Two anti-Semitic incidents occurred on July 28. Both took place on the West Coast; both involved an American venting his hostility to Jews. But only one of them became in the days that followed a big national story about anti-Semitism. The other was treated as a serious but local matter, and drew only modest coverage around the country.
Incident A involved nothing more dangerous than a guy spewing crude anti-Semitic slurs when he was arrested for drunk driving; once sober, he publicly and profusely apologized. Incident B involved a Muslim gunman’s premeditated assault on a prominent Jewish institution; his attack left one woman dead and sent five to the hospital, three of them in critical condition.
Which would you say was the bigger story?
Unless you've spent the past week submersed in the Mariana Trench, you know that the intoxicated driver in Incident A was Hollywood’s Mel Gibson, who railed at the Los Angeles County police officer who pulled him over about the “(bleeping) Jews” and how “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Details of Gibson's tirade leaked quickly and the story was soon everywhere. In the first six days after his arrest, the media database Nexis logged 888 stories mentioning “Mel Gibson” and “Jews.” And that didn’t include the countless websites, talk shows, and smaller publications where the story also played.
By any rational calculus, Incident B was far more significant.
According to police and eyewitness reports, the killer, a 30-year-old named Naveed Haq, forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by holding a gun to the head of a 13-year-old girl. Once inside, Haq announced, “I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel,” and opened fire with two semi-automatic pistols. Pam Waechter, 58, died on the spot. Five other women, one of them 20 weeks pregnant, were shot in the abdomen, knee, or arm. When one of the wounded women managed to call 911, Haq took the phone and told the dispatcher: “These are Jews and I’m tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.”
This was no spur-of-the-moment meltdown. The police say Haq, who holds an engineering degree from Washington State University, had purchased the two guns and waited 10 days before picking them up on July 27. He selected his target by searching online for Jewish sites. And as his declarations make clear, he was impelled to kill by his antipathy toward Jews and his convictions as a Muslim.
At a time when jihadist murder is a global threat, and when some of the most malevolent figures in the Islamic world -- Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, to name just two -- openly incite violence against Americans and Jews, the attack in Seattle should have been a huge story everywhere. Yet after six days, a Nexis search turned up only 236 stories mentioning Haq -- about one-fourth the number devoted to Gibson’s drunken outburst. Why the disparity?
No doubt part of the answer is that Gibson is a celebrity, and that "The Passion," his 2004 movie about the crucifixion of Jesus, was criticized by many as a revival of the infamous anti-Semitic motif of Jews and Christ-killers. Gibson, who belongs to a sternly traditionalist Catholic sect, was already suspected of harboring ill will toward Jews. His crude remarks on July 28 confirmed it, and pushed the subject back into the spotlight.
Fair enough. But if previous behavior and religious beliefs explain the burst of interest in the Gibson story, they only deepen the question of why the Seattle bloodshed was played down. After all, Naveed Haq is not the first example of what Daniel Pipes has dubbed "Sudden Jihad Syndrome," in which a seemingly non-violent Muslim erupts in a murderous rampage.
Just this year, for example, Mohammed Taheri-azar, a philosophy and psychology major at the University of North Carolina, deliberately rammed a car into a crowd of students, saying he wanted to "avenge the death of Muslims around the world." Michael Julius Ford opened fire in a Denver warehouse, killing one person and injuring five. "I don't know what happened to him yesterday," his sister Khali told the Denver Post. "He told me that Allah was going to make a choice and it was going to be good and told me people at his job was making fun of his religion."
Other cases in recent years include Hasan Akbar, a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division, who attacked his fellow soldiers at an American command center in Kuwait with grenades and rifle fire, killing one and wounding 15; Hesham Ali Hadayet, who killed two people when he shot up the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport in 2002; and Ali Hasan Abu Kamal, who was carrying a note denouncing "Zionists" and others who "must be annihilated & exterminated" when he opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State Building.
If the Catholic Mel Gibson's nonviolent bigotry is a legitimate subject of media scrutiny, all the more so is the animus that has spurred Muslims like Naveed Haq to jihadist murder. And yet that is a line of inquiry that few seem willing to pursue. "No one wants to propagate bias or jump to conclusions," the New York Sun noted the other day. But how many more Haqs must erupt in a homicidal rage, it asked, before we stop assuming that these are merely random incidents and open our eyes "to the possibility that they are part of a war in which understanding the enemy is a prerequisite for victory?"
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