Air India bombing: forgotten due to racism?

On June 23, 1985, the largest mass murder of Canadians in history, and the largest single terrorist incident in the world prior to September 11, occured when Air India Flight 182 was blown up over the Atlantic Ocean while flying from Montreal to London en route to India.

If you ask most people what the biggest mass murder or terrorist incident in Canadian history was, however, chances are they’ll say the Polytechnique Massacre (14 deaths) or the October Crisis (1 death).

We noticed the Air India bombing the other year when it went to trial, but before that it seemed to have sunk into obscurity. Certainly it wasn’t on everyone’s lips the way September 11 or the October Crisis was.

Is this simply due to racism - the deaths of Indian-Canadians don’t really count as Canadian deaths? Or is there some other factor at work?

I meant to include figures: 329 were killed in the Air India bombing, of whom 280 were Canadian.

I don’t know if my own experience was unusual, but while the Ecole Polytechnique disaster sure got a lot of press, we were quite aware of the Air India incident - a girl who was at the time in grade 5 at my school was killed.

Interesting question, though. I hope not - I think that, in general, Canadians tend to feel less need to dwell on these events, and the other two you mentioned were about things that still have a lot of resonance - misogyny and seperatism. I, I’m ashamed to admit, I don’t even know what the Air India attack was ABOUT.

I couldn’t find any reference to nationality regarding the flight so I have no way of knowing how many Canadians were killed. However, when you say Air India it implies that it’s an Indian flight with Indian crew and passengers. It happened outside of Canadian territory and it was thought to be the act of a Sikh separatist in a terrorist attack aimed at India. Since the attack was aimed at India it’s logical to see it as such.

Matt said above that 280 of the people killed were Canadian. It was an Air India flight, but it crashed on its way from Montreal to London, en route to India. As it left from Montreal, and the perpetrators (as well as the rest of the passengers) got on the plane in Canada, it seems a pretty Canadian event.

In any case, I’m not quite sure I understand what your point was.

I don’t think it’s racism as much as the whole Sikh seperatism thing is not something most people understand. It’s basically overrun from a localized regional conflict on the other side of the world. It’s not something the average Canadians can expect to come up again, and it’s not really something they can do much about.

I mean, it’s probably a little better in Canada, but in America most people couldn’t even tell you what a Sikh is, even if they interact with people who are cleary Sikhs on a regular basis.

As I said, 290 Canadians were killed. This is the largest ever mass murder of Canadians.

Sorry - 280. And Helen’s Eidolon reiterated what I would have.

I think it might be chalked up to short attention span. I cannot speak for Canadians but it certainly seems to be the case in the US unfortunately. While I do not have much occasion to bring up the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland I find it surprising how many of my fellow Americans either do not remember it or only remember it vaguely. 270 people died in that one and to me it was certainly memorable but it seems to have faded from many people’s memory.

That Americans are even less aware of an Air India flight leaving Canada does not surprise me. When I mention the Tenerife Disaster I get blank looks all around. Single worst air disaster ever although neither plane was flying. Two fully loaded 747’s crashed into each other on the ground in the Canary Islands killing everyone aboard both planes (accident, not terrorism but still something of that scale you’d think would be remembered).

I remember.

I don’t note it on the calendar. In fact, aside from 9/11 I don’t know any date of any plane crash. But I remember the Air India disaster.

Aside from a few conspiracy buffs, very few Yanks recall the destruction of Korean Air Flight 007 with 269 people aboard (including a U.S. Congressman) by the Soviet Air Force unless it is mentioned in the news.

I tend to doubt that racism plays much of a role in the bad memories of people who should at least recall recent history.

I’ll admit to knowing little of the incident, but wasn’t Lockerbie more of a British event in the same that that the Air India bombing might be considered an “Indian” one. I might have thought that is why it is less remembered in the US than, say, over here- mind you, we had the trial of the bombers and Gadaffi’s compensation payments to periodically remind us of these events.

Yet it seems strange, or at least, well you make up your own minds, but apart from Sept 11, the US itself has had remarkably few terrorist incidents on its own soil compared to much of the rest of the world, and yet, there is always some sort of large budget film about terrorists blowing something up in the US, wether its Die Hard or some other variant.

I think that as far as the US public is concerned, the fear of terrorism is probably more because of those films than the reality itself.

The vast majority of US citizens killed in such attacks have been in other countries, and most of those were serving military, which itself isn’t too surprising.

All that legislation that was enacted in the US seems to have been pretty pointless as a practical excercise, though no doubt it concentrates the US publics mind that there is a threat, which in truth is pretty insignificant.

