A 23-year-old South Korean resident of the US carefully
plans and executes an attack on students and teachers at Virginia Tech leaving
32 dead. A week later, the story still makes newspaper headlines.
Seung-Hui Cho�s life history is dissected on Oprah. NBC
faithfully airs the killer�s prepared multi-media package. American Idol judge
Simon Cowell comes under fire for raising his eyebrows following a contestant�s
expression of sympathy.
President George W. Bush attends a House Correspondents�
dinner but leaves his jokes at home out of respect for the dead. Britain�s Sky
News holds a minute�s silence. Pundits on network after network ask why, a
question that was oddly verboten vis-�-vis the attacks on September 11, 2001.
Two days after the campus shooting, car bombs took the lives
of more than 150 innocents in Baghdad. The media gave this incident slightly
more than a passing mention.
Nobody bothered to find out the exact number of dead or
their names. A video message from the killers, even if one existed, would never
be broadcast. Nobody interviewed their grieving relatives. Nobody stood in
respectful silence. And, nobody asks why.
On Friday, a disgruntled NASA employee took two of his
co-workers hostage. One survived. The other was shot dead. This incident was
given prominence in the news for two days.
A newly-landed extraterrestrial being familiar with the
English language might be forgiven for believing that some people�s lives are
worth more than others, purely dependent on an accident of birth or acquired
nationality. He, she or it might also wonder why the word �terrorist� is
attached to some killers but not to others.
It�s interesting that Seung-Hui Cho appears to have escaped
the �terrorist� tag even though terror is exactly what he wanted to inflict on
his wealthy co-students, whose fancy cars and trust funds he so bitterly
envied. He was even dressed for the part. Instead he is termed variously as �a
gunman,� �a student� or a �killer.� An army of psychologists speculate on
whether he might have been autistic, mentally ill or lonely.
There is little press speculation as to why marines murdered
24 civilians in Haditha, including woman and children, or why their superiors
covered up the tragedy.
It�s also interesting that while the Virginia Tech shooting
is being labelled a �massacre� in The Boston Herald, Reuters, the Telegraph,
the Israeli paper, Arutz Sheva, and others, there is little mention of a
massacre at Haditha.
Going back a few years, an article in Arutz Sheva, titled �CNN
and the media jihad,� written by Jack Engelhard, perfectly illustrates these
double standards. Engelhard writes �Think Jenin, that fraudulent �massacre�
that was swallowed whole by the media Jihad.�
In April 2002, the Israeli army entered Jenin, a Palestinian
refugee camp, demolishing homes and killing 52 people, according to a UN
report. Colin Powell, then US secretary of state, visited Jenin and reported
back that a �massacre� had not taken place.
So what do we learn from these comparisons?
Firstly, it seems the term �terrorist� is reserved mainly
for killers who happen to be Muslim. Timothy McVeigh, who, in 1995, destroyed
the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, is usually called a
bomber or mass murderer. The perpetrators of Columbine were labelled disturbed
children or �shooters.�
Secondly, when the US military kills civilians as it did in
Fallujah, Tel Afar, Al Mahmudiya and Haditha, the carnage wrought is never
referred to as a massacre. When the US Air Force incinerated 408 women and
children seeking refuge in Baghdad�s Amiriyah
air-raid shelter in 1991, this was never termed a massacre either.
And thanks to academic and media collusion, few of today�s
youngsters are aware of one of the greatest massacres in history -- the US/UK
bombing of Dresden during the Second World War, which flattened the German city
and killed or injured some 135,000 civilians.
What happened at Virginia Tech is shocking, senseless and
painfully tragic. As America grieves the loss of its brightest and best, the
media have a duty to get the story out. However, they also have a duty to apply
the same reporting standards to all perpetrators and victims of similar crimes.
In fact, it is so biased as to be hardly credible. Why, for
instance, are most people aware of the name Corporal Gilad Shalit while they
cannot even name one of the 10,000 Palestinians, including dozens of young
children, being held in Israeli jails? Why is the Israeli PR machine given a
platform while the Palestinians are excluded from airing genuine grievances?
The media should strive to be more even-handed. They should
agree on empirical definitions for �terrorist� or �massacre,� which should not
depend on the nationalities, religions, ethnicities or jobs of either
perpetrators or victims. Until then we should remind ourselves of the power of
words and the influence they have over our own perceptions of events.
Was Cho a terrorist or a societal misfit? You decide.
S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes
feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.