SUV drives into pit at UNC

Sometime around noon an SUV drove into the Pit on the campus of UNC. It's being reported by WRAL that one five students were hit and taken away on a stretcher. Many people on campus were alerted to this event by the sound of helicopters flying overhead. Some live video is being shown of the area on WRAL's Sky 5 video.



Fine, having stipulated for the sake of argument that it was a terrorist act, how does this knowledge cause the community "to respond quite differently"? I'm sincerely curious.

Melanie, lots of things in the law depend on a person's mental state (ie his or her thoughts)- and that is as it should be. It is okay to refuse someone a job, but it is not okay to do so because of that person's race, right? The only difference is the employer's mental state.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that crime is defined by its response. Terrorism only becomes terrorism when people respond to it as such. I don't think that this hit-and-run has an inherent element that is causing the community to respond differently. The community responding differently to this crime is causing it to become terrorism. When you define terrorism so loosely as to include all indiscrimintory criminal acts done in the name of religious beliefs, you need to consider how wide this spectrum is. By that definition, organized legislating against the LGBTQ community on religious grounds becomes a terrorist act. (maybe it should be?)

I, still, don't feel terrorized, because of the isolated nature of teh incident. I feel no less comfortable walking across the Pit than I did two weeks ago. Honestly, of all the tragedy to hit UNC in the past month, I've become more conscious to horseplay around dropoffs than to walking about my daily routine on campus.

Jason --
Terrorism only becomes terrorism when people respond to it as such? How so?

It's still a violent attack on non-combatants by a sub-state group with a political intent and an audience other than those directly attacked. (I have no idea what definition you're working under for terrorism, but it's not the same as mine or any academic definition that I've seen.)

If you ignore terrorism, it's still terrorism -- it's just not very effective terrorism. You're just pretending it isn't there and hoping it goes away.

Duncan --
I hope it would make folks want to pick up a few books on terrorism, cause us to examine why terrorism is used and why it is effective, begin to grapple with solutions to conditions that promote terrorism in our community and worldwide, and elect leaders who put those solutions forward. In other words, the democratic process.

People educating themselves as a solution sound unrealistic? I know a few people picked up the Qutb book I mentioned (or at least googled the man), Mark Chilton learned what Islamist was, I signed up to attend a major counterterrorism conference, and the community is seeing terrorism as a local issue to debate and not a distant, international one (i.e. this thread on OP).

Mark Chilton--

I'm not sure your reasoning holds up.

"It is okay to refuse someone a job, but it is not okay to do so because of that person's race, right? The only difference is the employer's mental state. "

Well, yeah. But last time I checked--it is ALWAYS illegal to intentionally run someone down with a car in an attempt to kill them. So we don't need a separate "thought crime" to charge a person with attempt to kill...and whatever else he was charged wih. As I recall, it was enough to put him away for 150 years--WITHOUT the label.

But I'm not a lawyer, so I may be mistaken.



So, it's been your perception that since 9/11 people haven't been thinking about terrorism? Two planes plowing into the two towers of the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon wasn't enough these last 4 1/2 years, but what was needed whas a guy driving through the Pit in a Jeep Grand Cherokee to really drive it home? Do you really think this community _hasn't_ been grappling with this issue these last few years? There are many of us who know people affected by the attack and subsequent devastation in lower Manhattan, and I personally knew one Marine officer who was in the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City when it blew up. I've been reckoning with terrorism for awhile. My friends have been reckoning with it. I think you're not giving the community enough credit.

In fact, no one needs you to tell them how to deal with, or reckon with, terror -- be it Islamist, neo-Fascist, Irish, or Chechnyan. Your questions are academic and, frankly, didactic. I suppose you're in a university world, and so the act of a guy driving through the Pit might first suggest itself as a teaching point for you. Maybe you've recently learned what "Islamist" means, and you've some understanding of the word "caliphate" (although you don't evince any understanding of how the caliphate came about, and how western powers helped create it, but never mind), but don't assume that the rest of us have been as ignorant. We know what terrorism is, and we'll make our own decision about whether the incident in the Pit was a terrorist act or not.

Ultimately, he was guy who drove through the Pit and ended up with multiple counts of attempted murder. He'll be tried under our laws as such. Making him an examplar of radical Islam is exactly what he wants, based on what he's said in his first appearance, and so congratulations on helping him in that effort.

I'd also congratulate you on helping the terrorists win, but I'll wait until that great big community dialogue on terrorism, inspired by a dipsh-t in a Jeep Cherokee, has had a chance to hash these questions over yet again. Quick now, because I'm holding my breath!

