As we write this there is still no explanation for why three heavily-armed people entered a southern California social services agency on Wednesday and killed 14 people and seriously wounded ten others, but the predictable cocksure speculations started as soon as the afternoon’s carnage first interrupted the regularly scheduled programming. By now it’s an all too familiar ritual of these all too frequent mass shootings for both sides of the political divide to skip past the mournful prayers for the victims and their families, or even a respectful moment of silence by the more secular sorts, and immediately proceed with the more important matter of spinning the dreadful facts for the debates that inevitably follow.
The horrible events in San Bernardino follow shortly after a mass shooting in Colorado Springs, which turned out to be a white male who chose to commit his murders at a Planned Parenthood clinic, which the leftward side of the political divide found useful for tarring white males in general and Planned Parenthood’s more principled critics in particular, but despite the hopefulness of countless “tweeters” and cable news contributors this will require a different narrative. Our policy is to not mention the names of killers, but suffice to say that the only suspect thus far identified by the authorities has a name most Americans would by now immediately recognize as Middle Eastern, and the suspicions that raises for even the most tolerant and nonjudgmental and up-to-date Americans has been been confirmed by interviews with the suspects’ family and friends who describe him as a Muslim who had become conspicuously more devout in recent years, all of which is not so useful to the leftward side of political divide. Any connection to the Tea Party or the Koch brothers or evangelical Christianity seems unlikely, so the big story over the next couple of days will be about not painting with too broad a brush or drawing any conclusions or resorting to rank demagoguery. There were guns involved, though, which the president and others were quick to note, so of course that debate will continue as usual.
Someone with the same Middle Eastern name as the suspect was employed by the same San Bernardino city government department that was having a Christmas party at the social services agency, and it seems likely although yet unconfirmed that they are the same person, so there will be the ready explanation that it was just another case of “workplace violence” that occasionally occurs with white male postal workers and Army psychiatrists with Middle Eastern names, but it’s going to be a tough sale. There were two other people involved, making this the first mass shooting with multiple killers since two high school losers teamed up for the Columbine massacre, and one was reportedly a woman, another odd twist to the incident, and it’s highly unlikely that all three were motivated by the same animus against the San Bernardino County Health Department. The shootings also follow shortly after coordinated attacks on Paris, not so long after the murder of a satirical magazine staff in that same city, and also in the wake of attacks by armed gunmen in Mumbai and numerous cities around the world, as well as that Army psychiatrist with the Middle Eastern name shouting “Allahu Akbar” during his “workplace violence” in another memorable mass shooting, and the leftward side of the political divide will be hard-pressed to convince the rest of the country that it has nothing to do with Islam.
A shrewd friend of ours suggests it might be a case of what he calls “workplace jihad,” where the killers take out their generalized religious rage on a particular personalized target, which strikes us as the most probable explanation for the facts as they are tentatively understood, but that is also mere speculation, and we are ashamed to admit that it serves our political purposes. The debates about various kinds of guns and what to call to them and what to do about them, and about radical Islamic terrorism and what to call it and what to do about it, and about white males and men with Middle Eastern names and almost every other ongoing debate that will be tied to this tragedy all matter, though, so we will reluctantly take sides.
Those 14 dead and 10 wounded also matter, though, and so do their families and friends and all their traumatized neighbors, and so do the relatives of the killers who are revulsed by the tragedy but might be judged guilty by association, and so does everyone trying to get all along in a world that was already so dangerously complicated, so if you’re not inclined to mournful prayers we urge at least a respectful moment of silence.
— Bud Norman