Terrorism at UNC

As I was walking to dinner tonight, two men in a Crown Victoria yelled at me on Stadium Drive.

“Hey white boy, look at that sign.”

“What?” I said, not knowing in the slightest what they were talking about.

“Behind you. The sign.”

I walked 10 feet to the other side of the tree. There was a sign stapled to it that read:

“You Muslim Savages, Go Home. White Power.”

I turned to continue walking to Lenoir. One of the men said, “Love your country,” then drove off. I felt sick.

There was a protest in the Pit today about the incident on Friday. The protest was designed to get people to start calling what happened in the Pit “what it really was”: an act of terrorism.

On the surface, that seemed OK to me. He tried to hurt people to push a political agenda. In the 911 call he placed to turn himself in, Mr. Taheri-azar said he did it to punish the U.S. government for mistreatment of Mulsims around the world. In court today, he said he was going to represent himself with the help of Allah. Quite clearly, his driving a Jeep through the Pit with the intent to injure and kill UNC students was religiously motivated.

Based on the textbook definition of terrorism, this was terrorism. There’s not many ways around that.

But, and here’s the really big but, what do any of us gain by labeling this an act of terrorism? Is anything gained?

The man sits in jail tonight with 18 felony charges against him. The FBI has a letter he wrote describing why he did it. There are eye-witness accounts linking him to the scene. It is obvious that he is going to spend the rest of his natural life in prison. Justice is being served.

The man acted alone. He wasn’t a part of any sleeper cell, he isn’t linked to Al Qaeda, he isn’t hooked up with some kind of Chapel Hill terrorism underground. He was a recent UNC graduate. He was clearly troubled, missing some key handle of a solid grasp on reality. It doesn’t excuse his actions. Nothing could.

And so, even if this is an act of terrorism, which it very well may be, some greater good is served by NOT calling it terrorism. In a post-9/11 world, the very word terrorism has connotations that spark panic, fear, and irrational hatred. Read that last one again. Irrational hatred. Like the two Crown Victoria men with their sign stapled to a UNC tree.

But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if it’s a copout not to call it terrorism. If it is terrorism, shouldn’t we be hitting this thing head on? Doesn’t it make us cowards to sweep it under the carpet because it’s easier to deal with, easier to handle, easier to understand. Isn’t it easier if we can all believe it was just a sick and twisted individual who didn’t fully understand what he was doing, the ideology he was misrepresenting, or the consequences.

But what if he did know. What if it was cold, calculated terrorism. Terrorism, in my mind, only succeeds when it creates the kind of division that I saw today in the Pit. I was so glad when someone threw up their hands and reminded everyone that this was the first day of class since it happened, that the campus was still understandably in mourning, and that anger was the last thing we needed. His words made more sense than anything I’ve heard about the whole damn thing.

I still don’t know what I think. Whether it was terrorism or not. The FBI hasn’t charged him yet, but they still could. I don’t think enough information is available to make a sound judgment, and for the meantime, everyone’s going to keep spinning their wheels with their opinions. It’s good though. Expressing opinions is a powerful coping method, and a way in which the community can heal itself.

It’s the irrational hatred that really bothers me. If those two men were in fact UNC students, and I have no reason to believe they weren’t, for the first time ever, the very first time, I was ashamed to be a Carolina student.

“There’s nothing you can do about people like that” and “Two people don’t represent a whole campus” aren’t enough of a defense. Any amount of sentiment like that, no matter how small, is too much.

3 thoughts on “Terrorism at UNC

  1. I’m a Tar Heel Grad from ’96. And like everyone else, I was shocked to learn about the terrorist attack on my old school. You ask what is gained by calling this a terrorist act. You gain moral clarity by calling it terrorism. Listen to yourself for a minute:And so, even if this is an act of terrorism, which it very well may be, some greater good is served by NOT calling it terrorism. In a post-9/11 world, the very word terrorism has connotations that spark panic, fear, and irrational hatred.I respond: To not call something what it is, you are sending the message you are afraid to face reality because it has consequences. To quote Albus Dumbledore fromt he Harry Potter novels, “Fear of a name, increases fear of the thing itself.” Let’s not be afraid to say that this is what it is. When we stop saying that what happened last week is terrorism, we enable two things. First we allow the perpetrators of terror to see we bury our heads in the sand at the first mild sign of provocation. Perhaps Mr. Taheri-azar is unconnected to a cell. That’s fine, but the minute he attacks innocents to support a politcal agenda, he declares his allegiance with our enemies in the global war on terror. Secondly, the purveyors of irrational hatred are responsible for their actions, as clearly as Mr. Taheri-azar is for his. We do ourselves no favors by shying away from declaring an act of terrorism an act of terrorism, just because someone else might use that declaration to support a cause we oppose. In fact if our motivation for pulling punches is because we may give the racists in our world a weapon, then we sacrifice some of our moral high ground. We were wronged. And we must respond with clarity of thought and of purpose.I was a student at UNC ten years ago when the Mother’s Day fire at Phi Gamma Delta took five lives in the hours before graduation. Those fires were a tragic accident, and the Carolina campus rallied together to mourn our fallen friends and also to make sure the same fate did not befall others, by promoting solutions that ensured better fire safety in buildings in Chapel Hill. This vicious, and I daresay evil attack, gives us Tar Heels another chance to show our mettle. And the conservatives on campus need to be there as leaders. Buck up.Now is not the time to go wobbly.

  2. The definition of “terrorism” seems to be quite controversial. I believe the reason the man who committed the travesty at UNC should be considered a terrorist is because he committed a criminal act, without warning or morality, in support of a political or religious ideology. I agree with you epinionated1 in that we should label this as an act of terrorism because that’s what it was. Just because it wasn’t as catastrophic in any aspect to what happened on 911, calling something an act of terrorism is based on the reasons behind the action, not the amount of destruction. The word terrorism has strong connotations because that word is synonymous with 9/11, but in actuality the scope is much broader than that and people should, but don’t, realise this.

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