Thursday, August 23, 2012

One man's lunatic...

Colin Friedersdorf wrote this article with the provocative title "Why the Reaction Is Different When the Terrorist Is White" which appeared in the Atlantic a couple of weeks ago. It was inspired by news media's response, or lack of one, after the tragedy that occurred in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. It was there a white supremacist entered a Sikh house of worship, murdered six people, and injured several more before he took his own life. Since he's dead we'll never know exactly why he committed the atrocious crime; did he have a bone to pick with Sikhs, did he confuse Sikh people with Muslims, or was he simply an equal opportunity hater of everyone who was not like him?

Friedersdorf begins his article by comparing the crime to one that happened just weeks earlier in Aurora, Colorado, where a man shot and killed twelve people and injured nearly one hundred more in a theater showing the new Batman movie. The author claims the Colorado tragedy received far more coverage than the Wisconsin one, and speculates with the help of another Atlantic journalist, that the reason is more Americans can relate to the victims in the movie theater than those in the Sikh temple.

Here is another article from the New Yorker, written by Professor Naunihal Singh, himself a member of the Sikh community, who also feels the Oak Creek tragedy got the short shrift.

I'm not much of a follower of TV news. I get most of my news from other people, from the radio, newspapers and select internet sources. Consequently I'm spared the 24 hour cycle of TV news babble with their constant "breaking news" headlines and hyperventilating, live, on the scene reporters. Since I don't have cable, unlike many of my peers I get zero news from the late night comedy/news shows. So I can't honestly say which story got more press. My own experience of those two events was of the airwaves being filled with incessant information, much of it unnecessary, about both tragedies. Many times during the past month I found myself turning off the radio or TV to spare my children the grizzly details. Personally, the Oak Creek tragedy affected me more as A) It took place closer to where I live, B) the victims were targeted for their ethnicity and religion and C) you'd be way more likely to find me attending a Sikh religious ceremony than a midnight screening of Batman.

I recall another article from right after the Colorado shooting, but not the source, that asked the question: why in the media, when a Muslim commits a crime he is labelled terrorist, when a black man commits a crime he's labelled a thug, and when a white man commits a crime he's labelled sick.

Granted I'm not a psychologist, but the Colorado killer who is white, armed with an arsenal of assault weapons, shot dozens of random strangers in a dark theater while dressed up as the Joker, is clearly a lunatic. Of that I have no doubt. A terrorist by contrast is not insane; a terrorist, whatever the color of his skin, does harm to innocent people in the name of a cause. As has been said countless times before, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, it all depends which side you're on. While he may or not have been insane or acted on his own, given his background of racial and ethnic hatred, the Oak Creek murderer targeted a specific community and consequently was a terrorist. And he was white. So much for that theory. As screwed up as the news media is, to the best of my knowledge, no reasonable journalist has attempted to portray him in a sympathetic light or tried to find excuses for his actions based on his mental health.

Timothy McVeigh who destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and with it the lives of 168 people and their families was a white terrorist, as was his accomplice,Terry Nichols. At the time, that bombing was the worst act of terrorism in the United States and the Feds went after extremist groups such as Nichols's and McVeigh's with a vengeance. The indelible image of a dying child in the arms of a rescuer galvanized the public's opinion of those two men and their despicable act. For their part, McVeigh was executed and Nichols got life behind bars without a hint of regret or sorrow from the press or the general public.

Appalling as the loss of life in Oklahoma City was, it paled in comparison to the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Beyond that, the methods, organization, determination, self sacrifice, and resourcefulness of the al-Queda terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks, made McVeigh and Nichols in comparison look like a pair of ten year old delinquents. The loss of life during the September 11 attacks was comparable to the number of American deaths resulting from the Japanese attacks on December 7th, 1941. Like those attacks, the al-Queda attacks plunged the United States into multi-front wars, one of which continues to this day with no end in sight. It must be remembered that unlike the Japanese attacks which concentrated on strategic military targets, al-Queda targeted innocent civilians. And while the September 11 attacks were by far their most audacious and deadly, al-Queda carried out many other sucessful attacks all over the world for the past twenty years.

