Terrorism and toilets

Last night a passenger was subdued on Boston-bound Delta flight 1102 after trying to open up an emergency exit door. The same thing happened on Continental Airline flight 546 from Houston to Chicago. In the former case, the man in question was upset because the flight was delayed and, well, he’d had too much to drink. There aren’t many details in the latter case. We just know that he is one Reynel C. Alcaide of Burbank, Illinois, 34.

Coverage of another incident, however, is interesting. Passenger Rageh al-Murisi was arrested after creating a disturbance on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco. This CNN.com story reports that the suspect had “mental issues.”

Here’s the Associated Press lede:

The passengers sat stunned as they watched a man walk quickly toward the front of American Airlines Flight 1561 as it was descending toward San Francisco. He was screaming and then began pounding on the cockpit door.

Ah, he was screaming, was he? What was he screaming? I don’t know but the story does mention that he’s from Yemen and had no known ties to terrorism. A cousin says:

[Rageh] Almoraissi said he could not imagine what may have caused his cousin to act as authorities allege he did on the plane, but said he was certain Almurisi was not a terrorist. He said his cousin did not show an interest in politics and was not intensely religious.

“He might have seriously mistaken the cockpit for the bathroom,” Almoraissi said. “He’s only been on three planes in his whole life.” Almurisi was taking classes in California to learn English but was not happy with his progress, his cousin said.

If you can stick with the story until the 15th and 16th paragraphs, you’ll learn:

She said a woman in a row across from her who speaks Arabic translated that Almurisi said “God is Great!” in Arabic.

[Passenger Andrew] Wai, 27, also remembered on Monday that the wife of one of the men who took Almurisi down later said Almurisi was yelling “Allahu Akbar.”

I wonder why “Great” is capitalized. In any case, the video embedded above points out how passengers said, at the outset, that al-Murisi was shouting “Allahu Akbar” but that many broadcast media outlets from around the country didn’t think it was important to include these words — or their English equivalent — in their stories. Since there have been many reports of Muslim terrorists shouting just this as they engaged in their acts, it seems odd to leave that information out of a story, much less fail to explain its potential significance.

I realize it was almost 10 years ago, but “Allahu Akbar” were the last words heard on the flight recorder for Flight 93 as it careened to the ground. To pick just one terror example that is seared in the memory of many Americans. There is significance here and the news sense of placing these words after the bathroom defense is odd, isn’t it?

This story from a local NBC affiliate includes the perspectives of the cousins, who maintain the suspect “was a normal guy and they don’t think he had any intention of hurting anyone.” But it also gives these details from a sitdown with one of the men who subdued the suspect:

Larry Wright said he was sitting in seat 20C when he noticed a fellow passenger walking past. “As I turned, there was a person walking past me. He rapidly broke into a trot… then yelled ‘Allahu akbar.’” Wright said from his training as a police office he knew there was a problem and he immediately got up and followed the man. He said when he reached him, he was at the cockpit door. Wright said he put him in a control hold with the help of four or five other people. …

Wright said al-Murisi never spoke to him directly but said “Allahu akbar” some more 30 times during the duration of the flight.

Nidal Hasan murdered 13 people at Ft. Hood, Texas, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire. At the time, members of a list-serv for liberal journalists and pundits discussed whether the media should report this for fear the public might think there was a conspiracy of Islamist terror. Other members of the list-serv responded that an accurate description of Hasan’s actions was imperative.

The same seems to apply here. It’s understandable that federal agents will want to refrain from assigning motives to the man from Yemen. There’s no need for the media, however, to refrain from giving an accurate description of al-Murisi’s actions. On the other hand, I wonder if some reporters aren’t jumping to too many conclusions. AFP wrote on the “Spate of US plane incidents after bin Laden death.” It fails to mention the “Allahu Akbar” utterances but it also attempts to tie together a bunch of travel occurrences without evidence.

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  • Harold

    Since there have been many reports of Muslim terrorists shouting just this as they engaged in their acts, it seems odd to leave that information out of a story, much less fail to explain its potential significance.

    I think reporters should also include the religious significance. Allahu Akbar is chanted my millions of Muslims every day as part of holy prayers. It’s the Muslims equivalent to “Our Father.” While some may attribute it to terrorists, a good journalist would also point out that it is a key phrase in Muslim prayers and is not just a terrorist catch-phrase.

