On the morning of Wednesday, December 2, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27, burst into a conference-room holiday party in the federally-funded Inland Regional Center at San Bernardino, CA, where Faroook was employed. They killed 14 people and injured 21, armed with two assault rifles and two semiautomatic handguns, as reported by to the Los Angeles Times.
Farook and Malik were killed by San Bernardino police in a shootout four hours later.
Farook was born in Chicago and worked for five years at the San Bernardino County Health Department. Malik was born in Pakistan. After the apparent arrangement of a marriage on an internet site, they met in Saudi Arabia in 2014 before coming to the United States together.
They lived in a middle-class home which investigators found to be filled with bombs, bomb-making equipment and hundreds of rounds of ammunition, in the nearby city of Redlands, CA. San Bernardino County is a typical example of Middle America, and we are justified in thinking that if something like this is possible there it is possible anywhere, at any time.
Still, the hideous assault in San Bernardino may be expected to elicit an insufficient response, similar to other terrorist incidents seen in the West since September 11, 2001.
Politicians and media will call for an investigation to determine if Farook had been "radicalized" or if the onslaught grew out of a workplace dispute. But as the Los Angeles Times pointed out, the quantity of armament in the Farook house was "unsettling." The arms cache indicated a propensity and probable intentions to carry out a jihadist attack, wherever it might be.
A "search for motives" appears absurd; the couple committed mass murder and kept an arsenal in their house. What other evidence of "radicalization" is needed? The crime was terror. There is no need to prove it is a more abstract example of "terrorism."
Further, with the so-called "Islamic State" committed to disrupting public security throughout the world, it is clear that radical Islamist violence recognizes no frontiers. It will be felt wherever it can be, and especially against ordinary people. Office workers, commuters, and young people pursuing innocent activities were the targets in 2001, the 2004 Madrid metro bombing, the 2005 London Underground bombings, 2008 Mumbai invasion, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the Charlie Hebdo raid in January and the terror wave that swept Paris last month. Compared with these cities San Bernardino is obscure, but that is just the point. Today, no place may be safe.
Anti-radical Muslims, in America and abroad, of which there are many, do not ask that terrorists be given the benefit of the doubt when they spill blood. Ordinary Muslims are much more willing to identify "radical Islam" as a historical and dangerous threat within the religion.
But carnage like that seen in San Bernardino has a deeper meaning.
We have heard repeatedly that the kind of open society in which Americans live is anathema to the fanatics of the so-called "Islamic State." They dream of a totalitarian order in which all personal conduct and every social transaction is governed by arbitrary religious rules. That is true on both counts.
Equally importantly, however, their deranged vision is not a product of marginalization or discrimination against Muslims, however often their apologists seek to present all Muslims as victims of the West. That is a cliché evoked frequently when examining cases like those in Paris -- that Muslims are excluded from economic advancement in the West and turn to extremism in frustration.
Syed Farook was not socially-disadvantaged. He graduated from California State University in San Bernardino with a degree in environmental engineering, and enrolled last year in a graduate program at California State University, Fullerton, in the same field, according to The New York Times. He earned $70,000 per year, stated NBC News, which noted that the pair attempted unsuccessfully to set off a pipe bomb during their homicidal incursion at the office party.
The key to the jihadist eruption of Farook and Malik would seem to involve neither discrimination, nor Islam per se. Rather, the evil acts of radical Muslims incited by ISIS and similar groups are products of a power ideology. In Saudi Arabia, the form of this ideology is violent and intolerant Wahhabism, the sole interpretation of the religion permitted by the state. ISIS has embraced a frenzied form of Wahhabism. In Pakistan, the same kind of ideology is mainly expressed in Deobandism, the sect that inspired the Taliban.
The governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have distanced themselves from ISIS, with the Saudi kingdom criminalizing jihadist preaching, collection of funds, and traveling abroad for armed jihad. But 14 years after 9/11, when the world should have awakened to the global threat of radical fundamentalism in Islam, experts and authorities still claim to look for personal and obscure answers when atrocities like that of San Bernardino occur.
It is time for the world's governments, Muslim as well as non-Muslim, to examine the problems within Islam soberly and seriously, and to move beyond symbolic gestures, whether psychological or military. In this effort, moderate, traditional, spiritual, conventional, and even conservative Muslim leaders have an indispensable role. Consequential action is needed without delay.