Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik have been identified as the San Bernardino shooters.

Another Mass Shooting, Different Rules

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By Admir Rasic

Americans were once again shocked when a married couple opened fire in San Bernardino last week, killing 14 and injuring 21 people. Even though their motives are still unclear, one thing that is clear and that continues to be reported is that they were Muslims. Many people have commented on politicians that offer thoughts and prayers to the victims, but do not work on legislation that can curb or prevent gun violence. Although it is a legitimate criticism, most Americans are overlooking another important issue. We are overlooking the hypocrisy of how we treat mass murderers that are Muslims versus mass murderers that are not Muslims.

The mass shooting in San Bernardino was the 355th mass shooting of 2015, yet the religious affiliations of the shooters involved in nearly all of the other shootings is not the focus of the conversation. White supremacists burn Black churches and kill their congregants, but we do not talk about their religious motivations for these crimes. A Planned Parenthood clinic was attacked by a Christian man, but his religious motivation is not talked about in the way that a Muslim shooter’s religious motivation is talked about. These, and many more, are cases of domestic terrorism, but we do not even label them accordingly. Rather, we label these acts as hate crimes or acts of violence by deranged individuals, never questioning if their religious affiliations had any underlying influences like we do when the shooters are Muslims.

More importantly, failing to understand and discuss this hypocrisy directly leads to anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamophobia. By focusing on the Muslim identity of the San Bernardino shooters and immediately suggesting it is a terrorist act and inspired by global “jihadism,” Muslim Americans become the targets of bigoted backlash. For example, the mosque in Pullman received social media threats. Talking with Muslims in my community, they simply do not feel safe going to mosque in fear of a violent attack. The Friday after the San Bernardino shooting, the local Spokane mosque’s Friday sermon attendance was about a quarter less than normal as a direct result of local Muslims being afraid to attend services.

There should be a sense of responsibility by our elected officials, religious leaders, and everyday Americans to educate the masses that Islamophobia is real and the victims of unchallenged anti-Muslim bigotry are your everyday Muslim American neighbors. For some strange reason, many people in positions of power make a distinction between what it means to be American and what it means to be Muslim, as if the two cannot coexist. A common argument to the San Bernardino shooting is something along the lines of, “Americans will react when Muslims spill American blood.” Let us not forget that the shooters were Americans, and arguments like that tell everyday Muslim Americans that their contributions and efforts to making this country better are somehow not legitimate because they are Muslims, not Americans. American Muslims contribute to this country in many remarkable ways and in many professional fields, from the military to medicine, from teaching to technology. It is absolutely unacceptable to state that Muslims are not Americans, or to make a clear distinction between the two.

Admir Rasic

About Admir Rasic

Admir Rasic was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina a few years before the start of the Yugoslav wars. He and his family and lived in Germany as war refugees before moving to the United States in 2000, making Spokane their new home.
He is a proud dad of a 2-year-old daughter and the son of a concentration camp survivor. "I am grateful to God for all of the blessings in my life," he said.
He received a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington in English Literature and enjoys playing soccer, reading books and meeting new people. His goal is to make the world a better place for his daughter.

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  1. Liv Larson Andrews

    Well written and important. Thank you, Admir.

  2. Great article.

    The vast majority of terrorist crimes and hate crimes in America – those crimes sought to strike fear into a specific demographic – are motivated by Christianity (which makes sense given that its the majority religion). I do think that religious motivation needs to be examined in all cases, but with nuance and care taken not to demonize any group. Every religious group has their fringe element, and those fringe elements are affected by the culture at large, and Christian Americans are ignoring their fringe element while exaggerating Islam’s.

  3. People seem to think that, by not condemning the entire Muslim community, for the action of a few radicals, we are giving them more of a pass than we do radical Christians. The difference, here in America anyway, is that we are surrounded by Christians. We are accustomed to all shapes, sizes and degrees of Christian radicalism. When the Westboro Baptist Crazy Choir hits the streets, we can say, with some certainty, that they don’t represent all Christians. We also have Christian friends and family, or least acquaintances, that we know to be relatively sane. That’s not the case with Muslims; they’re mostly a mystery to us. So, I think half the population would prefer to listen to mainstream Muslims to help us understand a complex situation, while the other half is more inclined to condemn now and ask questions later. I’ll leave to you to figure out on which side of the political spectrum either half resides.

    • I think that’s very true. In some places you have to go out of your way to actually meet your muslim neighbors, but we’re bombarded with negative stereotypes about them everywhere we go. Which is to say we can do a lot of harm just by being quiet or lazy.

