I didn't write yesterday; it was a difficult day for me.
This weekend, a man discharged a semi-automatic rifle in a packed nightclub, murdering 49 individuals. Shit. This is why I couldn't get anything out yesterday - how do you write about something like this? How do you even say: "This is what happened"? This terrible, horrifying thing? How does one start to think about events like this and not get lost and confused in trying to understand how human beings can do these things to one another?
In Oakland, 4 teenagers were shot at a wake for 2 other dead teens. Then, yesterday evening, in the middle of helping to prepare a 3-hour meal that I would not get to eat, coming at 13hrs of fasting, the matron of the house (I-) says to me: there's been another terrorist attack in France, in Rennes.
My heart freezes. "A terrorist attack? Or a murder?"
I: "A terrorist attack. Another Muslim."
Later when I was able to get online, I found she must be referring to a stabbing by a madman upon an innocent girl in Rennes: a man who, according to police, believed he was "making a sacrifice for Islam".
Yes, Islamic extremism and militant groups exist and present a real threat: not just in their home grounds, but globally. I do not agree with them, I condemn them, I believe that their rhetoric and actions are counterproductive even to their own confused objectives, and dangerous for the world.
But sensationalizing every act of hate and violence that can be linked to Islam - making the story completely one of vengeance, of fear, of 'otherness' and terror - does nothing to solve any problems. It only breathes life into the very psychology of terror that is the entire goal of these radical groups to create: to make us feel helpless, unsafe, and uncertain.
Let's go back to the conversation I had with I- yesterday evening. She's a high-stress person, and right now that stress is directed toward Muslims in France. She gets turned toward the subject of hijabi women, and tells me that seeing women in hijab make her feel uncomfortable, make her feel oppressed, and not free. Apparently, like French law, she believes that women here shouldn't be allowed to wear hijab.
Without getting into the details of our argument, this, right here, is the problem. Terrorist groups are succeeding by creating cultures that become more divisive and more intolerant. A muslim person commits an act of violence, and the question becomes: "How can we stop Muslims?", not:
"How can we stop individuals from obtaining highly dangerous weapons that would enable them to easily harm or kill others?"
or, "how do we improve access to healthcare to ease tragedies that might be averted with mental health outreach?"
or "how do we create an inclusive society that encourages all its members to participate in its growth and well-being?"
As I've said, I wholly condemn extremist organizations of any kind that expound hatred and use violence to achieve their means. But we should recognize that many of the people who are drawn towards such organizations do so based on legitimate grievances. What kind of circumstances breed extremism?: poverty, lack of opportunity, a sense of disenfranchisement, a de-humanization of 'other'. Responding to extremist violence with rhetoric that encourages further marginalization and persecution does not alleviate the threat, it fuels it.
How many shootings and murders in America occur at the hands of Muslims, I wonder? I haven't found a clear statistic, but I would be very surprised if it was even proportional to the Muslim-American population.
Why, when Robert Lewis Dear shoots up Planned Parenthood, is the conversation never about radical Christianity? Here, do we acknowledge that the problem is an issue of mental health and gun control, combined with an American political environment of inflamed rhetoric? How long did this news story last, where four police officers were killed? I daresay that if a black man had killed four police officers, there would be something to say about it.
I don't really know where I'm going with this one. Today, like yesterday, has been very confused and sad. It is painful, because news like this has ceased to surprise us. It is painful to have to see our president speak again and again on mass murder, while our Congress seems unable to do anything about it.
Do we allow this to be our distinction in the world?
What kind of country do you want to live in?