Do Media Question Muslim Suspects’ Mental Health?

The mental stability of prominent terrorists in Las Vegas, Charlottesville, Arizona, and South Carolina was widely questioned in the media, but that doesn’t usually happen in the case of Muslim suspects.

Since Tuesday’s New York City terror attack, the news media has focused on various characteristics of suspect Sayfullo Saipov. The media’s gaze has landed on his country of origin, Uzbekistan; the fact he came to the U.S. on a “diversity visa”; a note in his car referencing allegiance to ISIS; and his interest in public displays of religious devotion, which were said not to be matched by his own religious training or curiosity. What isn’t being asked by most commenters, The Intercept reports, is the question that pops up after so many other mass shootings and killings: what about his mental health?

The question of a shooter’s mental health is itself a sensitive matter, and loose speculation about it is unhelpful. It’s notable that if a shooter is Muslim, the question seems less likely to be asked at all — even if the attacker, as in this case, emerges from a truck waving both a BB gun and paintball gun, an act that displays a dubious tethering to reality. For Stephen Paddock, who shot dead 58 people and injured hundreds of others in Las Vegas, the focus quickly moved to his mental health. James Alex Fields, Jr., who slammed his car into anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, also had his mental health examined, as did Jared Lee Loughner, who shot former congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and South Carolina church killer Dylann Roof. Fields, Paddock, Loughner and Roof share a quality that Saipov doesn’t — they’re not Muslim, and they’re white. If Muslim terrorists were routinely subjected to this sort of examination in popular media, it might help increase public understanding of the dynamics that fuel terrorism, the Intercept says.