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    Middle East
     Apr 26, 2007
Page 1 of 2
The world and Virginia Tech
By John Brown

Americans rushed to unite in horror and mourning in response to the mass killings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg in a way we haven't seen since, perhaps, the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001. Where I live, in Washington, DC, residents are already sporting their Virginia Tech ribbons and sweatshirts, the way so many Americans once donned those "I (heart) New York" caps and T-shirts. While media coverage has been around the clock and fast-paced, if not

downright hysterical - as is now the norm on all such American-gothic occasions, from O J Simpson's car chase on - the framing and contextualizing of the massacre/suicide at Virginia Tech have been narrow indeed.

As a former diplomat, educated to see the world through others' eyes, I couldn't help thinking about how the rest of our small planet might be taking in the Blacksburg tragedy. Despite the negligible coverage of overseas opinion about this event in the mainstream US media, there did appear one comprehensive overview of how foreigners reacted to the killings - a Molly Moore piece in the Washington Post.

"Nowhere, perhaps," Moore wrote, "were foreign reactions to the Virginia shooting more impassioned than in Iraq, where many residents blame the United States for the daily killings in their schools, streets and markets. 'It is a little incident if we compare it with the disasters that have happened in Iraq,' said Ranya Riyad, 19, a college student in Baghdad. 'We are dying every day.'"

Given my own 20-plus years in the US foreign service, on occasions like this I find myself looking at my own country from a non-American perspective. I must confess that, when I first saw psychopathic mass murderer Cho Seung-Hui's photographs of himself savagely pointing a gun at the camera, I was reminded not only of the violent images in our popular culture, but also of President George W Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, not to speak of the thrust of his whole foreign policy.

Indeed, for others on our globe, mass murder in Iraq, scenes of degradation from Abu Ghraib, Central Intelligence Agency extraordinary-rendition expeditions, and the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have already become synonymous with the US government and the president; so it would not be surprising if Cho's actions and Bush's foreign policy were linked in the minds of people outside the United States. I see several reasons that, for non-Americans, a mad student and our commander-in-chief could appear to be two sides of the same all-American coin.

First, as his own writings and evidence from his Virginia Tech classmates attest, Cho felt unloved. A thread running through his psychological profile is that he believed the world was after him. Many abroad will remember how, in the wake of the New York World Trade Center tragedy, the Bush administration immediately began obsessing about "why they hate us" (whoever "they" might specifically be). Despite the sympathy the president, as the representative of the American people, received from every corner of the Earth - similar in some ways to the fruitless support efforts teachers and doctors gave Cho for his mental problems - Bush, responding only to the hate he saw under every nook and cranny, chose to react with what many overseas considered disproportionate violence.

To begin with, there was the invasion of Afghanistan. Foreigners (and perhaps some Americans) might think of it as comparable, though on a far larger scale, to Cho's first foray into killing, his early-morning murder of two people, a young woman he apparently felt had slighted him and a young man who evidently happened on the scene. In each case, there was then a pause while elaborate propaganda was mustered, organized, and sent off to the public to justify the acts to come. In Cho's case, what followed was his final rampage when the deranged English major

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Virginia Tech shakes Korean campuses (Apr 20, '07)


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