By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Where religion, hate and madness intersect

In my latest for the Guardian, I look back at several notorious killings inspired by religion (including the 1994 abortion-clinic attacks in Boston) — and wonder why such incidents receive so much more attention when the murderer is a Muslim.

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  1. Joey

    That’s easy– because Muslim extremists have killed many more Americans in recent memory than folks like John Salvi, and Muslim terrorists have killed much more indiscriminately than folks like Salvi.

    Plus, that’s only how things look from here. I’m pretty sure that Jewish fanatics get a lot more media coverage in the Arabic-language press than they do here.

  2. Newshound

    The rhetorical question may remain: Did the religion inspire the killings, or did the irrationality of judgment that coincides with mental illness trigger a misunderstanding of religion.

    Certainly some of religion is harsh, in particular in the Old Testament but then, too, that was a different period of time and lifestyle. And, by comparison, some of today’s customs may appear a little harsh to some of us who find comfort in more serene surroundings.

    All religions with varying methodologies, promote a more orderly form for the development of civilization.

    Our population this side of the pond is predominately Judo-Christian, thus some of the Middle Eastern philosophies are not as familiar to us nor deemed as trustworthy – perhaps a misconception more than reality.

  3. Al

    They look different, and they sound different, expressing emotions in a hyperbolic style unlike Western peoples. Add to that the fact that Muslim fundamentalists were behind the 9/11 attacks, and 8 years of a government using fear of terrorists trying to get us to move a domestic agenda, and here we are.

  4. mike_b1

    Joey, that’s funny. I thought the leading killer of Americans (besides illnesses like heart disease and cancer) was gang warfare. Which, btw, didn’t get a $80 billion a year budget from Pres. Bush

    (Former Pres. Bush.)

  5. Dunque

    I suppose the fact that on one day they killed 3,000 Americans w/goals to kill more and have made subsequent additional attempts (Richard Reid) operating under the broad banner, very loose confederation of the Al Qaeda movement separates them from the Scott Roeders of this world.

    I may have missed the video of Roeder training at the abortion doctor killing camp. If you can point me to it, that would be great.

    Otherwise I think you might admit that an organization which is funded by Saudi extremists, has provided training facilities for recruits and manages web sites where their adherents gather electronically for inspiration and instruction is a little bit more significant than the random, isolated (while still regrettable) acts of a Van Brunn.

  6. Dunque

    Mikeb1 – In your continuing mission to shed obfuscation instead of light you failed to notice Joey’s precise words were “have killed many more Americans in recent memory than folks like John Salvi,…”

    He made no statement about “the leading killer of Americans.”

    Thanks (again) for not contributing.

  7. charles pierce

    “Regrettable” is a nice word in this context, don’t you think?

  8. Dan Storms

    We have slaughtered thousands of Muslims, and continue to do so on a daily basis, since 9/11. Many of them are civilians (collateral damage, that charmless phrase that somehow is supposed to exculpate our terrorism). Many of the rest of them slaughtered for the crime of resiting invaders who come with fire and sword (OK, drone missles, Abrams tanks, and white phophorus) to occupy their country against the will of the native inhabitants, with only the ghost of a sham of an excuse: “they” hit us first on 9/11. Collective guilt (All [fill in the blank] are evil and deserving of death) can be a wonderful justification for indiscriminate murder for any group. And just to poke the beehive, posit that anyone who takes their orders from an unseen, unprovable, and wholly unbelievable deity, call him Allah, JHVH, God, or Morty-in-the-Sky, is a bit mad to begin with. Seeking direction from an almighty who “speaks” only through fallible human beings rather then relying on reason and a common humanity, mix with some bad brain chemistry, and it’s pretty easy to see picking up a gun as an answer.

  9. Brad Deltan

    Because they’re DIFFERENT and different is BAD!

    I mean, c’mon. When has the media ever needed more of a reason than that to paint a large group of people with the same brush if it scares people into buying more papers?

    Didn’t they do the same thing with communists (or anyone even slightly liberal, which was the same thing) in the 1960’s and 50’s, Japanese in the 1940’s, the Irish before that, and blacks before that?

  10. CAvard

    Great article Dan, as always. I think what I’d like to know is while military authorities didn’t act quick enough to prevent Hasan from murdering, where was the help that Hasan needed in the first place? He lacked the necessary help the military was supposed to provide him an countless other soldiers from PTSD. Fort Hood was SORELY lacking in this department. I interviewed Dahr Jamail this week, author of “Courage to Resist” and he told me that Fort Hood, so far, this year, according to the most recent statistics we have, is averaging 10 suicides every month- at that base alone. That’s serious.

  11. Nial Liszt

    CNN story from 6/11/09 reported that Fort Hood had implemented a program to reduce stress that was so successful that “although the base has recorded two suicides since the start of the year, that is well below many other major Army bases.”

  12. Dunque

    CAvard, where is the “post” in PTSD for Hasan?

  13. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    Secondary PTSD” now applied to people like Hasan who haven’t actually been to the traumatic place, but rather have only been exposed, in the manner of second-hand smoke, to those who have, is another example of terminology dilution. As such it becomes nearly useless so can be added it to the list of terms now so broadly applied that they cease to have meaning: terrorist, jihad, bigot, racist, homophobe…

    The urge to reduce the explanation of complex phenomena (what was going on in somebody’s mind) with easy labels seems irresistable–much more compelling than an admission that the real workings of the murderous mind are apt to be a constantly shifting hodgepodge of influences. Even if the perpetrator himself survives, he may not be able to truthfully articulate his own motivations to any satisfactory degree.

    That’s intolerable. We need a a simple one or two-word explanation. Thus arguments about whether he was a terrorist, or was mentally ill, or had “secondary” PTSD. Or, to use a term from the pre-everything is terrorism era, “went postal”. Assigning such labels allows us the comfort of the illusion of understanding such an incomprehensible attack. Once the label is attached, we don’t have to think about it any more, and can move on to the next thing.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Neil: The stress that care-givers experience is a well-established phenomenon. Police officers, firefighters, health-care providers, social workers and the like are all vulnerable. Now imagine the stress of being a psychiatrist and knowing that you will soon be in the same position as those you are treating — compounded by some nutty and dangerous ideas about religion.

      Did anyone notice the Times story the other day reporting that, when he was a kid, Hasan would chew food and let his pet bird eat it out of his mouth? And that he mourned the bird’s death for months? This was not a psychologically healthy individual.

  14. Dunque

    I think the “compounded by” is an equally relevant factor that too many on this board seem hasty to dismiss.

    I doubt very much that Mohammed Atta was a psychologically healthy individual but I doubt very much anyone would say that is a more imprtant factor than his nutty and dangerous ideas about religion.

  15. CAvard

    Thank you for explaining Lafcadio.

  16. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    Dan stress on care givers, yes. Secondary PTSD though is an example of something normal (stress) being too readily pathologized to a disorder.

    I agree he wasn’t psychologically healthy to begin with, and a variety of stresses, each of which would be endured by a healthier individual, contributed to this result.

    And ever-malleable religious interpretation contributing as usual by providing a feedback loop of bullshit rationalization for whatever violent thing somebody happens to want to do anyway. As such it’s a symptom of a weak mind I think, rather than a cause of action.

    CAvard, ten a month is too high. Ten a year is more like it.

  17. CAvard

    Thanks Lafcadio. It’s been corrected in my (and Jamail’s) article

  18. mike_b1

    Dunque, it’s nice to know that you understand what was actually going through Atta’s head. You may be the only person. Congratulations!

    With such mental telepathy, I’m sure you are often the big winner in the Mohegan Sun poker room.

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