Two horrible attacks. Two unforgettable pictures.
In the wake of 9/11, terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta’s Florida driver’s license headshot became one of the world’s most viewed images. The picture showed a hard, steely-eyed, malevolent figure. In the aftermath of last Saturday’s mass murder in Tucson, Jared Lee Loughner’s mug shot has been nearly as ubiquitous. It reveals a vacant-eyed, awkwardly-smiling killer, whose eyebrows and hair have, a la The Wall’s “Pink,” gone missing along with his mind.
The former is the face of evil; the latter, the picture of crazy.
But U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks the two men are one in the same.
“Look we have extremists in my country,” Mrs. Clinton told an Arab television audience on Monday. “A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman congress member, Congresswoman [Gabrielle] Giffords was just shot in our country. We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”
On one level, the remark could be generously interpreted as a clumsy attempt to generate a we’re-all-in-this-together solidarity between the United States and desired allies in the War on Terrorism.
On another level, it strikes as a pernicious example of the moral equivalence fallacy that has undermined liberal credibility on foreign policy from the Cold War through the War on Terrorism. The “extremist” problem endemic to the Muslim world generally infects Western nations such as the United States in relation to the unassimilated Muslim populations therein. In other words, political violence in the world today is inordinately, though not exclusively, a Muslim phenomenon.
Secretary Clinton’s comment grates on common sense for a more obvious reason. Jared Lee Loughner was a lunatic, of the like certainly found everywhere; the Middle Eastern extremists that she speaks of aren’t crazy in any medical sense, and are geographically concentrated. Unlike Loughner’s patchwork politics of metal-backed money and flag burnings, and his equally schizophrenic reading list of Hitler, Marx, and Rand, the Islamists operate in a coherent system of thought rooted in their religion. In other words, for the Islamists ideas have consequences; for Loughner, crazy has consequences, too.
Did Mrs. Clinton mean to lend credence to the discredited chorus that depicts Loughner as inspired by Tea Party rallies, Rush Limbaugh broadcasts, and Sarah Palin tweets?