investigators found Jihadist propaganda and videos on their computer, and there are reports that the male shooter posted a “letter of allegiance” with ISIS during the attack.
Some speculate that this couple planned to stage a Paris-inspired attack, but an argument at the male shooter’s workplace caused them to perpetrate their attack early (in effect, they are both jihadists and workplace shooters). If this is the case, we may never know what their original target was, but we can count ourselves fortunate that more people were not killed. Given their preparation and armaments, they could have killed a massive number of people if they had attacked a more populated area (ex. sports stadiums and restaurants like in Paris).
Hopefully, this is an isolated incident, because, if not, it could indicate a very worrying realization in the part of Islamic terrorists. Specifically, that they could shift their weapon of choice from bombs to guns, and begin perpetrating mass shootings with far higher likelihoods of success than bombings. Jihadists have tried to attack the US with bombs and have met with epic failures—like the underwear bomber who ignited his own crotch instead of blowing up, the shoe bomber who couldn’t get his matches to light, and the Times Square bomber who locked himself out of his own car-bomb. Put simply, bombs are difficult to make without significant training, require materials that can raise red flags (ex. certain chemicals, blasting caps, etc.), and often fail to detonate (like the bombs made by the couple in this attack), thus are actually less dangerous than guns in this context. Conversely, any idiot can go to a gun show, buy a semi-automatic weapon, and be ready to spray bullets into a crowd within hours. A situation where terrorists begin using this to their advantage is a national security nightmare that may be impossible to fix given the amount of guns in the USA today.
In the coming weeks, there will almost certainly be a major political fight surrounding the proper response to this attack.
On one extreme, right wing nationalists and bigots like Donald Trump (or at least the character he is playing during the GOP primary) will use this as an excuse to demonize Muslims and push xenophobic policies. The war-hawks will try to use this as a justification to attack random Middle Eastern countries while the Obama derangement crowd will accuse Obama of personally letting this attack happen. These people are simply wrong and using a tragedy to push their extreme agendas—they must be discounted, marginalized, and debunked.
Using the action of a few Muslims to demonize all Muslims is simply wrong. Similarly, the idea that we need to abrogate the civil rights of Muslims or enter into stupid wars that kill thousands of innocent Muslims would make us little better than the terrorists we hate. American Muslims are among the most moderate on earth, and giving in the xenophobia of the right on this issue will only chase them into the hands of the extremists and make it far easier for the Jihadists to recruit more Americans to their cause.
On the other extreme, PC apologists and regressive leftists will try to completely sever this attack from any religious context and conflate criticisms of the Islamist ideology with blanket attacks on Muslims. While well-meaning, these individuals are almost as dangerous as the extreme right, as they will prevent many from actually addressing the underlying issue that motivates these attacks and could lead to more in the future.
The Quran, like the Bible and Torah, contains some heinous passages that, if taken literally, will lead to extreme violence and evil. The danger posed by these books is baked into all three major monotheistic faiths, but Islam is clearly the most dangerous of the three in the modern era. Judaism reformed thousands of years ago (in fact 70% of Jews are atheists), while Christianity went through its incredibly bloody phase hundreds of years ago.
Polling shows that millions of Muslims worldwide support violent extremism and, even in the “moderate” Muslim nation of Malaysia, 11% of the population supports ISIS (this amounts to approximately 3.3 million people). Similarly, 4% of the Muslim population in the “moderate” nation of Indonesia and 9% of Pakistanis support ISIS (which amounts to nearly 26.4 million people in these two nations alone).
Even by the most optimistic outlook on this polling (assuming all of the undecided turn against ISIS and that nobody lied about their support for ISIS out of fear of judgement), over 63 million Muslims in these nations alone support ISIS. To make matters worse, these polls are only possible in the “less extreme” Muslim nations, as Islamist nations like the Gulf States do not allow pollsters to act in their jurisdictions.
Obviously, this is a major problem that is intrinsically connected to religious extremism. If we deny this link, as many regressive leftists would like, we cannot address the problem and will have little hope of stopping future radicalization.
We must not fall into either extreme after this tragedy. Ideally, new gun control measures would be implemented to ensure that terrorists and lunatics do not get access to guns (background checks, closing the gun show loophole, universal registration of weapons, etc.) while we invest in outreach into the Muslim community. Hopefully, by cutting down on terrorists’ easy access to guns and gaining allies within the moderate Muslim community, we will abort the next potential attack before it can happen.