Is it Important that He was a Muslim?

It is claimed that Utah media withheld information about the religion of the murderer who rampaged recently at Trolley Square. I don't think they knew at the beginning that he was Muslim, but I do think that it is important that we know that information. The more we know about the motivations of killers, the more likely we are to be able to prevent the next mass killing attempt. Excluding religion as a possible attack factor is weak minded, and is an invitation to more such killers and killings. But attacking individuals who share certain demographics with killers is also wrong.

Some weblogs are claiming that Utah media deliberately suppressed the fact that the young man was a Muslim who murdered several people at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City. I don't think they even knew this at first. It would be irresponsible to withhold that information when it became known, but it would be also irresponsible for a news provider to speculate on such information.

When I read the newspaper the other morning about the murders, my first thought was, "I wonder if he was a Muslim." (As you read on, it will become evident why.) When I found out that he was from Bosnia, I was pretty sure he must have been Muslim, and my confidence in that fact became greater when I found out his first name. It appeared that in the course of normal reportage it was discovered that he was a Muslim.

There is no proof that the killer was motivated to kill because of his religion, but it is instructive (and safe) to wonder about it. These kinds of murder sprees have been committed by non-Muslims before (consider Columbine High School). Nevertheless, here's why my immediate suspicion was regarding whether he was Muslim, and here's why it's important.

A few months ago, I began thinking about the relative ineffectiveness of suicide bombers. Suicide bombers have one chance. If they blow themselves up in the wrong place, they kill only one person--themselves. In American society it's much more difficult to get explosives into a place where they can be deadly against large groups of people. So I began to suspect that the next wave of Islamic fanatics would begin to use firearms as a much more effective means of mass killing. And then it happened at Trolley Square.

If you've read this far, you probably think that I am an advocate of gun control. You would be wrong. You might also come to the conclusion that I hate Muslims and that I think all Muslims are violent. You would be wrong again.

The fact that such violence has occurred creates an ever greater likelihood that it will occur again. It is critical that we take steps to reduce this likelihood. Here are the critical factors.

  1. Over the next few days as civic leaders extol the heroism of police officers who brought the murderer down and issue words of solace to the victims' families, they must also not be afraid to let the world know that we will not countenance such murder sprees, regardless of whether such violence be based on religious hatred, and that steps will be taken to ensure that such mayhem comes with a high cost.
  2. We no longer have the luxury of the gratuitous entertainment that we have gorged ourselves on ever more gluttonously in the past few decades. If we expect not to have to endure real-life mass murder, then we cannot afford to be entranced by it on the movie and television screens.
  3. We cannot afford to go about our lives in isolation. The more each of us get to know our neighbors, the less chance there is of something like this occurring again, whether because our friendship removes the desire from someone to take such action, or whether we notice individuals in society who might be predisposed to such violence.
  4. In today's over-charged political environment it has become commonplace for us to think of members of other races, religions, or nationalities as somehow less human than we are. Such feelings contribute to a polarized world in which violence is much more likely. It is important to understand each others' religions and cultures so that we don't breed the sense of rage or hopelessness that results in wanton killing.
  5. The next time it happens, there may not be an off-duty policeman to cut short the blood and gore. This attack could have been worse by several degrees. The more people who know how to defend themselves the better off we will be if it happens again. The police cannot possibly be expected to prevent all such attacks in the future. This exigency helps to clarify the original meaning of a well-regulated militia as discussed in the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Murderous violence is NEVER a solution to a problem. Some people, however, think so. We may disagree as to the cause of such violence, but we can all agree that fanatical Muslims are in the predominant majority of those who resort to such mayhem. Regardless of whether the murderer at Trolley Square was religiously motivated, it serves us well to make preparations to prevent the next such mass killing.


  1. First of all, how could people not know that he was Muslim when he was a Bosnian refugee? Did it really take investigative reporting for people to figure that out??

    The Bosnian Muslims suffered some of the worst atrocities of the post WWII era. I'm not in the least surprised that one of them snapped and committed a mass murder. Don't you think something as horrific as the Srebenica massacre and the Serbs' attempted mass extermination of the Bosnian Muslims might have driven more than a few Bosnian Muslims crazy?

    To be honest one of the first things that occurred to me was NOT "did him being a Muslim have something to do with it"; rather my first thought was "what has Utah not been doing to help these traumatized refugees and support them in recovering from the hideous trauma they suffered?"

    I don't want to sound like a New York snob here but there's a reason we don't have these episodes(the Sept. 11 killers lived in New Jersey): We welcome immigrants and because New York is tolerant and multi-cultural, they tend to adapt well here. Of course, we also have gun control, so it's not that easy for someone to obtain that much ammunition (you can buy guns illegally here; but mostly they are bought by drug dealers, not truck drivers).

  2. Let's see:

    Sulejman: obvious Muslim name

    Talovic: sounds very slavic, probably south(Yugo) slavic (-vic is a common ending for a south slavic surname)

    2 + 2 = Bosnian.

    I can't believe the reporters didn't pick up on this instantly.

    Having said that, I still don't think this is an issue except for the fact that some of the experiences he must have had in Bosnia would certainly tend to screw up his view of life. While this is not an excuse -- after all, very few Bosnian refugees turn into murderers -- it's hard to rule out that a small percentage of people will be seriously screwed up enough to murder others.

    If all children grew up in ideal circumstances, we would have fewer murders, but we wouldn't have zero murders.

  3. Elizabeth, You said that you don't mean to sound like a "NY snob," but you do. First of all, This is an isolated incident. This kind of thing doesn't happen every day. Not even every year. I have lived here my whole life and never heard something of this caliber happening before. So, it makes me wonder how you can expect Utah help these traumatized refugees. One incident happens, and all of a sudden it is Utah's fault. I don't mean to make lite of the shooting. But honestly, what was "Utah" suppose to do. This young man that committed the crime never left his house much. "Kind of a hermit," as said by his neighbors. So we, as Utahns, are suppose to make sure that everybody is out and about, and not acting like a 'hermit.' I know that everybody is doing that in New York, right? I personally have never been there, but I have been in other big cities, and if you even say hi to somebody you have never seen, you get the look.

  4. Ok; I wasn't trying to blame Utah...a mass murder could happen anywhere. And it seems clear that this kid had some personality problems that were longstanding. But perhaps part of what triggered him was constantly interacting with ignorant white Americans who seemed unconcerned about the genocides/attempted genocides around the world that are being committed due to either American indifference, or in some cases, with American support.

  5. Sorry, Elizabeth, but your take reminds me of an old Monty Python skit where they find a homocide victim. When the police figure out who the culprit is, they guy says that he did it, but isn't at fault. He claims it's society's fault instead. The cops say, "Right, we'll go arrest them instead," and leave.

  6. Ultimately, he is a murderer, but I have to say that somewhat in principle I side with Elizabeth.

    I've been thinking recently that Utahns (maybe it's only Utah mormons, and maybe it's just mormons in general) are so busy and so concerned about their personal lives that they seldom venture outside their comfort zones, and they are not enough aware of their surroundings, and they (we--I) don't take enough time to be a good neighbor (stay tuned for another post...) This is why I said in the original post:

    "We cannot afford to go about our lives in isolation. The more each of us get to know our neighbors, the less chance there is of something like this occurring again, whether because [of] our friendship...or whether we notice individuals...who might be predisposed to such violence."


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