What’s Religion Got to do with it? German Co-Pilot as Terrorist

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Once it became clear that Andreas Lubitz, 28, deliberately crashed Germanwings Flight 9525, a reporter immediately asked “what was his religion?” (Parent company Lufthansa said they didn’t know). Authorities said there was no evidence it was “terrorism.”

Lubitz is from Rhineland-Palatinate, known for its wine-growing and pharmaceuticals. It is roughly 2/5s Roman Catholic and a third Lutheran. A fourth of its people don’t really care about religion one way or another.

Why in the world would his religion be relevant? If he did crash the plane on purpose then presumably he was depressed and wanted not only to commit suicide but also to be a mass murderer. You could understand how a depressed person with low self-esteem might think it ego-boosting to determine the fate of so many others.

It isn’t political terrorism, likely, but certainly it was a terroristic act of killing.

But we know why they asked. It was out of bigotry against Muslims, probing whether another one had gone postal. The subtext is that white Christians don’t go off the deep end, even though obviously they do, in large numbers. It isn’t a logical question about Andreas Lubitz from Rhineland-Palatinate. Zeynep Tufekci tweeted,

Maybe I need to add some more principles to my Top Ten differences between White Terrorists and Others, like “terrorism is only ruled out when the whiteness of the perp can be firmly established.”

BBC News: “Germanwings plane crash: Co-pilot ‘wanted to destroy plane’ BBC News”

34 Responses

  1. This is a sad day for aviation on top of the indescribable loss of precious lives. No convenient scapegoats, no usual suspects, no state sponsored line of investigation: post 911 changes to airports and airplanes, psych profiling of passengers, etc., all need reevaluating right away.

  2. I remember in the 70s when a Japanese pilot intentionally slammed his 747 into a mountain. It turned out he was depressed and suicidal. I had a number of friends as pilots and all were pulled in for psychological evals, which then became the norm. Obviously, some fall through the cracks. This is all it seems to be; no conspiracy, no terrorism.

    • There was also Egyptair 990, which went down off after 911, and a highly political investigation/cover-up that followed.

      Lufthansa and Turkish Air have developed a extremely elaborate system for screening pilot training candidates. I wonder if this guy slipped in before it was instituted. In fact, they prefer to build new pilots from the ground-up and often pass on ex-military types, largely due to personality concerns. Highly focused personality screening is a big and central part of this process.

      You have to wonder about the miracles of modern psychological testing, along with the whole engineering approach to managing human behavior. This has become endemic in business, largely for the panacea that quantifying the process offers more traditional HR departments. But minds are notoriously fickle things.

    • Ok, so the news is out. The German pilot was suffering from depression, and he hid it from the airline (probably) because he knew what all pilots know: If you’re being treated for depression, your wings are clipped until and unless a flight surgeon clears you for flight. And rightly so. But having their wings clipped is such a horrible thing for a pilot, they try to deal with it on their own and, as in the German airline case, they endanger the lives of others because of it.
      In May of 1996, I became engaged to a handsome, smart, funny and loving man who was a fighter pilot instructor for the Air Force. He was one of the very best, known for going out of his way to counsel students who were close to ‘washing out’ of training, and he always got them back on track.
      One night in July of 1996, the night before he was to perform a check ride on one of this students, he came to me in the middle of the night. He had his flight suit in his hand and he was crying. He told me in the saddest little voice that he “couldn’t fly”. “Don’t make me fly. I don’t want to fly.” I asked him what was wrong. He said he didn’t know. But I knew. He was suffering from depression. I begged him to let me call his C.O. He dropped to his knees and wrapped himself around my feet, crying, and begged me not to tell anyone. I actually had to tie his flight boots for him, and in my heart I knew I should be dialing the phone instead. But I did it. And he flew. And he came back. That time.
      Having lived on the periphery of commercial and military aviation for more than 20 years, since I had married a military pilot when I was just 19 years old, I had a good understanding of the thought process of professional pilots. Having suffered from devastating depression myself, I had no idea how he would manage to come out of this dive on his own. But with pilots, it’s a choice — either cover it up and deal with it, or you’re grounded. We all know the sane choice here would be to ask for help. But depression somehow saps lucidity of thought. Just the act of being in command of an airplane puts a very effective instrument of potential destruction into the hands of a person.
      David ended our relationship by disappearing. Just disappearing. He took leave from work, so he covered that part of his life, but he just disappeared from mine. I wore my engagement ring for years, wondering what happened to him, loving him and wondering how he could do this to me after we had made plans for a life together.
      Some years later, I heard he had died alone in an air crash in a field somewhere in the Midwest. The details of the crash were sketchy, but in my heart I knew. Fortunately, his was the only precious life that was extinguished, but it could have been worse.
      Pilots are human, too, and they suffer the same frailties of the human condition, and they differ only in the fact that their greatest love – that of flying – will be taken from them if they admit to depression.
      Would I want to fly in an airplane knowing the pilot in command was taking psychotropic drugs for mental illness? No. Was it ‘mass murder’ that occurred in the German airline incident? In my opinion, yes, it was mass murder.
      So what to do? I have no idea. Thanks for letting me share.

