When a couple of white kids shoot up a school, it is a tragedy, and a search for mental defect. Bring on a shooting at a military base that involves an Arab-American though, and the media does everything that it can to shout "TERRORISM" without really saying it.
Sadly, in our gun-laden, NRA-shielded America, shootings at schools, post offices, hospitals and military installations are all too common. School shootings barely elevate to the national news. You need something new in the tragedy department, like a university, or a military base, and a high enough body count, before the media takes much notice nationally.
That Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was disturbed is without question. He was a psychiatrist, which is in itself a bit more mentally-edgy occupation. He was treating the symptoms of war on a daily basis, and he did not want to go over the edge himself by being sent into combat, so he went over the edge and shot up a processing center at Fort Hood when his greatest personal terror was being realized without any way to stop it.
That is a senseless tragedy, but it is not terrorism. Likewise, the media's handling of shooters who are not white and suburban is racism, not journalism.
Prior to Hasan being named as the suspect, the TV talking heads were LIVE, spinning senseless tragedy and soldiers pushed to the breaking point. Once the FBI dumped a bucket of blood in the media waters that Hasan was an Arab-American who might have blogged something that agreed with Arab terrorists, the feeding frenzy began.
The New York Times even reported:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier became aware of Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan, a law enforcement official said. The postings discussed suicide bombings favorably, but the investigators were not clear whether the writer was Major Hasan.
They point to the Website with the blog post. Then they mention again:
"It could not be confirmed, however, that the writer was Major Hasan."
Of course the posting itself features a paper called "Martyrdom in Islam Versus Suicide Bombing" which actually is a six page paper making the distinction between Islamic martydom and suicide bombings which is AGAINST suicide bombings.
The author states:
"It is only with the proliferation of suicide bombing in our time that the distinction between suicide and martyrdom has become marred as the former is being justified with textual support [in the Koran] for the latter.
The Times writer, James Dao, quoted the juicier passage of the blog item:
"If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory"
Without giving any regard to the conclusion of the Hasan who blogged this piece in response to the six page paper whose link sits right below the commentary:
"So the scholars main point is that "IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE" and Allah (SWT) knows best."
In its entirety this Hasan, whether the Major or not, seems to be agreeing with the author that the taking of life in combat and opposing one's enemies is not the same as walking into a crowded market full of civilians and exploding oneself.
Dao got it wrong when he wrote "The postings discussed suicide bombings favorably" because he did not take the extra ten minutes to read the original document and understand the context of this Hasan's remarks.
There is nothing inconsistent in that thinking from anything that we preach either. We send young men off to kill "enemy combatants" and that is acceptable. We tell them to stop killing when they come home. We make a distinction, in our Armed Forces manuals, between enemy combatants and civilians, even though the distinction in the real world of Iraq or Afghanistan can be so grey that women and children may well be the armed enemy.
He was too busy doing what the FBI apparently hoped to do: Distract a shooting based on a soldier snapping his twig by misdirecting the media down the terrorist trail.
Similarly, the Times article on the Virginia Tech shootings identified:
Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a South Korean who was a resident alien in the United States was finally identified as the shooter in the Virginia Tech campus shooting spree.
Which suggests that he was perhaps a foreign student until you read, many paragraphs down:
Mr. Cho moved to the United States with his family as a grade school student in 1992, government officials in South Korea said.
Cho arrived in the US as an 8-year-old. He spent the majority of his youth living in the suburbs of Virginia, not the streets of Seoul.
Again the times did in-depth reporting on the family history of the shooter. His poor family that subsisted off a used bookstore in South Korea who moved here for opportunity but shunned the Korean community and kept to themselves. The silent boy who was obedient for whom the mother prayed.
As if any of this explains how a "quiet" young man suddenly bursts into a gun-toting maniac.
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up the school in Colombine, it was a senseless tragedy, but no one profiled Harris or Klebold's ethnicity, or their religious views, or lack thereof.
If you check on the Colombine pages of the New York Times, you will find extensive literature from the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics on the psychological profiles of Harris and Klebold. Their homes and home life get fractional mention, days after the dust settled from the shooting. Most of what was covered, was their mental state and what mental defect drives kids from white suburbia to shoot their fellow students. This would also be true of the majority of the media that covered that event at the time.
White shooters get psych profiles. Non-white shooters get family backgrounds, and, in the case of Maj. Hasan, stretches to link to terrorism.
Apparently you cannot just be mentally disturbed and Arab-American or South Korean. There has to be something in your origins that explains the sudden violence and the seemingly mindless rage.
I selected the Times to illustrate a point because the more incendiary news or news-ish outlets like Fox are a bit too oversimplified. It is too easy to listen to Wolf Blitzer do everything that he can to keep seeding the notion of terrorism into the discussion without using the word. The media in the United States has always been very adept at turning the non-white into bogeymen.
The Times has stood as one of the great bellwethers of American journalism standards. So it is especially troubling when you see the NYT engage in this more veiled form of racism.
It is sad when it takes a week, and several smaller, Internet-based publications to start catching up with the inconsistencies.
Hasan did many of the things that Cho and Harris and Klebold did. He showed signs. He was giving away things. He exhibited serious personality shifts.
The problem is that we are not attuned to picking up those warning signs, in part because they could be a hundred-thousand other, less lethal things. We do not know why someone at the post office finally goes "postal." We do not track gun purchases and mental health histories well enough to set off alarm bells when someone is arming themselves who shouldn't be in the possession of a firearm because NRA lobbyists connect any form of monitoring with the inalienable right for Bubba in Biloxi to hold on to his rifle and six pack in a duck blind on a cold November morning.
It is too easy to lay off a tragedy with labels that are comfortable to us. I checked in with my avid Fox News junkie at the gym. Hasan is a "terrorist" and he "wrote about supporting terrorism." That is the final word from Average Joe, burned into his brain because the media served up a Twinkie story, misdirecting the public, and giving them a simple verdict that catered to their fears.
The Times should have verified the blog as belonging to Hasan instead of reporting the sensational quote and back-pedaling away from it with "It could not be confirmed, however, that the writer was Major Hasan."
During the Virginia Tech shootings, the more adept NYT team covering that story at least managed to achieve some balance when they ended their background on Cho with:
The single deadliest shooting in the United States came in October 1991, when George Jo Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of a Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., then shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20 others. He shot himself in the head."
Why is Hennard not as infamous as Hasan, Cho, Harris or Klebold? Because the folks at Luby's in Kileen watching the news and eating their macaroni and cheese might find that a whole lot harder to swallow than a crazed Arab terrorist shooting up their military base.
White people do not like seeing themselves as being able to be that deranged, that awful, even though, by simple population dynamics alone, more often than not, Caucasians are the shooter, the mass murderer, the teen killer.
Perhaps it is time to revisit our treatment of these tragedies and find some balance in the coverage. Maybe we need to stop, and vet even the word of the FBI before we rush to beat the next guy to the story.
The truth is out there. It is just getting lost in the rush to be first.