I’m only doing this because the media is pissing me off about it and somebody asked me what they were doing.
And I’m going to show all my work including the research in Arabic and I don’t even read Arabic.
What’s bothering me it that there’s been these festering sorta spoken-unspoken inferences being drawn from the fact that the shooter quoted a line associated with al Queda.
Inferences of fairly profound political implications too, but which are not treated with the gravity they deserve.
And the problem with that is then people try to come up with stupid conclusions for their own self-serving political agendas.
Let’s begin with some basic reporting.
Miami (AFP) – A Saudi military student reportedly condemned America as a “nation of evil” in an online manifesto prior to opening fire Friday at a US naval base, killing three people before being shot dead by police.
There’s your basic headline and opening. Interesting. Provocative. “Oooh. Nation of evil.”
Provocative, but, as well shall see, not very useful. The problem is that it pretends to be.
I guess it’s not supposed to be because they don’t want to draw too many unsupported inferences, which is good.
But it’s kinda dumb when you find out there is more information, which just makes readers feel like the headlines are disingenuous.
And they’re not wrong. And that’s bad for journalism
Here’s more information from the same piece.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist media, identified him as Mohammed al-Shamrani, saying he had posted a short manifesto on Twitter that read: “I’m against evil, and America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil.”
“I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity,” he wrote.
First of all, this SITE group was waaaaaaay ahead on this story. It was noticeable and a little stunning.
Like, they had documentary evidence while major outlets were still reporting nothing was known. And that all turned out to be correct.
So the media should have had a head-start—this was on Twitter—and not have been limited to government information. But whatever.
And then the story devolves into some nonsense about relations with Saudi Arabia and if this is Terrorism writ large and all that. You can read it but I don’t feel the need to amplify it here.
I mean, maybe? But maybe we can check on some of what’s going on? Maybe?
Or we could just charge into making broad generalizations to advocate for significant national policy shifts.
Yeah. Like, bracketing your position on American foreign intervention: We’re going to move a frickin’ army because this guy called us names before going on a murderous rampage?
Or we could look at what was said, see if there’s any context, and figure out how much inference we can draw about global politics from this.
Spoiler Alert: Not much.
I mean, calling America a nation of evil isn’t really groundbreaking stuff in the world today. It’s pretty common and in some places, they say “Death to America” about stuff that isn’t about America.
Like, obviously this isn’t the same thing, but the popular known “Death to America” is itself instructive.
And it has its own Wikipedia page!
That’s our first clue that this isn’t just a sentiment, but a “thing.” One we should therefore learn a smidge about.
The literal meaning of the Persian phrase “Marg bar Āmrikā” is “Death to America”. In most official Iranian translations, the phrase is translated into English as the less offensive “Down with America”. The chant “Death to America” has come to be employed by various anti-American groups and protesters worldwide.
So this isn’t as intense as it sounds when any given individual says it, which seems pretty important.
It’s how some people complain about the world. “Damn the neoliberal imperialist agenda!!” might be a response to a loss in soccer to a European club.
Digging a bit further, this made me laugh out loud:
Persian Phrases related to death
English equivalent: Shut up!
So drawing massive and far reaching generalizations from, no matter how rhetorically inflammatory it might be, what is fundamentally a very common line.
I my God, I love the internet. There’s more great stuff in there like how the Persian equivalent of “Damn you!” is the far more evocative, “May they take your washed, dead body.”
This is a very poetic and flowery language. And if we’re to understand, that matters. Plus, this is just amazing.
So, even putting aside that useful context, you don’t have to know a lot about Islam or radical movements to be able to “quote” America is a “nation of evil.” I quote Harry Potter; that doesn’t make me a witch or wizard or whatever Dobby is.
Especially because it’s really just the “thinking man’s Death to America,” which, as one might surmise, isn’t really all the thoughtful.
The fuller quote given above is really just a feeble effort to suggest that the speaker has considered the problem of group guilt and resolved it.
I’m not against you for just being American, I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.
He hasn’t resolved the enduring philosophical problem of individual versus group responsibility and fuck him for thinking so.
But I digress.
