Jihad at UNC: Will We Call it Terrorism?

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Mar 07, 2006 8:09 AM

An Iran-born recent grad of the University of North Carolina drives a rented SUV into a crowd of students in a popular campus gathering place, hitting nine and injuring six.

He calls 911 (audio of call, here) and tells the dispatcher why he did it: "Really, it's to punish the United States government for its actions around the world."

On his way to his hearing, he is asked by a reporter if he was trying to kill people. He answers very calmly, "yes."

In his hearing, he declares that he will represent himself with the help of Allah and that he is thankful for the opportunity to "spread the will of Allah."

More of Taheri-azar's reasons were revealed during the hearing:

Court documents said Taheri-azar told a UNC-CH police detective that "people all over the world are being killed in war and now it is the people in the United States['] turn to be killed." Police say he also told them he intended to kill people when he drove into The Pit, a campus gathering spot.

Could this guy make it any clearer that terrorism is what he had in mind? And yet no paper or TV station is talking about it like it was a terrorist act.

Some UNC students held an anti-terrorism rally on campus Monday. About 50 attended-- most in support, some to debate.

Monday's group met a small force of people who were opposed to the event's message.

Srinath Jayaram said he feared the protest could increase campus tensions. Jayaram, a doctoral candidate in communication studies, held a sign that read "Promote love and understanding, not belligerence."

"This is a time for peace and understanding. What you're seeing in the Pit today is a small minority trying to manipulate other people's emotions," he said. "This is not UNC." ...

Several students agreed that Friday's incident should be labeled a terrorist attack.

"I think it's a valuable thing to call an act of terrorism what it is," said Nick Altman, a senior philosophy major from Sylva. "As a community we should unite against it."

Actually, the time for peace and understanding came before Taheri-azar rammed a two-ton, silver, chromed-out death machine into a crowd of chatting college students. That was the time for peace and understanding and Taheri-azar did not get the memo.

The AP, in its first follow-up since Saturday, makes its position on the terrorism label clear by calling the anti-terrorism rally "what [students] called an 'anti-terrorism' rally." Woo! Rockin' those scare quotes. You know, since it's not at all clear that Taheri-azar was acting violently against civilian non-combatants in the name of Allah to punish the American government for its actions against Muslims around the world. Um, wait.

The AP article, which by the way, is the NYT's first mention of this story also writes about the group opposed to the anti-terrorism rally:

About 50 students attended, including a group of Muslim students who debated with organizers and said Taheri-azar had not been linked to any terrorist group.

"When you think of terms of a global context, this was an isolated incident," said Khurram Bilal Tariq, a 22-year-old junior.

Seriously? Now, if you're not a cool-kid terrorist-- one of the al Qaeda in crowd-- you're not a terrorist at all? What an odd distinction. That would seem to excuse a terrorist as long as he's working alone. Aren't all terrorists bad terrorists? Aren't all acts of terrorism worth rallying against?

I'm encouraged that the news stories make it sounds like there were more students condemning Taheri-azar than there were making excuses for him. The University is planning a formal event about the incident for after Spring Break.

Although several faculty members have proposed holding a formal campuswide reaction, administrators have encouraged them to delay plans until after Spring Break.

In an e-mail sent on the campus listserv Sunday night, Chancellor James Moeser both condemned the actions and announced preliminary plans for an event - after the break.

Margaret Jablonksi, vice chancellor for student affairs, said Sunday that administrators were concerned that as the upcoming break approaches, students would be leaving campus, lessening the impact of a formal reaction.

Waiting is probably a good idea. Any formal event the University will come up with will undoubtedly include lighting candles and fanning the flames of white guilt and America hatred already burning in the hearts of so many college students. Perhaps giving them some time to actually think about it on their own will lead some of them to blame Taheri-azar instead of themselves.

UPDATE: The Anchoress collects Really Stupid Remarks About Terrorism, including such hits as, "it ain't terrorism if no one dies."