As a divorced parent, I read something in the news at least once a week that is meant to remind me how badly I’ve screwed up my child’s life by leaving her father. Last week, the University of Toronto published a study that found children of divorce are at an elevated risk for stroke. Today, the New York Post headline blared, “Oregon ‘terrorist’ may have been upset about parents’ divorce.”
Of course, the researchers at the University of Toronto admit that the stroke patients they studied had parents who divorced in the 1940’s and 50’s, when divorce was still stigmatized, and that growing up in poverty is possibly the connection between divorce and stroke rates, but they didn’t have enough income data to prove that hypothesis. Similarly, the one tenuous connection between a thwarted act of terrorism in Portland and divorce is that the suspect’s neighbor casually mentioned the divorce of the suspect’s parents to a reporter. That’s it. The suspect himself didn’t mention his parents’ divorce in his affidavit. But I’m sure that’s why Mohamed Osman Mohamud, at 19 years old a full-fledged adult who’d written for Jihadist magazines, wanted to blow people up: because he was angry he had to choose which parent to eat with on Thanksgiving.
Yes, I’m sure a divorce that happened over a year ago is why Somali-born Mohamud planned to bomb downtown Portland’s tree lighting ceremony Friday night. It couldn’t possibly have something to do with the fact that he spent the first five years of his life on the “war-torn streets of Mogadishu” and has always shown an interest in explosives, having chosen a “weird” topic for a high school physics project, determining how a rocket-propelled grenade worked.
As it turns out, Portland was never under any real threat from Mohamud, because the FBI actually set him up, engaging him in a sting operation that began this summer. CBS reports that the suspect has been under government surveillance since 2009, when he began communicating with someone in Northwest Pakistan, a “known terrorist haven.” As previously mentioned, Mohamud published pro-Jihad articles indicating his desire to commit an act of terrorism in the United States. The troubled 19-year-old faces life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, but let’s not focus on that. Let’s not focus on the moral grey area the FBI might have entered by essentially convincing a young man to do something he might not otherwise have done. Let’s not focus on the seeds of violence that were planted in him who knows where, how long ago, why or how, the ones the FBI was able to cultivate and exploit.
Let’s instead focus on the fact that this 19-year-old criminal is the child of parents who divorced… when he was 18 years old. An adult. Surely his parents divorce is the Grinch that (sort of but not really) nearly stole Christmas from the residents of the quiet city of Portland, OR. The residents who, it’s worth noting, are the ones who called the FBI in 2009, accusing Mohamud of becoming too radicalized. The terror alert mantra in post-9/11 America is, “If you see something, say something.” I guess that goes for suspected terrorists and children of divorce alike.