Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Defeating ISIS one mom at a time

Zarine Khan/AP photo

     The mother of the accused can be safely ignored.
     All those outraged “Not my baby!” protests.
     The inevitable “I know he’s innocent” oaths, dripping with ginned-up indignation.
     They must seem powerful when the mothers of boys gone wrong are saying them, with tears and nods.
     And the media passes it along as if it means something.
     But there is always an unspoken dismissive “uh-huh,” a tongue click: Maybe mom, we think, if you were paying more attention, then Junior wouldn’t be duck-walked through 26th and California in shackles, and you wouldn’t have to tell the indifferent world what a good kid he is and how he couldn’t have done what all the evidence points toward him doing.
     With most moms of the accused, this is true.
     Now Zarine Khan is a different case.
     Mother of Mohammed Hamzah Khan, the Bolingbrook teen who in the fall managed to retire the 2014 prize for Top Suburban Youthful Screwup, leaping over being caught with a joint or wrecking the car or missing his curfew, and landing straight into the realm of treason as he was arrested at O’Hare on his way to join the Islamic State group.

       If you don't recall, in October, Khan, 19, his 17-year-old sister and 16-year-old brother were blocked from boarding a plane to Vienna, on their way to Istanbul, then to Syria to help with the beheadings and civilian massacres that the Islamic State is committing in the name of Islam.
     "An Islamic State has been established and it is thus obligatory upon every able-bodied male and female to migrate there," Khan wrote in the note he left behind. "Muslims have been crushed under foot for too long. ... This nation is openly against Islam and Muslims. ... I do not want my progeny to be raised in a filthy environment like this."
     He was charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. On Tuesday, Khan pleaded not guilty.
     Expected. But the really interesting statement was made by his mother, in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building:
     "As parents we feel compelled to speak out about the recent events in Paris, where we saw unspeakable acts of horror perpetrated by the recruiters for jihadist groups in the name of Islam," she said. "The venom spewed by these groups and the violence committed by them find no support in the Quran and are completely at odds with our Islamic faith.
     "We condemn this violence in the strongest possible terms. We condemn the brutal tactics of ISIS and groups like it. And we condemn the brainwashing and the recruiting of children through the use of social media and Internet."
     Normally, I consider demands for Islamic condemnation of terror an insult to the world's 1.6 billion Muslims. Chicagoans weren't called upon to denounce John Wayne Gacy, to prove they weren't in sympathy. Yet whenever there's an Islamic radical attack, those who fear Muslims anyway demand some sort of collective denouncement from them, as a body, a situation best summed up by Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Chicago.
     "We are held account for the choices of the worst among us," he said, pointing out that one of the attackers of the kosher market in Paris and a bystander who tried to help were both African Muslims.
     "Should the guy who saved lives have to apologize for the guy shooting?" Rehab asked.
     But the situation with mothers, and fathers, is different.
     It is possible to discount what Zarine Kahn said. She is, after all, the mother of a teen facing years in prison. And I would never suggest she is heroic for saying that.
     But that process - speaking out against this - is important for the parents of other teens, who certainly might harbor feelings such as those that sent Mohammed Khan packing. A million French in the street is one piece of the puzzle getting us toward the world that most of us want to inhabit. And mothers against the romantic lure of jihad, both in public and in private, is another.
     Zarine Kahn is not the only one; her desperate situation made her brazen. But many parents are in a similar desperate situation and might not even know it. They, too, need to speak to their children. As a parent of a 17- and a 19-year-old myself, I know that they don't always seem to be listening. In fact, sometimes it seems they're never listening.
     But some part of them is listening. And the message sinks in.


  1. >>Normally, I consider demands for Islamic condemnation of terror something of an insult to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. Chicagoans weren’t called upon to denounce John Wayne Gacy, to prove they weren’t in sympathy.<<

    If Chicagoans produced an inordinate number of child rapists/killers AND polls showed a majority of Chicagoans who thought, well, it should be ok for people to do certain physical acts to kids, just not rape or kill them (because -that- is going too far) I suspect there would indeed have been such calls. There would have been such calls to Jews had their response to the revenge killings last year was largely a shrug and "you have to understand what motivates it" blather.

