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?
Mrs. Clinton suggested as much when she linked “the crazy voices that sometimes get on TV” with Loughner’s atrocity. These unnamed crazy voices (the ones on TV rather than the ones in Loughner’s head),—Secretary Clinton assured viewers of the Arab program “Sweet Talk,” are “not who we are”—just as the extremists within the Muslim world are “not who you are.”
But even this seemingly innocuous assurance appears suspect.
Last month, the Pew Research Center released disturbing poll numbers demonstrating the popularity of terrorist groups throughout the Muslim world. Muslim respondents in Jordan gave Hezbollah a 55 percent favorability rating, Hamas 60 percent, and al Qaeda 34 percent. In Nigeria, 45 percent of Muslims saw Hezbollah in a favorable light, and 49 percent gave both Hamas and al Qaeda the thumbs up. In Indonesia, the poll numbers were similarly grim: 43 percent favorability for Hezbollah, 39 percent for Hamas, and 23 percent for al Qaeda.
The positions are extreme. But the populations taking them generally aren’t described in such terms. If Muslims in “moderate” nations such as Jordan, Nigeria, and Indonesia take favorable views of terrorist outfits, what might a poll of Muslims in, say, Saudi Arabia show?
Here’s where Mrs. Clinton’s equation of Tuscon’s Safeway Massacre with acts of Muslim terrorism really breaks down. There is no statistically registering, let alone statistically relevant, group of people in the United States looking favorably upon Jared Lee Loughner’s slaughter of innocents. But when a Muslim terrorist shot dead eight at a religious school in Israel in 2008, 84 percent of Palestinians surveyed by a respected Palestinian pollster approved of the attack.
If the terrorists were merely Muslim versions of Jared Lee Loughner, we might be able to medicate or institutionalize them away. If Jared Lee Loughner were an American version of Mohamed Atta, we might be able to eliminate or separate such menaces through force. But neither crazy nor evil is that simple to stop.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of A Conservative History of the American Left (Crown Forum, 2008), Intellectual Morons (Crown Forum, 2004), and Why the Left Hates America (Prima Forum, 2002). He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, Sky News, PBS, CSPAN, and other broadcast networks. His articles have appeared in National Review, the Boston Globe, and City Journal. He blogs at www.flynnfiles.com.