A Philosopher's Blog

Three Deaths

Posted in Ethics, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 17, 2009

Three killings have attracted a great deal of media attention recently. In one case, a military recruiter was murdered, apparently because of the alleged killer’s religious and political views. In another case, a doctor was killed, apparently because of the alleged killer’s religious beliefs about abortion. In the most recent incident, a guard was killed at the Holocaust Museum. In this case, the alleged killer is said to have been motivated by racist views.

When such horrific events occur, people try to determine why. Some of this is due to a desire to prevent future incidents and part of it is due to simple curiousity. In each of these cases, some people have placed the blame for the actions of the alleged killers upon their membership in various groups. These groups are then often painted with a broad, bloody brush in the form of claims that these groups actively encourage such violence.

In the case of the military recruiter, some alleged that such violence is inherent to the character of Islam. In the case of the doctor, it was alleged by some that the pro-life movement encourages such violence against doctors and that it is to blame for the killing. In the case of the guard, it has been claimed that the alleged killer is a product of the conservative movement or the liberal movement (depending on who you ask).

While all three alleged killers had involvement with particular groups and movements (Islam, pro-life and right wing organizations), only the third case involved the alleged killer being an active member of racist groups known to advocate violence. However, the general conservative movement is not such a group. While I have heard people try to draw, for example, a causal chain between Rush Limbaugh and the alleged killer of the guard, this sort of claim is absurd. While I do not agree with Rush on most issues, he does not advocate such violence.

The same holds in the case of the death of the doctor. While there are pro-life people who (in horrible irony) advocate killing doctors who perform abortions, the majority of pro-life people are just that-pro-life. They do not advocate murder, nor are they joyful when a doctor is murdered.

Likewise in the case of the recruiter. While some Muslims hate Americans and would be glad to kill one of us, most Muslims are not so inclined.

The evidence seems to be that in each of these cases, the alleged killer acted alone. There also seems to be good reason to suspect some sort of mental instability in each case. As such, while such killings might be portrayed as revealing something about Islam, pro-choice, and conservative groups, they do not. They show that people can chose to do terrible things based on their moral, religious and political views. Naturally, some folks have tried to use these awful incidents to criticize and attack the people they disagree with. However, that is a mistake-both moral and logical.

This is not to say that groups do not exist that have such murders as their goals. Sadly, there are such groups. However, these groups should not be lumped together with other groups that happen to have some similarities. For example, Islam should not be defined by Al Qaeda anymore than conservatives should be defined by the KKK.  While it is easy to swing a bloody brush across a vast swath, reason and ethics requires us to have better aim.

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