Two incidents occurred on July 28. Both took place on the West Coast; both involved an American venting his hostility to Jews. But only one of them became, in the days that followed, the big national story about anti-Semitism. The other was treated as a serious but local matter, and drew only modest coverage around the country.
Incident A involved a guy spewing crude anti-Semitic slurs when he was arrested for drunk driving; after sobering up, he publicly and profusely apologized. Incident B involved a Muslim gunman’s premeditated assault on a prominent Jewish institution; his attack left one woman dead and sent five to the hospital, three of them in critical condition.
Which would you say was the bigger story?
Unless you’ve spent the past week submersed in the Mariana Trench, you know that the intoxicated driver in Incident A was Hollywood’s Mel Gibson, who railed at a Los Angeles County police officer about the “[expletive] Jews” and how “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” The story was soon everywhere. In the first six days after his arrest, the media database Nexis logged 888 stories mentioning “Mel Gibson” and “Jews.” And that didn’t include the countless websites, talk shows, and smaller publications that also took it up.
By any rational calculus, Incident B was far more significant. According to police and eyewitness reports, the killer forced his way into the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle by holding a gun to the head of a 13-year-old girl. Once inside, Naveed Haq announced, “I am a Muslim American, angry at Israel,” and opened fire with two semiautomatic pistols. Pam Waechter died on the spot; five other women were shot in the abdomen, knee, or arm. When one of the women managed to call 911, Haq took the phone and told the dispatcher: “These are Jews and I’m tired of getting pushed around and our people getting pushed around by the situation in the Middle East.”
At a time when jihadist murder is a global threat and some of the most malevolent figures in the Islamic world — Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah chieftain Hassan Nasrallah, to name just two — openly incite violence against Americans and Jews, the attack in Seattle should have been a huge story everywhere. Yet after six days, a Nexis search turned up only 236 stories mentioning Haq — one-fourth the number dealing with Gibson’s drunken outburst. Why the disparity?
No doubt part of the answer is that Gibson is a celebrity, and that “The Passion,” his 2004 movie about the crucifixion, was criticized by many as a revival of the infamous anti-Semitic motif of Jews as Christ-killers. Gibson, who belongs to a traditionalist Catholic sect, was already suspected of harboring ill will toward Jews. His crude remarks on July 28 confirmed it, and pushed the subject back into the spotlight. But if previous behavior and religious belief explain the burst of interest in the Gibson story, they only deepen the question of why the Seattle bloodshed was played down. After all, Haq is not the first example of what scholar Daniel Pipes has called “Sudden Jihad Syndrome,” in which a seemingly nonviolent Muslim erupts in a murderous rampage.
Just this year, for example, Mohammed Taheri-azar, a philosophy major at the University of North Carolina, deliberately rammed a car into a crowd of students, saying he wanted to “avenge the death of Muslims around the world.” Michael Julius Ford opened fire in a Denver warehouse, killing one person and injuring five. “I don’t know what happened to him yesterday,” his sister Khali told the press. “He told me that Allah was going to make a choice and it was going to be good and told me people at his job was making fun of his religion.”
Other cases in recent years include Hasan Akbar , a sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division, who attacked his fellow soldiers at an American command center in Kuwait with grenades and rifle fire, killing one and wounding 15; Hesham Mohamed Ali Hadayet, who killed two people when he shot up the El Al ticket counter at the Los Angeles airport in 2002; and Ali Hasan Abu Kamal, who was carrying a note denouncing “Zionists” and others who “must be annihilated & exterminated” when he opened fire on the observation deck of the Empire State building.
If the Catholic Gibson’s nonviolent bigotry is a legitimate subject of media scrutiny, all the more so is the animus that spurs Muslims like Haq and the others to jihadist murder. As The New York Sun asked the other day, how many more Haqs must erupt in a homicidal rage before we open our eyes “to the possibility that they are part of a war in which understanding the enemy is a prerequisite for victory?”