Hundreds of family members left to mourn without answers.
Yet for those who have no personal attachment to the lost passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the tragedy has turned into an exciting news story. Search for #MH370 on Twitter, and you get a thousand tweets offering explanations of the disaster that could be episodes of The X-Files. Google MH370 and you get over a billion hits. Like sharks at a shipwreck, the global media is reveling in a feeding frenzy of insatiable public interest.
The passengers are victims of global authoritarianism.
It’s an attack against China.
Obama is responsible.
It must have been aliens.
To be sure, this pontification represents humanity both at our best and worst — our desire for knowledge joined to our fetishism of ill fortune. It’s the modern-day gladiatorial extravaganza. Now, instead of a pollice verso, it’s a social-media thumbs-up.
Still, amidst the endless speculation, one important area of consideration has been largely neglected — the question as to whether MH370’s captain or co-pilot had become sympathetic to Islamist extremism. It’s only now, nine days after the disappearance, that we’re beginning to seriously discuss this issue.
It’s a sign of how far political correctness has encroached on our ability to think and speak about Islamist extremism.
Of course, as of yet, there’s no evidence to suggest that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, had any links with extremist groups. Indeed, at a cursory level of analysis, Ahmad Shah’s fervent support for Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim — who was imprisoned for years on charges of sodomy — is hardly indicative of extremist sentiment.
Nevertheless, the pilots’ beliefs should have been the subject of immediate investigation.
That’s not prejudice; it’s common sense. Personal beliefs provide a window to possible motives and, in turn, a window to potential action. This is not to say that the pilots’ religious beliefs should have been the overriding focus of our attention. But joined to the fact that MH370’s disappearance seems to have required technical knowledge from someone on board, robust scrutiny was due at least eight days ago.
Even more damning to the delayed consideration of the issue is the context of Malaysia’s relationship with political Islam.
Consider three specific issues.
First, there’s the fact that Malaysia is governed under a strict interpretation of Sunni Islam. This is a nation where personal relationships and religious freedom exist subject to the whims of the theocracy.
Second, there’s the fact that Malaysia continues to confront a small but persistent cadre of Salafi jihadists — including the group Jemaah Islamiah. Of special relevance is that Malaysian terrorists have been credibly accused of plotting to destroy airliners with support from the flight crew.
Finally, there’s the lesson of EgyptAir 990. Here, a previously reliable and experienced pilot decided to crash into the Atlantic Ocean and kill the hundreds who sat aboard his plane. While the ultimate motivation of the pilot, Gameel Al-Batouti, is unclear, we know from the flight recording that he acted with trust in God. This speaks to something. Most significantly of all the Abrahamic religions, Islam offers its adherents the certainty of unquestioning moral purpose — a confidence that helps explain why some Muslims serve their God with exceptional honor and some descend into the moral abyss of Islamic terrorism.
Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that either pilot on MH370 is a terrorist. But it’s clear that every detail in the personal lives of these two men who had the expertise and the opportunity to carry out the technical aspects of MH370’s mysterious course change should have faced scrutiny far earlier than now.
Regardless, while it’s a travesty that political correctness has made alien abduction a more acceptable theory to posit than terrorism, this failing is only part of a broader trend. All across the world, whether facing classrooms or cartoons, a small group of unrepresentative extremists have successfully inhibited public discourse on matters of extraordinary public concern.
Whatever the truth of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370,that self-imposed silence must end.
Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial posting.