Posts Tagged ‘mass shooting’

“It happened on Parshat Vayera. The worst anti-Semitic attack in American history occurred while Jews around the world were reading the Torah portion that tells the story of Lot, an immigrant.

Lot moves to Sodom, and prospers there. The Midrash says he becomes a judge. His daughters intermarry with the locals. Then one day, while sitting at the gates of the city, the assimilating immigrant sees two strangers approach. He asks them to “spend the night and bathe your feet”— the Midrash says he learned to welcome strangers from his uncle Abraham, the first Jew. Lot “prepares them a feast.”

But in Sodom, the natives hate strangers. “Where are the men who came to you tonight?” they demand. “Bring them out to us.” Lot tries to protect his guests. “I beg you friends,” he implores, “do not commit such a wrong.” For the men of Sodom, however, this just underscores Lot’s foreignness. He hasn’t really assimilated; he isn’t one of them. He’s a threat. “The fellow came here an immigrant and already acts the ruler,” they declare. “Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” […] Obviously, America is not Sodom. But Bowers tried to harm Jews, at least in part, for the same reason the men of that ancient city tried to harm Lot: Because Jews were welcoming strangers. Instead of assimilating into a culture suffused with anti-immigrant hatred, HIAS — which was founded to help Jewish immigrants to the United States —now assists immigrants and refugees from across the world. […]

For Jews, the lesson of yesterday’s massacre is very simple and very old: Protecting the strangers among us is not charity. It is self-defense. Every time Jews defend the right of American Muslims to follow sharia, we protect our right to follow halacha. Every time Jews reject politicians who demonize Latinos we make it less likely that those politicians will demonize us. “Hate them, not us” is a losing strategy because once empowered, bigots widen their targets. For people who define America as a white Christian nation, Jews will never be white enough.

Robert Bowers accused Jews of “bringing” Muslims and refugees to the United States. To him and all the other white nationalists Trump has emboldened, our answer should be: Damn right. We will demand a humane policy for people seeking refuge in the United States and defend those immigrants — no matter their race or faith — who are already here.”

– Peter Beinart, “Hate That Drove Pittsburgh Shooter — And Trump.” Forward, October 28, 2018.

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“Then, after sharing those precious memories, I made my voice gentle. I reminded her that if she was ever confronted by gunfire at our mosque or in a crowd, she should hit the ground and cover her head.

Her eyes darkened, but she nodded. I handed her the strawberry-banana drink.

The night before, as my daughter crammed for her English finals by reviewing The Merchant of Venice, news of the shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City flooded social media. Sainte-Foy’s mosque was ravaged as Muslims stood shoulder-to-shoulder, engaged in soulful and peaceful worship. It was a gross violation of a sacred space.

I was horrified, scared and heartbroken. And I immediately wondered how I would explain it to my kids.

We are Muslim. All four of my children used to attend a full-time Islamic school. It was adjacent to a mosque that they walked to for prayers, skipping across the parking lot with their friends to stand in line, giggling in hushed whispers. They were innocent and unaware of any potential danger, especially in Canada.

For years, it never occurred to me that they might not be safe. My husband and I have been frustrated and, truthfully, very concerned these past weeks, observing what can only be described as a political gong show in the United States. But never did I expect that a horrific terrorist attack against Canadian Muslims would take place so soon after a misogynistic xenophobe took over the White House.

It wasn’t easy to have a conversation with my children about the six men, loving fathers, kind business owners, committed community members, who were brutally killed in the act of worship, allegedly by a man whose social media espoused disturbing far-right and anti-immigrant views. I asked them to offer a prayer for the deceased and to pray for patience for the families who must endure these tragedies.

They were solemn and confused. How, they asked, could this have happened in a place that is supposed to be a safe house for spiritual practice? Beyond a jumble of phrases that included the words “racist, violent, gun, ignorance,” I had no idea what I could say that wouldn’t crush their little hearts.

Their school board sent kind e-mails advising parents that all the flags would be at half-mast and there would be staff available if any children needed extra support. That reduced me to a mess, sobbing into my hijab. I heard rumours that local police were promising a stronger presence at centres and mosques for the next few weeks. I appreciated that tremendously.

But how could I assure my Muslim children that their father and grandfather, who attend prayers daily, would be safe? I simply could not.

We have spoken to our children about bullying, racism and misogyny. I have reiterated that as a Muslim, being just is crucial and have corrected them bluntly for comments that are simply unacceptable.

Their Baba always emphasizes that helping others is critical, that we must protect and support all groups or individuals that are being targeted, physically or otherwise. We assured our eldest, a 6-foot, 3-inch volleyball player, that if he sees anyone getting harassed or abused, he should step in.

Islamophobia is not new to Canada. It is rooted in xenophobia and racism and has festered for a long time. It bubbled over during the last federal election, when the incidence of attacks against Muslims was reported to be at an all-time high.

