Plain Talk About Public Murder


What is the point of classifying public mass murders as being (or not being) “terrorism” or “terror related,” as opposed to simply criminal? Why should some maniacs and assassins be accorded the honor of promotion to a higher grade of homicide? There is no generally accepted definition of terrorism, so why are such terminological distinctions even attempted when news about public slaughter is breaking?

The fashion for “lone wolf” low-tech killing sprees in public places came to the pleasant port city of Turku, Finland, last Friday. The Finnish police deliberated for a full day after disabling and arresting the perpetrator before announcing the classification decision: They announced that it did meet the mysterious criteria. “Finnish police say Turku stabbings are terror related,” the Financial Times reported [article behind paywall].

Terror is an emotion, a feeling. And it’s not the feeling that such incidents inspire in me. My reaction to such heartless and pointless killings is not terror but disgust. Why tag them as “terror related” at all?

The Turku case deserves a closer look, anyway. The murderer (and please don’t make me add the ritual adjective “alleged” — witnesses watched him stabbing people for three minutes until the police arrived and shot him in the leg) is reportedly an asylum seeker from Morocco, where more than 99 percent of the population are Muslims, and advocating any other religion can entail a 15-year imprisonment. The “terror related” announcement presumably implies that he is thought to be a radicalized Islamist inspired by ISIL. The official terrorism classification means that ISIL can now declare him a brave soldier of the prophet (I’m sure they will).

But interestingly, he targeted solely women. The two men who were injured were both trying to protect women he was trying to murder (one of the men, who received grave injuries, was Hassan Zubier, a British paramedic trying to stop a woman from bleeding to death). The culprit is 18, and certainly an adult in legal terms (the the age of criminal responsibility is 12 in Morocco and 15 in Finland), but biologically we are talking about an adolescent male. How have the police ruled out the hypothesis that his maniacal stabbing spree was (at least in part) motivated by frustration-driven teenage misogyny?

His motive is not only unknown but irrelevant at the stage of reporting the crime. A sacred duty to kill infidels? Adolescent rage at Finnish girls who rejected him? Revenge for a failed asylum application? Anti-Nordic racism? Refugee trauma and anomie? I don’t care. My concern has to do with how we can protect people from this modern craze for mowing tourists down with motor vehicles and/or stabbing them with kitchen knives. It’s been happening in Nice, Columbus, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Paris, Barcelona, Turku, and yes, Charlottesville (coming soon to a town near you).

Why, for example, should the two lists of vehicular attacks in this Wikipedia entry — “Terrorism” and “Other” — not be merged?

All that the “terrorism” accolade accomplished in Turku was to bring out 200 members of the Finnish Defense League to protest Muslim immigration to Finland. But Muslims as a group are not the problem. There are 2,000 Muslims in Turku. Community relations have hitherto been entirely peaceful. (Incidentally, the Arabic given name of the heroic paramedic Hassan Zubier suggests he might be a Muslim too.) An international wave of public mass murders of innocent people is spreading across Europe and the English-speaking world, and to award perpetrators the “terrorist” designation seems merely to attract the approbation of fanatics: The ISIL leaders in Raqqa issue public endorsement and praise of successful street slaughters as soon as they hear that some connection to Islamism has been posited by the police or government.

Of course, in some cases there is a cell of fellow atrocity planners to be investigated and dismantled (possibly in the Turku case: The Finnish police have arrested four other men and are seeking a fifth; and the Barcelona cell was quite large, a dozen men). But the importance of ferreting out the social connections and the joint responsibility does not require any reference to religion, allegiance, or motive. Even if the perpetrators were inspired in part by sermons in mosques, that only means that imams and mullahs may need to be arrested as co-conspirators or instigators.

My point is that virtually no one approves of motiveless multiple murder of innocent shoppers in streets and markets, and that’s how these crimes should be described. Stabbing young women in Turku market square or running down defenseless pedestrians in Barcelona or Charlottesville should be reported primarily as unprovoked murder. Its character doesn’t change with the official award of the “terrorist” seal. We should describe these crimes in the plain language of our usual talk about murderous maniacs.

Return to Top