Last Friday afternoon, a student named Mohammed Taheri-azar drove an SUV onto the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, trying to kill people and succeeding in injuring nine. He explained that he was "thankful for the opportunity to spread the will of Allah."
Taheri-azar said that he wanted to "punish the government of the United States for their actions around the world" and "avenge the deaths of Muslims around the world."
Controversy has revolved around the reluctance of officials to label this incident "terrorism." Those who shy away from that classification point to the apparent facts that Taheri-azar acted alone, and that he had no ties to any terrorist groups.
It seems clear from his own words that Islam motivated Taheri-azar. The question of whether or not he was a terrorist hinges on several false assumptions. Many assume that someone who struck alone and has no ties to terror groups is just a lone nut, and as such his actions need not be fit into a larger pattern. But we face today not so much a matter of organized crime, but of ideology. A single individual can act upon that ideology as easily as can a group.
Investigators should focus on that ideology as much as they are on other details of the crime. It is not outside the realm of possibility that he heard praise of such actions in a local mosque; after all, the New York Times Monday ran one segment of a laudatory multi-part series profiling Brooklyn imam Reda Shata — which noted that when Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin was killed, Shata told Muslims at a memorial service that a "lion of Palestine has been martyred." The Times dismisses this as Shata’s zeal for what he believes is a just cause. Nonetheless, if Shata can praise one who sponsored attacks against Israeli civilians because of the alleged enormities of the Israelis, cannot Taheri-azar justify attacks against American civilians because of the alleged enormities of the United States government? And if support for such attacks can be preached and believed in New York, can it not be preached and believed in North Carolina?
The fact that the jihad ideology has not been identified as the fundamental enemy of the United States and the Western world in general is the gravest omission and failure of the war on terror up to this point. Law enforcement officials should be calling upon American mosque leaders like Reda Shata to declare their loyalties on this basis. They should be calling upon imams to preach and work against this ideology.
Religious freedom? Not an issue. Muslims should be free to worship and live as Muslims unless and until they begin to preach or act upon the idea that the United States Constitution should ultimately be replaced by Islamic Sharia. Then they have placed themselves outside the bounds of the legal protection offered by those sworn to uphold that Constitution. Self-proclaimed moderate Muslims should be asked to demonstrate their moderation by initiating and leading an active campaign among Muslims against the jihad ideology in all its forms. This will include inculcating the idea that non-Muslims and Muslims should coexist as equal citizens in society, without any aspiration for Islamic supremacism in the future. It should also include active repudiation of the idea that killing or trying to kill innocent people — or even civilian non-combatants whom one considers to be part of a war machine — does not spread the will of Allah.
It is unlikely that any such programs will ever be implemented in American mosques. There is no impetus from within those mosques to do so, and no one in government or law enforcement is putting any pressure upon Muslim leaders in America to do so. Whether Mohammed Taheri-azar learned the ideology of violent jihad at a mosque or on his own, there is one lesson to be learned from American Muslims’ failure to combat that ideology in any effective or meaningful way: before this particular age of jihad draws to a close, there will be more Taheri-azars.