But this is the first time – and I ask forgiveness from black and indigenous parents who have already done this for so long – I’ve felt such an urgent need to teach my children how to protect themselves.

A few months ago, my daughter decided to wear a headscarf, a decision she made without consulting me or her father. She only discussed it with her basketball team. I am vocal about my support for women choosing to wear what they wish, be it a hijab, niqab or miniskirt.

Obviously, she expected and relied on my support of her decision. Admittedly, I worried about her safety. I took her to a self-defence class, because Muslim women are often the easiest targets for Islamophobes.

I wonder whether I have taught her to be too strong in her convictions and whether that might endanger her. Her confidence is a blessing and I should have faith.

But after the events in Quebec City, my concern is not the actions of my child, who is agile, intelligent and considerate. My concern is the actions of others, who might aim their hatred and fear at her.”

– Shireen Ahmed, “Mothering in a time of terror.The Globe and Mail. February 1, 2017.

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“Howard Unruh’s 1949 “Walk of Death” through Camden, New Jersey, left 13 dead and three injured. Contemporaneous accounts of his “berserk” rampage—most notable among them the extensively syndicated, Pulitzer Prize–winning account from the New York Times’ Meyer Berger—are colorful, cinematic, and intensely visual. These pieces were designed less to soberly inform than to titillate and transport. In his detailed breakdown of how the “Walk of Death” unfolded—the circuit involved Unruh’s mother’s house, a cobbler, a tailor, a barber, a neighborhood restaurant, a druggist, and a stranger’s apartment—Berger offers up narrative minutiae he can’t possibly know. “He [Unruh] took one last look around his bedroom before he left the house,” we read. This vivid voiceover doubles as a transition into the ghastly décor Unruh presumably sees: “Scattered about the chamber were machetes, a Roy Rogers pistol, ashtrays made of German Shells, clips of 30-30 cartridges for rifle use and a host of varied war souvenirs.”

To weave a rich and absorbing tale, Berger borrows cliffhanger techniques from suspense novels. “Mrs. Smith [a victim] could not understand what was about to happen,” he writes. A different, doomed townsperson turns “from his work to see the six-footer, gaunt and tense, but silent, standing in the doorway with the Luger. Unruh’s brown tropical worsted suit was barred with morning shadow. The sun lay bright in his crew cut brown hair.” It is as if a stanza of imagist poetry by Ezra Pound married a Hitchcock still and birthed a news account.

Scattered throughout the piece are superficial strokes of characterization. Unruh is a skilled sharpshooter who served in the U.S. Army. He is deeply religious (fixated on scriptural prophecies). Most acquaintances call him “soft-spoken,” “close-mouthed,” and “polite.” But Berger’s account remains incurious about his motives, the context that produced him and his rage, and the policies that enabled him. The Timeswas far from alone in pursuing a shallow approach. Charley Humes, a journalist for the Camden, New Jersey Courier-Post, opened his Sept. 7, 1949 piece in medias res, with a sensational appeal to readers’ tender feelings: “ ‘Kids … little kids … murdered in their own home.’ Tears were streaming down the face of a lovely little lady as she spoke these words.” Sentimentality substitutes for examination. Descriptions of the carpet—“in front of her … was a spot, sort of whitish, where someone had tried to remove the blood of a little boy … a little boy who never harmed no one”—chase the kind of catharsis that signals closure, the end of the play. Instead of energizing us to seek reform, this writing wants to paralyze us with empathy.

Dispatches from the Philadelphia Inquirer were similarly lurid and ironic, reveling in the contrast between the “pious, mild young man” and his brutal deeds. One reporter speculated pruriently about his romantic life, noting that he made “little time for girls.” While the Associated Press reported that Unruh’s brother “blamed the slaying on his service in the army,” the killer’s military career was treated as another piquant detail, similar to the revelation that he built his own model trains. Unruh was cast as a one-off, a peculiar and garish figure to gawk at, not a problem to solve or a phenomenon to unpack.

“The shock was great,” Berger concludes at the end of his 4,000-word epic, sealing it with a motto and thesis statement. “Men and women kept saying: ‘We can’t understand it. Just don’t get it.’ ”

These reporters and essayists inhabited a world in which mass murder via firearm was vanishingly rare, not one beat in a recurring macabre rhythm. They had no way of foreseeing that nearly 70 years later, gun violence would so engulf the United States that our response to the slaughter of 59 or more people would feel rote and rehearsed. Unruh’s chroniclers didn’t need to search for structural explanations—irrational gun laws; toxic white masculinity—to make sense of thousands of lost lives. The only thing to “get” when it came to telling Unruh’s story was the story of the man himself.”


Katy Waldman, “The Last Time It Was OK Not to Politicize a Mass Shooting.” Slate, October 3, 2017.

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