You know, I've gotten more stated and implied insults (and seen them directed at the other occasional young folks who join the fray) for being young and in college and more irrelevant rude comments ("Congratulations on helping him" ... "I'd also congratulate you on helping the terrorists win" and the like) on Orange Politics than in any other forum (virtual or in real life) I've participated in during college.

And you all wonder why more young people don't vote or get involved in town politics.

So far on this board I've basically been called Michelle Malkin's pawn for advancing racism, Mohammed Taheri-Azar's henchman and accused of aiding and abetting terrorists for writing what I thought was a thoughtful (and ultimately respectful) column that was very well-received and will be reprinted in my hometown paper as well.

When people run out of good arguments, it seems, they resort name-calling. Since we're apparently at that point in this thread, I'm done discussing it. Feel free to direct any additional comments about my unpatriotic terrorist-abetting column to The Daily Tar Heel via their letters to the editor section.

This was a horrible event and to have it followed with aggressive word battles makes it worse. I don't agree with Ginny, but she doesn't deserve what she got here. She's not an ex-Marine, she was probably still in middle school when Oklahoma City occurred, and she's grown up in the post-Vietnam world that changed the way we look at war and violence.

This has been a pitiful show of inter-generational discourse.

Well stated, Terri.

FWIW--I heard a group of HS seniors discussing this incident and whether it constitiuted an act of terrorism or not. Opinion was split roughly 50/50--reasons were well-argued on both sides--debate was MUCH more civilized than on this forum. And these children were 17 and 18.

They seemed much less interested in proving they were RIGHT--and more interested in exploring the definition of terrorism. No one was derided for having an opposing opinion. In the end, they all agreed to disagree.

I wonder at what point being RIGHT becomes so important?


[Terri, another terrible example of inter-generational discourse was when you scolded me and my entire program because of what you considered to be my ignorance of qualitative research. So, I might ask you to consider your glass house...]

And to Ginny: Way back in the day, I wrote a weekly column one semester for the DTH and got some of the nastiest hate mail and phone calls you could ever imagine, including one letter on DTH letterhead from the sports editor! So I have some sympathy for the kind of garbage you hear from folks when you put your thoughts out there.

Now, about terrorism: what I find troubling about some of the working definitions on this thread are that we need to know motives to determine whether an act is a terrorist one. If Taheri-Azar had died on Friday and we never heard his thoughts on the matter, would folks calling him a terrorist still judge him to be one? I guess I think the act should speak for itself--we shouldn't have to hear the group or person stating their motives in order to understand the event.

Joan--I don't see any similarities in the two issues. Ginny has put up a good solid argument for her point of view, exploring her academic learning and her feelings about a current event that touched her personally. I admire her tenacity and her willingness to engage in what started out to be reasoned debate. My criticism of this discussion came from the spiral downward into name calling followed by a lack of understanding that rationale from one generation does not apply to those who have been touched quite differently by the escalating culture of violence we live in. We baby boomers should certainly remember what that feels like. Vietnam led to a major intergenerational conflict and that conflict is still playing itself out.

If you want to continue the other discussion, feel free to email me. You can find my address in the campus directory.


I'm sorry you were insulted, and I'm especially sorry that you sound so discouraged. I would have left it at, "Now what?", but there was something about your response that got my back up, but no matter. We could talk out this issue forever, but right now I really need to apologize.

I hope you stick with journalism. (In case you're considering, for instance, the law, please keep in mind that a shockingly high number of posters to are lawyers killing time.) Journalism needs smart, caring and concerned people. And if you stick it out in journalism, please realize that sometimes you'll get it a whole lot worse than you've received from me. A prominent editor, now of Slate but then of the Washington City Paper, scrawled across the very first story I ever wrote, "What is this sh-t? Don't bother us again, please." I was young, alone, and really scared that I'd made a horrible decision about my future. I don't think I've ever developed a thick skin, and I hate it when people tell me I ought to develop one. But I _have_ come to expect to be insulted, criticized, attacked, or shamed by responses to what I write. I've also been accused of undermining the Democratic Party of Washington State, I've been told that I don't have any future. It's what anyone gets for having the arrogance to think that thousands of others would enjoy hearing their opinions. And I have plenty of arrogance.

