A friend of mine pointed out something last night on Facebook that has been bothering me since coverage of the shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin this past Sunday began. The media keep reporting that the shooter may have thought that the Sikh worshipers were Muslim because Sikh men wear turbans. Had this been mentioned as a passing comment, or as an indication of just how ignorant the shooter was, I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with it. However, it’s such a point of emphasis that the implication seems to be that it’s perfectly understandable – perhaps even so understandable as to be acceptable – to shoot Muslims. After all, it was Muslims who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, right?
It was human beings who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and they happened to be Muslim. They have, of course, since that tragic day been for the most part characterized only as Muslim. The result has been that Muslims have been painted with a very broad brush. Imagine if Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party had been reported in the media not as Nazis but rather as Christians. If the reports had said that six million Jewish people were killed by Christians, there can be little doubt that Christians would have been persecuted around the world. The reason that the reports of Nazi activity were responsible is that such reports occurred prior to corporate media, prior to the death of journalistic integrity, and prior to sensationalism having become the most important criteria of media coverage.
What Wade Page did was unspeakably evil. To characterize it as some kind of case of mistaken identity – and in doing so imply that had he only shot the right people everything would have been just fine - is equally evil.
People have a need to understand why tragedies happen. I believe we feel compelled to search for explanations so that we can delude ourselves into thinking that we are safe from random acts of violence or terror because we don’t know anybody who thinks like those people who commit horrific deeds. There are many flaws in that reasoning, not the least of which is that one day before Wade Page opened fire none of his friends knew anybody who would commit a senseless act of domestic terrorism. In fact, given the right circumstances and a twist of brain chemistry, we might one day not only know someone who would do something terrible, we might become that person.
Much more important that seeking delusions of safety that explaining away people like Wade Page provides is working to prevent or decrease the likelihood of such people acting on delusional and hate filled thoughts. Needless to say, our culture of violence – including in our so-called entertainment – only contributes to the problem. In the meantime, as we work toward a solution to this complex problem, can we at least agree that it isn’t acceptable to shoot anyone?