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April 29, 2007, Sunday

Their killer, our killer

Two multiple murders took place in the US and in Turkey within one week. Although far apart, the motives and personalities behind the murders are worth comparing.
Both murderers were students. In the US case the perpetrator (Cho Seung-Hui) was a native of South Korea who grew up in a suburb of Washington. His professors had detected suicidal tendencies and saw the images of persecution, revenge and anger in his work. These tendencies finally erupted into violence on Monday and he killed 32 people, as well as himself. He was not under the spell of a group of fanatics or fanatical teachings that sought realization or redemption through violence.

In his writings he bitterly lashed out at his fellow students for what he saw as their moral decay. His self-chosen isolation from the world barely concealed his anger over what he was and what the world was about. In his multimedia screed and suicide note he ranted against hedonism and trust funds, against the high-class taste for alcoholic beverages. He hailed previous school serial killers as martyrs, and styled himself as a Christ-like figure. He wrote, “You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience… [You] decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.” His final statement was death: his and others.

This was a singular killer, living in a fantasy world in which he was cast as a victim under perpetual persecution. He desperately wanted to break out of this mold through violence, which he construed as revenge. He wanted fulfillment in a dramatic way that he could realize with other means available to him. His redemption came as death.

Our killers

Our killers were also young students. They were made to believe that their country was under siege and in a perpetual war for survival against “internal and external enemies.” Hence they felt persecuted and denied the advantages of a life to which they aspired because of the appetite of foreign powers and their domestic collaborators. They were reared in the semi-urban society of eastern Turkey (Malatya province) where every young man is expected to be nationalistic and pious. This is the mental template that defines Turkish political culture as shaped by the state through a pervasive educational and legal system.

The roots of this political culture extend into the last decades of the Ottoman Empire, the demise of which came with the sprouting nationalism of the subject peoples. Turkish nationalism was born as a phenomenon against the nationalism of the dependent peoples of the empire that became the midwife of various nation-states today. So any effort in expressing a different political, cultural or ethnic identity other than what is afforded by the state and codified by the laws of the republic is treated as treacherous and divisive.

Rather than talking and thinking about good governance, fair representation and cultural rights, our political vocabulary is rich in real or potential “traitors” and “conspirators” that seek to divide our country under the leadership of alien (i.e., Western) powers. This fabricated truth is so real for both the elite and the common citizen as to be “common sense” beyond any doubt.

This rhetoric gets worse and most regressive when minorities refer to human rights and international covenants for protection, to which Turkey is a party. They also argue that when Turkey tries to protect its unity by violating these rights and covenants, her image is tarnished and this is the fault of those minorities and their foreign supporters. The European Union is the chief culprit in this line of argument.

Not surprisingly, both the assassins of members of non-Muslim minorities and their family members have proudly declared that they or their children have killed an “enemy” and they did it for the salvation of the country or for the glory of God.

So it should come as a surprise when three Christians, two of Turkish origin and one German, were brutally murdered in Malatya because they were trying to spread their faith. Their activities, although not illegal, were deemed to be threatening to the unity of the nation. If state actors are so “sensitive” and eager to try actions that are not normally subject to the penal code, the youth who are indoctrinated to do “something” to deliver the country from alien intervention will take the law into their own hands.

Both the young Korean and Turkish murderers were in a state of war with fabricated enemies. However, while the first was alone and killed himself in the end because there was no social environment to seek refuge in, the Turkish murderers believed they would be hailed as national heroes. That is the difference.

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