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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Column: Terrorism not based on race, religion

When Germanwings Flight 9525 crashed on March 24, everyone wanted to know why. Was there a problem with the plane? Was it a hijacking? Something more mysterious, perhaps?

It turned out the crash was caused by copilot Andreas Lubitz. Lubitz suffered from depression and decided to crash the plane in order to kill himself — and all the other 149 innocent passengers on board.

This information was available quite early, and German and French authorities quickly announced that Lubitz did not have a terrorist background or ties to terrorist groups. This didn’t stop one intrepid journalist, though, who decided to ask what seems to be the most irrelevant question ever: Was Lubitz a Muslim?

Because if he wasn’t, then it can’t be terrorism, right? A Christian terrorist? Or a Jewish, Hindu or Buddhist terrorist? Those don’t exist. But if he’s Muslim and killed people, clearly he must be a terrorist.

Why does it matter if Lubitz was a Muslim or not, after all? Does being Muslim make it a terrorist attack, even if he has no ties to terrorist groups? And let’s say he wasn’t Muslim. Does that automatically mean it was just an isolated incident, the act of a sad, disturbed individual who was otherwise a great person?

Of course, that’s how the media generally treats non-Muslim murderers. It’s a fair criticism that’s been heard after every mass shooting that has hit the news for the last few years: White killers are more likely to be described as disturbed. Non-white killers are more likely to be described using a set group of stereotypical words based on their race, regardless of who they really were.

Just look at the fact that the question was even posed, because if he had been Christian, there would have been no reason for the media to explore any terrorist connections, unlike if he had been Muslim. Because only Muslims are terrorists. (This, by the way, isn’t true).

University of Michigan professor Juan Cole wrote on his blog, “The subtext is that white Christians don’t go off the deep end, even though obviously they do, in large numbers.”

He said that while the crash was probably not an act of political terrorism, it was a terroristic act regardless.

Some journalists voiced their opinions online as well, such as Chris Hayes of MSNBC, who commented on how the coverage of the crash would be very different “if this co-pilot were named Mohammed Al-Masaood, son of Egyptian immigrants.”

Most likely, the media, especially right-wing media, would have looked into every nook and cranny of Lubitz’s background to find terrorist ties. Some might even have said the authorities are lying; he was Muslim, after all.

Whether Lubitz should indeed be called a terrorist is perhaps a matter of question. Did he mean to incite fear or simply to kill innocent people for no good reason? It doesn’t really matter, though. It was a horrible act, and Cole is right to have said that it is terroristic. Terrorism, after all, isn’t confined to being of political or religious nature.

The fact is, however, that Lubitz had depression and was suicidal. A doctor declared him unfit to be working. Lubitz decided to kill himself instead of seeking further help.

If he was Muslim, none of that would matter. It wouldn’t matter that he was depressed or suicidal or shouldn’t have been working or that he dreamed of becoming a pilot. If he was Muslim, then he’d have been a terrorist; he’d have had some ties, fictional or not, to terrorist groups.

Even if none of that was true, the media focus would still be on examining if it was possible — because how could it not be, after all, if he was a Muslim?

Regardless of whomever Lubitz worshipped, if he even did at all, the nature of his attack doesn’t change. It doesn’t become worse, and it doesn’t become better. And the criteria for deciding if it was a terrorist attack is not Lubitz’s religion — unless you’ve already decided that only Muslims can be terrorists. In that case, you’re a bigot, and you’re wrong.


Ashwin Mehra is a physiology major. Follow him on Twitter.

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