A politician lies bleeding on the floor having been shot in the head, innocent bystanders are running in panic and others are dead after a crazed gunman opens fire. But this isn’t Pakistan or some other unstable place, this was Tuscon Arizona, USA, described by Sheriff Dupnik as a “sort of [the] capitol. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
At around 5PM UK time Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot at close range in the head while holding a “Congress on your corner” event outside a mall in North Tuscon. The victims were:
- John Roll, 63, judge at Arizona district court
- Christina Taylor Green, aged nine, born on 9/11 and featured in book Faces of Hope
- Retiree and church volunteer Dorwin Stoddard, 76
- Ms Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30
- Dorothy Morris, 76
- Phyllis Schneck, 79
Despite suffering a gunshot wound to the head, in which the bullet passed through the Brain the congresswoman survived and is currently recovering in Hospital.
What was worrying was the speed in which the blame was spread, almost immediately images surfaced from Sarah Palin’s Facebook and twitter accounts featuring images of “crosshairs” over congressional districts including Giffords. Others included her now infamous “Don’t run away, RELOAD!” quote on how to take the country back. Now my feelings on Palin are well known, in short I don’t like her. I think she’s toxic. However immediately attacking her because of the actions of madmen is pretty pathetic.
Firstly, the assailant was described as “Quite left” but also described as “a bit of a loner” and “weird” as most of these shooters are. Secondly there is no evidence that his actions were directly related to any of these posts.
What it does show however is how poisonous the political environment in the US has become. It was bad during the Bush administration, but the only shooting then was done by the Vice President. However with a Democrat in charge it’s returned to the 1990’s again. Violent rhetoric from both sides has lowered the level of debate in the country, and created an environment where groups like the Tea Party have become major players in the political landscape, and let’s face it, some of the members there are certainly unhinged, but when this slogan
is part of your campaign then is it any wonder that the blame was quickly passed onto you. And if any further proof was needed, Giffords opponent in the midterms actually held a rally under the slogan “Shoot an M16 at Giffords” Again this also fuelled speculation that the shooter was a Teabagger, and probably why M16 was first quoted as the weapon.
Now it would be counter productive to blame all this squarely on the Teabaggers, yes the “left” also should shoulder some blame, commentators like Keith Olbermann have already acknowledged that they are also to blame for this environment.
Now it’s not known if he was a member of the Tea Party, American Renaissance or any other group, it is known that he was troubled. Did the poisonous level of debate in the US add to this? Possibly, was he “mental”, well there’s no definitive proof, comments have been made over his mental state since the moment word got out, that he was suspended from college until he got a mental assessment and that the US Army rejected him twice. All this including the rather bizarre youtube videos certainly add fuel to the fire, however until he begins to speak we won’t know.
However this could be a watershed moment, a point where the level of debate rises above simple name calling and shouting louder, to a point where veiled threats of domestic terrorism (Like the person in the picture) is a thing of the past. This is where I get sad and quote from twitter, but to raise the level of debate we need to do the following.
1) Build your case on facts
2) argue it on the merits
3) disagree without rancour
4) conclude without bitterness
5)Assume less and listen more
6)Don’t just express feelings on an issue: articulate an argument.
7)remembering the things we have in common, instead of constantly highlighting that which divides us.
8)don’t be afraid to call out, politely but firmly, those who seek to lower the level.
Not only do they apply to the US, but they can also apply here in the UK, granted our mainstream politicians aren’t openly calling for shooting of opponents, but scratch the surface, look at the English Defence league, they call for the same, civil war, violence and regularly target those who disagree with them. While they are no Tea Party we must be ready to counter them, not with counter protests and arguments, but using the 8 tips above, the first step has been done over at United Shades of Britain, but it’s an uphill struggle to make your voice heard over the noise of uncivil debate.
But at the end of the day, Saturday was a tragic day not just for the US but for democracy. Let us not forget that there are families mourning now.
This is a time of shame and sorrow. It is not a day for politics. I have saved this one opportunity, my only event of today, to speak briefly to you about the mindless menace of violence in America which again stains our land and every one of our lives.
It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on and on in this country of ours.
Why? What has violence ever accomplished? What has it ever created? No martyr’s cause has ever been stilled by an assassin’s bullet.
No wrongs have ever been righted by riots and civil disorders. A sniper is only a coward, not a hero; and an uncontrolled, uncontrollable mob is only the voice of madness, not the voice of reason.
Whenever any American’s life is taken by another American unnecessarily – whether it is done in the name of the law or in the defiance of the law, by one man or a gang, in cold blood or in passion, in an attack of violence or in response to violence – whenever we tear at the fabric of the life which another man has painfully and clumsily woven for himself and his children, the whole nation is degraded.
“Among free men,” said Abraham Lincoln, “there can be no successful appeal from the ballot to the bullet; and those who take such appeal are sure to lose their cause and pay the costs.”
Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far-off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire whatever weapons and ammunition they desire.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach non-violence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.
For there is another kind of violence, slower but just as deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This is the violence of institutions; indifference and inaction and slow decay. This is the violence that afflicts the poor, that poisons relations between men because their skin has different colors. This is the slow destruction of a child by hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in the winter.
This is the breaking of a man’s spirit by denying him the chance to stand as a father and as a man among other men. And this too afflicts us all.
I have not come here to propose a set of specific remedies nor is there a single set. For a broad and adequate outline we know what must be done. When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest; to be subjugated and mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. For all this, there are no final answers.
Yet we know what we must do. It is to achieve true justice among our fellow citizens. The question is not what programs we should seek to enact. The question is whether we can find in our own midst and in our own hearts that leadership of humane purpose that will recognize the terrible truths of our existence.
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.
Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men, and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.