A woman prays during a special Easter Mass at Holy Family Basilica in Nairobi for victims of the massacre at Garissa University College. Al-Shabaab militants raided the campus April 2, leaving 148 dead. CNS photo/Thomas Mukoya, Reuters

Tragic murders trigger varied treatment

  • April 9, 2015

The pre-Easter tragedies of the German jet deliberately flown into the French Alps and the terrorist attack at a Kenyan university have several links, some not all that obvious.

First is the enormity of each tragedy with 149 innocents killed aboard Germanwings flight 9525 and 148 students killed by four al-Shabaab gunmen, who initially began murdering indiscriminately and then later targeted Christians, survivors said.

Second is the sheer terror each victim must have felt in their final moments on Earth. It is almost unfathomable to think of what each passenger felt as the pilot, who was locked out of the cockpit, frantically tried to get back in as co-pilot Andreas Lubitz accelerated the plane’s descent into the mountain. Or what the students felt as gunmen rounded up people and executed everyone wearing a cross or who was identified as Christian.

The next link is the way each story was covered. After the March 24 jet crash, it was a front-page story for days in major newspapers around the world and talked about non-stop on all-news radio and television channels. Compare that to the April 2 attack at Garissa University College in Eastern Kenya: the day after, major newspapers like the Globe and Mail, put a picture on the front page with a “throw” caption pointing readers to a full story on page A13. The Toronto Star, and others, did something similar.

Which begs the question: why? The same number of people died in each tragedy and yet the world, or at least the media, seemed to think the plane crash was more important.

Perhaps it’s because we all fly in jets and can identify more closely with that than attending a university in a troubled area of Africa. Could there be deeper reasons for the discrepancy? In one case most of the victims were predominantly white Europeans and the other black Africans. Perhaps it was because one involved more persecution of Christians at the hands of extremist Muslims and in this politically correct secular Western world that somehow qualifies as a lesser story.

Another disconcerting link between these two tragedies involves the words “terrorism” and “terrorists.”

Aviation investigators were quick to paint a picture that Andreas Lubitz was an emotionally unstable man with a history of severe depression. He was not labelled a terrorist in the days after the crash. This created a firestorm of accusations, particularly in social media, but also some mainstream media, that because Lubitz was a white male he is not a terrorist. In other words, racism: only Arabs and Islamic extremists can be terrorists. (I don’t buy it. The Irish Republican Army routinely committed terrorist acts and were labelled terrorists. And just as most Catholics abhorred murderous IRA tactics, most Muslims abhor what occurred at Garissa.)

Terrorism is often defined as violence committed for a political or religious purpose. There’s intent to strike fear into others and to send a message. Surely, Lubitz was trying to send a message because he could have easily killed himself without taking 149 souls with him. We may never know what statement he was trying to make.

But it could end up being terrorism or it could simply be delusional narcissism by a very sick man. Undoubtedly, it is mass murder. Ironically, Lubitz was born on Dec. 18, 1987, exactly 109 years to the day that one of history’s most infamous mass murderers was born, Joseph Stalin.

Now, compare the media’s treatment of the murderers in Kenya. You’re hard pressed to find the word terrorists to describe them. Instead, words like “al-Shabab fighters,” “militants” and “extremists” are used over and over. Don’t take my word for it. Google it or check out the web sites of the BBC, CBC, the Globe and Mail and others.

If that attack was not an act of terrorism, then what is?

In his Easter message, Pope Francis said “may constant prayer rise up from all people of goodwill for those who lost their lives — I think in particular of the young people who were killed last Thursday at Garissa University College in Kenya.” Then he spoke of his “hope for the growth of a common desire for peace, for the good of the entire people.” Amen to that.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@abc2.ca or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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