What motivated Portland ‘Christmas tree bomber’?

So what should we make of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who spoke brightly of committing mass murder at a Christmas tree … Continued

So what should we make of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, who spoke brightly of committing mass murder at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland?
No hardscrabble ghetto background for Mohamud. His father was an engineer who moved his family to suburban Oregon.

No clear thread of alienation running through his adolescence. Studious, a mother’s pride, a basketball fan; he smiled at girls and enjoyed college nightlife. “He was just like everyone else,” a shocked fellow student at Oregon State University said.

No influential uncle in the jihad who lured him in, no ‘group of guys’ with regulation-size beards who recruited him after jumma prayers at the neighborhood mosque. Neighbors described the family as quiet and friendly. “Osman (the father) was very sophisticated,” said a staff member at the Christian social service agency that helped resettle the family when they arrived from Somalia.

There will be no shortage of theories offered in the coming weeks. Much of it will be stupid and simplistic – the yowls from the ‘Islam made him do it’ industry, the grunts from the ‘Get American troops off Muslim lands’ tribe.

My own sense? Let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago, I ran into Ebrahim Rasool at an event in Washington DC. Now South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States, Rasool along with other Muslims in South Africa helped found the Call of Islam, a group that played a key role in the Struggle against Apartheid.

I remember the surge of pride I felt when I first read about the Call as a searching young Muslim man. The Muslims of the Struggle represented a proud and powerful Islam, a faith that viewed itself as a shaper of history not a victim of it, a tradition that based its identity on how it elevated others not how it dominated them.

Growing up I was always told that my faith mattered, but I was never told what it meant. Community leaders presented Islam as a private affair for the prayer hall, something to be quiet about in the world.

But as I got older, I wanted more. Other people I knew were publicly proud of being black or Jewish or Mexican. It gave them an identity, a way of being, a sense of belonging. When, as a graduate student at Oxford, I started to explore what Islam meant for my life in the world, I was lucky to have mentors who pointed me in the direction of Islam’s heroes.

The Muslims of Rwanda who protected Tutsis in their homes and their mosques from the marauding Interhamwe militia during the genocide; Badshah Khan who worked closely with Gandhi in the peace movement that liberated South Asia from colonial rule; Albania’s Muslims who saved countless Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust; and, of course, those Muslim heroes in South Africa.

These are the examples that shaped my understanding of what it means to be Muslim in the world.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud was not so lucky. His search for identity took him online, where he watched videos and read articles by Islam’s villains, shadowy men sending messages from the mountains of Pakistan and the deserts of Yemen. The story they sell impressionable young men is so simple: Muslims were once a magnificent nation, but we have been made victims by this group and that group. You must defend the Muslim nation. Your actions will return us to glory.

It would be perfectly understandable if, in this time of Muslim terrorism and Islamophobia, everyday Muslims tried to slink into the shadows, to hide in the mosque. But it would be a huge mistake. Now more than ever, we need Muslim community leaders to be loud and proud about Islam’s glories, to inspire a new generation to follow in the footsteps of the Muslim heroes who bent the arc of the universe towards justice.

If Muslim leaders don’t offer an understanding of Islam that inspires young people to be bridges of cooperation, we forfeit them into the arms of those waiting to make them bombs of destruction.

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  • DanielintheLionsDen

    There is a distinctly nihilistic streak in modern Islam. If Moslem youth are so “impressinable” that they can be so easily swayed, not just to violence, but to such extreme cold-hearted and brultal violence, then I think Islam is not doing young people much good.I think that “loud and proud” is not a very good strategy, given the circumstances.I think meek and humble would be better.

  • AKafir

    Eboo,Muslims cannot feel good about themselves in a world where it is impossible to hide the truth about Islam. All the questioners of Islam cannot be killed and silenced as they have been done in the past.The biggest lie that Muslims have been telling their young is that Muhammad was a very nice, very kind, very forgiving, very loving, very generous, etc. etc. He was not. The early muslim biographers told about Muhammad as they saw the world, and it was a barbaric world. The lies about Muhammad cannot be hidden any longer. His life, his actions, and his evil character are there for all to read. How can a young muslim explain the awful and violent deeds of Muhammad with the lies told to him by his elders? He is easily shown to be all wrong. You can see the reactions of the muslims that post here. They withdraw and they sulk because they cannot answer. They have no answer. How do you justify a 53 year old warlord marrying a 6 year old girl? How do you justify his beheading a 1000 jews and lying about why he was doing it? How do you justify his getting an old man assassinated just because he was criticising Muhammad? Badshah Khan as a good Muslim as you can get, but even he could not bridge the interfaith hand of friendship. Gandhi used to start his public gatherings by a “hymn” that stated “Ishwar Allah are the names of the same God”, but no muslim could ever accept that. No muslim can accept that even today. Look at the comments. What is there for an educated and truthful muslim to feel good about Islam or its horrible prophet Muhammad?

