29 September 2014

God's gift to Islamophobes

Terrorism is more successful at empowering terrorists than it is at terrorizing people. It may not give certain terrorists the political power they desire, but it certainly gives them the power to lash out at people to avenge their grievances. The man in Oklahoma who beheaded a former co-worker and attacked another before getting shot (not fatally) by a "good guy with a gun," i.e. a reserve deputy who happens to work at the site, probably had at least as many personal grievances as he had religious or political ones. A recent convert to Islam, he reportedly became a Muslim counterpart to the obnoxious evangelical Christians who try to "witness" to people, and his proselytizing -- one can only imagine the pitch -- may have been a factor in his getting fired. A typical workplace amoklauf, then, except for the choice of weapon and the professed faith of the perpetrator. Those make him a "terrorist" in many eyes, presumably on the premise that anyone motivated by Islam, to any extent, to kill people is a terrorist rather than a plain old murderer or crazy person. Some say there's more to it, pointing to the purported radicalism of an imam at the Oklahoma City Islamic center the killer attended, as if a workplace rampage could be part of someone's strategy to destabilize the United States. The inevitable Islamophobic backlash might be more destabilizing if people leap to the conclusion that Islam was the necessary and sufficient cause of the Oklahoma rampage and conclude, as one Oklahoma legislator has reportedly, that Islam is a "cancer" that must be rooted out of the American body politic.

I'll go this far: Islam and the specific example of the self-styled Islamic State's beheadings may have been the killer's trigger, but had it not been Islam it may have been something else eventually. Terrorism may be a means to an end politically, but some people are terrorists in their hearts or minds before they ever have a political thought or feeling. People like this man probably wish they could kill people -- at the least, they definitely wish people dead -- but they might flounder in their personal fantasy worlds until they stumble upon something that empowers them by entitling them. For any number of reasons, Islam was this man's entitling trigger, but there are other such triggers out there, starting with other religions. What this guy lacked before, possibly, was that one thing to get him over whatever inhibitions kept him from lashing out, to tell him that it's not only OK but right and necessary to kill. And after all that it's still unclear whether he thought he was waging a jihad on his co-workers or he simply thought beheading was cool and badass. Whatever the ultimate truth this guy is the worst thing to happen to American Muslims in a long time because of the convert-to-killer arc drawn in a media-driven rush to judgment. The best thing they can do right now is make it clear to concerned outsiders that the man had tried to convert to the "religion of peace" but had clearly failed. Rather than worry, however understandably, that his crime will subject other Muslims to undeserved scrutiny if not outright persecution, they need to make the case that, whatever the killer himself thinks, he isn't one of them but one of the many Americans who need an excuse to kill and found one.

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