Today’s Opinion: Anatomy of a shooting

POSTED: 04/17/11 9:33 PM

The Dutch philosopher Paul ter Heyne considers, unlike many others, last week’s shopping mall massacre in Alphen aan den Rijn not as an incident. It has to do with the culture of a country and we have to focus on education and morals, Ter Heyne wrote in an inspired opinion piece in the Volkskrant this week.

The philosopher, who lives in Spain, noted with some amazement that most media reported about the shooting as an isolated incident, something that happens every now and then and to which we should not pay too much attention because there isn’t a thing anybody is able to do about it anyway. That’s a remarkable attitude, one nobody had when Muslim terrorists flew planes into the twin towers on September 11, 2001, or when Hitler murdered 6 million Jews in the Second World War.

Ter Heyne disagrees with all those columnists who apparently wrote that anybody with the nerve to come with an explanation for the massacre has lost his marbles.

Ter Heyne took up the challenge. He wondered about similarities between the 24-year-old shopping mall shooter and for instance the guy who threw a tea-warmer at the Golden Carriage, the guy who caused a panic during Memorial Day last year by screaming at the top of his voice, and the guy who drove his car into the public on the Queens’ birthday in 2009.

The philosopher had no problem finding a ton of similarities. They are all young – between 20 and 40, they are lonely, introvert, depressed, obsessive and unable to maintain normal contacts. All these things, Ter Heyne points out, occur a lot less in communities with more cohesion.

Hatred is out of the equation, he says, because that would result in m ore focused actions, or in seeking membership of an organization.

Ter Heyne seems a bit lost when he makes a remark about the supposed influence of computer games and TV-programs on public mass killings and points out that behavior like that displayed by the Alphen-gunman did not occur in the Netherlands prior to 2010. So? TV-programs have been around for more than sixty years, and computer games did not exactly hit the market after 2010.

But the truth is, and Ter Heyne puts his finger on it, that most people thought these horrible events simply did not happen in the Netherlands. And then they did. But until that moment, the most often heard explanation was that these shootings occurred in the United States and that the liberal gun laws in that country were to blame for it. But Alphen requires re-thinking of that position.

Because mass killings have in the meantime taken place in countries like Germany and Finland.

Ter Heyne notes that these countries are at the front of developments like individualizing. Bloodbaths like in Alphen occur mostly in trendsetting, most modern and advances states, the philosopher concludes.

From there, Ter Heyne jumps to the conclusion that the behavior is sociologically determined.

If this is a matter of culture, then shooting associations don’t have a lot to do with it, he wrote, adding that the focus ought to be contacts within the family, at school and in associations.

Associations in the Netherlands have more and more trouble finding volunteers and board members, Ter Heyne observes. However, that is nothing new, because, say, thirty years ago, many sports clubs in the Netherlands were also struggling to find trainers, board members and other volunteers. The people who are still investing time and energy in those association, hardly have time for anything else than the sport they practice. Morals and respect are issues mostly left alone.

Ter Heyne describes how a minor incident at the soccer club of his young son in Spain resulted in extensive intervention from the club management and of the children’s parents. Basically, they washed the children’s ears for half an hour about mutual respect, tolerance, and team spirit.

And what happens in the Netherlands? A high profile pro soccer player like Wesley Sneijder swears at a referee and calls him a typhus dog, a week after another Ajax-player had called a linesman a cancer nigger. Coach Henk ten Cate defended his player and called the referee a moral crusader. The national soccer association had just started a campaign to promote respect, but found no reason to take measures against the player, the coach, or the club.

Ter Heyne expects benefits from more sociological research. Forgetting as soon as possible about Alphen aan den Rijn because it was an incident is a missed opportunity, he wrote.

In St. Maarten, we don’t have money for sociological research. That’s a pity because we could do with such research. Not that we expect mass shootings at Clem Labega Square next Sunday, or during the upcoming Carnival, but it is clear to everybody that we have a lot of disenfranchised youngsters who are not shy to vent their frustration in a violent manner.

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