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Mass Shootings in America: All of the Above

Imam Zaid Shakir

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We express our deepest condolences to the families of those who have perished in the latest instances of mass slaughter in our public square, this time in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. We further pray that all of those wounded recover from their injuries. This violence, which can increasingly be described as American as apple pie, is a tragic example of a society wrestling with a debilitating spiritual disease.

Just as tragic as the violence are the narrow, mutually exclusive frames that seem to trap our pundits, polemicists, and politicians when attempting to meaningfully analyze what is happening. Liberals declare the problem is rooted in racism, aided and abetted in part by the President’s rhetoric and actions, along with a lack of any meaningful gun control. Conservatives say it is an issue whose root cause is found in mental health, video games, and the erosion of the family. Each side dismisses the arguments of the other. If we are fair, we must admit that all of the above-mentioned factors, and perhaps others, contribute to the problem.

Anyone who dismisses the rhetoric and actions of President Trump as a factor contributing to the climate of racial and anti-immigrant animosity growing in this country cannot be taken seriously. Certainly, not all of the now 251 mass shootings that have occurred in the country this year were racially motivated. For those that were, it is clear from the screeds left by the perpetrators of these atrocities, their online activity, the groups and individuals they identify with, as well as the warped ideology they espouse that there is an overlap between their words and ideas and many of those expressed by the President. That overlap is owed to a conscious policy pursued by President Trump.

The President understands that there are large numbers of radical White nationalists who, like many on the extreme left, have become disenchanted with mainstream politics as well as the two mainstream parties. He knows that they can be encouraged to become supporters of the Republican Party if the Republican Party supports them. Encouraged by the likes of Steve Bannon and Steve Miller, Trump sends messages to this growing constituency to ensure that issues concerning them will be represented by his administration. Hence, rhetoric and policy prescriptions formerly confined to the dark dungeons of the internet have become mainstreamed under the current administration.

It is not the least ironic that the very day of the El Paso shooting, President Trump retweeted a message from the fear-mongering, hate-inspiring, British anti-Muslim bigot, Katie Hopkins. Among other things, Hopkins, has called for a “final solution” for Muslims in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of a Manchester pop concert in 2017. This past May, when an audience member at one of his rallies shouted, “shoot them” in response to Trump’s question as to how to stop migrants from entering the country, the President joked approvingly. His effort to end birth right citizenship and his staunch support of voter suppression, both designed to undermine the growing political strength of expanding minority populations, can only be described as racially motivated.

Such actions, coupled with the President’s words decrying immigrant populations as rapists, murderers, and invaders, calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country, his praise and support for white nationalists, both nationally and globally, his describing countries the US has historically helped to under-develop, such as Haiti, as s—t hole countries and a long list of other open and “dog-whistle” racist statements send a clear message to racists that bigoted hatred is not only fine, it has an ally in the White House.

Many failed to grasp Trump’s racism because they do not fully realize its nature. The brilliant African American novelist, Toni Morrison, who passed away earlier this week, captured the essence of racism when she said, “Racism is not a goal it is a path, a path to power and money, a manipulation and a tool…” Throughout his career and now as President this is exactly what Trump’s racism is and has been.

While it would certainly be a stretch to claim that Trump’s words are directly responsible for the actions of white supremacist terrorists, it is increasingly incredulous to claim that the President’s rhetoric is not a factor in massacres such as the recent one in El Paso. Words convey meanings and those meanings matter. Consider this recent excerpt from a letter penned by the leaders of the National Cathedral:

Make no mistake about it, words matter. And, Mr. Trump’s words are dangerous. These words are more than a “dog-whistle.” When such violent dehumanizing words come from the President of the United States, they are a clarion call, and give cover, to white supremacists who consider people of color a sub-human “infestation” in America. They serve as a call to action from those people to keep America great by ridding it of such infestation. Violent words lead to violent actions.

It is similarly incredulous to claim that significantly tighter gun control policies, such as strict background checks, bans on assault rifles and large-capacity magazines, would do nothing to stem the growing frequency of deadly mass shootings in America. In response to a shooting that left 35 people dead in Tasmania in 1996, Australia overhauled its gun laws, significantly tightening them. Since then, there has only been one mass shooting in that country, in June of this year. That incident resulted in four fatalities.

Critics of more stringent gun laws will argue that states here in America with tight gun laws do not necessarily experience fewer gun-related fatalities than those with lax laws. I would counter that a uniform national plan would yield significantly different results. What does it mean for California to have tough gun laws when a potential killer can go to Nevada and purchase a weapon banned in California–as happened last month with the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooter.

