On Monday February 12, a teenager went on a shooting rampage in a Salt Lake City, Utah shopping mall, shooting 9 people and fatally wounding five of them. It was an horrific act of violence, and my heart and prayers go out to the families of the victims of this terrible crime.
The shooter, who was shot dead by police, was identified as Sulejman Talovic, a Bosnian immigrant who came to this country from Croatia in 1998 when he was 9 or 10, according to the New York Times. The article said:
Police investigators said they still did not know what made the killer…drive to the Trolley Square mall just before 7 p.m. and open fire. Mr. Talovic worked a regular day’s shift until 5 p.m. at a company that supplies uniforms to businesses, his boss said. Then he drove to the mall, strapped on a bandoleer of shotgun shells and a backpack full of handgun ammunition and killed five people…
The key statement above is that no one yet knows the motive behind the shooting. Yet, there are some who are absolutely certain it was a terrorist attack. Why? Sulejman Talovic was a Muslim.
It’s absolutely amazing: if the shooter was of any other ethnic background, no one would have even entertained the notion of terrorism. Once the criminal is Muslim, however, the motivation magically becomes an act of “jihad.” Never mind that, according to local Muslims in Salt Lake City, Talovic did not attend any of the area mosques on a regular basis. That does not necessarily mean that he could not have been a terrorist. Still, by the mere fact that he was Muslim, he automatically becomes a “jihadist” in the minds of some.
Take these angry letters sent to the Deseret Morning News, a local newspaper:
“Why dont (sic) you guys just come out and say this was a terrorist attack because he was MUSLIM.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that this young man was carrying out Islamic jihad.”
“Why is it that when I heard about a mall shotting (sic) I thought – Muslim? Sure enough. Are you people in Utah that clueless?”
“He was a Muslim terrorist and you know it you deceitful, cowardly liar.”
What shocks me about this last letter is the writer had an “M.D., Ph.D.” after his name. I would have thought that he, of all people, should have known better. Why could not the shooter have been simply a deranged teenager? Why does he automatically become a “terrorist” simply because of his Muslim background?
What if this Sulejman Talovic had underwent a horrific experience during the Bosnian civil war which left him emotionally and psychologically scarred for life? What if he finally snapped under the tremendous pressure of that experience and went on his rampage? Perhaps he witnessed the murder of a close friend or family member. Perhaps he witnessed the rape of a close family member. (Remember, the Serbs systematically raped hundreds of thousands of Muslim women during the Bosnian war.) Maybe he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
There could be a number of reasons why this person did what he did. Yet, simply because he is a Muslim, poof!…he becomes a terrorist. Why did no one call Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High School shooters, terrorists? Why didn’t anyone call Jeffrey Weise, the shooter at Red Lake High School in March 2005, a terrorist? There have, in fact, been a number of school shootings in 2006 and even 2007. Why weren’t any of those perpetrators called terrorists?
It’s simple, really. They were not Muslim.
Why wasn’t Buford O. Furrow Jr., the man who opened fire in a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center in 1999, called a terrorist? Again, he was not a Muslim. But Hesham Mohamed Hedayet, the man who opened fire at an El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles International Airport in July 2002, was called a terrorist…at least until the motive was discovered to be financial difficulty rather than a “violent jihad against Jews.”
Time and again, whenever a Muslim commits a crime, it is automatically assumed to be an act of terrorism. This is because the association between Islam and terrorism has been so entrenched in the minds of so many. Now, I admit, this does not come out of a vacuum. There is indeed a group of Muslims which commits acts of terrorism and claim to do so in the name of Islam. But, this does not mean that every single time a Muslim commits a crime, his or her motivation is “jihad against the West.”
Again, if the shooter in Salt Lake City was named “John Smith,” the word “terrorism” would not even come into the picture. But since the shooter’s name was Sulejman, a Muslim name, everyone begins to wonder, I suspect, whether he was a “jihadi” out for “infidel blood.” This is wrong. I commend the Deseret Morning News for not mentioning the religion of Sulejman Talovic.
No one mentioned the religion of Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Jeffrey Weise, or Buford Furrow Jr. in relation to their crimes. The same should be for Sulejman Talovic. Unless the facts bear otherwise, Mr. Talovic is just another criminal who has committed a terrible act of violence in our country. The fact that he is Muslim is absolutely irrelevant.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.