Monday, March 06, 2006

Mo-Mo’s No-No

Portrait of a Pinhead

Domestic act of terror receives scant coverage

In a premeditated act of terrorism, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar, a native of Iran and December graduate of UNC, rented a Jeep Cherokee and drove it into a crowd at a public area known as the Pit at the Chapel Hill campus on Friday. He intentionally hit 9 people, mostly students, and half a dozen victims were taken to the hospital. Police arrested the 23 year old and planned to charge him with several counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. If convicted on all counts he could face 100 years in prison.

While there is no evidence of connection with any organized terrorist group, Taheri-azar told police he was motivated by a desire to avenge the deaths of Muslims worldwide. A spokesperson for a local Islamic group offered mild criticism of the attack: “It's definitely not going to do anything to help the atmosphere right now”. Not surprisingly, neighbors and classmates gave the now-expected “He seemed nice” interviews: “We called him Mo-Mo. […] (He was) a very nice guy. I can't believe this happened.”. “Mo-Mo” apparently told authorities he tried to rent the biggest SUV he could find to use in the attack. I suppose we can be glad the vehicle wasn’t packed with explosives or the carnage could have been far worse. Looks Like a Terror Attack...

Sounds newsworthy to me, yet the coverage of this item over the weekend was notable only by its scarcity. Despite my usual several hours of on-and-off viewing of cable news over the weekend, I only stumbled across this story online; and even then searching for it yielded few citations, almost all in the local Charlotte media. Informal polling of friends and co-workers (including some hard-core news junkies) revealed one who had seen it covered on ABC’s World News Tonight on Friday evening, but no one else who had even heard about it.

Why isn’t this bigger news than which actor received which award at the Oscars? Have we already become blasé about being targets of terrorism here on our own soil? Why is this being called an “accident” or “crash” or “incident” instead of an “attack” or “act of terror”? Are police or university officials reluctant to label it as such? If the media is controlled by left-leaning Bush-bashers (as, ironically enough, I often hear on TV news), one would expect this story to be trumpeted at the top of every hour, if only as an excuse to point out that "fighting them over there" doesn't mean we won't have to "fight them over here". Perhaps coverage was colored by recent controversies involving the student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, which has published columns critical of Arabs as well as the now-infamous Mohammed cartoons. Whatever the reason(s) for the skimpy coverage, this attack provides proof positive that innocent American civilians are at risk from acts of extremist terrorism – right here, right now.

Why aren’t we paying attention? The conventional wisdom is that the September 11th attacks "awakened a sleeping giant", but it seems someone's been hitting the snooze button.