I used to think that my writing was something I could do at some remove from my subjects. I wanted to write literature, or at least something good, and that required me to write the truth and damn the consequences. And, for the most part, I still feel that way. But there was a day when a man died north of Hillsborough while logging, and I heard the emergency call on the scanner. I got to the site before the police and the ambulance, and so I was there when they carried the body out of the woods. He'd been hit on the head. I thought, Here's an opportunity to describe in great detail something that rarely gets seen. And so I described everything: the body, the body bag, the rusty pickup they laid him in, the sound of his big hand against the metal of the bed, the way the body sagged. Everything, I named everything, all in the interest of my art and craft. I got lots of attaboys for that story. Then one Saturday morning I picked up the paper and there was a letter to the editor from one of the dead man's daughters, who asked (very passionately and with great sadness) why she and her sisters needed to have those images in their head -- the same ones I'd thought were art -- when they buried their father. I cried about that and I've never forgotten it. Well, sometimes I forget it.

From that story, I should remember that even as I'm lecturing someone that words have consequences, my own also have consequences. And so I'm sorry.

Most people who know me offline know that I'm a little shy and not nearly as aggressive as I am when I write. I suppose this is why writing has always been my obsession; it's a way of engaging the world that allows me to feel confident and in control. I really don't want to hurt people's feelings.

I would tell you more about why I became angry, but I'm afraid it would sound like I were again pulling the "experience" card. But I've had one very personal experience with terrorism in the last year that has forever changed my response to the word and its implications.

I hope you will forgive me,


p.s. I think this may be the longest apology I've ever written on, and I've written a lot of them.

As the initiator of this thread of dissucsion I want to apologize for any personal attacks that anyone feels they may have suffered. Please do not let it ruin your opinion of the value of public discussion at OP.

A bit of my experience...
When I first started participating in online discussion forums in the early 1990's I was disgusted and offended. I stepped back from participating. But now I see real worth in much of this RAW and direct speech. (Especially in local topics.) We are all learning together - at different paces - how an open civil society can function online. Trust me, Orange Politics is civilized compared to much of the Internet.

I'm not trying to lecture or tell ya'll how to think. I just hope we can all take a big breath and move on to discussing other topics.

Peace and respect to you!

Melanie, you say: "it is ALWAYS illegal to intentionally run someone down with a car in an attempt to kill them" - well, let's not spend too much time quibbling, but there could be circumstances where intentionally hitting someone with a car would not be a crime (eg self-defense). 'Always' is a big word when it comes to the law.

But more importantly, "in an attempt to kill them" goes to the question of the driver's mental state. The seriousness of the crime has to do with the mental state of the perpetrator.

Hate crimes legislation makes a lot of sense to me for the following reason:
-it is one kind of crime to accidentally run someone over
-it is a more serious crime to do it on purpose
-it is an even more serious crime to do it because you are motivated by racism and are trying to intimidate everyone who belongs to a certain racial minority.
The intent is different in each case and the consequences should be too.

So far, none of that appears to be relevant to the Taheri-azar case from the information I read in the press.


Great post. I hope you stay around. I've missed your insights.


Mark--Clearly Ishould have made the caveat about self-defense. I foolishly assumed we were speaking about the case at hand--when it was QUITE clear that self-defense was not a possibility. As I said, I'm not a lawyer.

Somehow this thread reminds me of a Python sketch--let us join it in mid-stream:

M: I came here for a good argument.
A: No you didn't; no, you came here for an argument.
M: An argument isn't just contradiction.
A: It can be.
M: No it can't. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
A: No it isn't.
M: Yes it is! It's not just contradiction.
A: Look, if I argue with you, I must take up a contrary position.
M: Yes, but that's not just saying 'No it isn't.'
A: Yes it is!
M: No it isn't!
A: Yes it is!
M: Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

It goes on for quite awhile...If you want the whole sketch--


I think I have seen it here before ;)

The Herald Sun has published a letter from Taheri-Azar:

2) Judging by the U.S. government's continuing invasions and killing of my fellow followers of Allah in Islamic territories in the Middle East, even after the deaths of more than 1,000 U.S. soldiers, I concluded that I didn't want to attack in the Middle East since there would likely be no significant change in the U.S. government's military presence in Islamic territories.

3) I therefore decided to attack within the U.S. borders, hoping that the U.S. government would understand that my fellow followers of Allah will do everything necessary to defeat our enemies, even giving up a college degree from UNC Chapel Hill, as I did myself. (end quote)

Before the invasion of Iraq, before even the invasion of Afghanistan, many on the left argued that a 'war on terrorism' would likely only increase the amount of terrorism the US has to cope with. I have no idea why this idea has been disregarded here, despite its seeming total confirmation in the Pit incident (on the other hand, apart from the rhetorical flourishes about religion that so many warriors (including George Bush) favor, there is nothing about opposing all apostates, Sayid Qutb or creating a global caliphate).

