“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”

And to that famous quote by Joseph Stalin, we can add the following codicil: And some times that tragedy is a catalyst.

While World War I had numerous causes, what most people consider the “tipping point” was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo. That one death set into motion a cascade of declarations and counterdeclarations of war, and led to what was called The Great War, putting all previous conflicts to shame.

In recent days, three murders around the world have shaken events. Three men have, arguably, had greater influence on world events than their lives ever would have.

In the Netherlands, filmmaker Theo Van Gogh (grandson (correction: grand-nephew) of the painter Vincent Van Gogh) was stabbed to death on the streets by militant Islamists as revenge for his film exposing the darker side of Islam and its treatment of women. Van Gogh’s death has awakened many Europeans to the threat among them, and drawn more and more attention to the outrages of militant Islam.

In Lebanon, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, who had opposed the decades-old Syrian occupation of his country, was killed by a massive car bomb. While no one has claimed credit for it, the consensus among the Lebanese is to blame Syria. Now, after decades of occupation, the Lebanese are demanding their freedom — and the world, for once, is listening to them. Syria is facing massive pressure from every direction to get the hell out, and they are starting to listen.

The Irish Republican Army has always had pretty good PR, especially in the United States. Their “political arm,” Sinn Fein, has had their leaders freely come to the US, be lauded by American politicians and leaders of Irish descent, and raise funds to continue their “struggle.”

But a few weeks ago a bunch of IRA thugs got into a drunken brawl in a pub. (Way to fight that Irish stereotype, boyos.) Robert McCartney, a forklift driver and popular bloke, tried to break up the fight. Instead, they turned on him and stabbed him to death.

Now, all of a sudden, the common people — who had lionized the IRA for years — see them for what they are — murderous thugs who have no compunctions about killing anyone who gets in the way. They find themselves suddenly outcast, despised, and feared by those whom they purportedly championed. They attempted to recoup their losses by “firing” those who killed McCartney, and later offering to kill them in return, but McCartney’s family is having none of it — they want justice, not vengeance; truth, not more murders.

Theo Van Gogh, Rafik Hariri, Robert McCartney — three men who, in life, had various degrees of potential, but in death, might lead to the defeat of three different terrorist organizations.

In the West, our martyrs are murdered — not murderers. They are innocents, not killers of the innocent. And we don’t view them as inspiration, but warnings.

J.

(Hat tips to Powerline for the tale of Mr. McCartney, Little Green Footballs for their coverage of Mr. Van Gogh, and Belmont Club for their analysis of Mr. Hariri’s murder. I’ve linked to a single posting for each, but they have done far, far more work on those stories than I indicated.)

(Author’s note: corrections made to Mr. Van Gogh’s heritage and Mr. Hariri’s name. Thanks to Jennifer and Crowe for spotting my errors.)

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  1. FloridaOyster March 14, 2005
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