Sunday, November 28, 2010

Jihadism in Portland

Events can sometimes compel one to respond. In this case, the foiling of an attempted attack on a city that I care deeply for and call home has proven to have the sufficient gravitas. My initial feeling was of anger and alarm that someone would undertake a violent plot against Portland's citizens was tempered by almost a sense of schadenfreude as I invisioned the absolute feeling of betrayal and hatred that Mr. Mohamud would have felt in the moment that he realized that he had been set up for months by the FBI. There is something delicious about that moment when it most surely would have dawned on him that rather than harming any of his supposed enemies within the decadent West, he would be spending the rest of his life in a maximum security prison. That thought alone sated any appetite for revenge that may have troubled me.

More importantly, the desire by Mr. Mohamud to inflict death and destruction upon a civilian population, his apparent verve at the knowledge that his actions would likely weigh most heavily upon children is especially chilling. That Portland is a liberal place that, as a whole, has resisted and even protested American Imperialist activities in the Middle East is immaterial. The underlying feeling of wasted life on the part of Mr. Mohamud's is also jarring. Here was a young man, reportedly from a good, upstanding family, in which he was an academic high achiever. He could have done something of good within this community and further helped to make Portland a more multi-cultural understanding place. Instead he decided to reject everything and attempt a nihilistic assault upon this community. That Mr. Mohamud was unable to find common humanity with other Portlanders is deeply sad and speaks to mental illness. It is also sufficiently telling that religious extremism tends to be a vehicle through which the mentally ill can seek justification for their desire, if it exists, to harm the wider population. It is abundantly clear that the ideology that underpinned Mr. Mohamud's action is disgusting but it is also one that requires the dehumanizing of ones victims.

It is easy to fall back on the crutch of pretending that we are in some war for civilization, but I don't think that is the case. My views on organized religion tend towards the dim, however, I fear for collective reprisal against Portland Muslims. I hope deeply that things will not come to this. Most are as shocked and appalled as the rest of us, and must now bear the further burden of having their loyalty and integration into this community indefinitely questioned. This is not in any way fair. Indeed, the greatest disservice that Mr. Mohamud did may very well be towards his fellow Muslim immigrants. Those that would undertake the action that Mr. Mohamud planned represent the slenderest of minorities, however fear and shock makes that a nuance that becomes easy to overlook.

One must assign great credit to the FBI. It has emerged that they had been tracking Mr. Mohamud for months and had prevented him from posing any genuine risk to the population long before the attack and for that I am deeply thankful. What should be learned from this is that we are far safer than we believe we are. Our law enforcement agencies managed to pre-empt and track Mr. Mohamud every step of the way, and to effectively disarm him in the planning phases of the attack. The repugnance one feels towards the violence that might have been wrought should not change the way we feel as a society, and indeed, the foiling of this attack reinforces the importance of the public sector both in the provision of services and for it's protection of the population.

Finally, Mr. Mohamud's proposed target of Pioneer Square is especially telling - an urban public space that has served as a point of common dialogue, compassion and exchange. There is enough thoughtfulness, understanding and decency within Portland that I do not feel this thwarted attack will dramatically alter the views of this community. If we let this change us, then Mr. Mohamud's bereft ideology will have triumphed.

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