  • abrahamhab1

    I do truly sympathise with people like Eboo who try to defend the indefensible. Their valiant efforts are met by 1400 years of history as well as texts that are too damning. Making up modern history to rebuff the authentic one merely exposes the desperateness of those who attempt to make Islam seem compatible in any sense with the values of modern civilized man.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    In the view of many in Portland, the terrorist is a would-be mass murderer, and it not alone.I would add, however, speaking as one in three million ME Jews in exile, having seen in the last few weeks Yemen made Judenrein, having witnessed Muslim slaughter, knowing of Muslim mass murder, murder of Jewish, Christian, and B’ahi, the blowing up of churches of Christians, that the folks of Portland are probably correct.As a Jew, I believe they were wrong to set the fellow’s mosq on fire. That is not Christian either. IT IS NOT CHRISTIAN.Christians, do not become them.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Mr. Patel, you have other matters to address as you know. Wiki Leaks have revealed that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and UAE have been pressuring the US to take out Ahmedinejad either directly or to pressure Israel to do it.I’ve blogged extensively on SA, UAE, and Bahrain’s attempts to remove Ahmedinejad, have provided links, cuts, pastes, etc. It was all quite obvious.I suspected Qatar, but wasn’t certain. I knew Asaad wanted Ahmedinejad out, for obvious reasons, but never thought even he would be so stupid as to allow himself to be caught.You are defending the indefensible. You have exposed your own bigotry in the past.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    ON some points, I have to agree with Arif. This young man came from a good family and was in on way deprived. Many other people, millions, have grown up with far more damaging social pressures than he. Jews must still keep their Judaism at home. They fled from genocidal conditions and here they again faced institutionalized discrimination, were legally denied access to colleges solely because they’d already met there tiny “Jew quota.” They were denied jobs, housing–you name it.They now have to face not only the antisemitism of many Christians but that of Muslims as well. And yet, they do not attempt to mass murder.African Americans, regardless of religion? American Indians? Mexican Catholics?No Christmas Tree bombers among them.

  • halozcel2

    **What motivated ….. bomber(s)**Answer is very simple.Islam,yes,Submission.No need to search other Cause and Apology(poorness,lack of integration,bridges,nihilism etc.)It’s the result of Bedouin Order.Terror will continue….

  • Jihadist

    The Portland “Christmas Tree” bomber looks Somalian in his photo here. If he is and his parents are first generation Americans escaping the civil war in Somalia, then it is a tragedy of dashed dreams and hopes of a better life for their children in the States with its own ongoing incivil “culture war” against liberals, religious and ethnic minorities, conservatives with its own psychological and physical collateral damages.Over here, we have such too, with the majoritarian faith and racial group accused of suppressing the rights of minority faith and racial groups by law, practices and attitudes. But no one here make any pretence that the country and its people is the beacon of equal rights, human rights and bigotry free in trying to redress it.

  • FarnazMansouri2

    Ah, them ole “dashed dreams”–they’ll getcha every time. And, of course, he is Somalian, as has been broadcast, reported, plastered on neon signs, and printed in braille throughout the known world and beyond.Bottom line: We all have dashed hopes. When you try to dash to pieces thousands of people, Americans grow concerned.Witness their expression of dismay as they set the fellows mosq afire.This is not the time to defend this demented would-be murderer.And then there is Wiki Leaks, and its “diplomats.” Word to Asaad: Leave Syria and the known world. Israel is not going to take out Ahmedinejad no matter the pressure from the US via Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Syria, UAE, Bahrain, Qatar.Leave, Asaad. He would have gotten rid of you anyway, but later rather than sooner. Alas and alack, things have changed.

  • usapdx

    Any person that commits a act of TREASON and is found guilty must have a appeal where as if the court guilty ruleing stands, the person must be put to death for the act of TREASON.

  • Arif2

    Eboo, your article is flawed. First you refuse to blame Islam for the way this young man turned from peace to militant. If anyone can draw youth to violence using their history and religion then we must examine that history and that religion (very simple concept not sure why you don’t get it).

  • Cleopatra2


  • Drew95

    I can’t believe the Post keeps publishing this drivel by Eboo Patel. There are lots of thoughtful Muslims in the US…please go find some of them. His stories are such blatant and often easily falsified pro-Islamic puff jobs. Please, please find a serious Islamic commentator!!!!

  • Stublore

    Why couldn’t he just be proud to be an American?