The Omaha Mall Shooting and Islam

Sheila Musaji

Posted Dec 8, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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The Omaha Mall Shooting and Islam

by Sheila Musaji

A few days ago, in Omaha, Nebraska, a teenager (Robert Hawkins) went into a mall and started shooting.  In the end he killed 8 people and wounded 5 more and then shot himself.  He left a suicide note.

Yet another terrible tragedy with innocent victims in a long series of tragic, violent incidents.

My first reaction was horror and sadness for the victims and their families.

My next reaction was “Please God, don’t let this have been a Muslim!”, and then I watched the news to find out who had committed this crime, and while I was waiting to hear who had done this, I wondered what I could say if it did turn out to be a Muslim when I would inevitably be questioned about why Muslims do such things.

When the information came out about the shooter, I was relieved that it was not a Muslim.

I know that I was not the only American Muslim who went on this emotional roller coaster ride, because I have talked to numerous American Muslims, all of whom said that they had gone through the same process.  Why is that?  Why should American Muslims immediately react to every violent crime that happens with a prayer of “please God, don’t let this have been a Muslim.”  Is it because we think that Muslims are more likely than any other Americans to commit violent crimes?  NO, it is because, over and over again, our fellow Americans react by making the assumption that it might be, or probably is a Muslim who committed any violent crime.

Are we just paranoid?  Was there any attempt to link the mall shooting with Islam or Muslims?

I spent just a few minutes searching the net and came up with a number of references:

On Gateway Pundit someone named Chem left a post that said:  “Any idea if this sociopathic bastard was yelling, “Allāhu Akbar”?  That’s what I’ve been trying to find out, but I guess most of the details are still coming in. Although even when the details ARE in, and it is an Islam-related attack, I guarantee that the media will find a way to gloss over it.”

On the Foehammer site:  “Obviously I will be following this story closely. Could this be another case of Spontaneous Jihad? I know you’re wondering.”

A site called Winds of Jihad had an article entitled Sudden Jihad Syndrome about the mall shooting that got all the facts wrong.

Comments on Michelle Malkin’s site:
- “Pres. Bush was to travel to Omaha yesterday Dec. 4. Any conncection?  Has a PROFILE been revealed as to the man’s ethnicity? Reminds me of the recent incident of the gun toting Islamist in a Dearborn, MI Park.  He WAS TESTING-TESTING.”
- “Any chance this is sudden Jihad Syndrome?”
- “The sudden Jihad syndrome at the Trolley Square Mall drove me over the edge to get my CCW along with my wife. We have Bosnian Muslims in our area and your never know when one might go off. Just last week she told me she was going to the mall in Boise and I demanded she transfer her weapon from glove compartment to her purse before she went in.”

A post on Prexus:  “I have one question I want answered. Was the shooter a Muhammadan? If he was, count on the government to obscure that fact and dance around the significance if he was.”

A comment on a Free Republic article about the incident:  “Start becoming a LOT more vigilant. Whether this is a radical Islamic terrorist or not, the fact is this: We have all but defeated the Al Queda in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, they will come here and choose easy targets to further disrupt our economy and way of life. Direct attacks will include shopping malls, financial institutions, hospitals, crowded sporting events and national holiday events and schools. Indirect attacks will be aimed at our power grid and energy distribution networks.  They will keep trying to attack the airlines but I am more concerned about other mass transit’s such as rail and trucking industry.”

Senseless violence has been only too common in the U.S.:

- August, 2007 Jose Carranza, 28, an illegal alien from Peru kills three college students and injures another in Newark New Jersey.
- April, 2006, 33 people were killed when a student, Sun Hui Cho, a Korean Student went on a shooting spree at Virginia Tech University.
- September, 2006, fifteen-year-old Eric Hainstock fatally shot the principal of a school in rural Cazenovia, Wisconsin, a day after the principal gave him a disciplinary warning for having tobacco on school grounds, police said.
- October 2006, a milk truck driver tied up and shot 10 Amish schoolgirls in their classroom in Pennsylvania, killing five of them before turning the gun on himself.
- March, 2005, Sixteen-year-old Jeff Weise shot and killed five schoolmates, a teacher and an unarmed guard at a high school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota before taking his own life. Weise had earlier killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion.
- April, 1999, Two teenagers also killed 12 students and a teacher at their high school in Columbine, Colorado, before committing suicide.
- May, 1998, Seventeen-year-old Kip Kinkel killed two teenagers and injured more than 20 people when he opened fire at a high school in Springfield, Oregon, after killing his parents.
- March, 1998,  Two boys, ages 11 and 13, fired on their Jonesboro, Arkansas middle school from nearby woods, killing four girls and a teacher and wounding 10 others.
- December, 1997,  Fourteen-year-old Michael Carneal killed three students and wounded five others at a high school in West Paducah, Kentucky.
- October, 1997,  Sixteen-year-old Luke Woodham of Pearl, Mississippi, killed two students and wounded seven others after stabbing his mother to death.
- November, 1991, Gang Lu, 28, a graduate student in physics from China, killed five and injured four others at the University of Iowa campus, then fatally shotshimself.
- August, 1966, Charles Joseph Whitman, a 25-year-old architectural engineering honor student at the University of Texas, climbed to the top of the university’s 27-story tower and shot 44 people before he was killed by police.  Authorities later found the bodies of the gunman’s mother and his wife at their homes.

