The PJ Tatler

Assassinations and 'Teaching Moments'

Mass murder in Oslo, which you know about already, targeted assassination in Tehran, which has received less coverage.  We apparently know the killer in Norway (although there are reports of a second terrorist), we know nothing about the two motorcycle shooters in Iran. We don’t know much of anything about motives in either case.  We probably will know a good deal about motive in the Norwegian slaughter.  We probably won’t know anything about motive in the Iranian killing.

Nonetheless, half the world has an opinion, and wants us all to know what they think.  I really don’t want to know until we have enough information to warrant an “informed opinion.”  When I was a graduate student, my major history professor used to tell us that assassinations are almost always murky, a point I stressed in an essay about Caesar’s assassination (yes we know who did it, but we don’t know why he–knowing it was about to happen–went willingly to his death).  Not to mention Lincoln and JFK and Oklahoma City, all of which continue to provoke considerable speculation and even research.

I worked a bit on counterterrorism (not nearly as much as some claim, but a bit, to be sure), and it was a well  established rule that early reports were almost always wrong and/or misleading and certainly incomplete.  In Norway, those who raced to denounce jihadis had no factual basis for it (although there is certainly a big jihad under way, and there was apparently some claim by some possibly phantasmagorical organization to have done it all for Allah), and those who a bit later ascribed it to right-wing extremism were cherry picking news stories, which is not smart.

There is no reward for being wrong first.  Take your time.  The Norwegians are serious people.  Close to a hundred of their citizens, mostly kids, have been massacred.  Let them work and when they think they know what happened, there will be time enough to pontificate on its deeper meaning.

In Iran, it’s both easier and more difficult to identify a “teaching moment,” because we are not likely to know who killed the nuclear physicist, let alone why.  Probably, as in past assassinations of people involved in Iran’s nuclear program, the regime will blame Israel and the United States.  Both have motive:  prevent the Iranian bomb from completion.  But the regime may also have a motive:  he may have been cooperating with Western countries.  He may even have been trying to leave the country.  We don’t know.

So we can’t know the “meaning” of the event.

Except this:  if Israel and the United States can gun down top Iranian scientists in the streets of Tehran–which is an armed camp–we probably don’t have to worry about the Iranian bomb.  If Israel and America can do THAT, they can do most anything, anywhere in the country.  Without those bombing runs we keep reading about.