The other day, I wrote about Liel Leibovitz’s piece for Tablet Magazine, Why Israel Has No Newtowns. I had a lot of objections to what he wrote, but the biggest one by far was his inexplicable exclusion of mass murderers like Baruch Goldstein, Eden Natan-Zada, and countless Palestinian suicide bombers from his reckoning of Newtown-like events in Israel. I wrote:
Doubtless, these attacks were motivated by a sense of nationalistic something, rather than whatever drove Lanza or Holmes to do what they did. But at the end of the day, any mass killing reflects a deligitimization — a dehumanization — of the other, some disconnect from reality, a sociopathic disregard for human life. In the United States, where everyone hails from a different corner of the globe, where it is easy to feel a deep sense of alienation from as nextdoor neighbor or even a family members, where there is no clear “other” — everyone is “other” — and a worthwhile target can be as close as the nearest movie theater. In Israel and the West Bank, identifying “the other” is easy — just cross the wall. Mass killings don’t cease to count just because the “other” presents a more obvious target.
But that was just armchair psychology. I offered no basis for the assertion that there was no fundamental difference between a mass murderer who shoots up a school and who blows up a bus — it just felt right. They’re both mass murderers, and they probably have a lot of the same problems.
Then, I came across this article in the New York Times, What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers, by Adam Lankford, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama. On the basis of “interviews, case studies, suicide notes, martyrdom videos and witness statements,” he concludes:
It is tempting to look back at recent history and wonder what’s wrong with America — our culture and our policies. But underneath the pain, the rage and the desire to die, rampage shooters like Mr. Lanza are remarkably similar to aberrant mass killers — including suicide terrorists — in other countries. The difference rests in how they are shaped by cultural forces and which destructive behaviors they seek to copy. The United States has had more than its share of rampage shootings, but only a few suicide attacks. Other countries are regularly plagued by suicidal explosions, but rarely experience a school shooting.
I can’t help but wonder about Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho and Adam Lanza. If they had been born in Gaza or the West Bank, shaped by terrorist organizations’ hateful propaganda, would they have strapped bombs around their waists and blown themselves up? I’m afraid the answer is yes.
There are a lot of things I like in the world, but I like few of them more than being right. So it was nice to see an expert come to the same conclusion I did, but on the basis of fact and some deeper understanding — in other words, something more than just gut instinct. Score one for truthiness.