Syed Farook

Digging deeper into the Tashfeen Malik mystery: 'Another day, another slaughter'?

Digging deeper into the Tashfeen Malik mystery: 'Another day, another slaughter'?

For the past few days, Tashfeen Malik has been the flavor of the hour in press reports about the San Bernardino shootings as folks have slowly realized it was her who was the radicalized element in this murderous couple. It appears that the wife converted her husband. As tmatt said very early on of this case, it was likely that, "all roads lead to Saudi Arabia."

Here’s what the Los Angeles Times had right up top on Sunday:

Tashfeen Malik, the 29-year-old female shooter in the deadly San Bernardino rampage, was a onetime "modern girl" who became religious during college and then began posting extremist messages on Facebook after arriving in the U.S., a family member in Pakistan told the Los Angeles Times.
The family member, in Malik's hometown of Karor Lal Esan who asked to not be identified, said Malik's postings on Facebook were a source of concern for her family.
"After a couple of years in college, she started becoming religious. She started taking part in religious activities and also started asking women in the family and the locality to become good Muslims. She started taking part in religious activities of women in the area,” the family member told The Times.
"She used to talk to somebody in Arabic at night on the Internet. None of our family members in Pakistan know Arabic, so we do not know what she used to discuss," the family member said. The family speaks Urdu and a dialect of Punjabi known as Saraiki. 

If you look up at the bylines, you see three reporters and a dateline of Islamabad. Somehow they found the village this woman was from, got a translator and dug up the relatives.

Read further down in the story, and you’ll see they’re quoting from a Pakistani TV channel, from BBC, various friends at their San Bernardino mosque, the family attorney, a Pakistani who lives near Karor Lal Esan who claimed he knew the family well and that they were “extremist;” plus anyone else the Times could dig up.

What resulted was a lengthy narrative with three lead reporters and 31 contributors.

Yes, 31.

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So journalists, are 'conservative' Muslims practicing a 'conservative' form of Islam or not?

So journalists, are 'conservative' Muslims practicing a 'conservative' form of Islam or not?

One of the advantages of being, well, a journalist who is a bit on the old side is that you remember debates and discussions in the past that resemble arguments taking place in the present.

So flash back several decades with me to the era known as the Cold War. One of the topics debated in the first newsrooms in which I worked was how to use the terms "liberal" and "conservative" when talking about Communists, especially in the Soviet Union.

Editors decided that the more socialist, the more Communist, the more Soviet people were, the more "conservative" they were. They were "conservative" Communists, even though "socialist" and "Communists" are normally words that describe a form of political liberalism. They were "conservative" liberals because they were resisting change to the Soviet system.

People who wanted change in the old system, thus, were "liberals," even if these changes would take their nation away from socialism/Communism.

The key, of course, was that "conservative" was bad and "liberal" was good.

With that in mind, let's move to the current debates about the violence in San Bernardino and, in particular, the following passage from a piece in The Washington Post, which included remarks from the father of Syed Rizwan Farook:

On Sunday, Italian publication La Stampa published an interview with Farook’s father, also named Syed, in which he said his son had harbored anti-Semitic animosity. Reached at his son Raheel’s home on Sunday morning, the elder Farook said his views differed from those of his son.

“He was going towards [conservatism],” he told reporters through the gate of the home. “His views were conservative, my views were liberal.”

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What questions must reporters ask, when faith and violence are twisted together?

What questions must reporters ask, when faith and violence are twisted together?

This may seem like a bit of a reach, but does anyone out there remember the story about the mad, misogynic gunman at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs? Does the name Robert L. Deal, Jr., ring any horrible bells? How about Pastor Garrett Swasey?

Yes, at the time Issues Etc. host Todd Wilken and I were recording this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), the Colorado Springs story was still being discussed -- a lot. We spent much of our time discussing the religious angles of that event and, in particular, what kinds of questions mainstream reporters needed to be asking if their goal was to find facts that would or would not link Deal to any particular religious group or tradition, let alone the mainstream pro-life movement.

While we were recording, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were on the run after attacking Farook's co-workers at a holiday party at the San Bernardino County Health Department.

You will not hear about that in this podcast. However, you will hear us discussing PRECISELY the kinds of questions that reporters are now asking about the forces that may or may not have shaped the lives and worldviews of Farook and Malik.

What kinds of questions could possibly apply to both Deal and to this terrorist couple in San Bernardino? Well, questions like these.

How did they spent their time and money?

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Glimpses inside lives of Farook and Malik: Stunning details on the road to ISIS

Glimpses inside lives of Farook and Malik: Stunning details on the road to ISIS

Law enforcement officials and reporters continue to plug new information into the still mysterious timeline of the lives of Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but now the emerging picture has been framed by one stunning, but not surprising, piece of information.

