Recently, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, a Somali-born, 19 year-old student from Oregon State University attempted to detonate what he believed was a vehicle bomb amidst the hundreds of spectators at the annual Portland tree-lighting event. I was only 10 or so blocks away watching from the 30th floor of the Portland City Grill. Turns out he wasn’t working with fellow confederates, but had unwittingly been snagged by undercover FBI agents. He fell on their radar because his own father apparently wrote to the FBI and warned them about his son’s extremist viewpoints. Mohamed tried to contact militants in other countries, but the FBI intercepted instead. Following his lead, the FBI supplied him with a dummy van bomb which had 5 or 6 55 gallon drums of (what he thought) were explosives. The van was parked on the tree-lighting block and he walked (past my building) and activated the dud via cel phone right in the middle of the event. Obviously it didn’t go off and he was immediately arrested. Many have already called up the very likely charge of entrapment; but that will likely have to be decided in the courts.
Unfortunately, the night after the bombing, a mosque that Mohamed sporadically attended was set on fire. Arson is highly likely based on the early evidence. Fortunately only the office area was damaged and police are now running extra patrols around other mosques in the area. The mosque very quickly and publicly denounced Mohamed’s actions, and there has been no evidence any radical element is present there. So far there is no evidence that Mohamed appears to have contacted or worked with anyone from the mosque on his plans.
Unfortunately, this has revealed a general anti-religious attitude here in Portland/Oregon that I’ve run into before from what seem very well educated, self-described as open-minded, and well meaning folks. On OPB’s Think Out Loud radio show, a comment appeared on their live blog they read from while doing the show. The following comment was made, and struck a chord because I have heard it at a number of times at dinner parties/etc:
Religious people of all faiths are the problem. They are the cause of hatred, violence, misinformation, and ignorance throughout the world. The rest of us are dragged along in the wake of their poor behavior, we are associated with them because of the country we live in and the politicians they elect. Muslims aren’t the problem, all religions are the problem.
A number of people responded, but I liked this one best:
I disagree with your argument – not least of which is because it’s a contradiction. You say religions are the problem, but say Muslims are not. Do you realize what makes a person a Muslim is their identification with a religion? Why did you assume it was his religion when his own congregation condemns his actions and he didn’t appear to get support for his plan or ideas from them? Do you support the people that tried to burn down his Mosque because religions are to blame even though there is no proof to their involvement?
Secondly, you indicate that religions are the the cause of these problem. It’s far too simplistic and wrong to say religion is the the sole source of this kind of brutal hatred in the world. How about the purely political and ideological killings of rebel groups in Central and South America? Or the purely monetary murders of drug cartels in Mexico? The atrocities of the Kamier Rouge and Pol Pot, or the wholesale rape and hacking off of limbs by African militia groups? Somolian death squads? None of these groups are based on religious principles/backgrounds.
I agree with croyfp – it’s extremism of ANY ideology: be it political, ideological, religious, monetary, or otherwise that causes folks to feel the need to destroy those that don’t believe in what they do. In fact, I can see a bit of this kind of hatred and anger in your response that desires to destroy something you don’t feel is right in your eyes. A true desirer of the good seeks to take what is good, and correct what is bad via reasoned argument and dialog. An extremist says it must all be destroyed. So where do you find yourself in your statement?
People desire to hurt others when they themselves have been hurt and not found understanding or healing; so they try to hurt others so that others have to feel the hurt and helplessness they themselves feel. We won’t make a dent in extremists like this until they are allowed to be heard or at least given models to help guide them through their anger.
You can find the whole dialog and program here. There were some pretty good comments.