Don’t Blame The Victim for San Bernardino Attack

“By now it ought to be clear to everybody but somehow it still isn’t grasped by some: last week’s shooting massacre in San Bernardino was an act of unjustified terrorism launched against innocent civilians as representatives of the United States by, in all probability, operatives or representatives of the Islamic State. It was not an attack against an insensitive Christmas party or an obnoxious Christian. It was an attack against America and the American people committed by those who claim allegiance, right or wrongly, to Islam. I am perfectly willing, insistent actually, to qualify that by saying radical Islamic extremism – or some such modifier – but their pledge of allegiance is, crucially, salient.

This reprise of the self-evident is occasioned by an astonishingly asinine piece in the December 6th New York Daily News by columnist Linda Stasi focusing on the apparently tense relationship between the terrorist Syed Rizwan Farook and his colleague-turned-victim Nicholas Thalasinos, a Messianic Christian with whom Farook had argued religion. Of the consequences of the pair’s mutual dislike Stasi writes, “They were two hate-filled, bigoted municipal employees interacting in one department [and] now 13 innocent people are dead in unspeakable carnage.” While she is at pains to insist the murderous terrorists are monsters, note that Stasi acknowledges only thirteen innocent victims. The grounds for her discounting Thalasinos as a fourteenth is found in her perverse moral equivalency: compared to Farook, Stasi insists, Thalasinos “was just as bigoted.”

Gratefully, such execrable nonsense appears to be a singular minority — at least no one else is saying it out loud. Nevertheless, it bears comment because it is indicative of a general inability, or unwillingness, to render the kinds of basic distinctions essential if we are to accurately assess our present situation and respond accordingly.

First, terrorists such as the San Bernardino monsters are not set off by happenstance or belligerent co-workers. They have been sent out. In America alone the numbers tell the tale: Since March of 2014, at least 84 individuals affiliated with ISIS have been interdicted, including six killed in the course of attacks; more than 250 individuals have joined or attempted to join ISIS in Syria and Iraq; the FBI has, as of November, approximately 1,000 ISIS related probes; one Arab-American Islamist preacher in Dearborn, Michigan who was infamous for his vicious invective against Jews and America and for his radical Salafi website had 38,000 Twitter followers and was followed by 60% of surveyed foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria. What all this demonstrates is that ISIS boasts a significant resource in the United States for fighters willing to travel to the Levant and fight for the caliphate as well as those willing to remain — or to return after training abroad — to wage terroristic attacks at home. These are planned, intentional attacks and not outbursts from disgruntled employees. They are not waiting for offenses to trigger them, they are simply biding their time.

Second, the ongoing debate about whether to open our borders to refugees is not a contest between compassion or security. It is now clear: the Syrian refugee crisis has metastasized to a crisis involving more than refugees. Because there are those who mean to exploit the crisis to kill Americans in the homeland, the American government must attend to both responsibility and care for our assailed foreign neighbors as well as attend to the wellbeing of our local, next-door neighbors. To be sure, San Bernardino reminds us that the refugee pool is not the only means by which terror might visit us. But it is one way and that one way must be secured. I do not know whether this means a temporary cessation of refugees until we have a reasonably reliable means of vetting them. I do know that it does not mean we cannot be compassionate. The refugee camps in neighboring countries around Syria can be resourced to provision adequate housing, food, medical, recreational, security, and educational resources to allow reasonably comfortable living, even for families until ISIS has been defeated and it is safe to go home or until a safe haven has been created elsewhere in the region where families can begin a new life. America can and must help fund and enable that.

Lastly, Stasi reminds me of the ongoing nonsense occurring on college campuses across our nation. Too many young people, even at our elite universities, seem increasingly unwilling to have their own narcissistic beliefs about the world to be challenged. Stasi sees in heated confrontations about religion hate-filled bigotry. Maybe so, but, regardless, ideas and comments and contrary views are not real assaults. American life, not just college life, is necessarily predicated on the ability of American citizens to forge real disagreement, to negotiate differences, to absorb insult, to practice charity, and to lean on persuasion and not force to promote change. Terrorists, and the college students who are frighteningly comparable to them in invective and tactics, do not seek dialogue but only to dominate or to destroy those who will not be dominated.

These are important things for Americans to know. We have to grasp the nature of the threat and its blind, indifferent willingness to strike out at everyone, everywhere, and anytime. Grasping this, we just might still have time to begin pressing for reasonable action that just might prevent another attack, and the ideologically-fueled murder of another fourteen innocent victims.