So now, let’s do a whirlwind tour of me looking up what I could actually find on this guy’s “philosophy” and his radicalization.
I spent like maybe half an hour looking stuff up before football started. You can decide how I did compared to CNN.
Keep in mind I speak no Arabic. But I have Google.
Let’s start with America’s paper of record.
The authorities are still investigating a motive.
Investigators were trying to determine what motivated the gunman.
Senator Rick Scott, Republican of Florida, and Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican whose district includes Pensacola, both described the shooting as an act of terrorism. But federal law enforcement officials said it was too early to establish the gunman’s motive.
The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity, cited a Twitter account with a name matching the gunman that had posted a “will” calling the United States a “nation of evil” and criticizing its support for Israel.
SITE said the account had also quoted Osama bin Laden, the former Qaeda leader, and was critical of United States foreign policy.
“I’m not against you for just being American,” the posts said. “I don’t hate you because your freedoms, I hate you because every day you supporting, funding and committing crimes not only against Muslims but also humanity.”
The account could not be independently verified, and law enforcement officials did not confirm that it was connected to the gunman.
That was way down in the article, by the way. By which I mean, the interesting stuff.
So there’s that SITE outlet I mentioned I had run into before. When I first saw it, it seemed people thought of them as rabble-rousers, but ones who had broken stories in the past. The New York Times uses them as a source anyway.
But since reporting on what other people say about real stuff instead of the real stuff itself is sorta the media’s thing these days, so you can also just go to CNN for something like this.
Twitter account posted shortly before alert of attack
The first call alerting law enforcement of an incident at the Florida base came about 6:51 a.m. (7:51 a.m. ET), according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.
Twelve minutes before, at 6:39 a.m., a Twitter account with the handle @M7MD_SHAMRANI posted a message addressed to the American people, declaring hate for Americans because of their “crimes” against Muslims.
CNN has been unable to verify the source of the tweet which was previously reported on by SITE Intelligence Group. Law enforcement has not commented on it.
However, given the shooter was training at a US naval air station, it is notable that the Twitter account @M7MD_SHAMRANI re-tweeted a Military Times post about last month’s fatal crash at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
The Twitter message posted Friday morning made no reference to an impending attack.
The Twitter account is listed as being created in 2012. Before it was taken down on Friday afternoon, CNN was able to capture some of the tweet activity by the account.
When asked about the account, Twitter spokeswoman Aly Pavela confirmed the account was suspended and said, “That’s all we have to share.”
Several aspects to what was written in the message point toward al Qaeda inspiration.
The Twitter message stated, “America as a whole has turned into a nation of evil.”
Those were the exact words American terrorist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki used in a message posted in March 2010 in calling for jihad against the United States, suggesting the person posting the message was deeply familiar with al-Awlaki’s propaganda.
Before he was killed in a drone strike in September 2011, al-Awlaki had become a senior figure in al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen. In the years before and since his death al-Awlaki’s online sermons provided inspiration for many of those plotting jihadi terror in the West.
Holy crap, there is a whole video in there reporting on basically the fact that they read the website SITE, and then they use that as the springboard to talk about how intensely this guy hated America.
I mean, he did. He said it. But what’s this a;-Awlaki stuff?
It seems like they are implying that the shooter is a knowledgable guy in this area. A real thinker, him.
We’ll see if that follows from his quotation. Maybe he’s a real scholar.
And maybe I’m a witch.
But since there are important and serious ramifications to the nature of his feelings and activities, maybe follow up on some of those leads, eh?
So we have his Twitter ID: @M7MD_SHAMRANI
But OH NOES! Twitter had deleted the account! Everyone says so! What are we to do now??
Google it, stupids.
But first, let’s check to see if Twitter claims to know anything.
OK, now that’s something. This guy clams to have screen shot info from the shooter’s Twitter account before it was closed that is instructive to his thinking and goals.
And this guy, when I checked anyway, was running around trying to tell people this and nobody was paying any attention.
But it also re-emphasizes why we need to know more: There are serious political implications here. And I don’t think there’s actually much of anything to this claim about the nature of the shooter’s radicalization.
