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The Killers We Should Really Worry About Are the Jihadis

By Robert Tracinski

The Virginia Tech massacre is legitimately a big news story, on the crime-and-natural-disaster beat. And I understand why those affected by this event cannot think of anything bigger and more important in their lives than the tragedy they have just suffered.

But something more is needed to explain why this story has completely dominated the national media (and even the global media) for two straight days, to the exclusion of everything else--while the president and Congress are in a showdown over funding for the War on Terrorism.

Keep in mind that this week we are already approaching the point at which the Pentagon is going to have to start diverting funds from other parts of its budget in order to keep paying for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, since the Democratic Congress has refused to pass a war funding bill that does not require the president to withdraw our troops from Iraq. In effect, Congress has already de-funded the War on Terrorism. That is the most important national news story of this week. Good luck trying to hear about it on the national news.

I heard one newscaster last night describe the magnitude of the Virginia Tech story by pointing out that the number of people killed is greater than the number of soldiers and Marines killed in a single day in Iraq. The comparison is nonsensical, not just because the total number of US servicemen and Iraqi civilians killed in Iraq over the past four years dwarfs the scale of the Virginia Tech massacre, but also because the Virginia Tech massacre is an isolated case, while the war in Iraq has far-reaching implications for the whole nation for decades to come.

Yet this nonsense serves a purpose: it was an attempt to rationalize why the press is treating the Virginia Tech story as if it were the only important event in the world today--an approach we can expect to continue through the end of this week, and probably beyond.

Another clue to what is driving the exclusive press coverage of this event is the frequent invocation of the Columbine High School massacre of 1999. Think quickly: what important events happened in 1998 and 2000, about a year on either side of Columbine, but received far less press coverage? Answer: al-Qaeda's attacks on US embassies in East Africa in 1998 and on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, attacks whose success emboldened al-Qaeda to attack New York City on September 11, 2001.

But back in the 1990s, the media was far more interested in the crime beat (especially when it could be used to drum up public support for gun control), and it regarded stories about terrorism as less significant. That is the message of the press coverage of this case. The war in Iraq? Hey, we've already lost, and it's just a matter of time before Democrats manage to get us out of there. And Iraq is "far away" overseas, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells us, so it's not really all that important. But a school shooting in Virginia--now that's news.

This flavor of the coverage was reflected in New York Times article that explained the ease with which reporters slipped into a familiar routine in covering the Virginia Tech story by saying "how familiar campus shootings have become." But of course, they aren't. It has been at least six years since the press has covered a big school-shooting story like this. If the press thinks these stories are "familiar," it is not because of their frequency, but because the press feels metaphysically comfortable covering them. They feel like they are at home, in their proper element, relieved from the mental strain of having to deal with the uncomfortable topic of Islamic terrorism.

So that's where we are today: a school shooting dominates the news, while the media ignores the much greater threat of Islamic terrorism. It's a 1990s flashback.

The irony of the Virginia Tech case is that it is distracting our attention from the War on Terrorism, when it ought to make the need to fight and win that war all the more urgent.

The details that have emerged so far about the Virginia Tech killer ought to give us a slight shudder of recognition. According to early reports he apparently left behind a "manifesto" that consisted of "expletive-filled rants against the rich and privileged" with a "somewhat incoherent list of grievances." Doesn't this sound just a bit like the actions of a terrorist? The only thing missing--the only thing that differentiates this killer from archetypical terrorists like the Unabomber or Osama bin Laden--is a grand-scale ideology to tie his rambling grievances together and give him a systematic moral justification for his crimes.

The Virginia Tech killer is, in effect, a terrorist without a cause. He is using random violence, not to protest some grand geopolitical cause, but to protest the fact that his girlfriend dumped him or that he suffers from a sense of inferiority. His killing spree is meant to protest the narrow fact of his own sense of failure in life. This kind of mass murderer has the mentality of a terrorist, but without a wider political cause to give his murderous scheme a sense of moral or religious legitimacy.

But what about those who do have a justification--a whole religious, moral, and political theory--that make their lust to kill into something more than just a personal fury?

What of those who have a theory that transforms mass murder into a holy war--a jihad--which, in turn, allows them to recruit followers and organize an international movement with many sympathizers among the "moderates" in the general population?

That is precisely what we face in the Middle East in the War on Terrorism: the mentality of the mass murderer or serial killer, but projected into a religious and political system that threatens us with mass death on a scale far greater than any disaffected loner with a handgun could ever dream of.

This may be why, of all the nations where people are watching this case, the English-speaking Israeli press seems to have given it the least intensive coverage. A disgruntled misanthrope decides that the world has been unjust to him, and he seeks to redeem his sense of failure and "humiliation" by engaging in a killing spree that ends in his own death--none of that is news to the Israelis. They have faced this sort of thing constantly, for years, from alienated Palestinian youth.

But the Islamic killers are different--and that difference is what makes them far more dangerous.

If you don't believe me, check out an extraordinary BBC report about a group of Iranian serial killers who were just acquitted by Iran's Supreme Court because they were found to have been acting on religious motives--motives of which the court approves. Here is the BBC's gruesome description of the case:

According to their confessions, the killers put some of their victims in pits and stoned them to death. Others were suffocated. One man was even buried alive while others had their bodies dumped in the desert to be eaten by wild animals.

The accused, who were all members of an Islamic paramilitary force, told the court their understanding of the teachings of one Islamic cleric allowed them to kill immoral people if they had ignored two warnings to stop their bad behavior....

[T]he Supreme Court is reported to have acquitted all the killers of the charge of murder on the grounds that their victims were all morally corrupt.

This philosophy of justification for mass murder goes all the way to the top in Iran--to the Supreme Court, to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and to Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Indeed, with his extravagant posturing about Iran become a new superpower, and with his dark promises about wiping Israel off of the map, Ahmadinejad has all the makings of a spree killer just like the one at Virginia Tech--but a killer who will soon be armed with nuclear-tipped missiles instead of a mere pair of pistols.

This BBC report--taken along with everything else we know about the Iranian regime--reinforces the lesson we ought to have learned from September 11, the cataclysm that temporarily interrupted the journalistic habits of the 1990s. It tells us that we are up against mass murder liberated by an ideology, a religious creed that threatens to generate and unleash upon us, not one disgruntled loner, but whole squadrons of mass murderers and serial killers.

That's the real headline story of the day, a story that ought to be drowning out the Virginia Tech massacre--not the other way around.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

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