The FBI finally used the “T” word in San Bernardino, but will it fan “Islamophobia”?


As the investigation continues in the San Bernardino mass shooting case, I’m wondering if the search for a hard terrorist connection will result in the general terrorizing of innocent Muslim Americans.

And if anyone is wondering about the innocent South Asian American child left behind by the two San Bernardino shooting suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 27, their six-month old is with Child Protective Services, while everyone else in the family gets interrogated.

Even the grandmother, with whom the parents left the baby as they went on to carry out their attack, was questioned for seven hours by what the Farook family attorneys described as bearded operatives who could have been “FBI plants in mosques.”

The attorneys, David Chesley and Mohammad Abuershaid, told the media they also met with the FBI themselves and described the bureau’s frustration to connect the case with terrorism. They made it sound as if the FBI was practically on a witch hunt.

“It was bizarre to sit with them for four hours and not find and see anything, but that is exactly what happened. There was nothing linking this to religion or terrorism activity,” said Chesley at a news conference on Friday. “These FBI operatives are very shrewd and smart individuals, and if there was any information there, they would have gotten it,” said Chesley. “And the most they got was someone looking on Facebook.”

That someone was said to be Tashfeen Malik using an assumed name. Soon after Chesley spoke, the first pictures were released of Malik, who is fast becoming the case’s key figure. Her photo from Department of Homeland Security files was made public.


Chesley said even some members of her family weren’t sure what she looked like because Malik always wore a burka.

But now we can put her face on the same page as the innocents caught in the crossfire.

Tin Nguyen, 31, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam when she was 8, was killed at the now infamous Christmas party rampage in the county offices in San Bernardino on Dec. 2.

When Jennifer Markovsky, 36-year-old mother of two, born Jennifer Ah-King of Hawaii, was one of the victims in the Colorado shooting last Friday, I thought we’d get a reprieve from any further shootings for a while.

But I was wrong.

There is no holiday break from the threat of mass gun violence in America.

Nguyen was a graduate of California State University at Fullerton, worked as a county food inspector for four years, and was preparing for a wedding to her longtime boyfriend, according to reports. She had a full life ahead of her.


She was one of 14 victims in yet another horrific shooting case in the U.S. We mourn for them all.

I only point out an Asian American face because it’s important for our community to understand we are all a part of this national tragedy.

By now, we know the routine well.

Place your right hand over your hearts. Ready, grieve.

Maybe not just for the victims, but for our sense of our democracy as well.

There’s an unmistakable pattern emerging from all these tragic shooting events.

First comes the initial shock of violent breaking news, followed by the incessant cable news play-by-play. We’ve slowed our lives to a crawl in order to see the wreckage and sort through the slow unfolding of the truth, aided by the aerial views of the traffic helicopters of LA’s local TV news.

And of course, there’s that ever-lurking subtext that revolves around the question: Is this an act of terrorism?

Nah, it could be just racism.

Or some good old-fashioned personal grudge.

Or the extreme office politics of a disgruntled employee. H.R., where are you when we need you?

Then a little more truth. The identities of the perps are revealed. In this case, Syed Rizwan Farook, a food inspector for San Bernardino County; born in Chicago; Pakistani American Muslim; gun enthusiast. He visited Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Met his wife, Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani passport holder, on a dating site. She came back to the U.S. with a K-1 spousal visa.

No one wants to jump to conclusions. No one says the “T” word, but everyone thinks it. Are we seeing a new twist? Mom and pop terrorism?

The president didsn’t mention the “T” word when he first commented on Thursday: “We can’t leave it up to professionals to deal with the problem of these kinds of killings. We all have a part to play.”

Have we all been duly deputized? That could be a problem when leads are fueled by xenophobic suspicions.

The president then made a plead for gun control, saying, “I think we’re going to have to search ourselves as a society to make sure we can take basic steps that would make it harder, if not impossible, for individuals to get access to weapons.”

What kind of society do we want? One with fewer guns?

But later that day, the Senate voted against tougher measures that would have made it harder to get a gun. It just may not have made a difference in San Bernardino.

Still, it’s a typical non-response to mass gun violence from legislators.

Guns? Why, that’s protected by the 2nd Amendment.

South Asian Muslims? You mean the 1st Amendment applies to them?

It was midday Friday when David Bowdich, head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, finally used the “T” word for the first time. Without any specifics, he spoke of “a number of pieces of evidence that have essentially pushed us off the cliff to say for now, we’re investigating this as an act of terrorism.”

“Pushed us off the cliff”? No kidding. His words.

Let’s hope that net of democracy–the Constitution–is still somewhere in place to catch us all.

Later, Bowdich’s earlier statements were clarified by his boss, James Comey, the head of the FBI, who said there were no “indications of radicalization” and “potential inspiration from foreign terrorist organizations.”

“There’s a lot of evidence in this case that doesn’t quite make sense,” Comey said. “We investigate in secret, so that we don’t smear innocent people.”

Sure. He can leave it to the media to do that.

Chesley, the Farook family’s attorney, cautioned the media later in the afternoon: “When a Christian goes to shoot up a Planned Parenthood, or an extreme Catholic goes to bomb an abortion clinic, all the headlines don’t say ‘Extremist Radical Christian, Catholic,’ just like right now every headline says Muslim,” Chesley said. “I don’t think we should jump to too many conclusions, particularly because we need to protect the Muslim community.”

From stereotypes, scapegoating, intolerance, and hate, of course. It’s the stuff of Islamophobia.

When you have a GOP presidential frontrunner already talking about registering Muslims and investigating mosques, the smell is in the air.

In the coming days, let’s mourn for the innocents like Tin Nguyen, who have died in this senseless tragedy, and pursue justice in all the victims’ names.

But we must not do so at the expense of the ideals that have defined our great country.

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.
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