IN the past few days, two horrible incidents have occurred on either side of the Atlantic that initially appeared to be random acts of violence – a mass shooting in the US in which several lives were lost (hardly uncommon) and a man with a knife stabbing commuters on the London Underground.
The first of these, which took place last Wednesday, resulted in the deaths of 14 people at the Inland Regional Centre in San Bernardino, California. The atrocity was carried out by a married couple, one of whom – Syed Rizwan Farook – was a public health inspector, attending a function alongside many of his work colleagues at the venue before abruptly departing and returning with his wife and some firearms that the pair of them proceeded to unleash upon the crowd of 75-80. Despite being clad in a ski-mask, Farook was recognised by several survivors, and within four hours of the massacre, both perpetrators were dead, killed by police following a pursuit and a shoot-out.
So routine are these kind of gruesome incidents in the US that talk of motive in the immediate aftermath seems almost irrelevant; the damage has been done and getting to the source of whatever provoked the assault won’t bring back the dead. I suppose the thinking is to gift a semblance of meaning to what seems an utterly senseless act, as though to know why it was done will somehow join the dots and make it appear less inexplicable.
What happened in San Bernardino brought the numbers of mass shootings in America for just 2015 alone to a staggering 355, not far from one shooting for every day of the year. But this latest in what often feels like an endless succession of civilian slayings has been upgraded to a terrorist incident, lifted out of the standard ‘loner with movie star/rock star/white supremacist fixation’ model and placed on another level altogether.
Three days later, an individual armed with a large knife stabbed a trio of commuters exiting Leytonstone Tube Station; thankfully, nobody was killed and the perpetrator was brought down by Taser-waving police before anyone else came within range of his weapon. Although on a far smaller scale than the kind of bloodbath Americans have been forced to become accustomed to, this unpleasant episode is rare albeit not unusual in British cities, where many mentally-disturbed, self-medicating wanderers adrift in the urban jungle occasionally act out their fantasies in public. Yet, this assault has also been classified as a terrorist incident, elevated above yer average knife crime on account of one statement issued by the knifeman before launching his attack – ‘This is for Syria’.
Was it really for Syria anymore than the San Bernardino shootings were for Syria? Terrorist motivations have been attributed to the latter due to the fact that Tashfeen Malik, Syed Rizwan Farook’s wife and fellow assassin, apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS on Facebook – possibly alongside a photo of her evening meal the same day. The FBI says there was evidence of ‘extreme planning’ of the massacre by the couple, but most of the high-school shootings in the US have been planned beforehand and on the odd occasion, rather extremely.
When it comes to the Leytonstone stabber, the terrorist tag stemmed solely from the attacker’s Syria announcement. Had he shouted ‘Ap the Ammers!’, would he have been regarded as a football hooligan? Had he quoted a line from a song, would the singer of it now be blamed for inciting violence as Marilyn Manson once was?
In theory, every gun-toting American nobody or every knife-wielding London loser could proclaim their belief in the ISIS cause prior to kicking off their spree; but does that place them in the same terrorist annals as the 9/11 hijackers or the 7/7 bombers? Surely the Real McCoy would have selected locations a tad more significant than what was essentially a Californian DWP outpost on one hand and an Underground station that is hardly the highest new entry in the Tube top forty on the other? After all, those who carried out the recent Paris attacks at least picked places in the city centre that were listed in tourist guidebooks.
I’m not quite sure if labelling both incidents terrorist ones is a concerted effort by the authorities in both Britain and America to maintain the level of fear established in the wake of Paris (thus justifying fresh legislation to keep closer tabs on everyone), or if doing so will enable these two cases to achieve a higher priority than they would otherwise warrant and the crime will therefore be solved quickly due to popular demand. So far, there doesn’t seem to be much conclusive evidence that points to actual terrorism, whereas there does seem to be at least a modicum of evidence that places both incidents in the context of unbalanced individuals possessing a distinct lack of empathy with their fellow-man and able to kill – or attempt to – bereft of any conscience. That could be a definition of terrorism, but it would make every murderer in history a terrorist if it was.
© The Editor