- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

It has felt good over the past week to rediscover the feeling of freedom, the sounds of children playing outdoors, the simple and hitherto unsuspected pleasure of pumping gas with peace of mind.
Yet, even as we go about our daily business again, most residents of the greater Washington area have had a taste of what terrorism means on a far more personal and immediate level than anything evoked by the September 11 attacks. More people felt affected by the sniper shootings than by the terrorist attacks or by the anthrax mailings.
In the face of this totally unpredictable threat to their personal safety, people changed their daily routines to protect their children and their own lives. Those who were not directly affected by the 10 murders and 13 shootings, had a good chance of feeling the effects of one of the police road blocks that turned various parts of the greater Washington highway system into parking lots for hours on end.
This disturbing experience was probably (hopefully) the closest many of us will get to appreciating what it must feel like to live in Israel under the constant threat of suicide bombings. Imagine risking your life every time you board a bus to go to work. Where do you find the mental toughness to go on day after day?
As of this stage in the investigation, there is as yet no hard evidence that the two men arrested for the murders, John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, were connected to al Qaeda. The older man, however, was recruited by the Nation of Islam and changed his name after September 11 in a show of admiration for the hijackers. And if the actions of the murderers were connected to a terrorist plot, it would not be all that surprising.
As we attempt to answer the disturbing questions about the motives of the two accused gunmen, terrorism is surely the closest parallel we have. Unlike most other mass murderers, Muhammad and Malvo did not have a particular obsession that dictated their choice of victim. With the majority of their victims, they had no contact whatsoever, beyond the shots fired at a distance from the hiding place in the trunk of their Chevrolet Caprice. The closest we have come to an explanation is the two ransom notes with the demand for $10 million, and, not to forget, the tarot card with the message, "I am God" found behind the school in Bowie, where they shot a 13-year-old boy.
The snipers most resemble terrorists in their total indifference to the suffering they have caused. The relationship itself between the two, the older man, 41, and his 17-year-old "stepson," seems to have been thoroughly twisted. But, as regards other people, they seem to have entertained no normal human emotions, a mental state found in total egotists, or in fanatics who believe that murder is justified in the name of a cause.
The latter version of megalomania, manifest in revolutionary movements like fascism and communism, cost millions of lives in the 20th century. It may do the same in the guise of radical, violent Islam in the 21st unless we remain constantly vigilant against the threat.
And here's the problem for the rest of us: Try as we might to understand how human beings can commit acts so evil, so cold and callous against other humans, we can't.
Terrorist acts or sniper shootings are not the result of a normal psyche under stress that suddenly snaps. This does not happen to just anyone who is overloaded at work or who has troubles at home. It takes a total divorce of the mind from the heart and the soul to prepare the murderous scheme of the two accused snipers. The same is true of the 19 terrorists of September 11.
It also means, however, that looking for explanations in troubled childhoods, in Third World poverty or, for that matter, in the actions of the victim is not enlightening. Most people who have troubled childhoods do not kill, most Muslims do not become terrorists or endorse it, nor do most people who suffer in poverty. On the other hand, some who grew up amidst comfort, security and privilege do.
These human time-bombs, fortunately, are the exceptions. Even as families around the Washington area mourn those they lost so needlessly in this wanton killing spree, there's hope to be found in the act of courage of the truck drivers who discovered Mssrs. Muhammad and Malvo at a rest stop and blocked their exit with their trucks as one of them called police. There's encouragement in the thousands of callers who tried to help the police solve the case, some of whom provided vital clues. Just as there was hope in the reaction of Americans after September 11, as they rallied to help the victims and their families.
Fortunately, now that this encounter with evil is over, we are free to remember the good as well.

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