Commentary | Politics of violence

Tragedy strikes in the United States

We’re faced with another dark chapter in the history of the United States, a tragedy brought on by a madman, a person so bitter in his political views that he was able to resort to such violence in order to demonstrate those views. This is not an isolated case: we just need to remember people like Lee Harvey Oswald, Mark Chapman, and most recently Timothy McVeigh who was responsible for killing 168 people and injuring another 450 in the 1995 Oklahoma bombing.

On Tuesday, Americans mourned the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona, and now it’s a time to grieve and to reflect, with the sentiment that things can’t go on as they currently are. I too am shaken by this, and my thoughts are with the families of those who died or were injured by Jared Loughner – especially Gabrielle Giffords who is left in grave condition and faces a long recovery.

But why should this tragedy be any different than all the other shootings and what is its meaning in the long history of political and social violence in the United States?

Now everybody is blaming Sarah Palin for the already infamous map of twenty Democratic districts indicated with crosshairs, inciting the opposition to “rebel” against them because they voted for health care reform. Of course, this is unlikely to result in a big backlash against Republicans, as in 1995 after Oklahoma, first because Obama, in the spirit of his fabled bipartisanship, is simply not going to use it to his advantage, and second, because as the liberal media are quick to blame Palin, others are remind us that the Democrats used the same violent rhetoric during the Bush years, with calls to murder George W. Bush. This doesn’t mean, however, that Palin isn’t socially responsible for what has happened.

A direct link between her and the shooter is obviously a ludicrous idea, but bearing in mind that Loughner is suspected to be mentally ill, he may have been inspired indirectly by some of this hate rhetoric – if not by the map with the crosshairs itself, then maybe by some of the Palin Tea Party supporters who recycle her propaganda.

I am always amazed to see how an act that is obviously wrong and unethical is perceived by Americans not for what it shows, but for what the person doing it says it is. It is incorrect to say that Sarah Palin is to blame for the terrorist act of a mentally unstable person, but she should also take responsibility and acknowledge what her map showed. One of her aides said that those were not meant to be crosshairs of a gun, but “surveyor’s symbols” – the truth is, it doesn’t matter what they were “meant” to be, but what they actually show! It is one thing for a liberal commentator, however wrong, to indulge in hate speech, and it is a much different thing to be showing twenty representatives on a map with gun crosshairs pointed at them and a message that they “need to go.”

When the violent rhetoric disappears and is replaced with a civil discussion about real problems, only then will the U.S. move toward a more sane society where individuals won’t use guns to kill innocent people. For this, two things need to happen: first, the media needs to start defending rationality and expose people who say hurtful things, whether they are liberals or conservatives. Second, there need to be stricter gun controls. Whatever the argument for “sticking to your gun” – for protection, natural right, et cetera – the fact remains if this person didn’t have easy access to a gun this tragedy wouldn’t have happened!

Alexander Kunev, U3 Mechanical Engineering, can be reached at alexander.kunev@mail.mcgill.ca.


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