Sometimes a person puts something so elegantly that you have to sit back and admire it. James Taranto does so with the peculiarly coincidental nexus of Islam and violence:
“Two assailants hacked a man to death on a busy southeast London street Wednesday afternoon before delivering a rant about Islam to bystanders, leading Prime Minister David Cameron to cut short a diplomatic trip to Paris to deal with what he described as a likely terrorist attack,” the Washington Post reports.
A reader sent this to us as an “Out on a Limb” submission. Christina Lamb, whose Twitter bio describes her as an “author, foreign correspondent, long time follower of Afghanistan and Pakistan,” had the same idea, only without irony. She tweeted yesterday (quoting verbatim): “are we not jumping to conclusions calling beheading an islamist terrorist attack & not violent madmen using name of islam?”
Say what you will about Twitter, it has a way of forcing people to reduce complex ideas to their essence. The proximity and brevity of Lamb’s two formulations–an “Islamic terrorist attack” and “violent madmen” killing in the name of Islam–make obvious what a lengthy exegesis might obscure: that they denote exactly the same thing. As a matter of pure logic, her statement is the equivalent of asking “Are we not jumping to conclusions by assuming A instead of A?”
Yet rhetorically and emotionally there is a world of difference between the formulations. Whereas “Islamic terrorist attack” puts the focus on a systematic threat, “violent madmen” puts it on the idiosyncrasies of the particular perpetrators. The former tends to induce vigilance, the latter resignation. It’s what psychologists call a “framing effect.”