On the surface, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez and Dylan Roof might seem to have little in common but the brutal nature of their crimes.
The former was a Muslim terrorist who killed five U.S. servicemen and wounded several others at a recruiting office in Chattanooga last week. The latter is the white supremacist who slaughtered nine innocent people at a historic black church in Charleston last month.
Given the somewhat opposed nature of their respective extremist beliefs, they might even have been expected to hate each other, at least privately.
And yet as the psychological profile of each killer begins to emerge, there are striking similarities.
Both men were young loners in their mid-twenties. Both were involved, to a greater or lesser extent, with drugs. Both may have struggled with mental illness. And both seemed to find some kind of solace in extremism. They imagined idealized civilizations that would place them in the midst of, or at the pinnacle of, an elite that wielded authority over masses of other people. They chose targets who were among the best, the exemplars, of the society they lived in.
It may ultimately prove difficult to link directly Abdulazeez to a global terrorist group, (though he apparently researched Anwar al-Awlaki online). But it may not have been necessary. The nature of social media allows anyone to discover radicalism, carry out a “lone wolf” attack, and achieve instant martyr-stardom.
Likewise, it was impossible to connect Roof to an actual white supremacist movement or group (though the media tried, mightily). He held the Confederate flag in photos, but he named himself “the last Rhodesian.” And how many ex-Rhodesians can he possibly have met?
Perhaps there are clues in these two cases that might point toward a generic profile of the “lone wolf” terrorist in the new social media age. What is more certain, however, is that our society has reacted to each case differently.
With Roof, the community felt the need to purge itself of the symbol with which he had associated–namely, the Confederate flag. With Abdulazeez, the green of Islam illuminated the Empire State Building the next day (and the president, for unknown reasons, declined to lower the U.S. flag to half-mast in mourning for the fallen men).
True, Islam is recognized as a great monotheistic religion, a civilization that has made immense positive contributions to the world. And while support for extremism is more widespread in the Islamic world than Western liberals would like to believe, a very tiny minority of Muslims are terrorists. Yet there is more evil perpetrated today in the name of Islam, including slavery, than is done today under the Confederate flag.
That is not to say we should ban the banners of Islam. We should, though, be more sensitive about indulging them.