April 3, 2012 1 Comment
In the litany of crimes those perpetrated against innocents, particularly children, are rightly seen as the most heinous and the most deserving of soul-searching as well as reprimand. The past weeks have seen murderous rampages take place in disparate parts of the globe, perpetrated by individual gunmen against innocent civilians. In the streets of Toulouse a young man named Mohammed Merah gunned down three Muslim French military servicemen, and then proceeded days later to a Jewish school where he killed four people, including a 7 year old girl. A week before the horror unleashed by Merah in France, another young man, an American in Afghanistan, conducted a massacre of his own. Robert Bales murdered 17 Afghan civilians, mostly women and toddlers in a prolonged massacre in a village in Kandahar. After executing them in their homes in the dead of night and at point blank range, he proceeded to drag the bodies into a pile and set them alight. It is thought that at least one of his victims, a two year old boy, was burnt alive with the bodies of his family members.
What the perpetrators of these two heinous acts had in common was that they were both young men with a history of violence and mental illness. Merah was documented to have been suicidal and was described during a prior psychiatric evaluation as a “polar introvert” who said he wanted only to “sit in his corner alone” – a portrait of a young man mentally disturbed by growing up poor in a broken home without a father. Robert Bales as well showed a history of potential mental illness. Suspected to have suffered personality altering brain injuries in a vehicle accident in 2010, he was also believed to have suffered from PTSD due to repeated combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both men have had run-ins with the law apparently unrelated to any type of ideological motivation, Merah for armed robbery and Bales for aggravated assault.
In the popular responses to these two men and their crimes we can see a marked double standard in regards to who besides them is responsible for their actions. In the case of Bales, the media has been quick to identify him as a deranged, lone, and decidedly isolated individual whose actions have occurred in a vacuum and are a result of his own personal moral failings and mental defects. The identification of Bales as such means that no community is responsible for him and thus no action needs to be taken outside reprimanding him personally; he is alone and apart from any society which might own him. For Merah however, there has been an exuberant rush to identify him and his actions; again, the actions of a young man documented to be mentally disturbed, as the collective responsibility of his community no matter how much that community expresses its disgust and outrage at his crimes. Merah’s claims of affiliation with groups such as Al-Qaeda have been viewed with deep skepticism by French authorities; as the grandiose boasts of a mentally ill young man should be, however media and political figures with an interest in utilizing his crimes to further their own agendas have taken it upon themselves to do so despite this. The actions of Merah, a solitary, sick individual, have been utilized to put all French Muslims on the defensive and to cast an aura of collective guilt and responsibility the way the crimes of Robert Bales never have been. Indeed, the enthusiasm with which pundits around the world have used Merah’s crimes as a bludgeon to smear Muslims everywhere has been disgraceful if nonetheless predictable.
The argument that Merah’s actions fit a pattern and as such must be indicative of a broader communal failing among Muslims whereas Bales do not does not stand up to even the lightest scrutiny. While young Muslim men in disparate places on the globe have committed acts of terror against civilians, countless young men fitting the rough description of Bales; young, white and American, have committed similarly unconscionable acts of violence against innocents on a regular basis as well. From the young men of the so-called “kill team” in Afghanistan who killed Afghan civilians for sport, keeping fingers as keepsakes and taking smiling trophy photographs; to the men who gang-raped and murdered a 14 year-old Iraqi girl in Mahmudiyyah after killing her family, the litany of crimes committed by men whom one could claim belong to the “white American community” is readily comparable to those committed by their Muslim counterparts in both number and scope. The notion that perhaps these crimes are indicative of some sort of collective failure or guilt which would require drastic remedy is rarely entertained, in each case the perpetrators are a mere aberration to be explained away. In no way is the community to which they belong responsible for the creation of these violent, destructive young men, no matter how steady a stream of Robert Bales’ are created. In the case of Muslims however, there is a frantic rush, a need, to associate every Muslim individual who commits a crime with the broader community. Which communities should carry the burden of collective guilt for the crimes of their members can be seen to be wholly selective, if the Muslim community not just in France but around the world is responsible for Mohammed Merah then someone correspondingly must be responsible for Robert Bales, Steven Green, Calvin Gibbs, and the countless other Americans who have also carried out criminal acts of violence.
Robert Bales has been condemned by his society for his actions just as Mohammed Merah has by his. The difference between them is that only in the case of Merah are there demands for soul-searching and greater scrutiny, while the conditions which created Bales continue to remain unreflected upon and unaddressed. The cynical hypocrisy and double standards represented in these two cases is done with specific intent; the actions of individuals can either be brushed aside as anomalies regardless of the frequency with which they occur, or used as a weapon to attack a specific community as required. What we see here clearly is the latter, a reflection of a double standard which continues to exist against Muslims around the world today.