Despite what the media says, the difference between Jared Loughner's mind and that of many Muslim terrorists isn't so drastic.
As I pointed out on the Monday after the deadly rampage at Gabrielle Giffords's meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona, several major media outlets seem reluctant to call the accused gunman Jared Loughner a terrorist, preferring instead to describe him as "unhinged" or "detached." When Andrew Stack flew his plane into an I.R.S. building in Austin, Texas, in February 2010, the media portrayed a similar rush to not pass judgment. TheNew York Times, in fact, said Stack was initially thought to be a terrorist, but then: "[I]n place of the typical portrait of a terrorist driven by ideology, Mr. Stack was described as generally easygoing, a talented amateur musician with marital troubles and a maddening grudge against the tax authorities." (Because terrorists don't have hobbies or domestic disputes, apparently.)
Comparatively, pretty much every rampage committed by a Muslim is immediately considered terrorism, with other motives being secondary and tertiary concerns.
What we can glean from this disparate coverage is that mass killings committed by whites are generally done by good people gone bad due to mental health woes, whereas mass killings done by brown Muslims are the work of methodical terrorists. Of course, as it turns out, those two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
According to the work of Ariel Merari, a retired psychology professor from Tel Aviv University, many terrorists suffer from depressive symptoms, while many suicide bombers specifically are probably only agreeing to become walking dynamite because they’re so imbalanced that they want to die.
In 2002, Merari spoke to 15 Palestinian suicide bombers who were arrested moments before they could detonate themselves. He also spoke with 14 Palestinian terrorist organizers. To his surprise, what he found wasn’t a band of bloodthirsty killers, but a lot of depressed, scared loners.
Fifty-three percent of the would-be bombers showed “depressive tendencies” — melancholy, low energy, tearfulness, the study found — whereas 21 percent of the organizers exhibited the same. Furthermore, 40 percent of the would-be suicide bombers expressed suicidal tendencies; one talked openly of slitting his wrists after his father died. But the study found that none of the terrorist organizers were suicidal.\n
Merari, who’s been criticized for his small sample group, says he’s already begun a new study of 75 suicidal terrorists, some of whom are women. If his theories pan out even more than they already have, it should be increasingly hard for the media to continue drawing distinct lines between people like Jared Loughner and a suicide bomber in Iraq.
It may be comforting to think that Muslim killers in the Middle East are markedly different from the people in our own back yard, but it's just not true.