San Bernardino reporting shows new awareness about Muslim demonisation

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL December 4, 2015
After the San Bernardino shooting

After the San Bernardino shooting

Americans like guns – or at least they boast a fair number about their homes and persons – so gun crime by an American-born Muslim could almost be seen as a consecration of his American-ness. This is black humour of a sort I suppose. How else to respond in the aftermath of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday night, when a heavily armed married couple with a six-month-old baby entered a social services center and started shooting at the holiday party innocently underway?

It was the deadliest mass shooting in the United States since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre three years ago this month. The man would not have been picked up by any of the prosposed mental ill-health-disqualifiers to buy weapons in the US. He had a decent, well-paid job. One can only feel an intense and piercing sadness – mostly because it seems so pointless – that this is what he did.

The revelation that the San Bernardino shooters’ names were Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27, set off lots of speculation.

Fortunately though, there was little frenzy (Fox News, notwithstanding). For the most part, the world’s main media outlets seemed to be holding the line and keeping pace with available facts.

Within hours of the incident, there appeared to be an acute and deeply felt realization that spin, speculation and boundless theorizing might spark thoughts, feelings and actions that the world would live to regret. That said, as Fareed Zakaria wrote, “Muslims face a double standard, but I understand why. Muslim terrorists don’t just happen to be Muslim. They claim to be motivated by religion, cite religious justifications for their actions and tell their fellow Muslims to follow in their bloody path.”

Accordingly, the San Bernardino shooting is significant. Mass shootings in the US typically involve a lone gunman, often someone mentally unstable or consumed with rage. Multiple-shooter events are extremely rare: According to a recent FBI report on 160 “active shooter incidents” between 2000 and 2013, all but two involved a single shooter.

So that couple’s reasons must have been pretty consuming. What were they? While the police sort out the motivation and other basics of this mass shooting, it’s worth looking at a few key questions. They are as follows:

** Was this a terrorist attack? It was terrifying I’m sure, so anything that terrifies is a terrorist attack. But more to the point, as police said, the couple did seem to have a “mission”

** Was it about hate? Evidently. Any one – with any sort of name, ethnicity, religious allegiance – who sets out to kill dozens of people armed with AR-15 rifles and handguns and has a warehouse of ammunition at home, is in the grip of hate.

** Does it matter that they were Muslim? Not really, other than in the context of the acute sensitivity about any portrayal of members of the community as violent and/or anti-national (in any part of the world). An unfair portrayal feeds Muslim resentment of the way they are seen and the cycle of mis-communication continues.

This is why the media reporting of the San Bernardino incident should be commended.