      • Perhaps one should focus on the rights of the passengers.

        Mary Nikelsberg:

        “Would I want to fly…..knowing the pilot in command was taking psychotropic drugs for mental illness? No. ”

        Mary comes down on a personal right to know what should be known by the employer before putting her life in danger. Shouldn’t that be true of any actual danger extrinsic to routine aviation operations—even if remote—whether it has an ethnic component or not? Actual known dangers are listed on medicine bottles and lawnmowers. Why not on boarding passes?

        It’s a policy question. IF the co-pilot was depressed or was taking psychotropics, doesn’t the employer have an obligation to know, and if he is still to fly to disclose the facts to the passengers?

        IF he took time off from his training and spent it hanging around a “radical mosque” in Bremen (which I doubt will be borne out), doesn’t the employer have an equal obligation to discover that too? And in either case, mental illness or concern about the concrete history of airline terrorism, don’t passengers have a right to disclosure and to change their schedules? Who should bear the burden here, the passengers?

  3. I am sure there will be desperate efforts made to connect the co-pilot with radical Islam….. as if only Muslims did such horrible things. Anders Breivik, right wing Christian, also committed a horrendous crime that resulted in the deaths of many innocent kids. It will be interesting to know what made this man act this way. The mental stability of pilots should always be checked periodically. Some suffer from mental issues, but never take medication as it will show in their medical tests, and may affect their jobs. As a passenger this is frightening.

    • Speaking of desperate efforts to connect violence with radical Islam, have people been following Michael Sibley: link to wsbtv.com

      If you don’t have a local example of violence by radical Islam to point to, the patriotic thing to do is to make one yourself!

  4. Aviation physicals and psych evals are often a sham. Pilots have a pretty good degree of clout, and want to keep flying. link to airline-whistleblower.blogspot.com Maybe the copilot just wanted to pull a Mark David Chapman, ensuring by his act that his name would be remembered? link to newsweek.com

    And was this even “terrorist,” as in intended to bring about larger actions and reactions by scary violence”?

  5. ah, the great explain….? we need to sensationalize this, don’t we? we need to generalize, categorize, and politicize it, right? wrong. both david, and marianna, above, feed reason. let’s not ask why, again. he alone knew. tragic.

  6. I wonder why there are no demonstrations with signs like “Ich bin Germanwings”. It looks like when an act like this is committed by a white civilized guy, from a good family, from a good neighborhood, just like us, there seems to be a general understanding that he was probably a sick spirit, bad luck for the victims. There is no vilifying of an ethnic or religious or some other group they belong to, because we are that very group. The same with the guy who shot people in the cinema in Colorado or even with Breivik in Norway. And I believe that is the right reaction to these crimes: mourn the victims, investigate, try the suspects, understand the causes, see what can be done to prevent it in the future.

    In the case of Charlie Hebdo or Boston marathon bombing, where immigrants are involved, usually from poor background, disillusioned, discriminated against, enraged by our treatment of their coreligionists at home and abroad, our reaction is different: there is no willingness to understand, it’s us the civilized defenders of freedom and democracy against them the barbarians, savages, Muslims. And it does not seem to matter if our “civilized” white man takes with him 10 times as many innocent lives as the “barbaric” African Muslim youths from the Parisian suburbs.

  7. I feel that it horrific and sad that so many innocent lives have been lost.But yet it is equally sad how at every opportunity and and major incident the media start to hunt for the religion link or the link of converting. If there is no link then will the media start to speak about the Germans with every incident.

  8. And don’t forget Aaron Alexis, the ex-Navy Texas Buddhist who killed 12 people in 2013. The news media assumed that the Buddhist connection was just some fluke thing. If he had been a Muslim, though, we’d never have heard the end of it.

  9. I swear I must be internalizing this stuff. It is so pervasive. My first thought when I heard the plane was brought down on purpose was “Ya Allah, dear Lord, let him not be a Muslim!”