This is not a comprehensive list, but it is enough to make it clear that we have a problem with senseless violence in this country, and that there is not much of a common denominator in the profiles of the perpetrators.  Individuals who commit such crimes come from all races, religions, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Yes, some of those who have engaged in senseless violence have been Muslims:

- Eighteen-year-old Suleyman Telovich went on a shooting rampage in Salt Lake City in February of 2007.  Many were quick to point to Islam as the culprit since he was at least nominally a Muslim.  From all the information that came out about the facts of the case, he was not a particular religious person, and was a very troubled young man who was a survivor of the Bosnian holocaust. 

- In August, 2006, Omeed Aziz POPAL, 29, an Afghan refugee, killed one and injured over a dozen other people when he engaged in a murderous spree, using his vehicle to strike pedestrians in San Francisco. 

- In July, 2006, Naveed Afzal HAQ, 30, shouted “I Hate Israel” as he shot and killed one woman and wounded several others, including a pregnant woman at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

- In March, 2006, at the University of North Carolina, Mohammed Reza Taheriazar, 23 drove a jeep into a crouwd of people on the campus.  He told police he was “seeking retribution for the treatment of Muslims around the world.”

The fact that they happened to be Muslim had little to do with the real problem that these were mentally unstable individuals who had been damaged by the circumstances of their lives and who acted out violently.  This is true for Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or Atheist perpetrators. 

Even when the criminals have not been Muslim, strange and tenuous links to Islam have been suggested:

- On October 1, 2005, Joel Henry HINRICHS III, a Christian college student at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, OK detonated a large bomb made of TATP outside of a packed football stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.  In this case, the Islamophobes pointing out that Hinrichs had a beard and had been seen walking through the parking lot of a mosque that was only a block from his on-campus apartment - enough to make this part of some Islamic jihad.  All of these claims were debunked, but once the rumors are “out there” they just continue circulating.

- The awful April 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech by a Korean student, Sun Hui Cho led to endless debate by Islamophobes about the meaning of the words “Ismael Ax” written red ink on the gunman’s arm, and the fact that Cho’s father had once worked in Saudi Arabia (before he was married and before Cho was born).

In the Omaha Mall shooting case where it is definite that the perpetrator was not a Muslim:

Will people keep digging to find some connection with Islam or Muslims - perhaps a school trip to a mosque, or checking a Qur’an out of the public library, perhaps a neighbor who is a Muslim, or a family vacation to some Muslim country?  Or, will we see the same sort of reporting that we would have seen if this had been a Muslim? 

Will there be any mention made about what the religious affiliation of the shooter was or how that motivated his actions?  Will we learn which church he attended and the political views of that churches minister, and about anyone else who had ever attended that church who has gotten in trouble with the law?  Will we see a list of every act of senseless violence that has been committed by someone of his religion in the last 20 years as proof that “these people” are dangerous?  Will we see quotes from the Bible taken out of context to show how it is that so many Christians are so violent?  Will we ask - why can’t moderate Christians stop the spread of violence by Christians?  Will we see headlines like:  “Christian Mall Shooter”?

Constantly blaming Islam for all of societies problems in a convenient scapegoat, but a waste of time and energy.  Energy that could be better spent working on Interfaith relations or for trying to determine what are the real problems that need to be addressed to solve our violence problem.

This need to connect any violent act in some way with Islam or Muslims is becoming a mental sickness in some quarters, and is being noticed and reported on all over the world and is contributing to a perception that America is at war, not with terror, but with Islam.  All of these heartbreaking tragedies raise a number of legitimate issues for us to consider as a society, but those questions have nothing to do with the religious affiliation of the perpetrators. The questions that need to be answered are the same whatever the ethnic, religious, or racial background of the perpetrator.

Violent crime is increasing in the U.S.  There have been numerous incidents of violence at schools and at colleges and universities, as well as public areas like malls.

These acts have been carried out by individuals from many religious backgrounds (or with no religion) and from many ethnic and socio-economic groups.  There is no single indicator except that we as a society have a problem with an increasing number of people who see violence against themselves and/or others as a solution to their problems.

We have a problem - Christians, Muslims, Jews, atheists, immigrants, rich, poor, educated, ....  We have a problem and if we are to find a solution we will need to first analyze the problem and try to understand where this violence is coming from.  The problem is not with any particular religious, ethnic, or racial group as the violence cuts across all of these lines.

If we are to have any chance of solving this very real problem we need to stop wasting time pointing fingers of blame at superficial characteristics of the perpetrators based on nothing more than prejudice, stereotyping, and a tendency to look for easy answers.  All this does is take time and energy away from actually looking for solutions, and in the process we should be concerned with right now of helping the victims families.

The truth is that we have many young people who have grown up in the inner cities in poverty and without hope for a better future, we also have a lot of refugees from war zones and genocides around the world, and now a lot of Iraq war veterans.  Many of these individuals are suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and many are not receiving any help or therapy.  It would not be alarmist at all to assume that unless we can get at the root of their problems we can expect to see many more instances of senseless violence over the coming months and years. 

Banning black trenchcoats as some schools did after Columbine won’t solve anything, neither will attempting to make one community a scapegoat for all of the ills of our society.  Assuming that every Muslim, or every Korean, or every (fill in the blank) is somehow responsible for a particular action committed by someone belonging to their group, or can explain what goes on in a sick mind, or should apologize for something they had no control over is bigotry.  We need to spend our energy more productively.