National Security & Defense

It Wasn’t a ‘Lack of Opportunity for Jobs’ That Motivated the Chattanooga Shooter

(Image: Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office)

“We need in the medium- to longer-term to go after the root causes that lead people to join these groups, whether it’s lack of opportunity for jobs, whether . . . ”

— Marie Harf, Deputy Spokesperson, U.S. State Department, Hardball with Chris Matthews, February 16, 2015

Given the relatively swank digs occupied by his family in the Colonial Shores neighborhood of Hixson, Tenn., it appears that “lack of opportunity for jobs” was not Mohammod Youssef Abdulazeez’s affliction. The 24-year-old Kuwaiti immigrant who killed four Marines and wounded several others yesterday at two military recruitment centers in Chattanooga appears to have been amply provided for. “For more than a decade, Mr. Abdulazeez, his parents and his sisters had made their home in a subdivision called Colonial Shores, just across the Tennessee River from Chattanooga,” writes the New York Times today. “It is a movie-set vision of American suburbia, almost surreally well-tended, with handsome middle-class homes of a late-1970s vintage.” And Abdulazeez himself? As a kid he hung around with the other kids in the neighborhood, he wrestled in high school, he was friendly to his neighbors. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2012 with a degree in engineering. “He seemed to have been an all-American boy, handsome and polite, normally in a T-shirt and jeans.”

Not impoverished, not deprived, not “minimized” or “marginalized.” What possibly could have motivated Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez’s murderous attack yesterday? What, in Ms. Harf’s phrase, were the “root causes”?

The FBI’s investigation is ongoing, but the early indications seem to be pointing in a predictable direction:

Mr. Abdulazeez maintained a blog where he posted about Islam, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, which tracks international terrorist groups. A July 13 post stated that “life is short and bitter” and that Muslims should not let “the opportunity to submit to Allah . . . pass you by.”

Photographs posted on family Facebook pages show the once-clean-cut student recently grew a beard. A Hamilton County jail booking report posted on shows that he was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence, a first offense.

In the last two or three months, Mr. Abdulazeez had begun showing up rather regularly at Friday Prayer at the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, a large mosque and cultural center, said Dr. Azhar S. Sheikh, a founding member of the center’s board.

Reuters reports that Abdulazeez last year traveled to Jordan, where he held citizenship, staying overseas for seven months. Authorities are trying to determine whether he made contact with local terrorist outfits or if he traveled to other countries — including Yemen, where al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has long been potent, and where the Islamic State has been gaining ground in recent months.

This story is not uncommon. In the Twin Cities, whence naturalized and second-generation Somalis are flocking to Somalia and Syria to join al-Shabaab and the Islamic State, deprivation can hardly be blamed. Burhan Hassan, a Minneapolis-area teenager killed in 2009 while fighting for al-Shabaab, was an honors student angling to attend Harvard. I’m no expert, but the job market in Mogadishu is not exactly booming.

The hold of religion is deep, and does not acquiesce to jobs programs or tax credits.

Well, depending on the position. There are plenty of open roster slots on the global jihad “JV team,” which has been recruiting heavily of late.

What induces a person to shoot up a military recruiting center in middle America is surely a complex of factors. But the same network of politicians and media who absurdly attributed Dylann Roof’s murder to the presence of a flag on state property 120 miles away — that is, to the deep and abiding menace of structural racism, “interpersonal and structural . . . current and historical . . . explicit and implicit . . . articulated and silent,” in Charles Blow’s perfectly nebulous formulation — are hesitant to blame terrorism on any “structure” or “institution” not amenable to a stimulus package.

#related#But, as the literary critic Irving Babbitt observed in his 1924 book Democracy and Leadership: “When studied with any degree of thoroughness, the economic problem will be found to run into the political problem, the political problem in the philosophical problem, and the philosophical problem itself to be almost indissolubly bound up at last with the religious problem.” Talk about lack of jobs, if you like — or rampant inflation, unaffordable housing, &c. — but eventually you have to go deeper. Marx was wrong. Men are not explained solely by their economic circumstances.

The hold of religion is deep, and does not acquiesce to jobs programs or tax credits. Until our leaders acknowledge that squarely, we’ll continue to blame earned income for the problems of Islam — and continue to be surprised that we’re in the crosshairs.

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