Kashmeri: The Name Game

Apr 22, 2015

Call me cynical, but I wonder how the media might have described the co-pilot of the Lufthansa Airbus that was deliberately flown into the Alps to kill all 150 passengers aboard if the name of the pilot had been Ahmed or Muhammed instead of Andreas.

I suspect the phrase “terrorist” would have appeared early on in accounts of this terrible act of violence with the words “Muslim,” “Islamic,” and “Jihad” not far behind.

A murderer flying an airplane into a mountain with the clear intention of killing every person on board including himself is the kind of act that since 9/11 is routinely branded as terrorism. Yet in most of the coverage of the case of Mr. Andreas Lubitz, the word terrorism is nowhere to be found.

In the days following the crash, headlines and accounts were full of explanations that ranged from “He was having relationship problems” (Sydney Herald), “Pilot obsessed with the Alps (USA Today), “Alps co-pilot predicted notoriety” (BBC) and “Appeared healthy but might have hidden illness (Washington Post.) Apparently, Andreas Lubitz could be a number of things - just not a terrorist!

It reminds me of the case of Anders Breivik - the Norwegian who shot and killed 69 children in 2011 at a Norwegian summer camp. Lubitz and Breivik were both Christians and Breivik, driven by a far right wing ideology, had written a 1500 page hate-filled , anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim manifesto. In the post 9/11 world you might expect he’d qualify hands down as a terrorist. Well, he wasn’t. He became a “radical loser,” a “lone crusader,” and so on – but not a terrorist.

Now I’m all for treating people (even murderers) fairly and not jumping to conclusions. After all that’s what an educated society is all about. An w e still don’t know what evil lurked in Andreas Lubitz’s head as he flew that Airbus into the mountain. But I still can’t help wondering if the media would have been as restrained in its speculation about his motives or beliefs if his name had instead been something like Muhammed Shafiqi.

I think there would have been immediate speculation about how the Airbus suicidal murders reflected the teachings of the Koran and Islamic beliefs. I can even imagine calls for people of Middle Eastern or Muslim backgrounds to be put through rigorous examinations regarding their belief in Islam before allowing them to become pilots.

I think we should accept the fact that any extremist ideology - whether religious or cultural - can inspire an act of terror.