Terrorism Is a Tactic, Not a Motivation

In the immediate aftermath of yesterday’s heartrending murder rampage in San Bernardino, we are all asking why this happened and how to prevent it in the future. As victims’ families receive care and compassion from the immediate and larger American community, and as law enforcement officials continue to investigate leads, the looming question regarding the perpetrators is whether they were motivated primarily by workplace issues or by terrorism. I suspect that the answer is “Neither.”

The murderers have been identified as a young couple from the Muslim world (Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, apparently both of Pakistani descent). The man was described by his father as a devout Muslim. He was an employee of the county department holding the Christmas lunch party during which he and his wife committed their mayhem. The couple had been together for up to two years and were the parents of a 6 month old girl.

Why was this not simply “workplace violence”? First, the amount of planning and preparation (legal purchase of weapons, building of pipe bombs, radio-controlled model cars as delivery instruments, over 1600 rounds of ammunition with them and another 5,000 at their home, the rental of an SUV with the intention apparently of covering their tracks) indicates that this incident cannot be explained by sudden rage over poor treatment at the office. Second, the fact that he left the party only to come back, along with his wife, dressed in black tactical gear and wearing a mask indicates the intention to keep his identity secret. People who want personal revenge typically want their victims to know who is inflicting the revenge. Third, even if the husband were motivated by perceived grievances against his employer, what would convince his wife (and the mother of their 6 month old daughter) to throw her life away simply to help her husband grind his own axe? That makes no sense.

There can be no doubt that this was an act of terrorism. But the big, unasked question is: What motivation led this couple to utilize terrorism? Terrorism is not a motivation, but a tactic. Some deeper goal motivates those who engage in terror than just to sow mayhem for the heck of it. In this case, much initial evidence points to the ideology behind radical Islam as Farook’s and Malik’s motivation. Let’s look at the clues so far:

  • Both husband and wife were Muslims, and he at least was “devout” in his practice
  • radical Islam teaches that terror is a legitimate tactic against those opposing the advance of Islam
  • Only a fanatical ideology (such as belief that killing infidels “in the way of Allah” brings Allah pleasure and secures one’s place in heaven) could motivate a young mother to abandon her infant daughter to go on a dangerous killing spree
  • the fact that they had visited Saudi Arabia within the recent past (though we don’t yet know why) and that their tactics line up well with al-Qaeda-type training lead to the suspicion that they were personally coached or self-taught from Islamic terrorist websites. This suspected linkage will need to be verified or disproved as further facts come out.
  • Though the initial reports that the couple sported “Go-Pro” cameras are now in dispute, if this indeed proves to be true, that would be substantial evidence of a mindset intending to publicize a cause rather than to get revenge on  a certain group of people. Time will tell on this point.
  • Why attack an office party celebrating the holiday of Christmas? It could be simply a strategic decision (assuming the government office building would have the typical camera and metal-detection screening, and the site hosting the Christmas party didn’t, so it would be easier to launch an attack during the party) or perhaps motivated as well by  Islamic animosity to the message of Christmas — that God came into the world, incarnate in the person of Jesus, in order to save the world from its sins.
    • Sura 9:30 says, “…the Christians say: The Messiah is the son of Allah. That is their saying with their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved of old. Allah (Himself) fighteth against them. How perverse are they!” If Allah himself fights against those who believe the Messiah to the the Son of God, why wouldn’t his self-proclaimed followers imitate their god?

Continued investigation of this cold-blooded attack will ultimately clarify these matters, but current evidence leads me to conclude that the San Bernardino murderers were not principally motivated by workplace grievances, nor by “terrorism” per se, but by a radical application of core Islam, permitting them to terrorize unbelievers for the advancement of the cause of Muhammad.

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One Response to Terrorism Is a Tactic, Not a Motivation

  1. Jay Norton says:


    This looks like another case of “self radicalization” similar to the individuals in Texas who tried to attack the “draw Mohammed” contest.


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