A seldom-discussed issue is the fact that there was an assault rifle ban in the United States for ten years, from 1994-2004. During that period, overall gun-related homicides were not significantly reduced; however, a recent study (DiMaggio, et al. 2019) concludes that mass shooting fatalities, 86% of which involve assault rifles, were down 70%. That percentage would likely have been much higher had it been accompanied by an effort to get rifles purchased before the ban off the street. It is time for more conservatives to listen to the voices of those on the left who advocate such policies.

So too would those on the left do well to listen to conservatives who are arguing that video games are a major factor in desensitizing young people to killing. Anyone who thinks otherwise should read Lt. David Grossman’s insightful book, On Killing. During World War II, only fifteen to twenty percent of American soldiers engaged in combat would fire their weapons at the enemy. Grossman shows how insights from behavioral psychology, derived primarily from the work of B. F. Skinner and I.P. Pavlov, were employed by the military to raise the firing rate to over 90% in Vietnam. Video game manufacturers employ those same techniques to create in our children the potential to likewise become desensitized killers.

Grossman writes these chilling words, words which should cause us to drop our polarizing political posturing and come together for the sake of our children:

Through operative conditioning B.F. Skinner held that he could turn any child into anything he wanted to. In Vietnam the U.S. armed forces demonstrated that Skinner was at least partially correct by successfully using operant conditioning to turn adolescents into the most effective fighting force the world has ever seen. And America seems intent on using Skinner’s methodology to turn us into an extraordinarily violent society (Grossman, On Killing, p. 316).

We should note that the same psychological techniques employed by the military to turn passive civilians into mindless killers are employed by the makers of video games. While it is certainly true that not all video gamers become mass murderers many if not most of our recent mass shooters have been video game addicts. More research has to been done to establish if there is a direct causal link between video games and mass killings, however, there is enough evidence to suggest that this is an issue not to be glibly dismissed when we examine the causes of the epidemic of mass killings sweeping this nation.

As for mental illness, studies show that the majority of mass shooters, for a wide variety of reasons, suffer from some form of mental illness, the most common being depression, suicidality, and various thought disorders. This is a sensitive issue; however, it is one that must be actively countenanced for this is the area where we find the most easily detectible “red flags” which alert us to the descent of a person into the dark states that give birth to the kinds of atrocities we have been witnessing all too often. Saying this is not to deny the fact that a person suffering from a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator.

Concerning the breakdown of the family, this factor is oftentimes neglected in the intensifying debate around mass shootings. The most worrying consequence of that breakdown is the eradication of the societal forces that civilize males. Those forces are eroding in the face of a withering assault on the traditional family. One of the justifications for that assault is that the traditional family is currently being blamed for fostering the qualities associated with “toxic masculinity.” Therefore, it has to be destroyed. In fact, masculine toxicity, as defined by those advocating its eradication, can be viewed as a direct result of the unrelenting assault on the traditional family.

That assault is being pushed by those whose stated goal is the destruction of society as we know it. Consider these words by the pioneering feminist activist, Betty Friedan:

The changes necessary to bring about equality were, and still are, very revolutionary indeed. They involve a sex-role revolution for men and women which will restructure all our institutions: child rearing, education, marriage, the family, medicine, work, politics, the economy, religion, psychological theory, human sexuality, morality and the very evolution of the race. (quoted from, New York Times Magazine, March 4, 1973)

In the almost forty years since Friedan issued this declaration of war on the traditional family and society, the forces she helped to lead have wreaked havoc in all of the areas she identified. Perhaps the most worrying reality concerning the war she declared is that those who have assumed leadership after her generation ceded command are exponentially more radical and reckless in their vision for society and gender relations.

The greatest casualty in this war, by design, has been the properly socialized male. By removing the male from his traditional role of a protector and maintainer of women, a role codified in the Qur’an (4:34), we open the door to the uncivilized, barbaric, “toxic” male, adding another factor to the many conditions which make mass shootings possible.

In the prescient words of George Gilder:

Such single males–and married ones whose socialization fails–constitute our major social problem. They are the murderers, the rapists, the burglars, the suicides, the assailants, the psychopaths…         (George Gilder, Sexual Suicide, p. 105)

Hence, we find that virtually all of our recent mass shooters have been males who were unable to affirm their sexuality in normal ways through normal relationships. Like all of the other factors mentioned above, as a society, we will have to address this factor also, no matter how unpopular or controversial.

In conclusion, let me repeat, all of the above factors contribute to the uniquely American problem of mass shootings. To effectively begin to work towards eliminating them, we will need to remove ourselves from the left/right false dichotomy that limits our creativity, civility, and intellectual honesty. That should be easy for members of the “Middle Community.” Our primary objective in how we approach the vexing issues of today should be finding credible solutions and not confirming dead end political orthodoxies. Those solutions do not belong exclusively to the political party advocating them. Let us put aside the stultifying partisan nonsense tearing us apart, claim what is rightfully ours, and put it to work for the betterment of our society.

