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Random flashes of intellectual and moral brilliance from the comments section of the New York Times online

2013-04-21

When reading a news service online one may be occasionally struck by an odd flash of brilliance in an unlikely place, such as the comments section.  As a matter of fact, the quality of the comments is one reason I pay to get the New York Times online.  That being said, I am not above stealing and reproducing these gems in an attempt to get a wider audience for them.

The following comment struck me as particularly pertinent to the situation this week in Boston:  (slightly edited for style.)

Peter London, UK

Following this story from across the pond, as it were, I have noticed a calmer reaction from Americans in response to the terrible events in Boston.

If you live in US, you may not notice the change, but I notice it. The bombing in Boston is not an attack on America. It is just a case of two idiots who were obviously deranged.

I have often thought that we should think about Islamic terrorists as people who have a serious mental health problem. This is not to let them off the hook.

Think about it. Someone who creates and lets off a bomb with the intention of killing innocents, by definition has a sociopathic mindset.

Let’s be smart about this. The war on Islamic terrorism is one-sided. US is not at war with Islam. But I think the mistake is to describe these Islamic killers as “terrorists.” By doing that we may be feeding their paranoia, and confirming in their minds that they are, in fact, engaged in a war.

What if we changed our language, and instead of describing these people as terrorists, we simply described them as people with mental health problems.

The pen is mightier than the sword. My belief is that if we took the approach of describing these killers as having mental health problems, rather than combatants in war, this might be a more powerful way of undermining their philosophy.

Don’t kill them with bombs or bullets.
Kill them by understanding and tolerance and show that the values that sustain us are more powerful than the hate that drives them. (April 21, 2013, 6:59 AM)

Now, isn’t that sweet?  But seriously.  It takes all the moral authority out of Muslim terrorism if you define a terrorist as someone with a serious mental health problem.  It doesn’t make the USA a better government over the things it has done in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  But it does make terrorists part of the problem rather than part of any rational solution.

A big part of the problem is an Islamic claim of special sensitivity to certain cultural artifacts and practices.  For example, to a Muslim it is sacrilege to print a cartoon depicting the prophet Mohammed.  Of course, to a Catholic it is also sacrilege to portray the Pope in a cartoon, but the reaction is less.  The point being that non-Islamics are expected to display special deference to Islamic sensitivities.  Or am I just showing myself as a reactionary anti-Islamic by saying that?

Not really.  We are here defining as mentally ill someone who has a violent reaction to perceived insults to his religion.  That is what is at issue.  Military occupation and exposure to sundry exploitation schemes is the fault of a certain American government and should not be expected to justify attacks directed at civilians.  Suicide bombings are not an answer to economic and religious abuse.

This I say to the radicalized Muslim: First, get a sense of humor.  Second, if you want to fight American oppression, go to Afghanistan and pick up a gun.  If you just want to become a doctor, go to school.  But if you think of becoming a terrorist, you need to get your head examined.

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