Plus, I’m immediately suspicious because Erdogan’s particular brand of Islamo fascism focuses on restoring the Ottoman Empire.
This is in Arabic.
That doesn’t prove anything per se and you do get pro Turkish stuff in Arabic, but Turkish is much more likely for someone with an intimate connection to Turkish political theology such that he would be motivated by it to commit murder.
So let’s keep looking. Back to Google. Maybe CNN doesn’t have Google? Anyway.
Oh cool—that gives me his name in Arabic too.
Which means I can confirm that the screen shots in the Twitter above are likely legit—or at least possibly legit. I don’t read Arabic and the Twitter screenshots don’t give the @M7MD_SHAMRANI handle, but I can compare the writing even if I can’t read it.
So next we follow the link to @DRHAKEN that the Tweeter above helpfully provides, and we can both identify who he is and check out the Tweets.
So here’s a screen shot of his Twitter page with translation provided by, once again, our friends at Google.
OK, so we have him, and we have the dates of the Tweets, so I’ll post them here with their translations.
(There are actually only two despite there being three screenshots in the Tweet above.)
So there’s the post with video and here’s the translation.
OK, Death to America. Great. Even the fact that Iran’s government sucks is Death to America.
So yeah, the shooter is attracted to a real thinker here.
Let’s check the other one.
And the translation.
Awesome. More Death to America. I mean, it’s also Death to Europe. But it’s all just Death to America.
It’s like their angry, bitter, hateful McDonalds.
But that’s just the guy’s Twitter. Assuming he’s a person of some influence, I’d expect there to be a bit more.
I googled his description and titles and found nothing. I really didn’t know what to look for. Googling in Arabic didn’t help here either.
So back to “Google fundamentals”: Don’t try to google the description you’re looking for, google the thing itself.
Let the game come to you.
In this case, the thing itself is that I have a name of a person I don’t understand.
Ah-ha. The Arabic included a title. My problem was I needed to extract the name from the title.
And then I can google that, although the English spellings are essentially non-standard which makes it a bit of a pain, but here’s what I found with the Wikipedia articles on the sources.
Coincidentally I had just watched two interesting recent filmed interviews with other Islamists. The first was a Brookings interview with the former leader of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in exile, Ali al Bayanouni, conducted by two distinguished scholars of Political Islamism, Shadi Hamid and Will McCants. For the benefit of non-Arabophones, Hamid and McCants speak in English: al Bayanouni responds in Classical Arabic.
The second – a year or so older – was a long and lively discussion in several parts and far more colloquial Arabic conducted by the Palestinian Islamist in exile, Azzam al Tamimi, with the Emirati Hassan al Duqqi, formerly a senior member of the Islamist group Al Islah and by his own admission a member of the International Shura Council of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Duqqi is now associated with the Ummah Party of Hakim al Mutairi, a Kuwaiti, who holds views not so very different from those of Al Qaeda or the Islamic State and has reportedly given financial backing to Ahrar al Sham, one of the largest Islamist militias operating in Syria.
OK. Bad guy.
Kinda a generic bad guy such that even a conservative analysis group describes him as not very different from some other Al Qaeda and ISIS types, and those types actually try to murder one another over diffrences of bellief.
But I guess even from this point of view, who really cares? Not much of interest. Death to America. Bad guy.
See? McDonalds. McDonalds of terror, but McDondals nonetheless.
I’m not trying to diminish terrorism, but if we’re talking about radicalization and what motivates murder, we need to know what we’re talking about here.
Let’s look at the next one first.
During the Gulf War, most Kuwaiti Salafis escaped to Saudi Arabia, where they rapidly began to play active parts in these debates. They were able to integrate quickly into the different Salafi networks and groups in Saudi Arabia because they were often connected to Saudi Salafis through kinship. 8 Many of them became active participants in the Sahwa movement. Upon their return to their home country after the war, these individuals became pioneers of the haraki wing of Kuwaiti Salafism, as was the case for Hakim al-Mutairi, Sheikh Hamid al-Ali, and Abd al-Razzaq al-Shayiji.
OK, he’s a Salafi.
