First, the straight take:
A day of hit-and-run horror that started with the death of a Fremont pedestrian and erupted into half an hour of chaos on the streets of San Francisco ended in the arrest of a 29-year-old driver described by some relatives as mentally disturbed but by police as apparently rational and unrepentant.
At least 14 people were hospitalized Tuesday in San Francisco after the driver of a black 2004 Honda Pilot cut a path of destruction from the Tenderloin to Laurel Heights, striking pedestrians and a bicyclist in 13 locations starting at about 12:45 p.m.
Most of the injured were run down along a corridor of roughly 15 blocks starting on the west end of Pacific Heights. Witnesses said the driver sped up one street and down another, sometimes the wrong way, picking off people in crosswalks and on sidewalks. At least one victim was in critical condition Tuesday night; several others were treated and released.
“It was like ‘Death Race 2000,’ ” firefighter Danny Bright said of the cult movie at California and Fillmore streets, where four victims were hit. “Guys were walking down the sidewalk, and the guy just came up and ran them over. The guy went crazy.”
Crazy American? Or crazy Jihadist? Is the press hiding the fact the man could be and probably is a Muslim? Why no mention of a possible terror attack? Are we jumping to conclusions on the right? Is the left’s non-response to this story indicative of the fact they don’t care about terrorism?
There are times like this when I want to haul off and smack my friends both on the right and left upside the head in order to knock some sense into them.
Let’s go through this very carefully and perhaps, when all is said and done, we can have something of a meeting of the minds on this issue rather than using our responses to incidents like this to prove how silly or how evil the other side is.
When a Muslim-American drives a car into a group of college kids admitting afterwards that he was trying to kill them because they are Americans and he is upset at the way he perceives Muslims are being treated by our country – this is, for lack of a better term, an act of terrorism. The students affected are certainly terrorized. And I daresay in this post-9/11 world, the “message” being sent by the driver was amplified considerably. It was by any definition a political act of mayhem. To date, no terrorism-related charges have been filed despite the political implications of his crimes.
When a Muslim-American walks into a Jewish community center and opens fire deliberately trying to kill Jews because he is upset that the state of Israel and Muslims are at war in the Middle East, this is an act of terrorism. The city of Seattle can spin the incident all they want, trying to make the poor benighted jihadist into a victim – sorry, it won’t wash. This was a crime that was committed to send a message to the Jewish community that he was “tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East…” If that isn’t terrorism, then there is no meaning to the word.
It doesn’t really matter if the FBI refuses to label these incidents as terrorism. They can pretend for political, bureaucratic, or legal purposes that such is not the case. Terrorism is hard to prove legally and it may very well be that the FBI doesn’t feel it would be a wise expenditure of time and resources for the federal government to go after a lone terrorist when local and state laws can be used to incarcerate the perpetrator. But it doesn’t alter the facts on the ground at the crime scenes. And if we are going to get caught up in some silly game of semantics about these incidents – surprisingly not as isolated as you might think – then we’ll never get anywhere in achieving the goal that all of us, right and left, desire; the goal of making us all safer here at home.
It is also helpful to understand the bind that local prosecutors are in. There is nothing simple about calling a crime “terrorism.” Doing so sets in motion legal machinery that may or may not be justified and could, in some cases, make prosecution more difficult.
The press has its own agenda in not identifying these violent acts as terrorism. They have to deal with the hypersensitivity of the Muslim community not to mention a feeling of responsibility to their readers – misplaced perhaps – that passions aroused over the terrorism issue could lead to violence against innocents. I find the argument specious but understand it nevertheless.
All of this is not necessarily a denial of reality but rather the consequences of changing times. You and I may recognize these and other acts as terrorism. And perhaps, that is enough. What Dr. Daniel Pipes calls “sudden jihad syndrome” is impossible to anticipate and prevent even with the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence assets we can deploy. This is because it is impossible to penetrate the workings of the human mind nor peer into the human soul. It is there that we will find the plot and the hatred, and the desire to inflict terror in sympathy with their Muslim brethren elsewhere.
If the official world refuses to acknowledge what we know to be true because of bureaucratic myopia or fear of the consequences to the community it matters little in that the truth is self evident and can plainly be seen by those willing to look. If one wishes to hide behind legalities or semantics by denying that these are indeed acts of terrorism perpetrated against US citizens, they are only hiding the truth from themselves to their own detriment.
The car rampage yesterday in San Francisco may or may not be a case of Sudden Jihad Syndrome. We just don’t know. While there has been much excellent reporting and some intelligent speculation (did the killer know where the Jewish center was?) there have also been some shocking leaps of illogic and even some examples of good old fashioned American bigotry at work in a few of the posts I’ve seen this morning. All Muslims are not terrorists. And even all Muslims who kill are not terrorists. The only hint of a motive we have from the perpetrator is that the reason he did what he did was because he “felt like it.” This is hardly grounds for jumping to the conclusion that his acts were the result of Sudden Jihad Syndrome.
This may change in the days to come as more of this man’s life and motives are revealed. But for now, it is best that we do something that the blogosphere does extremely poorly; wait. In this, I would compliment the lefty bloggers who have played the story pretty straight (with an anti-Semitic exception from a usual suspect) and, like the rest of us, await the results of the investigation. But I would also say to my lefty comrades that speculation about whether this rampage was motivated by an urge to lash out at Americans for perceived slights – in other words, a political act – is perfectly legitimate and in fact, is something the blogosphere does pretty well when it is done intelligently and carefully.
There is much to get used to in a 9/11 + 5 world. And perhaps the biggest adjustment will be in accepting the fact that identifying those who would do us harm for political reasons is not a sign of bigotry or hate but rather a simple acceptance of self-evident truth. We may be taken to task for overreach and over-simplification. But the ultimate truth that we are targets of hatred by one particular group – fanatical jihadists whether acting alone or as part of a terrorist cell – cannot be denied. And that doing so places us in more danger than we should be.