First Person: Acts of terror generally do not produce the expected outcomes

Posted by ap507 at Jun 29, 2015 10:55 AM |
Dr Simon Bennett discusses the aftermath of the recent killings in Charleston
First Person: Acts of terror generally do not produce the expected outcomes

Source: Wikipedia; The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2008 where the shooting Charleston church shooting took place on 17 June 2015

This article originally appeared on the Leicester Mercury website here.

Think: Leicester does not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Leicester - it expresses the independent views and opinions of the academic who has authored the piece. If you do not agree with the opinions expressed, and you are a doctoral student/academic at the University of Leicester, you may write a counter opinion for Think: Leicester and send to

The killings in the picturesque South Carolina city of Charleston tell us a number of things. First, that racism is a persistent feature of our social landscape.

Many people still accept the specious argument that character attributes are racially determined.

Like all bigotries, such beliefs are not amenable to rational argument.

Secondly, that even when people of colour (Barack Obama, for example) attain positions of responsibility, old prejudices persist.

Thirdly, that easy access to handguns amplifies the threat posed by sociopaths like the Charleston assassin Dylann Roof.

In my opinion, Roof was helped in his murderous endeavour by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which speaks of "the right of the people to keep and bear arms". Roof used a Glock .45 handgun, for which he carried and discharged five magazine clips.

Fourthly, that the close attention paid to white supremacist movements by the FBI and other federal agencies is justified.

Civil libertarians dislike surveillance. But without surveillance such movements would pose an even greater threat to race relations and social stability.

Lastly, that acts of terror generally do not produce the outcomes expected by the perpetrator.

Roof told a friend that he wanted to start a race-war. There has been no war. Instead, Roof's actions have spurred a coming-together of America's ethnic groups in a show of solidarity and defiance.

As American sociologist Robert Merton explained in 1936, actions may produce unintended consequences that confound the original intent. Roof should read Merton.

Are there wider lessons to be learned from Charleston? For me, yes. Specifically, that despite developmental leaps like the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, universal secondary education, expansion of the university system and the 1949 enactment of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the world remains plagued by prejudice, bigotry and irrationality.

How else does one explain the persistence of religious belief? If believing in something for which there is no evidence is not irrational, then what is?

Am I discouraged by this sea of ignorance and prejudice? Absolutely not, because I have science and rationality on my side.

There will likely always be misfits like Roof (Charleston), Michael Ryan (1987 Hungerford massacre), Thomas Hamilton (1996 Dunblane massacre) and Derrick Bird (2010 Cumbria shootings). The solution lies in standing as one against those who would do us harm.

Dr Simon Bennett, director, civil safety and security unit, University of Leicester.

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