The bottom line: Deadly violence linked to ISIS has come to the United States, either through online poison or through contacts during visits to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The answer, of course, could be "both-and." Were two people -- alone -- really gong to use all of those pipe bombs and thousands of round of ammunition, while taking care of a 6-month-old baby?

Early on, reporters (and law officials, one can assume) were surprised to find little online evidence that Farook and Malik existed. Now it's clear -- in another sign of premeditation and planning -- that they had attempted to wipe their cyber slates clean.

But that's almost impossible, which led to today's big revelation. Here is the CNN link:

Authorities are officially investigating the San Bernardino, California, massacre as "an act of terrorism," FBI official David Bowdich said Friday.
Bowdich said a number of pieces of evidence pushed authorities to launch a terrorism investigation. He noted some phone conversations between at least one of the San Bernardino shooters and others are being investigated by federal officials. ...
Investigators think that as the San Bernardino, California, massacre was happening, female shooter Tashfeen Malik posted a pledge of allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook, three U.S. officials familiar with the investigation told CNN. Malik's post was made on an account with a different name, one U.S. official said.

Several major newsrooms have now published long features built on emerging information about Farook and the still very mysterious figure that is Malik, his wife. In addition to CNN, that includes The New York Times, The Washington Post and an unusually straightforward news piece at The Daily Beast.

Compared with earlier coverage, it is striking how much of the new information that is emerging is linked to religion and, in particular, the degree to which Farook was known as a devout, practicing Muslim -- while also leaving clues that he may have believed that he was now practicing the faith on another level and might need to leave America.

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Another First Amendment ghost: Did debate with an evangelical trigger Farook?

Another First Amendment ghost: Did debate with an evangelical trigger Farook?

It's the question that everyone keeps asking police officers and FBI leaders: What caused Syed Rizwan Farook to dig into his massive arsenal of pipe bombs and ammunition and fly into action? What was the motive for the massacre in San Bernardino?

One question leads to another. Was this workplace violence? Was he provoked, somehow? In his mind, was he on a mission from Allah? Was Farook planning an even larger act of violence against unbelievers and crusaders, but something at that office party made him fly into action on this day?

From the beginning, I have been curious to know more details about the "holiday party" that Farook briefly attended, before leaving (some witnesses said in anger) and returning with his wife Tashfeen Malik to slaughter his co-workers.

News coverage has mentioned that the room contained Christmas trees and other decorations. In a previous post, I asked if there was a Menorah in the room, to mark the Hanukkah season. Was there a moment when someone lit the Menorah and perhaps said a prayer? Did someone sing a Christmas carol?

Another question raised in online talks among the GetReligionistas: What was on the menu? Were there foods in the room -- pork, for example -- that a Muslim would consider impure?

However, some journalists have now locked in on a specific question linked to the massacre. What did Nicholas Thalasinos say and when did he say it?

Yes, there is a chance that the First Amendment is going to take a hit in discussions of his massacre, since there was an evangelical Christian present -- a Messianic Jew, to be precise -- who had previously talked about politics and faith with Farook. To make matters worse, Thalasinos may have criticized Islam and suggested that Farook needed to convert to Christianity. Thalasinos was even an NRA supporter.

Was this the trigger (speech) on the gun?

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San Bernardino again: Early facts, lots of questions and a new mother with an AR-15

San Bernardino again: Early facts, lots of questions and a new mother with an AR-15

If you look up a list of things that women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to do, you will find several issues that are frequently discussed in the press. Women are not, for example, allowed to drive cars or, to a large degree, compete in sports. Many news consumers would know that Saudi women are not supposed to leave their houses without being accompanied by a "male guardian."

Now, after the San Bernardino massacre, it might be appropriate to ask this question. Would a woman from Saudi Arabia, or with some tie to that kingdom, be allowed to do military style training with an assault weapon and even explosive devices?

Consider this recent Associated Press update about 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, 27:

The suspect in the Southern California shooting that left 14 dead traveled to Saudi Arabia earlier this year and returned with a wife.
Co-worker Patrick Baccari says Syed Farook was gone for about a month in the spring. When he came back word got around Farook had been married, and the woman he described as a pharmacist joined him shortly afterward. The couple had a baby later this year.
Baccari says the reserved Farook showed no signs of unusual behavior, although he grew out his beard several months ago.

Various reports agree that Farook was a "very religious" Muslim, but they also note that the couple appeared to be living a "modern life" and -- in a phrase that keeps showing up -- they were "living the American dream." Was this life a cover story?

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