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A Need to Exercise Caution in Reaction to Violent Extremism

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Ygnacio “Nash” Flores, Tracy Rickman and Don Mason
October 7, 2016

Hardly a week goes by without the media reporting an act of extreme violence. The term violent extremist has worked its way into the vocabulary of homes, schools, political talking points and stands out as campaign promises during the election cycle. However, violent extremism goes beyond the narrow scope of terrorism as used in society.

Consider the violence experienced during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, Paris. It is too soon to know the motive behind Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s killing of 84 people. Because of Bouhlel’s ethnicity, many have quickly claimed the killings are an act of terrorism – e.g., part of the greater war against Islamists. While this may be true, jumping to conclusions can result in associative violence being committed in acts that persecute innocent Muslims.

Violent extremism is the use of violence in any form that results in the loss of life, causes injuries and/or destroys property. The term terrorism has morphed into a contemporary belief that supports all of Islam against Western ideas. This is wrong. Acts of terror have been carried out by people of almost every religion and by almost every government. The idea of terrorism is subjective; therefore, there is no all-inclusive definition of terrorism nor does any one country determine what terrorism is.

In America, we have seen that extreme violence include the use of violence by citizens as well as by the state. Consider the following:

  • Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people in Orlando, Florida.
  • Mainak Sarkar, who killed two people in Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
  • Micah Johnson who killed five people in Dallas.
  • Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.
  • The Farooks who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.

Likewise, there is concern about the perceived excessive use of violence by police officers across the nation. This compendium of extreme violence is far from exhaustive. What is clear in the examples cited above is that the objectives of those who killed ranged from faith-based ideologies, to acts of revenge, acts of hate and claims of self-defense.

While there are various procedures and systems involved in investigating the killings, it is clear that labeling the acts of violence is difficult. Is it terrorism? A hate crime? Workplace violence? One label that covers these, and many more killings, is violent extremism. Also, clear in the examples is that the killers and those killed represent the diverse demographic fabric that makes America unique.

Just as difficult in classifying acts of extreme violence is the spontaneous blaming of the acts as a way to help cope with the violence. The common practice of turning fear into hate is a response that will not help remedy the increase in violent extremism. Attacking innocent people or misdirecting hate toward an innocuous entity are actions as bad as those committed by a violent extremist. Religion is not bad. Authority is not bad. Speaking out is not bad.

People too often, in the guise of being authoritative, speak out against the broadest system as bad. Claiming 100 percent of a religious group or a government entity is against American values are misguided. There are people serving the public that come from numerous faith systems, cultures and ideologies. We need to celebrate American diversity instead of building silos of self-interest.

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Instead of attacking select groups or signs of authority, people should exercise caution before they lash out verbally or in actions against ideas and people with fear and hate. The next time an act of violent extremism is committed, understand that the person or people committing the violence do not represent a wholly inclusive group of people. No one represents an entire ethnicity, culture or religion. Society cannot move forward past the current xenophobic zeitgeist unless people think with clear, calm and understanding judgment.

What has happened to our society where the initial response is that of hate and anger and not of love and concern? What we glean from the current trends is that you are my enemy if you do not act and behave in a way that is in consonance with my views and opinions. Fear then grips us and a fight or flight syndrome ensues with the fighting aspect being ever more apparent. Violence does not solve violence. Exercising caution in reaction to violent extremism may represent part of the solution to the response mechanisms that ultimately becomes the next event.

A fact check of the true reasons why many of these acts are being committed needs to be explored. Those committing such terrible acts have a motive that is more expressive in nature than the desire of the act itself may be. The need for notoriety, the desire to commit suicide by cop or other related sub desires may be the catalysts. When society then responds, we have no answer as we see each individual as a person that has never done anything wrong. We simply cannot believe he or she would express themselves in such a mean, cruel or harmful way.

We need to exercise caution and think before acting. We must also consider the human aspect of what we are all going through in a world that appears to lack concern for others and is based more on fear than with resolve to care for each other.


Authors: Ygnacio “Nash” Flores, EdD, MBA, MPS, MA, is the dean of public safety academic programs at Rio Hondo College. Email: [email protected].

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