Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books.To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.
When John Wilkes Booth opened fire on President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre in April 1865, the media was puzzled. “True, the actor was outspoken in his Confederate sympathies and viewed himself as a Southerner,” said someone who knew him, “but that was no reason he might want Lincoln to be dead.” The day before he went on his shooting spree, Booth hoisted a big Confederate flag outside his hotel room. After he leaped onto the stage he shouted, "Thus ever to tyrants!" the motto of the rebel state of Virginia.
The New York Times reported that Booth was psychologically unstable and was frightened of the Civil War coming to an end and having to face a peacetime actors’ surplus. “His political views had nothing to do with the motives for this tragic act,” it said, quoting experts.
After Fritz Reichmark opened fire on fellow soldiers at Fort Dix in January 1942 the media was puzzled. “True, he used to go to German-American Bund meetings,” said one fellow soldier, “but he only wore the swastika armband in his off-hours.” Reichmark would regale other soldiers with diatribes against the Jews, Winston Churchill, and Communists. The day before he went on his shooting spree, Reichmark gave out copies of Mein Kampf to neighbors. Soldiers who survived reported he was shouting "Heil Hitler!" while firing at them.
The New York Times reported that Reichmark was psychologically unstable and was frightened of being shipped out to North Africa because he was a coward, though this doesn’t explain his making a suicide attack when his job wouldn’t have required him to go into combat. “His German ancestry and political views had nothing to do with the motives for this tragic act,” it said, quoting experts. The newspaper urged that the main lesson coming out of this event was to fight more firmly against Germanophobia.
When Padraic O’Brian bombed a restaurant in London with massive loss of life, the media was puzzled. “True, he used to go to IRA rallies,” said a cousin, “and he would rant for hours about how the British invaders should be wiped out” but the media reported that this had nothing to do with this attack which was caused by his psychological problems. As he fired at pursuing police, O'Brian yelled: "Up the republic!"
The Guardian reported: “His Irish identity and political views had nothing to do with the motives for this tragic act.” The newspaper urged that the main lesson coming out of this event was the need to fight more firmly to ensure that Northern Ireland was handed over to the Irish Republic and that Israel be wiped off the map.
When a group of 19 terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and the fourth crashed on the way to the White House, the media was puzzled. “True, they wrote letters to Usama bin Ladin and expressed radical views but their act of violence must have been connected to their extreme poverty back in Saudi Arabia,” one expert was quoted as saying. When informed the young men all came from well-off families, he responded, “Oh.”
The New York Times reported that they were all psychologically unstable and had difficult times in forming stable relationships with women. “The fact that they were Arabs and Muslims or their political views had nothing to do with the motives for this tragic act,” it explained. The newspaper urged that the main lesson coming out of the attack was the need to fight against Islamophobia and Arabophobia as well as for the United States to make more concessions in the Middle East and to impeach President George W. Bush.
The point of the above exercise is to make the following points:
--Individuals who commit terrorist acts often have psychological problems but the thing that justified, organized, and ensured that violence would be committed were political ideas.
--Whenever an individual who belongs to any group commits a crime, it is possible that some will stigmatize the entire group. Most Americans or Westerners today, however, will not do so. The most important issue is to identify why the terrorist act happened and what to look for (including which type of individuals) to prevent future attacks.
--When there is clear evidence that danger signs were ignored because people were afraid of being stigmatized for doing their job of protecting their fellows, that is a dangerous mistake that must be corrected.
--Someone who is "afraid" of being sent into a war zone is not likely to handle that cowardice by standing up with a gun in a suicide attack and shooting people until he falls to the ground with about four bullet wounds.
--The media can often be stupid but when it censors reporting for political or social engineering reasons, freedom is jeopardized. The correct phrase is: The public's right to know. It is not: The public has to be guided into drawing the proper conclusions by slanting and limiting information even if the conclusions being pressed on them are lies and nonsense.