Fortunately, the incident aboard the Malaysian Airlines flight yesterday wasn’t Terrorism. Crisis averted, sure, but as we wipe our brows in relief, are we ignoring the more pressing issues?
Unfortunately, we exist in troubling times. The threat of terrorism is seemingly very real, its chances lurking in the darkened corners of our everyday psyche. Therefore, when something batters our senses that smells like terrorism but isn’t, we exhale in relieved unison. Alas, this thought process (mental safeguard) whitewashes the other, non-terrorism-related issues at hand, because it’s not terrorism.
Locally reminding us all of this phenomena was a man who tried to take over a Malaysia Airlines flight, claiming he had a bomb, which resulted in Tullamarine being shut down and large men with large guns standing underneath the seatbelt sign that you can absolutely bet was still illuminated.
— John M Knox (@johnmknox) May 31, 2017
Fortunately, soon after eleven bold passengers decided to crash-tackle the miscreant, we found out that the terrorist was merely a man possessing what was apparently “an everyday electronic device”, so not a terrorist but perhaps a man suffering from profound mental anguish. Ex-AFL player Andrew Leoncelli, who was present at the moment of crisis, recalled the experience to radio station 3AW, and later Buzzfeed, stating that he thought the man was “fucking insane”, before illustrating the point further:
It was huge, it was black and it had two black antennas coming off it, but it also looked like an iPhone jack. So it could have been just a beatbox thing. Staff were saying ‘Sit back down, sit back down’ and he said ‘no, I’m not going to sit down, I’m going to blow the fucking plane up.’ I said to my friend, ‘mate this guy’s serious. We’d better fucking do something,’ then two lads grabbed him and disarmed him and bashed the crap out of him and put hog ties on him and took the giant black thing out of his hand.
Now, I’m a man with the spine of a jellyfish, and given the same situation, I couldn’t tell you that I’d act beyond turning my underwear into another colour, but I certainly would have cleaned up my English for the media. However, what we’re able to assess with the benefit of hindsight is that he was not a terrorist, he was just fucking crazy.
Which is preferable?
So, we can ignore the frankly more pressing issue of mental health, because the bomb wasn’t real. It’s a bit of a stretch, only because our minds are programmed into survival mode. Yes, a plane wasn’t blown out of the sky but that doesn’t answer the question of what makes someone do that. There’s clearly a lonely path he wandered before ferrying his “beatbox thing” to the cockpit door. What are we celebrating, that this lone nut was exactly that: a lone nut? That he didn’t subscribe to the voices of Islamic State’s YouTube, just those in his head? These voices seem to be a point of contention, because according to Mindframe, the statistics regarding mental illness in this country show a whopping one in five will suffer from some sort of condition in a calendar year. Not over their lifetime. Over 2017. Moreover, statistics of those who seek treatment for said illness stand at 18% female compared with 11% male, and also show mood disorders at 7.1% female compared with 5.3% male. However, in the general eye, this person got the treatment they deserved (while the rest of us popped jokes about it).
The real story here is that Malaysia Airlines successfully landed a plane.
— John Johnsonson (@JohnJohnsonson) May 31, 2017
The same mode of thinking can be transplanted to the Times Square incident a few weeks back, where an errant vehicle ploughed into a crowd, with the make of the act being extremely similar to those seen on the streets of continental Europe. The features screamed Islamic State, terrorism once more walking the streets of New York like a limp fundamentalist Godzilla, our minds zipping back to where we were on 9/11, and more recently with the pressure cooker bombing incident, which resulted in a radicalised gentleman shot in a New Jersey doorway. Fuck, we thought, not again. Except, it sort of wasn’t. At the wheel was Richard Rojas, who was recently discharged from the US Navy, and according to his friend Harrison Ramos, had returned to the US with a raft of problems, stating that “he served his country, and when he came back nobody helped him”, before adding “don’t treat him like a terrorist or something.”
We didn’t. Because he wasn’t. His problems were and are certainly his own, and justice will sort him out. It can’t excuse his actions, especially for the family of the woman he killed, but as far as the larger rhetoric went, the western world dodged terrorism. The end. And so on we marched toward the brutal acts of the Manchester Arena, one where an unhinged, but motivated terrorist made us feel again.
Also on The Big Smoke
- ISIS: Fighting someone who wants you to hit them
- Manchester may have been suicide bomber – Our reaction now crucial
- After Portland, after everything, I ask: why hate?
I’m willing to even extend my point to Portland earlier in the week, where a white supremacist killed two people for daring to stand up for Muslims. It’s fair to assume even the reaction to that wasn’t as large as it should have been. It’s not a competition of attention, far from it, but as soon as the t-word is uttered, the world grinds to a halt, and fingernails are gnawed, eyes dart and hearts are outpoured. While no excuse can be truly uttered for taking another’s life, I feel we should think about our response to it. As it stands, it’s care too much, or not at all. We’re selective with our anguish. I understand why we do it; we compartmentalise our grief. If we were to face every bloody headline with the same outpouring as we did Paris, and indeed to Manchester, it would surely ruin us. We’d all succumb to outrage fatigue and stop caring.
But my point is this: while the world is seemingly on the edge of Islamic State’s dagger, the problems we face are much larger than a trite violent minority. Perhaps we should turn to the root causes of what motivates those who purvey the acts we witnessed on Malaysia Airlines, instead of tarring them with the same brush and hiding behind the word we use to halt those of their perceived hue.