“The word of truth, wisdom, is the lost property of the believer. Wherever he finds them he has more right to them.”

Prophet Muhammad

Imam Zaid Shakir

Imam Zaid Shakir is a scholar and co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California. In 2001, he was the first American male graduate from Syria's Abu Nour University.

1 Comment

1 Comment

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    Ussif

    August 11, 2019 at 1:19 AM

    It’s true all of the above factors contribute to the uniquely American problem of mass shootings. But they don’t contribute equally. This time we are hearing more about mental illness or video games as a way to deflect on the real issue, which is easy access to weapons of war and a president that use white supremacists rethoric and racism for political gain. They are not talking about mental illness because they want to fix it’s lack of care but to excuse passivity.
    You don’t look for the middle by equating what’s in the left and in the right but by balancing them and giving priority to what is most important.

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#Life

The Hyperactive And Inattentive Child | Dr. Hatem Al Haj

Dr. Hatem El Haj M.D Ph.D

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child looking at cherry tree

Bismillah,

Some kids are fidgety and hyperactive, as if they are “driven by a motor,” constantly moving around, bouncing off the furniture, and unable to stay still and quiet. They may be also quite impulsive, so they can’t wait for their turn, blurt out answers before you finish your sentence, and intrude in on others. Others are inattentive and out of focus – almost always. They are disorganized and forgetful, and they lose their things regularly. These criteria could be bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, which is Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorder. This disorder is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Some may have the inattention alone, others the hyperactivity alone, while a third group has both.

This spectrum of disorders may lead to poor performance in school, inconsistency in work, emotional immaturity, and social difficulties, but let us not forget that these kids may have some special strengths as well, such as their boundless energy, enthusiasm, humor, and creativity.

The diagnosis of ADHD will need a specialized health care provider to make, but the following tips will be helpful for kids who share some or all the aforementioned criteria, whether they have the disorder or not.

Since a big part of the problem that will lead to most of the difficulties in schooling is the disorganization and lack of focus, it is recommended that we help those kids stay organized and on task through the following measures:

o Consistent schedules and having daily routines even when it comes to the waking up rituals: going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth and putting on their clothes. (Older kids should have prayed fajr before sunrise.) Have the schedule on the refrigerator or bulletin board in their study or bedroom. (Don’t forget to schedule time for play and wholesome recreation.) Let the child be part of the planning and organizing process.

o Keep in the same place their clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. Use notebook organizers and color-coded folders. If you homeschool, make the day structured and buy them a desk where they can put their belongings, and if you send them to school, make sure they bring back written assignments.

o Decrease distractions as much as possible. If you home school, then I suggest for you to keep a quiet environment as much as possible and avoid excessiveness in decorating your house (particularly their study place) with knickknacks and pictures. Maybe this would provide us a reason to try (and hopefully appreciate) minimalism!

o TV and videogames are bad for all kids, and even worse for kids with ADHD, except when permissible programs are watched in moderation. See the AAP’s guidelines for “use in moderation.”

Some tips for parents and guardians

  • Consistent rules must be in place. Rewards must be given to the children when they follow them, and punishment must be judiciously used when the rules are broken.
  • Kids with this condition may have low self-esteem, and it is detrimental to their welfare to further lower it. Thus, praise good behaviors frequently even if they were little and expected, such as putting their shoes where they belong.
  • Do not be frustrated with the inconstancy of the child’s performance. He may get a 100% on one test and then fail the next. Use the first to encourage them and prove to them that he can do better.
  • One on one teaching/tutoring may be needed to enable the child to keep up with the schoolwork.

Should we use medication?

Medications are sometimes needed. You must consult your doctor regarding their use.

Here are my non-professional thoughts:

  • Prescribing those medications should never be a kneejerk reaction. First, we must be confident of the diagnosis, then, try all other modalities of therapy, and finally, entertain the option of pharmacological intervention.
  • Medicating the children should never be for the interest/comfort of the parents or teachers; it should be only for the interest of the child.
  • Medications should be tried if the child is failing to keep up with learning knowledge and skills s/he will need in their future, and other therapies failed to help them
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How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari

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I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.

While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.

Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!

  1. Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.

In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.

  1. Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
  2. Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.

A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.

Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!

In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.

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#Society

Loving Muslim Marriage Episode #2: Do Women Desire Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

In this episode, we ask an obvious question with what seems like an obvious answer – do women need sex? Obviously, yes.

If that’s the case though, then why is expressing a sexual need, or seeking help for sexual issues such a taboo in Muslim cultures?

Watch episode 1 here.

 

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