Déjà Vu in Pensacola

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Do you get the feeling that you’ve seen this movie before?

On Friday, December 6, Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the Saudi military, killed three and wounded seven others at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. The New York Times immediately reported that his motive was unclear. If standard procedure is followed, it won’t be clear for a long time to come—at least not until the authorities can dream up a motive that has nothing to do with Islam, Allah, and virgins in paradise.

Perhaps the motive will turn out to be anger at America’s pervasive “Islamophobia” or disgust that American troops are stationed in Saudi Arabia. That, supposedly, was one of Osama bin Laden’s motives. It’s highly likely that the motive-that-must-not-be-named will not be named.

That this might be the case was suggested in a CNN story that appeared on the day of the massacre. One of the headings read: “Was the motive terrorism?” That’s a fairly stupid question. Terrorism is an action, not a motive. Terrorizing people for the sake of terrorizing people is the act of a madman. The people that we usually think of as terrorists engage in terrorism because they are motivated by something else—some cause or some belief system. That journalists are still thinking in terms of terror as a motive, and still avoiding the ideology behind the terror, suggests that we’re still a long way from confronting the underlying problem.

 

In many ways, the Pensacola attack is similar to the one that took place ten years ago at Fort Hood Army Base in Texas. After Major Nidal Hasan gunned down thirteen people, the Army, the media, and the government had a difficult time discerning the motive. Was it job stress? Or was it PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)? The latter was eventually rejected as a motive when it became known that Major Hasan had never been in combat. Finally, the Army gave up on trying to find a motive, and simply chalked it up as a case of “workplace violence.” Will officer Alshamrani’s attack also be found to be a case of “workplace violence”? However his actions are explained, it’s unlikely that the motive will be found in the most likely place—the Islamic belief system.

In addition to the question of motive, the Pensacola attack raises another important question. What kind of vetting does our military have in place? Or, to put it another way, why was no one able to discern Alshamrani’s radicalism before he was placed in such a sensitive position? Had he not been killed by a sheriff’s deputy, he could have killed many more. And, since he was a pilot, he could, with more thorough planning, have caused much greater loss of life by flying a warplane into an office building or football stadium.

A related question is this: were there personnel at the base who were suspicious of the Saudi pilot but kept their suspicions to themselves? It’s certainly not an unthinkable question, because we know now of several cases in which colleagues of a terrorist saw something but said nothing.

Major Hasan’s fellow officers, both at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and at Fort hood, saw plenty that disturbed them, but they never said anything to superior officers. Hasan’s business card identified him as “So A”—Soldier of Allah. He gave a PowerPoint presentation to colleagues justifying jihad against enemies of Islam. And he praised the jihad murder of two soldiers at a recruitment center in Little Rock. One of his colleagues later described him as “a ticking time bomb.”

So why didn’t they do something? Well, for the usual reasons: nobody wanted to be accused of “Islamophobia” or racism, and possibly suffer demotion or dismissal in an Army which by 2010 had already become thoroughly soaked in the doctrines of political correctness. As the Associated Press put it, “a fear of appearing discriminatory against a Muslim student kept officers from filing a written complaint.”

This last statement put me in mind of a headline from two months ago: “French police afraid to report suspicious colleagues due to ‘Islamophobia’ label.”

The French police had good reason to be suspicious. Long before Mikhael Harpon killed four officers with a knife inside Paris Police Headquarters, he had displayed various signs of radicalization. He began to refuse interaction with female colleagues, he attended mosque more frequently, and he began wearing traditional Islamic garments—behaviors that were also observed in Major Hasan in the months leading up to his attack and the elder of the two Tsarnaev brothers in the time leading up to the Boston Marathon bombing. Moreover, just as Major Hasan praised the killing of two American soldiers by a jihadist, Harpon alarmed his colleagues in 2015 when he defended the jihad massacre of twelve people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper.

It would be tempting to make comparisons between Inspector Clouseau and Harpon’s colleagues, but it’s unlikely that they were as clueless as the fictional Clouseau. Harpon, who possessed a top secret security clearance, worked as an IT specialist in a police unit devoted to studying jihad and radicalization. They must have suspected something, but they chose to say nothing. The grip of PC on the Western mind is so strong that the officers may well have preferred the more remote odds of dying at the hands of a terrorist to the much higher odds that a charge of prejudice would end their careers.

Therefore, it’s quite likely that we will eventually find that some—maybe several—soldiers at Pensacola had strong suspicions about Alshamrani, but that they kept them to themselves in order to avoid the dreadful repercussions of exposing themselves as “Islamophobes.”

The willingness to sacrifice security for the sake of political correctness is much more common in the Western world than one might think. Just two weeks ago, a knife-wielding terrorist killed two and injured three on London Bridge. If British authorities had been more security conscious, he would still have been in jail rather than free to terrorize the citizens of London. Usman Khan had been serving a 16-year sentence for his part in a plot to blow up the London Stock Exchange. But Khan was released “on license” eight years early because authorities were impressed with a letter he wrote from jail asking to take part in a deradicalization course. He said that he wanted to “prove… that I don’t carry the views I had before my arrest and also I can prove that at the time I was immature, and now I am much more mature and want to live my life as a good Muslim and also a good citizen of Britain.”

Thus, on the basis of this “I promise to be a good boy” letter, gullible officials decided the repentant lad should be given a second chance. That they were also taking a chance with the lives of British citizens seemed to be of lesser concern. The important thing was to show the world that their deradicalization program worked. Moreover, to turn down the young man’s request might be taken as a sign of Islamophobia.

There’s a good deal of evidence that those who we rely on to ensure our security are more concerned with avoiding charges of Islamophobia than with security. One of the suicide bombers who blew himself and others up at the Brussels Airport had worked at the airport for five years. Apparently, he received little or no vetting. RT reported in 2016 that at least 50 supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS) were also working at Zaventem Airport. Vincent Gilles, the head of one of the largest police unions in Belgium, suggested that “the recruitment policy employed by the Brussels Airport Company… appeared to favor people from those areas”—i.e., from areas with large Muslim immigrant populations.

The situation is not much better in the U.S. Three Somali employees with security clearance at the Minneapolis Airport left America to fight with terrorist groups overseas. And who can forget the American Airlines mechanic who was accused of sabotaging a flight out of Miami in July? Well, at this point, just about everyone has forgotten Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani. This is because the press doesn’t seem to think that his story is worth pursuing. The most recent stories I found on Google were all from mid-September and merely suggested that Alani “may have links to a Middle East terrorist organization.”

Did Second Lieutenant Alshamrani have links to a Middle East terrorist organization? It’s too early to tell, but it’s beginning to look as though he was no lone wolf. According to an AP report, a U.S. official said that 10 Saudi students were being held at the base, several others are still unaccounted for, and at least one was seen filming the massacre. The official also reported that Alshamrani had hosted a dinner party the night before to watch videos of mass shootings.

It seems highly unlikely that Alshamrani was acting alone. And it seems just as unlikely that others on the base had no prior suspicions about the Saudi trainee.

If this turns out to be the case, why did no one report him? I think we already know the answer to that. The fear of being thought bigoted or Islamophobic has frozen Americans into a suicidal paralysis.

Photo credit: Getty Images News

William Kilpatrick

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William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong; and Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Jihad. His articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Saint Austin Review, Investor’s Business Daily, and First Things. His work is supported in part by the Shillman Foundation. For more on his work and writings, visit his website, turningpointproject.com

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