Taheri-Azar may have been a little addled. But if we're honest, nearly all political movements (as well as religions) attract some people who are a little 'off', more comfortable with their ideological passions than relationships with other people. It's a trivial fact--their actions become part of the legacy of movements and religions whether they are owned or not (the more salient question is whether violence becomes a generally accepted tactic of this or that political movement or remains on the margins). Those who oppose death and destruction need to make clear that we oppose both Taheri-Azar's actions and the much greater destruction and havoc being wreaked by the US around the world. We also need to be clear that they are intimately connected, as he himself has made amply clear.

The long-awaited "official" university response...

"After a very trying and emotional string of events on campus over the past few weeks, students, faculty, and staff will gather in the Pit on Monday, March 20 to embrace our unity as part of the Carolina Family.

We ask you to join us in the Pit at 11:50 a.m. for a celebration of our positive spirit and to reflect on the events that have recently taken place at UNC. Following brief remarks from Student Body President Seth Dearmin, we will have a moment of silent reflection.

After the conclusion of this brief program, Run of the Mill bluegrass band will perform in the Pit. We encourage you to enjoy this festive atmosphere as members of our campus continue to embrace and support one another.

Sponsored by the Executive Branch of Student Government and Office of Student Affairs"

The terrorism discussion seems to hinge on intent (to the extent it's not just religionism and politics - hard to tell the difference these days). To a dispassionate observer the facts might indicate that Taheri-Azar was more intent on self-sacrifice than murder in the Pit that day.
Consider the following:
1) If he was really trying surely he would have been able to do more damage with a couple of tons of Detroit metal.
2) Why the Pit? It's hard to kill people from a standing start. Why not drive through Frankin Street where he could get up a head of steam and knock 'em down like bowling pins?
3)Why a car? It's not that hard to get hold of a semi-automatic weapon these days (thank you, NRA) and really blast some infidels.
4) Why turn himself in? Why not continue the fight? Take down a few cops at a public standoff?
This seems more like an act of frustration, desparation and isolation than anything else. The letter would seem to confirm that. The notion of survivor's guilt comes to mind - so many of my brothers are suffering and here I am sucking at the tit of the great satan.

Ok, first off vehicles have been designed to be safe, I myself have been hit a couple of times while walking (yes here in Carrboro) and suffered no injury. It's not like in the fifties when every car had sharp angles and edges and plastic was restricted to the INSIDE of the vehicle only. Second, where are all these assault weapons? I'm in the market and can't find a darn thing (thank you nra for buckling to public pressure). Third, he wanted to get caught to make sure his voice was heard. The only point I agree with you on is that Franklin st. would have been a better spot, maybe he was only targeting students because people don't care about anything until it happens to their youth. That or he was unaware that the pit webcam was down.

Pure speculation, but...

"1) If he was really trying surely he would have been able to do more damage with a couple of tons of Detroit metal."

He thought he was doing damage -- he thought he was killing people (and he very well could have killed people). He wasn't trying to kill himself so he had to drive slow enough not to injure himself... the fact that he was able to continue once he felt bodies hitting his car is pretty significant. Just because you think you could have done it better doesn't mean he's not a terrorist. (Terrorist plots *can* fail -- a bad terrorist is still a terrorist.)

2) Why the Pit? It's hard to kill people from a standing start. Why not drive through Frankin Street where he could get up a head of steam and knock ‘em down like bowling pins?

He was attacking students not just townfolks. The Pit offers a symbolic space and basically and depending on the time of day has WAY more people in it than are crossing Franklin St. at any given time.

3)Why a car? It's not that hard to get hold of a semi-automatic weapon these days (thank you, NRA) and really blast some infidels.

He likes driving crazy. He has a history of that. Why not combine his love for driving fast with his "love for Allah" (from his letter)?
It's a weapon that allows him to kill people (virtually anonymously and from a removed distance) by just driving fast. Besides, if you don't have a gun license and gun training it rises a bit more suspicion than renting a car. Besides, he wanted to get away and then turn himself in, not be brought down by heroes.

4) Why turn himself in? Why not continue the fight? Take down a few cops at a public standoff?

Because he didn't want to die and cops weren't his targets.
He wants to use his trial -- and the media coverage -- as a platform.

Also, I wonder if anyone has wondered if *we* aren't his intended audience, but instead people who are like him... disaffected Muslim individuals who have some interest in terrorist acts.

Just because it doesn't fit your model for suicide terrorism, doesn't mean it isn't terrorism.

Ginny, I really don't have "a model for suicide terrorism". You can give the act any label you want. I'm just interested in trying to figure out what's going on inside the guy's head so I can decide whether I need to be terrified or not. And this incident has done nothing to raise my personal terror alert.



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