  • Dave G.

    A few questions or observations. First this:

    This CNN.com story reports that the suspect had “mental issues.”

    I often wonder what the AP criteria is for focusing on a person’s mental issues when a crime is committed. Sometimes the focus is on mental issues, sometimes it seems to be on … other things.

    liberal journalists and pundits discussed whether the media should report this for fear the public might think there was a conspiracy of Islamist terror.

    That’s odd. Did they say that was why? That’s like saying ‘sorry, we are going to have to sort of like not tell the truth (which some folks in the day called lying), in order to achieve this higher purpose. Sort of like propaganda Judge Smails style – ‘we didn’t want to lie, we felt we owed it to them.’ So just wondering if that’s the reason they gave.

    “Spate of US plane incidents after bin Laden death.” It fails to mention the “Allahu Akbar” utterances but it also attempts to tie together a bunch of travel occurrences without evidence.

    That was interesting. I’ve noticed several stories about airline passengers going over the top in the last few days. Does this happen all the time, and we just don’t hear it? Or is it a coincidence? Or could there be a less obvious link to the events surrounding Bin Laden (maybe everyone is on edge)? I dont’ know, I don’t fly if I can avoid it.

  • Dave G.

    Harold,

    I can’t imagine that making a difference. I try to imagine a rash of killings by Christians kicking in doors and yelling ‘Jesus is Lord!’ I just can’t, can’t bring myself to believe that many of the same folks saying ‘Hold on everyone, there’s no reason to jump to conclusions about their Muslim faith’ would be saying ‘you know, there’s no reason at all to think this has anything to do with their Christian faith.’ In fact, if I remember Tavis Smiley correctly, Christians don’t even have to say that in order for the Christian Faith to get the blame. So I just don’t see a way to consistently suggest that Muslims running around and doing violence with that on their lips should cause us to hesitate before assuming there is a religious motive. That shouldn’t mean folks should blame Islam whenever a Muslim does anything wrong But if that’s their phrase of choice, I’m going with ‘religiouss motivation’, if for no other reason than to be consistent.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Harold,
    Yes, absolutely, more information about the Takbir would be helpful. Of course, the use in prayer isn’t relevant here since he was obviously not performing one of the five ritual prayers (just given his ambulation).
    But yes, the Takbir can be a battle cry, a part of a prayer or just a shout of agreement, etc.
    Not equivalent to the Our Father, but an important phrase nonetheless.

  • Harold

    I try to imagine a rash of killings by Christians kicking in doors and yelling ‘Jesus is Lord!’ I just can’t, can’t bring myself to believe that many of the same folks saying ‘Hold on everyone, there’s no reason to jump to conclusions about their Muslim faith’ would be saying ‘you know, there’s no reason at all to think this has anything to do with their Christian faith.

    I’m not saying that it doesn’t have anything to do with their Muslim faith, I’m pointing out that the phrase is part of Muslim prayers and said everyday by Muslims around the world when they aren’t acting as terrorists. I think that is relevant.

    And we do scold the media when they make assumptions about the Christianity of terrorists. We saw such scoldings in Phoenix, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Wichita.

  • Dave G.

    I’m not really saying we don’t scold the media, I merely point out that those saying hold your horses in this case, are often the ones jumping the guns in the other. Of course there are those who see the obvious inconsistencies there, and scold accordingly.

    Truth be told, if a person ran into a building with gun in hand yelling ‘Jesus is Lord’ I would have every reason in the world to assume it was done in the name of his or her religion, or that religion played a part. Christianity, at least as that individual interpreted it, would be fair game. I merely say that the same is true here. That it is a common prayer is fine, worth knowing, but doesn’t change the obvious connections.

  • Mike

    It’s imperative for the media to distinguish in their coverage between a drunk behaving badly and someone running down the aisle, banging on the cockpit door and yelling “Allahu Akbar.” Passengers freak out in both cases but the news value is significantly different. A drunk doing stupid things may warrant a couple of graphs. A passenger apparently trying to enter the flight deck while yelling “Allahu Akbar” elevates the signficance of story, especially in today’s world. This fact should also have been in the lead, instead of buried down in the story. Seems like reporters are forgetting that their job is to gather the facts and report the news. As a frequent flyer, I want to know about these things.

