Carry On, They’re Just Misfits

halifaxattackplotDid you catch this Canadian news story today? I’ve heard it discussed on the radio all morning, during each half hour news update, and what’s curious is how National Public Radio’s report just phrased it: according to investigators, it was the plan of “a group of murderous misfits, not Islamic terrorists,” as the newsreader just said.

Picture 3
Picture 7Maybe it’s obvious to you but, if not, then it’s worth pausing for a moment to see how, yet again, we’ve conveniently drawn upon a framework that individualizes and pathologizes acts of violence when perpetrated by those whom many of us see as being similar to ourselves while we generalize and socialize violence when others, with whom we don’t identify, engage in it.

It’s precisely the way many whites in the US respond to violence involving African Americans. And its the way many in North America and Europe respond to violence in any way linked to someone who strikes them as having Middle Eastern or Arab origins or links.

For it’s tough to imagine anyone in the mainstream media portraying, say, today’s tragic killing at a meeting about freedom of speech, held in Copenhagen, as being the result of murderous misfits. No, it’s likely that we’ll instead start from the assumption that the Danish attack is one node of a worldwide and coordinated conspiracy. In fact, this frame is already in place, for at 5:01 pm local time we read the following update at the above-linked Telegraph site covering the event:

Picture 4So even if there’s evidence that the Halifax plotters were, say, reading literature written elsewhere in the world, or following events happening elsewhere in the world, or felt that they had grievances that they imagined others elsewhere also shared, they’re probably too familiar to many of us to entertain that they’re anything but crazy lone wolves.

So I guess there’s no structural factors here, and thus nothing to worry about, so just move along….

Read more about the foiled Halifax plot,
from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., here.

2 thoughts on “Carry On, They’re Just Misfits

  1. I think a corollary phenomenon is worth thinking about: when crimes (particularly murders) occur between perpetrators and victims who are easily classified with the same labels, we tend to view these acts as less important interesting or noteworthy, and we assume either that there are individualized or local/particular forces at work. But when the same acts link perpetrators and victims across classification lines, we immediately find reasons to be interested, we generalize more about the perpetrators and victims as representatives of classes, and we are more ready to hypothesize about social and ideological forces in the crime.

    • Good point–in the scenario you outline we then tend to see the victim and/or perpetrator as representative of groups inasmuch as we understand the event by focusing on the perceived difference between them, a difference we see as representative of groups and not individuals.

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