Our nation just experienced yet another mass shooting — the worst since Sandy Hook. Immediately, the media turned to terrorism as a possible cause, as the two main shooters were Muslim and one of them declared allegiance to ISIS shortly before the assault. As usual, progressives quickly called for gun control and conservatives called for increased aggression … and defunding Planned Parenthood. A few days later Obama named the attack “terrorism” and outlined his solution: destroy ISIS. Since then, we’ve seen several articles exploring what lead to the shooter couple’s “radicalization.”
No one is meaningfully examining the workplace dynamics that seem to have triggered the killing. Once again, our sole response to an attack seems to be plans for more attacking and invading. Once again, we’ve missed the opportunity for introspection, identifying root causes, owning our contributions to those root causes and finding an effective, enduring, minimally destructive solution.
Like most situations involving human beings, this isn’t a simple problem with one simple solution. However, just before he and his wife killed 14 people at a workplace holiday party, Syed Farouk argued with a co-worker about Islam — at that party. This co-worker, Nicholas Thalasinos, was a born-again Christian, NRA-supporting, “anti-Muslim” Zionist Jew known for his vitriolic rants against Muslims and other progressive causes and groups on social media. Thalasinos was among those killed, and his wife is calling him a martyr.
Let’s be honest: bigotry and workplace bullying were likely a catalyst for the San Bernardino massacre. Bigotry is still affecting our understanding and framing of the shooting. If the shooters had been Christian and White, we might be talking about bigotry and workplace bullying instead of ISIS and terrorism. In fact, the increasing acceptance of bigotry in public discourse and the silent epidemic of workplace violence are likely as threatening to our well being as international terrorism.
I’m not saying the shooters’ actions were justified or that they weren’t responsible for their behavior. I’m not saying we don’t desperately need gun control, nor a multi-faceted, sustainable strategy for eliminating terrorism. I’m saying we’re taking the easy way out by not distributing responsibility fairly for what happened. Mr. Thalasinos wasn’t “an innocent” as he and the other “victims” of the shooting are made out to be.
I’m also saying calling this tragic shooting “terrorism” is troubling because it looks less like Paris or 9-11 and more like Sandy Hook or Charleston. Arguably, the murder of multiple people is terrorism, period. If so, then let’s also call Sandy Hook and Aurora terrorism. And let’s absolutely call the Charleston murders, the arson of Black churches, White supremacists shooting #BlackLivesMatter activists, attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, the murders of transwomen and Donald Trump’s rants against Mexicans and immigrants what they are – terrorism. Those definitely qualify as “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims,” perhaps even more so than the San Bernardino shooting.
I don’t know what Farouk and his wife were thinking or feeling. I don’t know what it was like to be them, living as young Muslims in San Bernardino, listening to people like Thalasinos and Trump spew venom with no consequences. I don’t know what pain or desperation would drive them to orphan their baby. Obviously they amassed weapons over time, but to storm Farouk’s workplace – an insignificant municipal building – after an argument seems less like a strategic political move and more like “going postal” after exhausting their ability to cope.
Finally, I’m saying this tragedy might have been avoided with effective leadership and a commitment to an inclusive workplace at the Inland Regional Center. If indeed Thalasinos’s views and his argument with Farouk were what set this Muslim couple off, I doubt their conflict started that day. I’ve yet to find an article containing interviews with coworkers or management, but it seems Thalasinos’s and Farouk’s views were known, and Thalasinos appeared more of an instigator. If so, how was Thalasinos’s behavior tolerated? If not, what were coworkers and leaders missing that could have avoided this tragedy?
Workplace diversity and Inclusiveness is about co-creating and maintaining an environment where diverse people and views are welcomed, celebrated and leveraged for maximum collective benefit and individual health and happiness. It’s not about turning a deaf ear to the expression of views or opinions that are disrespectful, offensive or violent. Impact matters more than intent. Bigotry should never be tolerated in the workplace in the name of “diversity” or “acceptance” even at a social event. Intimidation and bullying is workplace violence and should never be tolerated. Rather than responding with blanket ban policies (e.g., don’t “friend” a coworker on facebook, no facial piercings allowed, don’t call it “Christmas”), we must uplevel our leadership skillset. We must insist that our organizations invest meaningfully in developing leaders’ communication, interpersonal and leadership skills, and promote only those who demonstrate that competence. We must get to know our reports, do regular one-on-ones, ensure equitable accountability, behave with integrity and hone our ability to give feedback and have difficult conversations at all levels of our organization.
We should also follow the Huffington Post’s lead regarding Trump – let’s stand up to bullies and call out bigotry and misogyny for what it is. That’s D&I leadership. Let’s each do our part to be leaders in creating a world that works better for all of us, and ensure our team or organization isn’t next on the news.