  • Matt

    I’ve never heard of a person repeatedly shouting “Allahu akbar” while looking for the bathroom. Giving the benefit of the doubt, the cousin making the bathroom suggestion may not have known about the shouting, but the reporters clearly knew, and for them to mention the cousin’s suggestion before reporting the words is simply inexcusable.

  • Bram

    It would be interesting to know if the authors of any of these stories withholding information about the “Allahu akbar” shout were members of Journolist.

  • SouthCoast

    “But yes, the Takbir can be a battle cry, a part of a prayer or just a shout of agreement, etc.” Which is why, at bullfights, contemporary Spaniards shout “Ole!” (Not particularly relevant, but thought some might find it interesting.)

  • Ryan

    It bothers me that a potential religious motivation is papered over with ‘mental illness’, this does not bode well for mainstream media coverage the motives for sincere believers of any faith.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    What’s particularly bizarre about the rush in the media to label some negative behavior as “mental illness” is how it compares to, say, the recent shooting in Arizona where mental illness was a fairly obvious factor.

    We discussed this a bit earlier.

  • Dave G.

    What’s particularly bizarre about the rush in the media to label some negative behavior as “mental illness” is how it compares to, say, the recent shooting in Arizona where mental illness was a fairly obvious factor.

    That was sort of my point.

  • Bram

    It would also be interesting to know how many of the authors ascribing “conservative” or “Christian” motives to Jared Loughner in the Arizona shooting case were members of Journolist.

  • Harold

    What’s particularly bizarre about the rush in the media to label some negative behavior as “mental illness” is how it compares to, say, the recent shooting in Arizona where mental illness was a fairly obvious factor.

  • Harold

    What’s particularly bizarre about the rush in the media to label some negative behavior as “mental illness” is how it compares to, say, the recent shooting in Arizona where mental illness was a fairly obvious factor.

    Actually, it was a law enforcement support that labeled it “mental illness” not any media rush. That differs from the Phoenix shooting where it wasn’t at all clear that mental illness was a factor until more investigation of the shooter.

  • Bram

    Harold,

    In the Phoenix shooting it also wasn’t at all clear that any kind of “Tea Party” politics were Jared Loughner’s motive, and indeed they were *not.*

    But that didn’t stop many in the MSM, even for a second, from saying they *were.*

    In that case, many in the MSM offered an interpretation of Loughner’s motive which the evidence did not support.

    In this case, they seem to be withholding evidence that could lead some to an interpretation that some in the MSM might like to suppress — just as with Nidal Hasan and the shootings at Fort Hood.

  • Harold

    Bram, that’s a great conspiracy theory (as is our Journolist snark) but the two situations aren’t really comparable and the media coverage isn’t comparable. There was a lot of speculation with Loughner because it was an assassination attempt and the media had little information, so they were floundering along. Until the information started becoming clear, the media was following the idea that it was politically motivated (which makes sense since a politician was shot).

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Harold,

    Not sure if you’re joking or not. But on the off chance you’re serious, obviously the media forced — with no evidence — the narrative that rhetoric had led to the Giffords shooting. You can’t rewrite that history.

  • Suzanne

    Does this have to be an either-or situation? Can we allude both to his religions utterings and the possibility that he is mentally ill?

    The circumstances certainly point in both directions. This man ran at the cockpit door and began pounding on it. Does that sound like a well-planned terrorist attack to anybody? Would a rational person expect that to work, especially after 9/11?

    I, too, believe that what he said should have been featured high in the story. But it’s not “papering over” the circumstances to point out that he may have been at least as triggered by mental illness as he was by religious belief.

  • Jerry

    You can’t rewrite that history.

    People rewrite history all the time. Or, as they would put it, re-evaluate the historical record in light of new evidence or perspective. This can even lead to flipping history 180 degrees. Sometimes this rewrite is justified and sometimes it’s not.

  • Bram

    Harold,

    Journolist wasn’t a “conspiracy theory;” Journolist was a conspiracy *fact,* and it isn’t “snark” at all to point that out — it’s simply truth being spoken, albeit to power, perhaps.

  • Bram

    Jerry,

    The MSM’s libel or slander of the Tea Party movement and of Sara Palin in the Loughner case is part of *the historical record,* and you can’t rewrite *that.*

  • Jerry

    The MSM’s libel or slander of the Tea Party movement and of Sara Palin in the Loughner case is part of *the historical record,* and you can’t rewrite *that.*

    You mean the accurate reporting which some call slander? Seriously, it’s done all the time, justified or not.

