Borrowing a trademarked slogan from “Hijabman,” Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez wrote as his senior quote in the 2008 Red Bank High School yearbook: “My name causes national security alerts. What does yours do?”
No doubt he chose this statement at that time because he shared the same sense of frustration experienced by millions of ordinary Muslims, viewed with suspicion in post-9/11 America. And no doubt there are now many Islamophobic Americans who see those words as prophetic rather than ironic.
Indeed, the discovery of a short-lived blog attributed to Abdulazeez, writing on religious themes, will reinforce the assumption that the shooting rampage that the 24-year-old gunman went on in Chattanooga yesterday, was inspired by Islam.
Yet if Abdulazeez was an Islamic extremist, it’s strange that he would have selected the parable of the blind men and the elephant for one of the two entries on his blog.
Choosing a story that illustrates why no one has a monopoly on truth — a story shared by Sufis, Hindus, Buddhists and Jains — Abdulazeez wanted to disavow the narrow-mindedness of fellow Muslims:
As Muslims, we often do this. We have a certain understanding of Islam and keep a tunnel vision of what we think Islam is. What we know is Islam and everything else is not. And we don’t have appreciation for other points of view and accept the fact that we may be missing some important parts of the religion.
This appeal for tolerance doesn’t sound like the kind of message that would be expressed by anyone with an affinity for ISIS or any other extremist group.
Since Abdulazeez’s deadly motives will likely never be known, we can do no more than speculate about what was running through his mind yesterday.
The fact that in April he’d been stopped while apparently driving under the influence of marijuana, further undermines the notion that he was some kind of religious zealot.
Perhaps he dreaded an upcoming court appearance and ensuing parental rebukes for bringing shame upon his family.
A neighbor told the New York Times that Abdulazeez and his sisters were well behaved and polite, with strict parents and a structured lifestyle. Maybe in those circumstances, dying in a hail of bullets seemed preferable to living with a criminal record.
While the media focuses on questions about this case that will most likely never be answered, the elephant in the room — just as it was after the Charleston massacre — is gun control. (A national campaign against the Confederate flag turned out to be a very effective way of dodging that political bullet after the last mass shooting.)
The reason the contents of the mind of an Abdulazeez or a Dylann Roof suddenly become objects of national fascination, actually has nothing to do with anything of intrinsic interest about the cognitive functions of killers.
It is simply because these particular aberrant thoughts could find expression through the barrel of a gun — thoughts that could be translated into violence just as easily as attending, for instance, the Camp Jordan Arena gun show in Chattanooga last weekend.
The “right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is what allowed Abdulazeez and Roof to gun down their victims, and yet this constitutional anachronism continues to be held as sacrosanct.
It is as though the gun was an indispensable extension of the American spirit, when in reality this passion for firearms is nothing more than the most graphic manifestation of American narrow-mindedness.
A country that spends billions of dollars on national security and fights an endless war on terrorism, yet is still reluctant to erect effective barriers to mass killing.
That’s plain dumb!