While I was surprised to learn that the lead Beltway Sniper suspect is apparently a Muslim, I was not surprised that the designation which is largely reserved for Muslims was waged against him.
Before the suspects’ names were known, there was little talk of the possibility of the sniper shootings being acts of terrorism. The suspicion was circulating, but there was not enough evidence to assume anything but yet another serial killer, albeit with a new twist.
The revelation that the last name of one of the suspects is Muhammad erased any doubt in the minds of those who equate Muslims with terrorists. All of a sudden, it’s terrorism. Case closed.
Besides his name and religious affiliation, both items not being sufficient evidence to legally support allegations of terrorism, there are accounts from third party individuals that suggest John Allen Muhammad sympathized with the 9/11 terrorists.
Is sympathizing with international criminals sufficient grounds for terrorism allegations? What constitutes sympathy? Some may suggest that sharing the religion or religious ideology justifies such designations, but is this dangerous ground for America to step onto, or is there legitimate reason to label a serial killer a terrorist?
Let’s take 15 year old Charles Bishop of Palm Harbor, Florida. On January 5, he stole and crashed a Cessna into a Tampa high-rise, leaving behind a suicide note clearly expressing sympathy for Osama bin Laden. His age, name, skin color and his family’s defensive description of him as a card-carrying member of the Young Republicans Club and a Tom Clancy fan may have averted this young copycat suicide pilot earning the label of terrorist.
And there is Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unibomber. In his manifesto, he clearly stated “the object will be to overthrow not governments but the economic and technological basis of the present society.” In other words, as our President put it, Kaczynski was “attacking our way of life.” Kaczynski fit the serial killer profile: white male with serious problems in his head. However, you will not see the terrorist label being placed on the Unibomber.
On the other hand, the Beltway Snipers demands were ten million dollars, not the destruction of America’s way of life, changes in foreign policy or other political motives normally required for a legitimate terrorism designation.
The African-American community was shocked, not by the Beltway Snipers names or religious affiliation, but by their skin color. This may be a first for American serial killers who have typically been white males, such as Ted Kaczynski, Jeffrey Damer, David Berkowitz (Son of Sam), Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Charles Manson, Albert Fish (the real-life Hannibal Lector) and a host of others.
The fact that the police profile of the sniper was that of a white male, possibly one with military experience, proves that the authorities were looking for a serial killer and not a terrorist.
Now, let’s consider Jewish Defense League chief Irving David Rubin and JDL member Earl Leslie Krugel, who were arrested for allegedly plotting lethal bombings of a Los Angeles mosque and the office of Congressman Darrel Issa, who is of Arab descent.
Furthermore, Anti-Defamation League Regional Director, David A. Lehrer, issued a statement which said the “ADL abhors and condemns this potential terrorist plot to attack members of the Los Angeles community.” The ADL’s Backgrounder on the JDL contains a long list of criminal and terrorist acts committed by the JDL covering a span of over 25 years. Yet, no charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism have been filed against Rubin and Krugel.
Another plot to kill Arabs and Muslims in America was unearthed in Florida when authorities discovered 37 bombs, several guns and 25,000 rounds of ammunition throughout podiatrist Robert J. Goldstein’s town house. On October 18, dentist Michael W. Hardee pleaded guilty to conspiring with Goldstein to target Arab and Muslim buildings for destruction. His wife, who made the call that lead to the discovery, was also arrested on October 24 and charged with being an accomplice.
While authorities have a list of about 50 mosques and schools the Goldstein group were planning to blow up in Florida, no charges of conspiring to commit acts of terrorism have been filed against them.
It seems that when violent acts are planned or committed by Muslims, it is automatically considered terrorism while the same types of crimes committed against Muslims or by non-Muslims are not. And we wonder why our government has such an image problem in the Muslim world. Maybe it’s the bigotry, stupid!
John M. Janney is an internet consultant and writer in Dallas, Texas. His articles on religion, politics and media have been published internationally. He has appeared on television and radio and has given lectures at university campuses and other forums. He is also a founder of the American Mass Media Foundation.