  • Bram

    Jerry,

    So, are you arguing that MSM reports that Loughner was incited to shoot Representative Giffords by Sara Palin and/or the Tea Party movement were “accurate” and on the mark?

    Really?

  • Dave G.

    You mean the accurate reporting which some call slander? Seriously, it’s done all the time, justified or not.

    Huh?

  • Jerry

    So, are you arguing that MSM reports that Loughner was incited to shoot Representative Giffords by Sara Palin and/or the Tea Party movement were “accurate” and on the mark?

    No I’m not. I’m arguing a more general point not expressing a personal opinion on this item.

  • Harold

    the narrative that rhetoric had led to the Giffords shooting. You can’t rewrite that history.

  • Harold

    the narrative that rhetoric had led to the Giffords shooting. You can’t rewrite that history.

    Well, history is as much interpretation as it analysis. There were multiple narratives the media explored in the days after the shooting. The rhetoric argument was one and the one that raised the most ire in conservative circles and in the conservative pundit class. My recollection of the media coverage is different from Mollie’s and Bram’s.

  • Bram

    “Well, history is as much interpretation as it analysis.”

    History — or historiography — is an interpretation of historical *facts* — such as that Jared Loughner was, if anything, left-wing and not right-wing ideologically, and such as that the person on the plane did indeed shout “Allahu Akbar,” as did Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood.

    The next thing you know Jerry and Howard will be telling us that George W. Bush was the gunman on the grassy knoll and that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t killed in 1963, but rather when he crashed the plane into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

    They’re entitled to their interpretation, right?

  • apostate

    This reticence to report on relevant information is part of the reason why so many people don’t trust the mainstream media. I no longer subscribe to any newspapers or magazines and rarely watch the national news. Even when I do, I try to check out the stories I’m interested in with more knowledgeable sources.

    Journalists are digging their own graves when they do this kind of thing, sniffing down their noses at the great unwashed who must be protected from information. “You can’t handle the truth!!” = I am better than you.

  • Dave G.

    People rewrite history all the time.

    That is beside the point. I’m the first to yell from the rooftops that history is based on interpretation. But the best historians are aware of that, and do their best to admit it and account for that in their analysis. Just like journalists. All are influenced by biases and ideals and beliefs. The best are aware of that and account for that. The worst, of course, do not, and end up saying without the slightest evidence that a shooting may have been done by a right wing extremist motivated by conservative pundits and political ads. Being that wrong tells nothing about the story, and a whole lot about the reporters. Same with history. Yet the facts are still able to be found, or at least guessed, in both cases because of the ones who are best at not falling into the traps of unprofessional and sloppy analysis.

  • John M

    With very narrow exceptions, Muslims are forbidden to say any of the names of God (including Allah) in the bathroom. The bathroom is considered Satan’s haunt. One cannot so much as bring a Quran into a bathroom. So, while I don’t think it’s unlawful to shout “Allahu Akbar” while searching for a bathroom, it strikes me as highly irregular behavior for a Muslim. Any other theories here?

    -John

  • Dave G.

    so they were floundering along

    No, they weren’t. Within hours, they were pretty clear about where they thought the facts were going to fall. And that each and every national mainstream outlet had the same assumptions speaks to a group-think bias about how they view those on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. If only a few media outlets were so grotesquely wrong it would have been one thing. But Every. Single. Outlet?

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    I think that what he was yelling should have been reported, along with the comment that this is part of the most common Islamic prayer, similar to the Our Father or the Hail Mary.
    Beyond that, it’s very bad journalistic practice to conjecture where there are no facts.
    We all know people who are both highly religious and crazy — there is an elderly woman in Pittsburgh who regularly stands up on commuter trains and spouts a variety of Catholic-related conspiracy theories. Clearly religious, clearly mentally impaired in some form, quite annoying but not a terrorist.
    I confess to being an extremely nervous flyer. I need Xanax or alcohol to get through take-off. I do far more concentrated praying on aircraft than I do anyplace else. I’m sure that I pray more on a flight than a do the whole rest of the week. Maybe he was one of my fellow nervous flyers gone over the edge.

  • bob

    Germans are widely known to approach the door of airliner bathrooms and exclaim “Heil Hitler!”. Means nothing. Just cultural. Why can’t people just deal with diversity?


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