1. It’s Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
2. It’s the third anniversary of the Isla Vista tragedy, when a 22-year-old man stabbed three roommates, shot to death three University of California-Santa Barbara students, and injured several pedestrians with his car before killing himself. His problem was that he had trouble connecting with women, and resented anyone in a relationship.
3. Sadly, that seems like a good place to start a discussion about the horror of what happened last night in Manchester, England.
As a parent, it is hard to fathom the agony of those whose children perished. No words anyone wise or thoughtful can say could possibly mitigate that kind of pain.
Those of faith can offer prayer, those who aren’t can offer sympathy. Think about the parents today and whenever you can, and hope that the strength of our thoughts can help them handle more than they ever should bear.
4. But, inevitably, thoughts turn to how and why these things happen.
Here are the current headlines on the three news sites I most respect:
The New York Times: ISIS Claims Responsibility for Manchester Attack; Toll Rises to 22, Including Children
The Washington Post: ISIS Claims Responsibility for concert attack that kills at least 22 in Britain
CNN: ISIS claims responsibility for Manchester bombing
The first word in all three is ISIS. As if a bunch of clueless morons with beards in the Syrian desert knew there was an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, last night.
Whoever did this – alone or in a group – was homegrown. I’d bet 5 quid that the bomber was either born in the UK or became a UK citizen at a young age. He might be from a Muslim family; he might have converted when he wanted something to anchor his disaffection and discovered ISIS.
But this attack is not about ISIS. I don’t doubt the evil that ISIS is – and I hope it’s wiped off the map in Syria and Iraq.
And this attack is especially not about Islam. Anyone who blames a religion for this is an accomplice to the evil this bomber unleashed.
5. No, this guy’s spiritual kin showed up twice this past week in the United States, and neither time had anything to do with ISIS.
In New York last Thursday, police say a 26-year-old Navy veteran with a history of violence, mental illness and substance abuse deliberately attempted to run down pedestrians in Times Square. He’s accused of killing an 18-year-old Michigan girl – her parents fully understand the feelings of parents in Manchester – and injuring 20 other people.
Last Saturday, on the University of Maryland campus in College Park – where my daughter got her bachelor’s degree – a young African-American was stabbed to death at a bus stop. The 22-year-old suspect in custody supposedly belongs to a white supremacist group and the incident is being investigated as a hate crime.
So two things can be gleaned from this.
One, if you think Islam is responsible for what happened in Manchester, by your logic the Navy is responsible for what happened in Times Square and white people are responsible for happened at UMD.
Second, Western society – including the United States and United Kingdom – is doing a terrible job confronting problems that often doesn’t even register on our radar: disaffection and mental illness.
The people who committed atrocities in Manchester, Times Square and College Park – whoever they are – were sick. And they conveniently found anchors – Islam, white supremacy, PCP – for what they did.
Something drove them to the point of committing acts of madness. Maybe it was poverty. Maybe it was being bullied or teased as a child. Maybe it was conflict between their actions and their families’ own moral values.
In time, we will know more about who committed the wanton act of violence in Manchester. British authorities are downplaying the name in an admirable effort to deny this killer his blaze of glory.
6. For now, we need to commit ourselves to three courses of action.
One is to fight the scourge of mental illness. We need to identify people with problems and get them help before they succumb to the temptation of easy scapegoat philosophies. How did the guy who plotted the Isla Vista nightmare evade detection or notice from those who knew him? Fighting mental illness will do more to end terrorist attacks – whether they’re politically or socially based.
Second is to figure out how to minimize the opportunities. How did this guy in Manchester get the explosives? How did these people who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary School and the Century 16 Cinema in Aurora and Norris Hall at Virginia Tech get access to the weaponry? Who gave the Times Square guy the car keys and the PCP?
Third is tolerance. Anti-Semitism didn’t die with the end of World War II. But it’s become less acceptable because we’ve embraced our Jewish brothers and sisters, and told them we will never let what happened in the Nazi death camps ever happen to them again.
We need to be that way with everybody, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or gender. We can not let there be any glory in hatred.
ISIS could be wiped out in the Middle East. But, in the rest of my lifetime, sick people will claim acts of horror like Manchester in its name.
Yes, ISIS is a problem. But solving the problem of mentally ill people will do more to end the Manchesters, the Sandy Hooks, the Isla Vistas, the Times Squares. And so on.
7. I had wanted to write about the remarkable speech the mayor of New Orleans gave yesterday. I’ll save that for next time – when hope is back in bloom.