  10. I can sense the media’s disappointment! “We can’t pin this one on the Muslims!” I’d like to know THIS man’s religion and how it may have contributed.

  11. Thank you for drawing attention to the disgusting attempt by CNN to create an Islamic connection to Breivik. Stuck in front of a CNN-blaring monitor at the gym yesterday, I struggled to ignore one of their experts going into excruciating detail about suspicions that the co-pilot was a terrorist, and, it hardly needs to be said, Islamic. As J.R. Saleem above suggests, even though we find out he’s not Islamic still means we’ve been subjected to another round of media conditioning.

  12. “It isn’t political terrorism, likely, but certainly it was a terroristic act of killing.”
    Well. I may be wrong about this but my definition of terrorism is violent acts done to bring about desired consequences in their after-effects. The terror is not that of the victims (although certainly they do experience it) but of society afterwards. If, say, the co-pilot held a revenge-filled grievance against Germanwings (or Germany in general) and wanted to keep thousands of future passengers away in fear, which would make the airline and/or the national economy suffer, then his action was terrorism. So you are correct, religion has nothing to do with it. But unless he had an agenda related to the aftermath of this act, I say it’s not terrorism, simply terror.

    • “violent acts done to bring about desired consequences in their after-effects. ”

      He certainly wanted to bring about the ‘desired consequence’ of obtaining personal remembrance for himself :

      Alps crash pilot told ex ‘everyone will know my name’

      link to expatica.com

      And the agency for doing so certainly includes the fear and grief that passengers, airlines and governments will experience.

      So I say terroristic for personal “glory” certainly fits the motivation here.

  13. It turns out that Lufthansa trying to be politically correct allowed a pilot who had treated mental problems back into their cockpit….result 149 souls lost….a horrendous mistake

    • “… trying to be politically correct …”

      Hogwash. They invested in the guy, he passed his physical, end of story.

    • I had the impression that the co-pilot had not disclosed his mental illness to his employer. If True he couldn’t have been allowed “back in”.

  14. Yeah, when the murderous act is committed by white folks, then the person is mentally ill, depressed, you name any cognitive disorder and it’s applied to that person. History is filled with bigoted analysis of people who perform murderous acts when it’s non-white population.

    • Norwegian Anders Breivik was a white supremacist terrorist.

      If this guy would have had any discernible ideological leanings he would have been called a terrorist in the German media.

      BYW the German media I follow never considered the idiotic “was he a muslim” question.

      A lot of people died a senseless death, please let’s not cheapen this with vacuous comments from the right or left to make a quick political point (for a pointless example from the right I refer you to Art Fine’s comment above).

      • “Norwegian Anders Breivik was a white supremacist terrorist.”

        Not in the American media he isn’t. He’s already forgotten here, because he doesn’t fit the narrative. We have a duty to make points about the sinister intentions behind this double standard.

      • Don’t you think Breivik was a right-wing Christian ideologue as well ? Why omit that ?

        • “Don’t you think Breivik was a right-wing Christian ideologue as well ?”

          Maybe, I didn’t delve into his motives, all I know is that he’s was a right wing terrorist who didn’t like brown people (and that’s pretty much how German media reported on it, which I used as my primary news source closer to the crime).

          If there was some religion narrative in addition to that, then it is as related to the Christian faith as ISIS/Daesh is to Islam.

          As an agnostic I am not particularly versed or interested in religion, but I know enough not to mistake a hater’s self-labeling for the real thing.

  15. Commercial pilots are extensively tested so, for the most part, they are level headed and don’t suffer from depression, mental and/or physical illness or drug and/or alcohol addiction etc. etc. etc. None of the above applies to non-commercial/government pilots. Other than those exceptions, many pilots are totally batshit crazy.

  16. Thanks, Juan, for saying what so many were thinking, especially those of your readers who are Muslim. We often hear “Not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim.” Except when they’re white Christians, or Hindu nationalists, or Slavic racists, or Israeli settlers, or any other kind of non Muslim, in which case they won’t be defined as terrorists even though their actions are the same and their victims are just as dead or injured.

    • It is very fashionable nowadays to throw the word “terrorism” around. But the term actually has a well defined meaning:

      “The use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.”

      It does indeed not matter that the pilot was from the Rhineland, what matters is that there is absolutely no indication whatsoever of a political objective. As far as we know this was a mass-murder suicide by a mentally sick individual. No last letters, no statements indicate that anything politcal motivated his crime.

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