Chattanooga Killings: Motive Unknown

By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota

But they have no knowledge therein.
They follow nothing but conjecture;
and conjecture avails nothing against Truth.

(Quran 53:28)

fedwaOn July 16, 2015, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez killed five U.S. service members in a shooting rampage in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The 24-year-old gunman, joked that he was just an “Arabian redneck,” was smoking marijuana with friends and struggled to stay devout to Islamic teachings.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, immediately condemned the deadly attack in Tennessee.

In a statement, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible. Such inexcusable acts of violence must be repudiated by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy.”

Likewise, the Minnesota chapter of CAIR responded immediately as well.  Executive Board Member Sakinah Mujahid who is a 13 year veteran of the US Army said:

“We condemn this horrific attack in the strongest terms possible. Such inexcusable acts of violence must be repudiated by Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. The American Muslim community stands shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens in offering condolences to the loved ones of those killed and injured and in rejecting anyone who would harm our nation’s safety and security. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families impacted by this tragedy.”

Initial theories on the possible motive behind the Chattanooga killings appear to be just pure conjecture or guesswork.

In an effort to fill in the gaps while reinforcing the stereotypes that inform our world view, people espouse these speculative theories to create a sense of control or to separate themselves from the horrible crime as far as possible.

Some non-Muslims indicate normal Islamic teachings as a possible motive for the crime, while some Muslims are pointing to some of his unIslamic behavior.

Islamic teachings did not radicalize him.  Many Muslims believe in the teachings that the world is a prison, meaning – be patient as when one is in a physical prison – you accept it and seek God’s help to be patient.  Deal with life’s hardships and don’t expect utopia.  Not all Muslims who believe that go shooting people.  I believe that.  It teaches one to expect hardships in life.  i discussed this Islamic teaching in a blog on Lessons on Power and Oppression from Moses.  From the blog, here is a clarification of what life is a prison means:

He[Moses] had completely nothing with him, and fully exhausted himself – to the very depth of his body and soul in pursuit of survival.  It is not an easy experience – but in that state – what does he do?

Some would commit suicide, others go on shooting rampage, and others on drugs to numb their feelings or escape from the pain, fear and a whole new reality.  He just experienced and accepted the event.  He surrendered to the new reality he was in as this is where God brought him to.  Then, in a state of dire need and exhaustion, he saw two women who had a need.  Instead, of being absorbed with his need and his near starvation and exhaustion, he got up and approached them, asked a clarifying question, then addressed their need.  He asked them for nothing in return.  He made no assumptions or ugly accusations about their standing with their flock instead of a male relative.  Afterwards, he turned to God and put forth his prayer asking for “whatever good that You bestow on me.”

Life is a prison is about surrendering to God’s will and facing hardships with faith.

Likewise, I know many Muslims who engage in unIslamic behaviors, like drugs, drinking and even go to strip joints, etc.,  That doesn’t mean they are going to shoot people as well.  Some of them would go out of their way to help people.  They are human beings struggling with human problems in their lives like most humans do in various parts of their lives.  Some of them turned their lives around.  We read such stories all the time.  Here is a recent story on StoryCorps here.

There is no clear predictor for what turns a person to engage in violence.   A 2008 UK study showed no identifiable pattern to “radicalization.”  In the document, Rethinking Radicalization from the Brennan Center for Justice:

An in-depth empirical study by the UK’s security service MI5 found that “there is no single pathway to extremism,” and that all those studied “had taken strikingly different journeys to violent extremist activity.”

The point is – we are just conjecturing and sensationalizing a feel good story.

Simply put, the motive for the Chattanooga killings is unknown.

Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US.  She is the chair for the Interfaith Relations at Islamic Center of Minnesota.  She has completed training in restorative justice at the University’s Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking.  She was a 2008-2009 policy fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.  She lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

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Posted on July 19, 2015, in Engage Minnesota and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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