Dugan: Our judgment of a mass killer depends on race

BY JACK DUGAN | MARCH 31, 2015 5:00 AM

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On March 24, Germanwings flight 9525 flying from Barcelona, Spain, to Düsseldorf, Germany, crashed into an area near Seyne-les-Alpes, France. Its 144 passengers and six crewmembers onboard are all presumed dead.

Transponder data from the plane shows that someone inside the cockpit reprogrammed the autopilot to change altitude from 38,000 feet to 100 feet, when the pilot left his seat to use the bathroom. The person believed to be responsible for this is the 27-year-old co-pilot of the flight, Andreas Lubitz, a former resident of Montabaur, Germany, who has been described in a CNN report as perfectly normal and whose only distinguishing characteristic is his passion for flying.

There has been plenty of speculation regarding Lubitz’s motives for this tragic mass murder-suicide. There have been reports of vision problems he has had in the recent past, in which doctors have deemed him unfit to work. Coverage on this has been so meticulous that it is as if his problematic eye hopped out of his skull, locked the cockpit door, then pointed the aircraft toward the Alps, but it became known that this apparent vision problem was diagnosed as possibly psychosomatic.

So naturally, speculation has shifted from vision issues to his apparent history of mental illness. According to a CNN report, he received psychotherapy for suicidal tendencies before the start of his career in aviation. This psychological factor to his character gives us the portrait of a possibly deeply troubled man, allowing us room for sympathy. Though all evidence at this point tells us he intentionally ended 149 innocent lives, he is still seen as human in the media.

Though, what if he was a brown, bearded man? Would he be attributed the same humanist attention and scrutiny to the mentality that fueled the act or intention behind the act? I believe not, and that accusations of terrorism would be rampant in Western media, because Western media fetishize the jihadist, the terrorist, and the bearded Muslim. The individual would become a symbol for the perceived violent and fundamental Middle East and would further discredit the Islamic religion for Western audiences, emphasizing the bearded Muslim as the enemy and as a manifestation of evil. The term “terrorist” was created to describe the enemy and to dehumanize the enemy, because the enemy can never be human.

I sincerely believe that the reason that this tragedy is such a shock to Americans and Europeans simply because this act was perpetrated by a white, non-Muslim European. In the Western consciousness, people such as Lubitz should not be capable of such violence. Instead of acknowledging this, we dig for answers such as mental instability, and the act of digging for these answers is an act of empathy through attempting to understand or rationalize actions such as Lubitz’s.

The question I’m left with is why are we, as Westerners, incapable of the same empathy for individuals outside of Western culture committing these same acts of violence, of similar scale and of similar malice? Or, more importantly, could we benefit on a global scale from it?

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