SABRIA S. JAWHAR asks "When can we call a 17-year-old white kid a terrorist?"

Monday 27 May 2013

Yesterday morning I read a news account of a 17-year-old Portland, Oregon, boy who had planned to detonate bombs at his high school to kill as many of his schoolmates as possible.

He had detailed plans, a timeline and a variety of explosive devices. Mass murder was his agenda. Here is what Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson said: “In any case that you have a young person that in essence plans to take a video game approach to killing people at school, you have to take a close look at the mental health issues.”

Yes, the boy wanted to murder as many people as possible with bombs. Therefore, he has mental health issues.

Two men with troubled histories last week hacked to death a British soldier on a street in Woolwich, UK. Although they were born Christian, they had converted to Islam. As Muslims, their mental health, according to the media, is not an issue. Therefore, they must be terrorists.

Maybe I am going out on a limb here, but when someone uses a meat cleaver to hack off the head of his victim, I’d say there are some mental health issues involved. But we live in a society where nuances like what motivates people to kill and how they got to that place in their lives where human life has no value are too complex to contemplate.

Instead we categorize for instant explanations: Troubled white teenager must have mental problems. Black Muslims are waging jihad.

If one should examine the mental health issues of any of these three alleged perpetrators, perhaps the two men who killed the soldier would provide better examples. One was lured into gang life and had a drug problem. He could be violent and spent time in a Kenyan prison cell where he was beaten and threatened with sexual abuse. The other also was tied to gangs and had nearly died after being stabbed in a robbery.

The high school kid was a good student without any major problems, according to news reports.

Religion? The two British men had barely been Muslims long enough to absorb what Islam really means. Blaming their religion on the attack on the soldier makes no more sense than blaming their Christianity on their previous criminal behavior.

It defies common sense to blame the soldier’s murder on Islam. It takes sheikhs a lifetime to understand Islam and they may go to their graves without grasping all that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us. There isn’t a Muslim on the planet who can honestly say that he or she knows all about Islam and follows the right path without error. Yet society quickly fixates on the religion of two individuals who didn’t have enough time to understand the teachings of the Qur’an, or even attend proper classes that gives the basics.

Instead, the pair took the unconventional route to learn Islam from such groups as the extremist Al-Muhajiroun, co-founded by the fringe leader Anjem Choudary.

Of all the avenues open to the two men, they chose the most un-Islamic.

Irfan Al-Alawi, the international director for the Center for Islamic Pluralism, told The Guardian newspaper recently that being brought up as Christians makes converts susceptible to radicalization.

“If they are new Muslims they are easy prey,” Al-Alawi said. “They won’t question what they are being told. But someone from a Muslim background will think twice.”