  2. Mr. Steinberg, please read for comprehension, as you have been consistently attributing to me statements/positions I explicitly disclaim. As I wrote before (Jan 9th) I acknowledge that most Muslims DO NOT support terrorism. I called those who do a "fringe." So please stop with the straw man. The point I'm making is that while that direct support may be lacking, there are other widely held opinions that create conditions which permit terrorism to grow. Tom Friedman has made this point several times through the years about how critical the kind of thing this mother is doing is. He's hardly an anti-Muslim Islamophobe or even Bill Mahler type.

    And as I wrote several months ago, it would be wrong to simply attribute such attitudes to something about the Islamic religion, that there were cultural and geopolitical aspects at-play. The problem with your writing on this subject (and on immigration) is that everything is black and white. I don't know what the proper level of questioning the Muslim community about terrorism and the community and leaderships' response to it is, but it's not "never/nothing."

    Finally, the only way your "600 murders" example would be remotely analogous would be if the majority of murderers around the globe were Chicagoans AND a widespread response of Chicagoans to the murders was "I don't think the victims should have been murdered, but I do think they did wrong."

    1. Your comments of Jan. 9 perhaps linger with you longer than they linger with those who read them. You can fault them for that if you like.

    2. You don't have to remember my comments of January 9. My post today made the same "they don't support ___ but do support ____" point in response to your attempt to analogize to John Wayne Gacy (!).

    3. So your animus against Muslims is not based solely on their religion. What a guy.

      If you're not saying Muslims support terrorism, then what are you saying? That they're...indifferent to it? Not outraged enough by it to suit you?

      Go "questioning the Muslim community" about this if that's what you want to do. I suspect they'll be more polite to you than I would.

  3. I looked up the csmonitor article and the final sentence gets it wrong I think, "And we can start by recognizing that Muslims throughout the world want peace as much as Americans do."

    In fact, without resorting to statistics, the most casual observer would realize that Americans are the least motivated to seek peace. We have suffered less, lost fewer lives, and been generally less affected by terrorism than virtually any other nation in the world. We also have a huge, well-equipped and competent army that enjoys the support of the overwhelming majority of American citizens at this time (as opposed to the Vietnam era). It's sad that we have so few places we can drop bombs on to kill our enemies.


  4. Well said, anon not anon

  5. Neil, is there any way to change the way commenters are identified? It seems the majority of commenters are labeled either "Anonymous" or some variation on that word. Ideally, people who care enough to comment on stories would make the effort to figure out the current system to put at least a unique screen name (if not their actual name) on their posts, but though I didn't have much trouble, it would seem the current system must be more cumbersome than most or there wouldn't be so many anonymous commenters.

    It would help to sort out the tiresome, the crackpots and loonies from the thoughtful and well-informed commenters who appear to be in the majority.

    Thanks either way. I don't comment much but I rarely miss the posts and make a point to catch up whenever I do miss a day (or two or three...)

    1. I don't have too much trouble with crackpots, and while anonymity does undercut their point, that's okay by me too.

    2. Anonymity may well undercut my points, but I've read the remarks offered by countless people using their real names on comment boards elsewhere which demonstrate that identifying themselves does nothing to elevate them from their roles as crackpots...

  6. Yep, here's Thomas Friedman today responding to Mr. Steinberg far better than I have. Quoting leading Arab journalists on the need for Muslims to confront terrorism. Writing "the truth is there is a huge amount of ambivalence toward this whole jihadist phenomenon — more than any of us would like to believe — in the Arab-Muslim world, Europe and America." Yes, it's worth making the obvious point that the vast majority of Muslims around the world are not terrorists and do not support terrorism. That ALONE does not mean there's no problem here, let alone that an analogy to other Western groups' reaction to violence (John Wayne Gacy!) is apt. As they say, read the whole thing:

  7. Some of Steinberg's analogies may be simplistic, but all the heated commentary seems to be the opposite, shedding more heat than light. I thought it a sensible column and am not sure what all the fuss is about.

    Tom Evans

  8. I still don't trust that mother. Would she have reported him if he wasn't caught? What of the dad? Also, how are her kids buying tickets with what card and the parents weren't even aware???


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