Saturday, June 13, 2009

Terrorism and Interdependence

Mainstream news reports here in the U.S. widely cover the actions of Muslim extremists as "terrorism," the same isn't true of the actions of homegrown, native born citizens. In addition, while organizations linked to Muslim extremists are routinely put on national terrorist watch lists, and are heavily scrutinized and sometimes shut down by the Federal government, the same isn't true for groups linked to native born citizens doing acts of terrorism here in the U.S. That is, unless they linked to environmental action groups like Earth First, whose members have been labeled terrorists for acts not of murder, but of property damage.

Frankly, the words "terrorism" and "terrorist" have become problematic because they are not used by power-holders in society in an evenhanded way. And I would argue that because of this, we are failing to get at the root causes of the violence that comes from school shootings, abortion clinic murders, the murders of GLBT people, and so many others.

Take the recent killing of Dr. George Tiller. Suspect Scott Roeder has not, as far as I have seen, been labeled a terrorist in any mainstream source of media. And yet he stepped into a church during a full worship service and executed Dr. Tiller point blank in the head. When the media fails to accurately portray what someone has done, that influences how people in society view the action in question.

In addition to the labeling issue, there are two other issues that should cause us to pause and reflect. Despite evidence that he had vandalized a woman's clinic in Kansas City, Kansas twice in the week before the murder, neither local police nor the FBI addressed the situation. Finally, prosecutors in Kansas have decided that Tiller's murder does not qualify for the death penalty. (Now, I am firmly against the death penalty, but I find this element of the case very interesting.)

If he was an immigrant Muslim would he be treated differently? Is the fact that Scott Roeder is a white, native born Christian playing into how he, and the case, is being treated?

Let's go further. The anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, as led by Troy Newman, has spent the past seven years focusing almost solely on the work Dr. George Tiller. They moved their headquarters to Tiller's hometown of Wichita, Kansas in 2002. Newman and others have written books about Tiller, publicly demonstrated at Tiller's clinic, and have linked Tiller's abortion related activities to cold blooded murder. Now, none of that is really out of the ordinary. All pretty standard activity for anti-abortion groups (across the U.S. anyway.) However, what isn't standard is statements like this one. At the execution of Reverend Paul Hill in 2003 (Hill had murdered an abortion doctor nearly 10 years earlier), Operation Rescue leader
Troy Newman said "There are many examples where taking the life in defense of innocent human beings is legally justified and permissible under the law." Furthermore, in a book he co-authored with Operation Rescue's Senior Policy Advisor, Cheryl Sullenger, he suggested that murder is justifiable when working to protect the unborn. In addition, the same Cheryl Sullenger was convicted in 1988 of attempting to bomb abortion clinics in the San Diego area.

Now, I am not attempting to pin responsibility for Dr. Tiller's murder on Operation Rescue. However, when at least two of an organization's leaders have been linked with violent statements and/or actions of a similar nature to the crime in question, and have led an organization whose main work has been a public witch hunt of the very man who ended up being murdered, how can we say there is no connection? If we in the various Buddhist communities believe anything of the teachings of interdependence or dependent co-arising, how can view acts like this as individual actions alone?

Right wing, white dominated Christian organizations like Operation Rescue seem to get a free pass here in the U.S. You don't hear about FBI raids, state or local police investigations of these organizations. And the news media may do some investigatory coverage on these groups, but rarely, if ever, will you see the kind of exposes that follow groups linked to Muslim extremists. In addition, those who commit violent, terroristic acts in the name of the causes these groups espouse are treated as sick individuals who acted completely alone.

In the wake of D. Tiller's murder, will there be a thorough investigation and public examination of Operation Rescue? I sadly doubt it. And until things like that change, the terrorism being done in the name of Christianity here in the U.S. will continue to create much suffering and misery for us all. If we can make the link between extremist Muslim groups that advocate terrorism and those who commit terrorist acts, then we better well make the same links between Christian groups and individuals doing the same.

*This column was inspired by a letter posted at Algernon's blog, Notes from a Burning House.

Please check out his letter, and if you are inspired, send one of your own to groups like Operation Rescue.


La Dimensione said...

I ask your permission to translate this post (in italian) and publish it on my own blog.


Anonymous said...


I don't know about the US, but here in Thailand it is Buddhists that are under direct violent attack from terrorists.

On Friday morning, one monk was killed and another injured by terrorists as they collected alms.

Earlier in the week a Buddhist man and his four-months pregnant wife were shot dead by terrorists.

And the Islamic terrorist attacks on schools and the killings of teachers have got so bad that all schools in the South of Thailand are now closed.

60 teachers have been killed in Thailand by Muslim terrorists in the last 3 years.

One of the most sickening was a few months ago when Islamic extremists attacked a family simply because they were the last remaining Buddhists in their village. The mother, 72 years old, were shot in the head and neck.

It's a terrible situation, and one that the international Buddhist world seems to totally ignore.


Nathan said...

Hi Marcus,

I have a few friends living in Thailand right now, so I have heard a little about what you've reported. Any extremism that leads to violence and terrorism should not be ignored.

I do wonder how much of the support and attention given to Tibet and Burma, for example, is done so in a hip, superficial fashion. And in the meantime, places like Thailand and Sri Lanka, which have had a lot of horrible issues over the past twenty or thirty years, get basically ignored by the international Buddhist community.

Nathan said...

Hi Neurobi,

Sure. Feel free to translate this post, and maybe add a link to my blog as well. Thanks for your interest.


La Dimensione said...

A link to this blog is in my blogroll since i came across it in my net wandering ;)

I will refer to it in the post translation too.

Algernon said...

Nice post on the issue!