Thursday, April 19, 2007

Terrorism, the media, and Virginia Tech

"Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people."

These are the words uttered by the name now known across America-and much of the world; the name plastered on every newspaper headline, internet magazine, radio and TV station.

But very few networks or newspapers chose to emphasize this statement, or even publish it. It was relegated to the end of the text in almost every article I read on the incident.

Why then is there no media frenzy to uncover and parse to death every possible “Christian fundamentalist” connection that Cho might have had, even seemingly benign ones (“you belonged to the Christian fellowship you say? You attended a local church? The church once hosted a controversial right-wing leader? Your highschool roommate’s estranged cousin attended anti-east rallies?). You get my drift.

There is no question that Tuesday’s attack was horrific, and very sad.

What I am interested in though is-as is often the case-how the media is covering it?

The coverage initially started out by mentioning- between the lines- that this “did not seem to be an act of terrorism”. Ok I might be picking at straws here but if this isn’t terrorism, what is? Not politically motivated you say? Is that the standard common definition of terrorism anyway these days?

The attacker, as in the Baruch Goldstein case, is being described as a mentally unstable wacko, one screw loose too many and the attack as an unfortunate case where a gun that found its way to the wrong hands; an exception to the rule; this despite the fact that a special justice found his insight and judgment to be normal.

The methodical nature of his killing rampage and his pre-rampage preparations seems to add credence to this.

The question I’d like to pose is, given his statement above which was extracted from his so-called “manifesto” and aired on NBC: couldn’t this, too, be classified as an act of religious terrorism (by the same standards employed by this media in categorizing “islamic terrorism” or “jihadism” or whatever)?

Or more precisely, to make a fair analogy, couldn’t one say that Cho derived “his inspiration” from Christian doctrine or the “Christian culture of martyrdom”?

I dread to think how the mass media would even begin to speculate and evaluate this if those same words were uttered by an attacker who happened to be of Muslim descent (exchanging Jesus Christ with some other Muslim figure;):

Of course Cho, who was the son of South Korean immigrants that worked at a dry cleaners, goes on to deride the upper-class elite and all of their material pleasures and “hedonistic needs”, including their Mercedes, gold necklaces, and drinking.

The point is this: in this modern day post-nationalism and globalization, one can seldom make sweeping generalizations about the ideologies driving any killer, whatever the circumstance, whatever the background;

Muslim, Christian, brown, pink, or purple, there is usually more than meets the eye; politics are often the driving force, religion a mere cloak.

That, and of course, the fact that the western media and its members needs to wake up and realize they are not as professional and objective as they like to believe: even the best can slip certain routines and begin to utilize prejudicial, unhelpful, and sensationalist labels, taking more liberty to do so with certain groups than others.


Blogger Bix said...

Hi there. New here. Found you on Blogs of Note :)

Like everyone else (I guess) I've been seeped in news of the tragedy at Virginia Tech since it happened. But nowhere did I hear this particular take on it. Thank you for airing your perspective. Like you, I also haven't seen attention drawn to that "die like Jesus Christ" comment, let alone any evaluation of it. And, well, who wouldn't consider this terrorism?

Anyway, wonderful blog!

5:54 PM  
Blogger Jed Carosaari said...

I find myself in agreement with you, and also not. I was struck by the series of suicide bombings in Casablanca, where I used to live, just a few days ago. American institutions targeted, but very few people hurt- and warnings went out to American friends of mine to be very afraid and vigilent. Then this happens in Virginia- Americans targeted, by a guy who grew up in America. The former is clearly terrorism. Why isn't the second? Both were intended to instill terror. Why are there no warnings going out for us to be hyper-vigilent here? Because we have grown complacent. We are used to death in our streets, and for all the violence that might occur against Americans overseas, it's far more likely for an American to be killed in the streets of his own country, by another American.

At the same time, I can see why his comment on Jesus is given less attention by the media. For one, he obviously wasn't motivated by Jesus- his statement is so rambling it takes in all kinds of strange ideas. For another, Jesus was so clearly against any level of violence that he was willing to die rather than resist his attackers. The question isn't why the media isn't picking this up; the question is why the media isn't pointing out how often a supposedly Christian nation like the U.S. violates the standards of the founder of it's faith.

11:49 PM  
Blogger Kiyotoe said...

everything about our media (or maybe I should say everything about our country) is hypocritical and subjective based in the prejudices of those who make the decisions.

It's unfortunate that it has evolved into that sort of state and even more unfortunate that it probably won't change.

just happened on your page. Glad I did.

1:27 AM  
Blogger WinterScribe said...

woah, had I not read your blog I would have never even become aware that he had made such statement. Thanks!

2:08 AM  
Blogger mygirlpurple said...

I really enjoyed hearing your take on the tragic event at VT. I look forward to reading your blog in the future.

5:12 AM  
Blogger Moussa Bashir said...

good point

7:34 PM  
Blogger Lawrence Messina said...

Questions remain as to why Cho apparently scrawled "Ismail Ax" on his arm.

Does it seem plausible that Cho somehow came across the story of Ibrahim smashing false idols with an ax, and attributes the act (mistakenly or not) to his son?

I would also note relevant coverage here:

and here:

(I am one of several Associated Press reporters assigned to this story, though I've not covered this aspect. I also blog, though mine is decidedly West Virginia-specific.)

9:03 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

I agree with every word.

9:46 PM  
Blogger Laila said...

Thanks, everyone, for your itneresting and observant comments!!

Lawrence, thanks for stopping by. I did ponder what that meant. Yassine says he read somewhere it was reference to "Moby-Dick", and somewhere else I read it might allude to the book Ishmael, by E.D.E.N. Southworth. Seeing as how he was an English major. Anyway, there are certaintly many theories around...who knows..

6:50 PM  
Blogger Liza said...

Did you happen to see the clip shown on CNN that was taken by a student at the time of the attack? He was later interviewed (I can't remember his name), and it turns out that he's Palestinian. He said that it didn't really occur to him to be scared or freak out (again, can't remember his exact wording), as he was from the West Bank, and having grown up with the sound of guns and warfare all around him, he wasn't as phased by the actual gunfire as the others. It was an interesting interview.

10:51 AM  
Blogger John Cav said...

I could not agree more. Coming from Ireland I had indeed heard these comments through a select minority in our national media. However, they were decidedly in a minority. Such selective journalism is "frustrating", to say the least. I had quite a few heated discussions with friends and family over the "lack" of terrorism at play in Virginia Tech. It is beyond comprehension that anybody could in all seriousness make that point...

1:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This reminds me so much of the Katrina floods in New Orleans. Video footage was shown of a White American family coming out of a convenience store with goods that they had obviously not purchased (seeing as how it was completely flooded out and closed). The news media reported it as a family "collecting supplies for survival". Later that day they showed footage of an African American family doing the exact same thing and the news media reported it as "looting".

3:57 PM  

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