On Wednesday, December 2, 2015, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, carried out what is now known as the nation’s most deadly mass shooting since the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2011.

Killing 14 of Farook’s coworkers and injuring at least 21 others at a social service facility, both Farook and Malik were gunned down by policemen leaving the two suspects dead shortly after the incident.

It has been said that a third person fled the scene and was taken into custody. However, the police did not know his role, if any.

After three pipeline bombs were diffused, weaponry was found, and the attackers dead, the city of San Bernardino, the state of California, and the nation as a whole are left paralyzed, frightened, and puzzled – a common reaction by Americans as the level of violence amplifies.

In President Obama’s speech addressing the carnage that morning from the Oval Office, he stated,

We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.” He then declared, “We can’t just leave it to our professionals to deal with the problem of these kinds of horrible killings…we all have a part to play.

And perhaps we do, as we are all living together, in this frenzied, gruesome world. Yet, although it seems that police officials and political figures are encouraging Americans to remain calm without jumping to conclusions as they assure this matter will be resolved, newspapers across the country similar to the New York Post did not hesitate to use divisive headlines, such as, “Muslim Killers.”

A tabloid that is known for its bold covers seems to be encouraging Islamophobia which only heightens rage against Muslim extremists and the entire Muslim community.

After the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the declaration of the War on Terror made by the Bush administration, the label “terrorist” became freely applied to many forms of killing and has become the most manipulated word in the American socio-political lexicon.

Although events such as The Boston Bombing, The Charlie Hebdo Shooting, and the recent Paris Attacks deserve condemnation for attacks on innocent people to say the least, the argument isn’t whether or not to label a violent event, violent, but rather to make the false correlation between religion and terrorism.  It is well known that terrorism has become closely associated with terms such as “Islam” or “Muslim.” Other familiar terms include, “jihad” – often defined in the media as warfare against nonbelievers or against the West in general – and “jihadist” – the individual participating or advocating jihad. The result has been convincing mainstream media viewers about the eminent ‘danger’ we face having a large American Muslim population.

FBI.gov, defines terrorism as activities with the following characteristics: Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.

By definition, if Farook and his wife carried out an attack to influence government policy or intimidate by mass destruction, then Robert Louis Dear, a man who murdered 3 and injured 9 others at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs must also fall into the terrorist category.

Yet, the San Bernardino killers’ intentions are still unclear. Perhaps they carried out this act not for the terrorism reasons above but were rather inspired by anger and mental illness similar to James Holmes – a man who decided to take the lives of 12 innocent viewers and injure 70 others at “The Dark Knight Rises” showing in Denver, Colorado. Or Chris Harper Mercer, a man who murdered 10 people and injured 7 others at Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon. Wherein lies the distinction between terrorism and mass murder?

Are the lives taken and the acts carried out by people who are not of color less likely to be terrorism? Can non-whites or specifically people of Middle Eastern origin not be labeled as mentally ill? Better yet, is the fuel for the War on Terror running low thus forcing the American government to further intensify feelings of revenge, hatred, and apprehension within the American people?

The War on Terror has become an ideology of fear and repression that generates opponents and promotes violence rather than mitigating acts of terror and strengthening security. On the contrary, governments should address the root causes of terrorism, notably social alienation due to poverty, state-sponsored brutality, and political upheaval.

Islamic Society of Palm Springs Bombing
Islamic Center of Palm Springs Bombing

So what is truly detrimental to our society and more importantly, crippling to future generations, is this war based on fabrication, manipulation, and intolerance.

Recognizing America as post-racial is not only inaccurate but it covers over the institutional racism in American society that the Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted so well. Islamophobia and racism are two sides of the same American bigotry. Ignoring this major problem in American society denies the very existence of aggression against the Muslim population and treats each offense as an isolated incident rather than a trend of discriminatory acts. Since the Paris attacks alone, there has been a string of violence against the American Muslim community:

  • In Philadelphia, a pig’s head was thrown at a mosque.
  • In California, Muslims praying were harassed and called Satan worshipers by a woman who then proceeded to throw her coffee at them.
  • In Birmingham, a Muslim college student was assaulted by a man trying to pull her headscarf off after punching her in the face.
  • In the Bronx, a Muslim, 6th grade girl was attacked and beaten by three boys at recess while referring to her as ISIS.
  • In Queens, New York, Sarker Haque, a Muslim store owner was beaten by Piro Kolvani, a man who said his intention was to kill Muslims.
  • In Austin, Texas, two women were harassed at a local café by a man who asked if they “had a gun” and then said they should “just shoot him.” Although Palestinian, he said they should “go back to Saudi Arabia.” After the two women decided to leave, they said to the bystanders, “we were told racist things and this restaurant doesn’t feel the need to address it because who cares about us?” Another white man shouted, “nobody!”
  • In Coachella, California, about 75 miles from San Bernadino, last Friday the mosque of the Islamic Center of Palm Springs was intentionally “firebombed” while people were praying inside. Everyone was evacuated from the building and no injuries were reported. The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime.

However, this trend of hatred and prejudice should come as no surprise. These are merely the consequences when you demonize a whole community. In addition, victims or other members who may suffer from mental illnesses, anger, or extremism are given the excuse to lash out with violence or vengeance.

As President Obama said, we all have our part to play. We, as a nation, should not carelessly use the words terrorist or terrorism when describing violent attacks as a way of criminalizing a whole community. It is fundamental to understand the severity of categorizing or labeling groups of people based on their religion, race, or culture. A violent attack is a violent attack as there is no difference when killing 1 or 1,000. 


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Chicago Monitor’s editorial policy.