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“And Why Does It Matter?: Why Are We So Obsessed With The Race And Religion Of Mass Killers?

For a few hours on Twitter and cable news on Wednesday night, there was a restless anticipation, as if everybody with a chyron or two thumbs was waiting at some imaginary line on a virtual track, waiting for the starting pistol.

A few hours earlier, everybody knew, two or three heavily armed people had shot up a center that helps disabled children in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 people and wounding 17 before escaping. The updates started trickling in: Police had surrounded a bullet-ridden black SUV; one person from the car was on the ground, motionless; one male and female suspect wearing “assault-style clothing” were dead, and a third possible suspect had been arrested after fleeing from the scene of the massacre. Politicians were tweeting out calls for gun control (Democrats) and “thoughts and prayers” for the victims (Republicans, mostly).

People were worried about the victims. Were they children with disabilities? Social workers dedicated to helping them live meaningful lives? People from the Department of Public Health trying to enjoy a holiday party at the facility?

But the real question on everyone’s mind was this: Were the killers white people, Muslims, or something else? Lots of talking heads were tiptoeing around that question, but Bill O’Reilly just laid it out.

“We have to be careful here,” O’Reilly told counterterrorism expert Aaron Cohen, a guest on Wednesday’s show. “Very, very careful. If it is a terrorist attack, generated by fanatical Muslims, it becomes an international Paris-type story, with implications for the president of the United States on down. So we don’t want to speculate.” That didn’t deter Cohen, who immediately responded: “My sources have also said that an Islamic name has been released. That is compounded by the fact that the attackers went to a specific place with tactical gear that would allow them to create maximum damage. I believe this is strongly linked to Islamic-motivated international terror.”

The obvious inference is that if the shooting turned out to be “just a local beef in San Bernardino,” as O’Reilly put it, it’s just another mass shooting in America. We play this game every time there is a mass shooting in America: If the assailant has a Muslim-sounding name, we react one way, and if he (it’s almost always a he) is white, we react another way.

Just think about that for a second. As you are undoubtedly aware, mass shootings are nothing new in the United States — there has been, on average, more than one a day this year, and Wednesday was no exception, with one person killed and three wounded in a mass shooting in Georgia. In 2015 alone, mass shootings — defined as four or more people shot — have left 462 people dead and 1,314 wounded.

Yet America’s foreign and domestic policy hinges to an insane degree on a killer’s name and religion.

If the murderer of 20 grade schoolers and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, had been a Muslim from Nigeria, for example, do you doubt there would be thundering calls for eradicating Boko Haram? Instead, since he was a young white male, the U.S. essentially did nothing.

We don’t yet know what prompted Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, to allegedly murder 14 people, and unless they left a note or manifesto, we may never be sure. Law enforcement hasn’t ruled out terrorism, and maybe it will turn out they were radicalized at some mosque or on Twitter and wanted to become jihadis. But if somebody named, say, Robert Dear had crashed his own office Christmas party wearing “assault-style clothing” and murdered 14 of his colleagues or their guests, you can bet your pundit card nobody would be talking about international terrorism.

Motive does matter if we are serious about trying to address the cause and prevent future mass murders. But if it’s a Muslim terrorist, “we” seem to think that lets “us” off the hook. Mostly, we appear interested in which Twitter/TV battle we are supposed to engage in: Is this a “foreigner” problem we can fix with bombing other countries and sealing America’s borders, or a domestic problem we can tackle by enacting new gun legislation? If you disagree with either of those propositions, you can argue the other side.

More serious than this idiocy is the fact that one or two sociopaths can push America into foreign entanglements, if they have one specific type of last name and creed. Freedom of religion is a cornerstone of America’s social contract, as is presumption of innocence. We betray both with this Pavlovian grief bifurcation.

Soon after Wednesday’s shooting, BBC News reporter James Cook described the murder of 14 people in San Bernardino as “just another day in the United States of America. Another day of gunfire, panic, and fear.” That stings. But given America’s evolving reaction to the killings, we probably deserve worse.

 

By: Peter Weber, The Week, December 3, 2015

December 5, 2015 Posted by | Bill O'Reilly, Race and Ethnicity, Religious Freedom, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

   

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