To Save Me From Tears
Last Christmas, I gave you my gun. But the very next day, you terrorized me.
In an interview with CBS News on December 2nd, after being briefed on the events transpiring in San Bernardino, California, President Obama remarked: "For those who are concerned about terrorism, some may be aware of the fact that we have a no-fly list where people can't get on planes. But those same people who we don't allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm—and there's nothing we can do to stop them. That's a law that needs to be changed."
No doubt this passionate and seemingly reasonable response to San Bernardino was a prickly political talking-point for the most vociferous gun-rights advocates.
As it turns out, of course, we are learning that the shooting was indeed an act of terror, perpetrated by American Muslims (the husband, a citizen, born in the U.S.; the wife, a permanent resident by way of Pakistan). But also, not insignificantly, the shooting fit a pattern of mass shootings that, as the president noted, "has no parallel anywhere else in the world." In this way, it became "one more moment of carnage"—Peter Baker captures it well—"that defied easy or immediate categorization."
But, as the shooting itself did in San Bernardino, it seems the president is bringing into conversation the militant piety of radicalized Islam, including but not limited to Islamic State, with our nation's glaring epidemic of gun violence. Unlike the full-time political haters and the disparate varieties of fear-mongers, unlike most Republican presidential hopefuls, I do not believe that Obama is in any way being dismissive of the ISIS threat or that somehow he is being morally complacent as a leader.
Instead, as Peter Beinart argues at The Atlantic, Obama is contextualizing the ISIS threat.
According to Beinart, the president views violent jihadism as a "toxic strain within Islamic civilization, not a civilization itself." It is not a serious ideological competitor to the American way of life. Come on, no one believes that the ultimate vision of Islamic extremism will produce "higher living standards for ordinary people than democratic capitalist societies," Beinart observes.
Gerald Seib's column in The Wall Street Journal drew out this distinction with a difference: "Mr. Obama is prescribing more of a slow-but-steady approach to dealing with ISIS. [He] thinks the rush-to-action approach carries more risk than reward." Here, Seib says, Western imperialism is clearly in view. Obama does not want to re-create "the appearance of the West imposing its will on the region." Certainly, this approach is also about avoiding at least three F-words: feeding the ISIS narrative of global jihad, fulfilling what ISIS envisions as religiously prophetic, and facilitating a crop of new ISIS recruits among the angry-young-Muslim set.
Besides, as it stands, terrorists—exactly like those inspired by radicalized Islam—are turning to "less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society,” the president says. To be sure, he is connecting provocative dots.
Suddenly, in one sentence, another kind of mourning rushes over me. And nothing can save me from tears...