  4. Admir, now that the facts of the intent and convictions of the couple are coming out, does this alter your piece here at all?

    I agree with you on the Americans can be Muslim observation, the terrorists were American and became American, through a system that is already under attack by the majority of Americans. Now it’s even harder to argue in favor of sanity about immigration and refugees thanks to this latest event. We who work with refugees are on the defense thanks to this terrorist attack.

    As for fear of safety, I can’t imagine how that must feel, it’s terrible, but other Americans are afraid because of mass murder and the stated intent of Jihadists to kill more and even our President. Fear is a reality, it’s not a phobia, it’s real, based on the largest terrorist attack on US soil since 9/11. How to get through this without demonizing or criticizing people for their legitimate concerns is tough.

    Has there been any murder’s of Muslims do to Islamaphobia?

    There are very real questions many American’s have about Islam. The misinformation and the killing cloud the reality or confuse people about the issue. I think the Ask a Muslim option here, would be a great way to address the many questions people have.

    The idea of being killed for being a Muslim or killed because you are not a the right kind of Muslim or an Infidel, is a reality now in America.

    • Eric, I appreciate your thought-provoking comments. I believe that it was a terrorist attack, but I also believe the FBI investigation is still ongoing. My comment that the motives were unclear had more to do with the fact that it was reported as possible terrorism as soon as it was discovered that the shooters were Muslims.

      I believe arguing for refugees is done easily using facts. We know the vetting process is long and intense and that refugees have not committed acts of terror. It takes a lot of effort to educate the masses, and I can see what struggles you would encounter trying to be compassionate to refugees, while protecting your congregation, family, neighbors, etc.

      Likewise, it’s important to place the San Bernardino attacks into context. We, as Americans, are all still far more likely to be victims of terrorist attacks carried out by non-Muslims. Also, all of the weapons were bought legally, so there is a gun debate element to this story.

      Muslim Americans are just as afraid of terrorists as any other group of Americans. You see, to the terrorists you and I are equally viable targets since we believe in pluralism, which is actually what both Christianity and Islam teach us. Combating radicalization takes a unified effort of all Americans. There are ways to do that, but stigmatizing American Muslims and blaming the religion of Islam is counterproductive.

      You ask if Muslim Americans have been murdered because of Islamophobia. Yes, Muslims have, but also those that are perceived to be Muslim, like the Sikh community. Many terrorist plots against the Muslim community have been thwarted by the FBI. Additionally, hate crimes against Muslims are still much higher than before September 11th. Keep in mind that not all crimes are classified as hate crimes. For example, when the Bosnian cultural center in Spokane had the words “Death to Islam” spray painted, it was treated as vandalism. Those types of crimes are an everyday occurrence in Washington State. CAIR handled over 400 cases last year alone.

      I hope that goes a little way to answering some of your questions.

      • Thanks for responding.

        From my watching and reading, it was a long period of pause before it was declared Terrorism. I confess, when I heard it was two or three middle eastern people, with bombs, guns, multiple murders, shoot outs with police, bomb manufacturing in home, came from Saudi and Pakistani background, dropped off daughter…etc, I concluded it was jihadist terrorism. Does that make me islamaphobic? I don’t think so, I think it’s just the reality of the times and common sense.

        I don’t know how we can avoid much of the issues of profiling in a culture where we are told by the FBI: “See something, Say something.” and then we are shouted down as Islamaphobes if we do. The challenge to this kind of pressure to be vigilant and yet not paranoid is an ongoing struggle. I still hate getting all my Adamness x-rayed and my wife pated down because she put on hand cream before air travel. But it’s part of this new era. It’s a difficult dance.

        As for the simplicity of the refugee apologetic, I disagree. It’s never been this tense, even in my own church that has worked with refugees for 9 years and has a center for refugee post-resettlement assistance. I was challenged just this sunday after the service about “some” older people in my congregation having a problem with me not coming out more opposed to Islam. That I am too soft on the issue. I’ve been called a ‘liar and son of satan’ this month after challenging people who demonize muslims and confronting the ugliness that is going on in evangelical posts and convos. Being an advocate right now and trying to be a concerned citizen is complex and volatile.

        My questions about deaths resulting from islamaphobia isn’t asked in a way to dismiss your fear or reality, it was really, more from a place of trying to get clear facts to be able to dialogue and debate. You have said the fbi page isn’t; accurate, so who should I use to defend common sense issues and what moderate/pluralistic voices or media would you recommend?

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