Thu, Dec 23, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Beware muddling the rice bomber

Sandy Yeh 葉毓蘭

The activities of some hometown friends of the alleged rice bomber Yang Ju-men (楊儒門) and a number of social activist groups over the past few days have caused concern.

The local community university is setting Yang up as a hero fighting for farmers' rights, adding him to the curriculum and calling for thousands to take to the streets in his support.

But it does not matter how exulted the motivations behind Yang's alleged actions are, nor how good a person he is. Endangering people's lives by planting bombs is a crime.

His character and his actions should not be confused. Yang's friends have even glamorized the bombs by describing them as harmless devices intended to send a message about farmers' rights to the government.

If we accept motivation as a means of justifying criminal acts, then a time bomb set to destroy Taiwan's public safety has already started ticking.

If we agree that seeking to overturn the government is acceptable, then the peace and security that Taiwan currently enjoys will be utterly destroyed.

If we take motivation as the starting point of our argument, then, looked at dispassionately, how different is Yang from Osama bin Laden? Yang allegedly made bombs and placed them in crowded public places as a means of expressing his dissatisfaction with the government's agricultural policy, and to force the policymakers' hand.

Bin Laden claims that his use of terrorism is motivated by a fight for the rights of his compatriots, and that he is willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of innocent people because it is the only way of directly threatening a superpower like the US.

Both deny that they act in their own interest, but there is no denying that the nature of their terrorist acts is criminal.

Yang has an American precursor in his use of bombs as a means of expressing his dissatisfaction: Timothy McVeigh, whose Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, was said to have been an act of vengeance for those killed in the 51-day standoff between US law enforcement agencies and members of the Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993.

If the tireless efforts of the police had not brought the alleged terrorist activities of Yang to an end, can we be sure that these efforts would have stopped at harmless explosions doing nothing more than sending a message to the government?

Although the "rice bomber" attacks did not harm anyone, the burden they placed on law enforcement agencies for more than a year has indirectly contributed to the suffering of victims from other crimes.

It is difficult for people outside the law enforcement field to understand the enormous resources that were devoted to investigating the rice bomber's 17 attacks.

As most of the bombs were placed in locations with considerable human traffic, such as railway stations and parks, the police were required to increase patrols to look for explosive devices.

For example, when the Democratic Progressive Party organized a huge rally in Taipei's Da-an Forest Park in the run-up to the legislative elections, hundreds of police officers had to be deployed the day before the event to inspect the area for explosive devices, including the thousands of cars parked in the parking lot.

On the day of the rally, police were stationed all around the grounds -- and all because Yang was still at large.

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