Published March 17, 2010
Michigan-born Colleen LaRose is accused of traveling to Europe to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks. She apparently believed that a cartoon he drew had disgraced Muhammad. She also apparently recruited another American citizen named Jamie Paulin-Ramirez into the plot.
LaRose referred to herself on the Internet as Jihad Jane, and the name stuck, not just with those who visited her Facebook page, but nearly all the media outlets who reported on her. Not surprisingly, the theme extended to Ms. Ramirez, dubbed Jihad Jamie.
Words matter. And I'm troubled by how ready we seem to be to brand two terrorists as characters that sound like they're wind-up dolls from the Mattel toy company or heroines of comic books. Turning enemies into cute caricatures may power snappy headlines, but it sets us up to think that these individuals and others like them aren't a serious threat and don't have seriously misguided ideas that can hurt hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people-for real.
I don't think it's any accident that Ms. LaRose used the Internet site Facebook to disseminate her ideas and attempt to sway others to embrace them. Facebook is a kind of faux world to begin with, and I would not be surprised at all if psychological studies in the future prove that people using the site may be more prone to expressing radical thoughts and taking radical actions because it all feels a little like a fantasy-like it isn't them, like they and all their fake "friends" are just animated characters flitting across the screen. Jihad Jane. Jihad Jamie. Can we really believe there isn't some psychologically loose cannon with bizarre ideas who would love to be dubbed Jihad Jimmy? Are we all unwittingly contributing to a malignant trivializing of would-be killers?
We need to start thinking and talking about the world in the way we would hope our leaders would address them. Personally, I'd cringe if a federal judge or an American senator spoke of Ms. LaRose as Jihad Jane. I'd worry he or she had been swallowed whole by the media, which increasingly seems to be interested in processing stories-regardless of their inherent gravitas-into bite-sized morsels that taste like candy called Love Gov or Tiger's Tail or Iranian Nuke Nuts. Guess what? Lars Vilks was stalked by crazed, would-be killers. The names of the accused are Colleen LaRose and Jamie Ramirez. If guilty, they really, really wanted to be remembered as people who orchestrated the murder of an Infidel. They would dismember him, you or your children for believing something different than they do. They aren't one-liners. They aren't cartoon characters. They aren't funny Facebook friends. They're bona fide fiends with real radical and homicidal thoughts, who are really out for blood.
Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for FOX News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com firstname.lastname@example.org
www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be emailed at