Across the Bay

Saturday, January 22, 2005

More on the Armanios Murder Case

Just to show how murky and inconclusive this whole affair is -- and how there's a lot of embellishment and speculation -- here are a bunch of additional reports on the murder.

First, Jihad Watch now claims that "the Hudson County Prosecutors Office has stated that the tattoos were in fact not defaced." This story in the NYT confirms this. Although it must be pointed out that the County Prosecutors Office has not discounted a religious motive either. The NYT story also made the same point I made in the N.B. in my first post on this story:

    Egyptian Muslims often provide a different portrait of life in their homeland,
    characterizing the complaints of Copts as far-fetched or exaggerated.

A lot of this is a carry-over of old-world tensions, due to the incredible discmination faced by Copts in Egypt, as the NYT story makes clear. Another beleaguered Christian minority, the Assyrians, reacts in a similar fashion, as this story in the Assyrian International News Agency shows:

    All the victims were bound before being killed by knife wounds, including
    apparent ritualistic cutting of the throats. (Emphasis added.)

Our impulse shifts to automatic on this issue, again, based on old-world experiences. Recall my point on the Lebanese War of the Mountain. Unfortunately, the US (and the world) is now familiar with this practice from the murders of hostages in Iraq.

But apologetics have already started flying about even when the case remains obscure. There's a bizarre twist that happens in the West in cases of Muslim-Eastern Christian tensions, where -- since we're talking about impulses -- the Western impulse is to immediately assume, based on guilt baggage (that I still can't understand), the victimhood of the Muslim side, and that imparts on the Eastern Christian all the guilt and issues of the Western Christian. This is, in a nutshell, what you'll see in my critique of Dalrymple. Reader Trance pointed to this story where echoes of the kind of quasi-justification seen in the aftermath of the van Gogh murder are detected. For those, see this pathetic piece of junk penned by Issandr el-Amrani of The Arabist Network:

    [T]he incident was blown out of proportion by many on the blogosphere and
    elsewhere, particularly on the right but also on the left. I also did not feel
    that sorry for Van Gogh, who was after all a racist, and did not think he
    deserved the martyr status that many have now bestowed upon him. It’s
    rather strange that Americans, who live in a country with one of the world’s
    highest rates of homicides (and inter-racial gang violence), are so passionate
    about this one.

Similarly, the piece in the Ledger has this quote, pointed out by Trance:

    "His name in the chat room was 'I love Jesus,'" says a man who will identify
    himself only as Aran, although he says he is a cousin of Hossam Armanious'
    and a Coptic Christian as well. "You make people angry that way, but he would
    not stop. It is easy in these rooms to find out where people live."

The story continues to show how the chat rooms are "scary!" But that's the whole point! Just because someone got offended by someone else's view on religion, doesn't mean that the latter person ought to be killed, or worse still, that the said person should "know better!"

But back to my point about the reversal of roles. This piece takes the cake. A Coptic family was slaughtered, and it may very well be for religious reasons, but according to this story the scared victims are the Muslims! No such story would be complete without the most cliché line of them all: "Is Islam on trial?" Or this one by Suzanne Loutfy, a Muslim leader of the Egyptian-American Group, who asked people not to blame Islam if the killers are found to be Muslim:

    "People are so willing to condemn an entire religion," she said. "That's what the
    big problem is. People commit crimes; religions don't. I hope we can be intelligent
    enough to separate those two."

What kind of beside-the-point nonsense is this?! "Religions" can indeed inspire crimes, and (religious) people motivated by religious reasons commit crimes as countless examples show! This dichotomy of theory and praxis runs deep in Islamic intellectual history as has been summarized by Adonis under the categories of "Fixed" and "Variable." What people don't understand is that there is no such Platonic distinction. Religion, as Muslim thinker Soroush once put it, is religious interpretative history. Religion is not a static, stable, unchanging phenomenon, even if Muslims (and others) believe that their scriptures are perfect and immutable and eternal. A religion can be coercive and conservative, backed by a legal tradition that further constrains the subjects -- thus making the perception of unchangeability more convincing -- but religion is dynamic. Religion is the ever-changing history of interpretation. Now, a particular trend or tradition can dominate a religion for a long time (as is the case in Islam) and that tradition can be restrictive and very conservative with problematic results. So please, don't let your intelligence be insulted with these kinds of fake dichotomies. If, as a reader put it, the religions were reversed, we wouldn't have heard the end of it. I mean, even when the victim is not Muslim, victimhood is bestowed on them and the "bigotry" of Christians is chastized!

These groups have a long history of animosity, so spare me the Western guilt. Just because you perceive Western Christianity as "oppressive" to Muslims, it doesn't give you the right to extend that to Eastern Christians. This attitude, as we'll see in my critique of Dalrymple, has condoned a lot of ugliness in the ME. Let's not have it condone them in the US as well, regardless of the identity of the killers.

Update: Rich Anderson shares his thoughts on the matter from Beirut. (Scroll down to the January 22 entry)

Update 2: Here's an interesting piece (hat tip Trance) featuring a brief forensic analysis of sorts by FBI profiler Gregg McCrary:

    Each family member's bound body was found in a different room of the Oakland Avenue home.
    Each bled to death from stab wounds to the neck and had suffered other knife wounds. There
    was no cash in the house, and someone had rifled through drawers and a purse. A "significant"
    amount of jewelry, however, was left untouched.
    Other elements of the publicly released information also point away from robbery, McCrary said.

    "If we are talking a robbery motive, it would be very uncommon to have such extreme violence
    attached to it," he said. "Killing everybody in a family during a robbery is not common."

    Another factor pointing away from robbery is that all of the family members died from knife
    wounds, which McCrary said is "extremely rare" in a robbery. Most robbers, both experts said,
    prefer the use of firearms because guns allow robbers an easy tool with which to control a

    "Knife killing is very close and very personal," McCrary said. "And to do it four times is very cold."