Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
Our nation is engaged in a profoundly dishonest discussion about terrorism in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino.
The FBI has concluded that the shooters had no actual connection to ISIS—unless you count liking the group on Facebook.
The shooters were, as The New York Times put it, “inspired, but not directed” by ISIS. President Obama acknowledged as much in his Oval Office speech on terrorism Sunday night.
Then, in response to the shootings, Obama promised airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
Norman Solomon, executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, wrote a “translation into candor” of the President’s speech:
“I kind of realize we can’t kill our way out of this conflict with ISIL,” Solomon-as-Obama declared, “but in the short term, hopefully we can kill our way out of the danger of a Republican victory in the presidential race next year.”
Competing with the Republican demagogues is getting increasingly hard.
Donald Trump is the worst, calling for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States—this, after Trump floated the idea of a Muslim citizens’ registry. His Republican rivals have denounced Trump’s blanket bigotry. But many of them have, to some degree, engaged in Muslim-bashing (On Fox News, Jeb Bush claimed that there are no radical extremists among the other world religions. Wonkette joked that pro-life terrorists felt snubbed). All of the Republican candidates have adopted the idea that somehow Obama’s failure to launch more U.S. military strikes against ISIS led to the San Bernardino shootings. Ted Cruz, now at the top of the polls in Iowa, excoriated Obama for being too measured in his Oval Office speech and called for carpet-bombing in Iraq and Syria. “I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out,” Cruz announced.
Other candidates engaged in similar tough-guy hyperbole, connecting Obama’s supposed weakness in the war with Muslim terrorists to the shooting in a county facility in California.
This is, to say the least, a massive leap.
The shooting in San Bernardino, like the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic the week before, is a kind of terrorism—stoked, in one case, by religious extremism, and in the other by lurid and misleading anti-Planned-Parenthood propaganda—propaganda supported and spread by the current crop of Republican presidential candidates.
The New York Times points out that “the death toll from jihadist terrorism on American soil since the September 11 attacks—45 people—is about the same as the 48 killed in terrorist attacks motivated by white supremacist and other right-wing extremist ideologies.”
The solution to these acts of violence is not sending the U.S. military to war. It is limiting access to guns at home.
Gun deaths from conventional murder dwarf terrorism. Yet gun sales have spiked after the recent mass shootings—posing a far more concrete danger to U.S. citizens than ISIS can ever manage. U.S. military bombings do nothing to stop this. In fact, the long-term program of destabilization our country has pursued, especially in Iraq, has fed the growth of ISIS. Here at home, paranoid rhetoric, and the presence of ever more guns on the streets—there are now more guns than people in the United States—make us less and less safe
Incredibly, in the aftermath of the San Bernardino murders, every Republican in the U.S. Senate, except Mark Kirk of Illinois, voted against a bill to stop people who are on the FBI terrorist watch list from buying guns and explosives. House Speaker Paul Ryan actually defended the vote to continue arming suspected terrorists by denouncing an overly intrusive government.
Another bill that went down to defeat would have prevented felons and the mentally ill from buying guns online.
We badly need to get some perspective.
The United States is not at war with some dangerous foreign threat creeping up on our strip malls and clinics and county facilities in the suburbs.
We are at war with ourselves.
Ruth Conniff is editor of The Progressive Magazine.