In the early 1980s, I lived in Isla Vista, California, for two years and a half. Located nearly a hundred miles north of Los Angeles city and edging the shore of the Pacific Ocean, with a round-the-year spring like climate, it is a small university town catering mostly to the needs of the students and staff of the University of California, Santa Barbara. It is paradise for students and probably the most scenic university campus in the USA. As a former student and resident I have fond memories of the place.
I was simply shocked to learn that seven people, including a suspected gunman, died in drive-by shootings on last Friday night in Isla Vista. Such violence is almost unknown in this town. The police authorities believe the act to be “a premeditated mass murder.” The violence began and ended within minutes, from 9:27 p.m. KEYT reported that “witnesses described seeing a black BMW speeding through the streets, spraying bullets at people and various targets.”
Six minutes after the first emergency call, the suspected gunman Elliot Roger traded fire with sheriff’s deputies, and the vehicle plowed into a parked vehicle. The suspected gunman was found dead from an apparent gunshot wound. It wasn’t clear whether the death was self-inflicted or whether deputies killed the suspected gunman. A semiautomatic handgun was recovered from the vehicle.
Police are looking into a possible link with a YouTube video in which Elliot Roger complains of repeated rejection by women and threatens to take revenge. Santa Barbara Sheriff Bill Brown called the suspect “severely mentally disturbed,” according to KEYT.
I am sure if the suspect was a Muslim, he would be described as a terrorist. Remember John Allen and his accomplice Lee Boyd Malvo – the Beltway Snipers? They, too, were severely mentally disturbed who terrorized parts of Maryland and Washington DC. They sought a ransom of $10 million from the US government to stop their sniper killings that would be used to establish a Utopian society for 140 homeless black children on a Canadian compound.
Whatever the motivations and mental conditions of the killers, it goes without saying that our world is increasingly becoming a killing field, or so it feels like, in which ordinary people are at the mercy of criminals.
Not all these criminals – executioners and planners are, however, ordinary thugs or killers that have nothing better to do than to kill someone for some material gains or mere fun of being able to kill someone.
Some of the killers are state actors – agents of a brutal government – merely carrying out the order of the boss, or those in power in the government. They are the most dangerous of the bunch. They can target anyone who is not in their good books — sometimes even beyond their own borders. Sometimes they can carry out mass murders. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria fits into this latter category. His Alawite forces have killed some 150,000 Sunnis in the civil war. The ruthless mass murderer has no desire to step down and host a fair election, and is committed to rule the country for another seven years and probably, for life, until he dies. So, he bombs and kills civilians in the rebel-controlled areas, while the world watches apathetically and does not do anything to stop him. There is little chance that the resistance against his brutal regime will be fully incapacitated, but as the evidences show the armed struggle to oust him is slipping into the hands of more radical, extremist groups who are no less brutal against any so-called collaborators of the hated regime and want to fight to the end. The ordinary citizens are caught in the middle of this mayhem, and many are dying, and many are fleeing the country.
Amongst the non-state actors, in recent days, the Boko Haram, under the leadership of Abubaker Shekau, has captured most of the news headlines these days. The group has abducted more than 200 girls from school dormitories in the town of Chibok in north-eastern Nigeria. Shekau, in a video, claimed responsibility for the kidnappings and threatened to sell the girls if his demands for releasing prisoners were not met. The UN has recently called it a terrorist outfit.
Loosely translated from the region’s Hausa language, Boko Haram means “Western education is forbidden”. It was founded by Mohammed Yusuf who was killed in 2009 in police custody and succeeded by Abubakar Shekau.
Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer and yet, despite its vast wealth, huge and diverse population, and regional leadership role, the country has been failing in nation-building. It’s a Muslim-majority country in which everything – from politics to economy and the branches of the federal government from administration to police to military to judiciary – is controlled or dominated by the Christian minority. Corruption is very rampant and the country ranked an abysmal 156th out of 187 countries on the United Nation’s Human Development Index despite having the world’s 32nd largest GDP.
The Christian-run federal administration of President Goodluck Jonathan has failed to deliver any semblance of government, justice, and security for huge sweeps of its nearly 175 million people. The Hausa, Fulani and other Muslims in Nigeria have long suffered under discriminatory and corrupt practices of the federal government. For instance, police would often wrestle young men off to prison in hopes of winning bribes from their families for their release. Jobs are portioned off to cronies and family members of those in power or of influence. The oil wealth has not trickled down to the Muslim territories. Elected MPs hardly visit their impoverished region except when elections roll around so as to buy their votes.
Responding to these degradations, many in the country’s Muslim-majority north (traditional Hausaland) supported a movement at the turn of the century to impose Sharia law there – an attempt to bring true justice to a system that lacked any semblance of such. So emerged Boko Haram, which claimed to establish a stricter form of Islamic governance!
As noted in a 2012 article in the National (UAE) by Elizabeth Dickinson, what transformed Boko Haram from accident to inevitability was simple: the government’s response to it, particularly that of the army and the police. For years, the security forces responded to threats of extremism by rounding up anyone who they thought might possibly be connected. Usually that meant tens or hundreds of innocents would be jailed for every few guilty.
When Boko Haram first struck in 2009, the police reacted by raiding their compound and summarily executing the group’s leaders. Since that day, Boko Haram has waged war on the Nigerian police in retaliation. The government’s response has always been hard-handed crackdown, which has only pushed more and more sympathizers into Boko Haram’s camp. Thus, what was once a manageable and avoidable mistake has now become a full-blown ‘terrorism.’
Until Nigeria mends its fences towards effective nation-building and indignities go away through empowerment, education, jobs and securities for the local Muslims, Boko Haram surely will not be the last of such rebellious groups waging war on a corrupt government no matter how reprehensible their means can sometimes be.
Some of the killers in our ‘crazy’ world have been politicians. With power and influence, such crimes come easy and are often manageable. Consider, e.g., Bangladesh. Some members of the police and its crime-fighting special unit – RAB (Rapid Action Battalion) – have recently been found complicit in the execution style murder of seven individuals, which included a Narayanganj city ward councilor and a lawyer.
An anti-terrorist local organization, Santras Nirmul Toki Manch, demanded last Friday that MP Shamim Osman of the ruling Awami League be immediate arrested for his alleged involvement in the sensational murder. Interestingly, Osman comes from a well-known political family in Narayanganj city with deep roots within the ruling party. He has long been feared as a criminal Godfather.
When a known criminal is nominated and gets elected, it is like putting the Dracula to guard the blood-bank!
Well, with criminals – serial and mass-murderers – running the show these days in many parts of the world, life can only become worse or so it seems. We should probably thank God more often that we are still alive and can complain about such anomalies in our world!