Sunday, October 21, 2007

Defining the Event in Terms of the Victim

It seems to me that I think a lot of Sunday mornings here are gorgeous. I used to think it was the quality of a particular day, but now I'm seeing that we just live in a beautiful place. And so I say, yay for us. The leaves are falling seriously now, the trees are red and yellow, and I see that people walking down the street have sweaters on. It seems warm enough to me, but maybe in the shade it's still cool, maybe it was cool an hour ago when they left the house. The light has that thin, limpid quality that you get in the transitional seasons, it's not weak, it's just, I'd say, gentle sunshine this morning.

This is probably a good time to mention that what I write on this blog is my own opinion only. TTF people don't review it, and often don't agree with what I say. But as I bump along this old trail of life, sometimes some crazy thing catches my eye, and I think out loud about it here. Comment if you have an opinion, you don't have to agree with me, but some things are interesting enough to be talked about. I'm just going to give my side, feel free to fill in the rest.

I ... am ... totally ... surprised. The other day that terrorist was convicted and sentenced, and the Washington Post didn't put it on the front page. In fact, searching for his name, it looks like they didn't even mention it anywhere in the newspaper, ever. Guy plants a bomb, tries to kill anybody within a hundred feet, packs it with nails to make it more deadly, is caught, convicted, and that's not enough to compete with "Some Say Clinton Model Is Flawed" (Page One, left) in a major newspaper.

Of course if you saw my post about it, you notice that I left a little bit of information out, a few words here and there, mainly the phrases that included words like "abortion clinic." Like, the headline wasn't really, "Man Gets 40 Years After Planting Bomb," it was "Man Gets 40 Years After Planting Bomb At Women's Clinic." And the lead sentence wasn't "A judge on Friday sentenced a man to 40 years in prison after he admitted to planting a bomb outside an Austin [building]", it was "A judge on Friday sentenced a man to 40 years in prison after he admitted to planting a bomb outside an Austin clinic that performs abortions."

If you search Google News for this guy's name plus the word "terrorist," you get exactly zero hits. Well, you get one, because one news site has another story on it about a terrorist. A guy planting a bomb in a city to blow up passersby is unanimously, without exception, not a terrorist in any news outlet. Because of who he is, and because he doesn't fit the script we've been taught.

Our country is standing on its head these days, in fear of terrorism. Our values are inverted, we live in fear -- did you see the story the other day, about how we should all be afraid of IEDs in the streets? There aren't any, but there could be, and we should live in more fear than we are presently experiencing, because maybe random things in the road will blow up as we approach them. We are obsessed. We stand in security lines, we provide ID galore, we're always on candid camera, we let them listen to our phone calls and read our emails, because we are afraid of terrorists.

But this is so strange: real terrorists don't even attract our attention. You take a real guy planting a real bomb that could kill dozens or hundreds of people, and we couldn't care less.

It makes you wonder how this works, really. It appears we will give up our ketchup at the airport, our hand lotion, in order to make the world safe from turban-wearing, swarthy bad guys who practice a different religion from us, we'll let them take naked pictures of our bodies through our clothes on the off-chance that one of us has explosives in our rectum. But a regular terrorist -- and this guy is not the first or only one -- doesn't worry us a bit. Your neighbor will not be mentioning this to you today over the fence.

I know people -- you know people -- who actually, literally believe that Muslim terrorists could conquer the United States and destroy our way of life. In one day, Muslim terrorists were able to kill as many Americans as, uh, nearly one tenth of the number killed in traffic accidents every year, almost a fifth of the number of Americans who die of AIDS in a year. And they're going to come here and take over a country of 300 million people, and make us live like they do?

Look at it this way. My wife is in Sioux City, Iowa, visiting her family. Think about what it would take for Muslim terrorists to invade and occupy Sioux City, never mind Le Mars, the next town over, or let's go all the way over to Omaha -- how will the terrorists make the people of Omaha submit to their evils way of life? I can see the long-bearded guys in some Pakistani cave, looking over their list of American targets, with Omaha, Nebraska somewhere in the middle, Sioux City below that, and Le Mars further down. Q: How long will that list have to be? A: Pretty long.

Look, it can't happen. The only way anybody could ever buy any of this is if they see the world like a child does, with their little life right in the middle of it all, and their little friends and family and possessions magnified out of proportion. You can imagine them coming down your street, sure. But who cares about your street? How many streets do you think they can come to? And why would they pick yours? Every country on the planet, just about, has had a terrorist attack of some sort; you have to be careful, you have to protect yourself, but you don't have to completely warp your life around to put this at the center of it.

Part of the legacy of the Bush years will be this weird, obsessive kind of infantilism. The people we call "conservatives" these days are ones who believe that the world centers around them, that whatever they want is justified, that whatever happens is caused by a reaction to them, personally. In our controversy, gay people can't just be gay, can't just be attracted to people of their own sex, it has to be a conspiracy to destroy the family, an attack on the institution of marriage -- it has to be Satan trying to steal somebody's soul. It is impossible to consider the obvious fact that nature just spits out a gay person, or a gay penguin or elephant or whatever, once in a while. It has to be a personal attack.

When we are shown a real terrorist, a person who actually does intend to kill random people in a public place, evidence of an actual deadly conspiracy, but it doesn't fit our self-obsessed theory, we can't figure out how this is an attack on us personally, and so the fact is simply rejected. The Washington Post didn't give this story an inch of ink. Nobody wants to hear about a white Christian male adult doing this sort of thing, with nary an Arab in sight. This real terrorist simply does not interest people, and that fact calls for an explanation.

It's even worse than that. Look at that headline. Look at that lead sentence. The news story wasn't that a terrorist was sentenced, which is what happened. Both the headline and the lead said "a man" was sentenced. And both mentioned that the target of the bombing was a "women's clinic," or "clinic that performs abortions." These phrases tell you what happened. "A man," generic and ordinary like any of us, tried to bomb a "women's clinic" where abortions are performed.

All the explanatory power is in the object of the sentence. Dude was just doing what he had to do. There was a "women's clinic," where women get abortions. Somebody had to kill a bunch of them, plus any other unlucky souls wandering through the neighborhood. "A man" tried to do it, got caught. He was obviously trying to stop bad people from doing bad things, just went over the line a little bit. Kind of like John Wayne hitting the bad guy a little too hard.

We need to wake ourselves up from this nightmare of self-absorption.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it disappointing that the Washington Post didn't report this story, especially given that they used the term "Christian terrorist" when they reported on another abortion clinic bomber, Eric Rudolph back in 2003.

The arrest of alleged Olympic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph may finally allow authorities to answer a question that has loomed since the beginning of the five-year hunt for him, but that has taken on deeper resonance since Sept. 11, 2001: Is he a "Christian terrorist"?

The question is not just whether Rudolph is a terrorist, or whether he considers himself a Christian. It is whether he planted bombs at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, two abortion clinics and a gay nightclub to advance a religious ideology -- and how numerous, organized and violent others who share that ideology may be.

Federal investigators believe Rudolph has had a long association with the radical Christian Identity movement, which asserts that North European whites are the direct descendants of the lost tribes of Israel, God's chosen people. Some investigators also think he may have written letters that claimed responsibility for the nightclub and abortion clinic bombings on behalf of the Army of God, a violent offshoot of Christian Identity.

Click on the abore link to read rest of the Washington Post article about Rudolph, which includes details about the church that exposed him to these ideas, the Church of Israel in Schell City, MO.

October 21, 2007 5:46 PM  

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