Draconian tactics were employed by this country and others in an attempt to stem the tide of international terrorism. Innocent people suffered. That was a shame. Unfortunately during times of war there are always innocent victims. Americans of Japanese descent know this all too well. Fortunately the atrocities committed by the US government against Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, were not repeated after 9/11.

That's not to trivialize the suffering of Muslim people after 9/11 one bit. Civil liberties were suspended in some cases. There are still prisoners in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp who have yet to receive due process. What's more, in this country and for that matter much of the world, a whole shroud of suspicion over Islam has arisen. Muslims, and others confused for Muslims, have been victims of hate crimes and unjust persecution. That is a tragedy.

After 9/11 many Muslims, men especially, were singled out or "profiled" as suspicious individuals, simply because of their appearance, especially when they were trying to board airliners. The response by civil libertarians in this country was swift and effective. I used to fly a lot more back then and I distinctly remember the folks I saw singled out for extra security screening were more often than not old, female, and often in wheelchairs. In other words precisely the opposite of what any known terrorist looked like. One could argue this case of reverse profiling was just as immoral and illegal as the profiling it was intended to counteract.

Here is Professor Singh from his New Yorker piece:
... it is hard to escape the conclusion that Oak Creek would have similarly dominated the news cycle (as the Colorado shooting did) if the shooter had been Muslim and the victims had been white churchgoers.
Singh is correct about the theoretical reaction to such an attack, but he is doing a disservice to his readers by singling out "white churchgoers." The September 11th attacks were not an attack on white America. The victims of that day faithfully represented this country and its diversity. They came from all colors and creeds, including many devoted followers of Islam.

You bet a Muslim attack on a house of worship filled with Americans of any race or creed would cause a stir.

The incontrovertible fact is that al-Queda is an organization made up of Muslim men. So too is the Taliban who were in control of Afghanistan in 2001, provided a safe haven for al-Queda to do their evil work, AND to this day are waiting in the wings to take over control of Afghanistan if given half the chance. All of the 9/11 terrorists were Muslim, as were the four men who blew themselves up along with fifty two innocent people riding London's public transportation system on July 7, 2005 As were the people who carried out well over thirty al-Queda operations throughout the world over the past twenty years.

What's more, al-Queda and the Taliban used their faith to justify their crimes against humanity. If the bigots of the world ever needed fodder to justify their hatred of the Muslim people, al-Queda served it up to them on a silver platter. No one group of people suffered more at the hands of al-Queda than the Muslim people. Not only did they see their faith perverted by a band of murderous zealots, not only have they been the targets of suspicion, hatred, and worse, but not counting the September 11 attacks, most of the VICTIMS of al-Queda attacks were Muslim.

As an international terrorist organization, there is no comparison between the threat al-Queda presents to the civilized world, and the threat white extremists present, no matter how appalling the latter's ideology, motives or tactics may be. That doesn't of course provide an ounce of comfort to the people who lost loved ones to those yahoos.

Whether it be in a movie theater outside of Denver, a house of worship in a Milwaukee suburb, or in the streets of Chicago, every life lost to senseless, unprovoked violence is an unspeakable tragedy. Each victim was some poor mother's child, someone's sister or brother, perhaps a husband or wife, father, mother or dear friend. Unrestrained news coverage brought to us by the blathering talking heads at FOX, MSNBC or even Comedy Central cannot bring their loved ones back. Nor can it prevent the killing, in fact quite the opposite seems to be the case.

The one thing we keep learning in our culture of hatred, violence, and ready access to weapons of death is this: given the will, it's extremely easy to kill another human being. We don't need to be bombarded over and over again with that message, it's pretty obvious. I simply don't believe it makes much sense to take the pulse of the country by counting the number of words devoted to one tragedy versus another.

As for the survivors (that includes all of us), the sensible ones try to carry on living the best lives they can, try to be fair minded, understanding that an entire group of people cannot be held responsible for the actions of a few, and try their best to keep themselves and their families reasonably healthy and alive.

That seems to be getting more and more difficult on all counts.

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