California killers bring a new face to terrorism in the US.
By Sujeet Rajan
NEW YORK: The dastardly San Bernardino killers Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, have now been identified as Pakistani Americans. Farook was born in Illinois to parents who emigrated from Pakistan. Malik was born in Pakistan, lived in Saudi Arabia, before moving to the US after getting married to Farook.
The killers, shot dead in an encounter by law enforcement personnel, after they mowed down 14 people and injured 17 others at a social services centre for the disabled in San Bernardino, California, leave behind a 6-month-old daughter.
Farook, who reports say was a devout Muslim, is described as a quiet and reserved man, liked in the community. He worked as an environmental health specialist for San Bernardino County, inspecting restaurants for health violations. One report says Malik trained to be a pharmacist. It’s not known if she was employed.
The couple had a good family support system: in fact, they left their daughter in the care of her maternal grandmother before going on their killing spree. The brother of Malik came out in a press conference expressing anguish and shock. There are indications of some early trauma in Farook’s life. In 2006, his mother Rafia Farook filed for divorce from her husband, also named Syed Farook. She claimed domestic abuse as the reason; her husband would on a daily basis create hell at home by threatening to kill himself. Reports say that Rafia, according to court documents, thought her son to be a savior from her husband’s antics.
Seemingly, the killers led the perfect ‘American Dream’, with ample chances to progress financially in life, create greater opportunities for themselves, and their daughter, help extended family.
The motive for Farook and Malik’s attack is yet to be established. But going by the fact that they had at least four guns, including rifles, donned assault clothing, left behind pipe bombs to create more devastation at the centre, point clearly to preparedness, intent to mayhem, festering hatred for the community. More than that: it showed their deep hatred for America, influenced most likely by extremist ideology.
Why else would a couple who have just had a child, well entrenched in society, with no apparent financial difficulties, abandon life, go on a murderous rampage? Did they hope to escape after the carnage? Did they hope to pick up their daughter, go back home to lead again a normal life? Did Farook expect to go back to his old job the next day? Did Malik expect she would breast-feed her daughter again? Were they thinking of buying a tree and lighting some Christmas decorations at home this month?
The facts will unravel as investigations go on.
One thing is for sure: Farook and Malik’s act, which is being celebrated by ISIS with the hashtag ‘America Burning’ – according to a report by Vocativ – has now brought a fresh face to domestic terrorism in the US.
For one, it’s going to be that much harder for law enforcement personnel to pre-empt attacks by potential terrorists. Farook and Malik were perhaps not embedded moles of ISIS, sleeper cell of some terrorist outfit. They seem to have acted with their own resources, beliefs and locally. They didn’t board a plane to New York with the intent to shoot down people in Times Square. They murdered people locally.
All the surveillance in the world and security may not help to stop people who act in the manner that Farook and Malik did. The answer doesn’t lie in President Obama’s call for more gun control. How do you determine to give or not give a gun to somebody like Farook or Malik who are American citizens, perhaps with no criminal background? Does the answer lie in Donald Trump’s vision of registering all Muslims in the US in a database? Of course, not.
The question that perhaps many in America are thinking today is: how does one monitor people as they ready their guns and build pipe bombs in the middle of the night in the privacy of their homes? How does one trust that brown colleague with a smiling face; that efficient worker in a head-dress?
Another, is the way scrutiny is again going to increase on Muslims, and in general, people of brown skin. There will be more surveillance and checks at airports, and public spaces. A déjà vu of the aftermath of 9/11.
This millennium has had its share of scrutiny for many communities in the US, who have faced racism for either extraneous or domestic acts against the interests of the country.
In April, 2001, in the aftermath of the collision of a US surveillance plane with a Chinese plane near Hainan, which killed a Chinese pilot but led to much diplomatic humiliation for the US after its downed plane was possessed and its crew imprisoned by the Chinese, there were several cases of racist retaliation against Chinese living in the US. It extended to many Asians who looked similar as the Chinese. Especially on college campuses.
Anti-Chinese sentiments were also whipped up by radio hosts. Host Don Bleu termed the Chinese-American standoff incident as a “fry over”, played music from the film ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ and called a restaurant in China and taunted the person who answered the phone for not speaking English, according to revcom.
More seriously, some radio hosts called for the internment of Chinese Americans – perhaps the inspiration for Trump’s call to register Muslims in a national database – and a boycott of Chinese restaurants and other businesses. A Fox News anchor called for the firing of Chinese employees of US national weapons laboratories. In Los Angeles, a sports radio station did an anti-Chinese segment that included calls to send Dallas Mavericks basketball recruit Wang Zhizhi back to China or bench him until the U.S. plane was returned, revcom reported.
All that changed with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Chinese were forgotten. The focus in the aftermath fell squarely on the Muslim community. The Sikh community, however, bore the brunt of the physical and racist attacks that started soon after, the murders, assaults and the racial taunting, and continues to this day. Osama bin Laden died. But the memory of him in America is kept alive by killers like Farook and Malik.
Turbaned Sikhs, Sikh women who cover their heads, as well as Muslims, are once again going to be terrified of going out on the streets, facing the racist backlash from the cowardly acts of Farook and Malik.
America and all those living in America should be proud of the fact that America has not been the victim of a single terrorist attack since 9/11. However, the dismal figures from domestic mass shootings present a challenge which the country has yet to overcome.
There have been about 350 mass shootings in the US so far in 2015 itself, defined as incidents in which four or more people were shot, according to the crowd-sourced website shootingtracker.com, which keeps a running tally of mass shootings.
And with Malik’s involvement in the killings in California, a new threat emerges for law enforcement personnel to keep residents safe. A study of 160 active shooter situations between 2000 and 2013 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed that all but two involved a single shooter. Just six involved women.
One can only hope that Americans, even as they are bombarded by racist rhetoric by politicians vying for the White House: to keep out refugees, send back illegal aliens, keep the country safe from those who believe in a Caliphate, should also keep in mind that the acts of a few should not be heaped upon entire communities. That would be tantamount to murdering the conscience of the country.
After all, nobody wants another Richard Scott Baumhammers incident to happen again in America.
On April 2008, Baumhammers killed five people, injured one permanently, in Pittsburgh, in a killing spree. He shot dead his next-door neighbor, Jewish-origin Anita Gordon, 63, Thao Pham, 27, of Vietnamese origin, Je-Ye Sun, 34, of Chinese-origin, Garry Lee, 22, and Anil Thakur, 31, of Indian-origin. He also shot, paralyzed Sandit Patel, 25, of Indian-origin.
Baumhammers’ reason for the killing spree: he felt America was being outnumbered by minorities and immigrants; wanted an end to non-white immigration.
(Sujeet Rajan is the Editor-in-chief, The American Bazaar)