The shortness of memeory does go to show how insular many US citizens are, how little many know of the world except for its immediate neighbours.

I think it would be foolish to think race doesn’t play a part, but it would be equally foolish to suppose there aren’t other factors. Let’s be honest here; imagine that instead of blowing up a plane, the perpetrators had blown up an Indian community centre in downtown Vancouver and killed 329 people. The reaction to that would certainly be far stronger, would it not?

The incident has been forgotten, I think, for five main reasons:

  1. Race,

  2. The fact that while many Canadians were killed, and the proximate cause of the event (planting a bomb) took place in Canada, the plane was not destroyed in Canada, and was a carrier bearing another nation’s name.

  3. It’s been a long time,

  4. The RCMP fucked up the investigation eight ways from Sunday, took over a decade to try anyone, and nobody was seriously punished, and

  5. The incident was hardly unique; plane bombings happened a lot in the 80s.

The Ecole Polytechnique massacre is so well remember mainly because it happened in Canada, mass shootings are very unusual in Canada, and it’s been heavily milked for a popular social issue pedestal. By comparison, Air India happened overseas and occurred because of a confusing, and largely stupid, civil war happening on the other side of the world. It’s true, IMHO, that there’s also the fact that the Ecole Polytechnique victims were all pretty white girls, and nothing gets the media more fired up than crimes committed against pretty white girls. (Look at how freaked out people are over Paul Bernardo and Karla Hololka, who killed three pretty white girls, versus Robert Pickton, who killed dozens of prostitutes. Whores aren’t good victims for TV ratings.) But there’s a lot of other factors too.

Fewer dramatic pictures of the event to burn into peoples minds.

9/11 will stay seared in peopel minds do to the great number of images.

So will the Polytechnique Massacre for the same reasons.

I don’t think that Air India has been forgotten.

Have there been any polls on this question, and if so, what were the results.

I would agree that there’s probably some element of racism, but I think RickJay made some good points. There’s a lot of other factors at work. And I’m not at all sure how forgotten it is anyways - the trial was certainly in the news a lot. I think it’s probably more prominent in the public consciousness than most any other blown up airliner from that period of time. To the extent that people wouldn’t name it as the biggest mass murder in Canadian history, I expect it’s due as much to the fact that it didn’t happen in Canada (yes, I know the bomb was put on board in Canada, but the plane didn’t blow up in Canadian airspace) as anything. Or that when you say “mass murder” it brings to mind a gunman on a rampage and not bombings. Heck, I bet if you ask Americans what the greatest mass murder in US history is they name stuff like Columbine before Sept 11. Sure, you can call terrorism mass murder, and it’s not inappropriate, but just saying ‘mass murder’ brings to my mind images of spree killings and the like rather than politically-motivated bombings.

In many cases, if a crime becomes headline news, it’s because that crime has symbolic importance, above and beyond its own newsworthiness.

I’m sure dozens of people have been murdered in Wyoming over the past decade, but there’s only one who’s become world famous: Matthew Shepard.

I’m sure hundreds of black men have been murdered in Texas over the past 20 years. Most of their names would draw blank stares. James Byrd, however, is remembered.

Byrd is remembered because, to black Americans, he epitomizes the problem of racism in America. Matthew Shepard is remembered because, to gay activists, he personfies the effects of homophobia.

The Ecole Polytechnique massacre would be remebred in Canada for years to come even if it had no symbolic value (murders like that just don’t happen in Canada… or so we all thought). But it DOES have symbolic value to feminists, who regard it as the quintessential expression of male hatred toward women.

A short attention span, not paying attention when the event occurred, and lack of effective teaching of history in schools are among the reasons such events seem to vanish from public consciousness.

It’s a general problem on this board - posters will rant about some current event as though it was something unique in human experience, not realizing or recognizing that similar things happened in the past, from which we apparently did not learn. About the only historical event(s) that stick out for a lot of people are the Third Reich and the Holocaust (and even then, they are poorly understood).

Americans, like other countries I would guess, seem to focus more on events that happen to them, instead of others. Not terrorism, but look at the Thailand tsunami- news for a week or so, then pretty much off the front page. In 1975 or 76, an estimated 250 THOUSAND Chinese were killed in flooding- I would guess 99% of Americans are not even aware of this. Typhoons in Bangladesh have killed over 100,000 people a few times in the last thirty years, but again, average Americans are oblivious to this. Not trying to offend anyone here, just making an observation.