I know of them, but don’t really know crap about the Salafi movement.
The Salafi movement, also called Salafist movement, Salafiya, and Salafism, is a reform branch or revivalist movement within Sunni Islam that developed in Egypt in the late 19th century as a response to Western European imperialism. It had roots in the 18th-century Wahhabi movement that originated in the Najd region of modern-day Saudi Arabia. It advocated a return to the traditions of the salaf, the first three generations of Muslims, which they preached as the unadulterated, pure form of Islam. Those generations included the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions (the Sahabah), their successors (the Tabi‘un), and the successors of the successors (the Taba Tabi‘in).
OK, so bad guy. But one of a myriad of these sects of Bad Guy-ism that mix and match and quarrel and whatever.
It’s a big umbrella concept, and not a lot to draw on. Besides that, it’s totally consistent with the possibility that the shooter is simply just some garden variety McDonalds terrorist.
And now that we have some generalized information, it’s easier to look up the Shooter’s Twitter interest on Arabic Wikipedia and confirm we have the right guy
Hakim Abbasan Al-Humaidi Al-Mutairi was born in Kuwait on November 7, 1964 , Professor of Interpretation and Hadith at the College of Sharia at Kuwait University. He is an updated jurist, writer, Islamic thinker, and political activist. The Umma Party, which he co-founded, is the Secretary-General of the Umma Conference , and the head of the Kuwaiti Umma Party .  His name was mentioned in the list of terrorist supporters announced by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in 2017
So he was in the Who’s Who of Terrorism special issue of 2017. Swell.
Now, here’s the thing that jumped out of me and inspired me to share this:
The guy from Twitter above had screen shots with useful data, but offered conclusions and interpretations that are not supported by the data.
Given the situation with Turkey, that matters. What’s perhaps even more fascinating is that he was offering the data that allowed people to see that his claims were not supported by his own data.
I don’t know what his angle is, but he’s like an accidentally super-helpful troll, so just ignore his opinion and take what’s useful.
And this also means that the media isn’t offering a lot of useful content when they breathlessly speak of this “nation of evil” crap.
It’s not a deep statement.
And then, when you look a bit deeper at what he was looking at, that’s not very deep either.
Did he look at other, more serious attempts at radical jihadi thought? Perhaps. But then why was he dicking around with this?
He may well be some kind of theological mastermind who believed in global anti-imperial revolution and that radical Islam was the way which meant his divine purpose was to shoot a couple of people and die.
But it doesn’t look like it. And it’s not clear how serious a conclusion to real theological introspection that would be anyway.
Looks like another angry schmuck who, instead of finding some way to address with his issues—to find help—decided to take out his aggression in vicious and futile fashion. It seems likely that militant Islam is just the flavor he happened to choose.
The issue that that flavor is so readily available is certainly a real problem. As is the fact that this is a thing that happens.
Which is why it makes perfect sense for law enforcement to urge restraint. Like, maybe there’s some more There there, but there is every reason to believe there is not.
And unless more is found, there’s no reason to react beyond trying to learn more.
It would be incredibly foolish to draw any conclusions about global policy or call for a reorientation of attitudes to whole groups of people over McDonalds radicalism.
We know from experience that the role of leadership in handling public fears is crucial to pursuing rational policy response.
It’s not well known, but Japanese internment in the US didn’t occur in Hawaii despite a much larger population of people of Japanese extraction.
The difference is that Hawaii was a different theater of operations than Hawaii. This means that Hawaii had a different general, one who was not a self-avowed and proud racist like Gen. DeWitt, commanding general of Western Defense Command, a man who testified to Congress that a “Jap is a Jap” and that “a piece of paper” can’t change that.
In Hawaii, instead of rounding up all the Japanese looking people, they just reassured the people that there had been no sabotage, they were loyal, and everything was cool.
And it was fine.
So this stuff matters.
You don’t even have to be a big advocate of Saudi Arabia to think radical policy moves in response to this would be dumb.
If there’s more information, sure: We’ll see.
But there’s something obnoxious about watching the news media pretend to understand something when a brief perusal of Google shows they do not.