Soul Searching and Common Sense after Oak Creek
ANGLO AMERICA, 13 Aug 2012
President Obama has responded to the killing of six members of the Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin this last Sunday [5 Aug 2012] with these words: “All of us recognize that these kinds of terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity. It is time for soul searching and we need to think of ways to reduce violence.” What is most noticeable here, as it was in Obama’s tepid message of consolation to the families of the victims of the Aurora movie theater shooting of two week ago, is this reality: party politics trumps moral principle and even common sense in the aftermath of these extreme challenges to civic peace in America.
To fail to mention the grotesque absurdity of legally allowing almost everyone in the United States to buy assault weapons and large quantities of ammunition online or at neighborhood shops can only be explained by the intimidating influence of the gun lobby, and its accompanying gun culture, in this country as currently heightened by an ongoing, nasty presidential election campaign. But should we, even if of liberal or progressive persuasion, suspend moral accountability to this degree in deference to the cynical pragmatics of electoral politics? And if we continue to do so will we not keep paying the price of what Mr. Obama called “tragic events..happening with too much regularity” and soon out of denial stop even wondering ‘why’? Can we give national leaders this kind of a free pass without renouncing our duties as citizens?
We can be thankful that independent commentators such as Mark Juergensmeyer had the moral forthrightness and political integrity to view Wade Michael Page as a ‘Christian terrorist,’ and not to allow references to ‘Islamic terrorists’ to serve as a stand alone mobilizing resource for the Islamphobic forces that have been so dangerously active and aggressive in the years since 9/11, seemingly with ever growing intensity and ferocity. Even the police commander in Wisconsin described Page, although hesitantly, as a ‘domestic terrorist.’ ‘Christian terrorist’ seems more accurate as it calls our attention to Page’s obvious intent to kill at random innocent members of a non-Christian religious faith for the sake of restoring the purity of a white Christian nation. It is probable that Page wrongly regarded this Sikh community as Muslim, and in his twisted mind thought he was avenging 9/11 in keeping with a tattoo on his body. Juergensmeyer also reminds us of the similar crusader mentality that the Norwegian killer, Anders Breivik, also an adherent of a white and Christian supremacist credo. So we can ask why has our president not yet used the word ‘terrorism’ when addressing such horrifying incidents of homegrown violence? “The answer my friend..” In this instance, it seems to be a political wind of hurricane force!
Although the time has certainly arrived when genuine soul-searching would involve a questioning as to whether the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution should not now be cast aside as a relic of history, such a deep interrogation of our national wellbeing is far too much to expect from any elected political leader. But what about the famed marketplace of ideas? Didn’t George W. Bush tell the American people after the 9/11 attacks that they hate us for our freedoms? Is it not time we acted as if we had a few? After all conferring “the right to bear arms” in early 21st century America seems to have become an unbearable and anachronistic threat to the future of democratic public order, and should at least be high on the agenda of late night talk shows even if at first limited to HBO contrarians such as Bill Mayer and alternative media iconoclasts. Can we not as citizens raise such questions without fear of a dreadful, maybe dangerous, backlash? Probably not is the sad answer. It is odd to realize that those that create this climate of hate are themselves sitting pretty thanks to Fox News and the Romney entourage of reactionary billionaires.
Two helpful initiatives do not require any soul searching, just common sense. But neither is likely to be ever implemented without the emergence of a militant grass roots movement that achieves a radical recasting of the relationship between government and citizens in light of present day realities:
– comprehensive gun control, and the unconditional outlawing of the sale or possession of assault weapons, as well as all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and pistols;
– the monitoring, regulation, and criminalization of white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups in a manner equivalent to the treatment of Islamic and other groups suspected of violent intentions. In all these instances of prudential surveillance, the civil rights of those targeted for scrutiny need to be respected.
As American citizens we should no longer accept presidential excuses for accommodating pressure groups and lobbyists who are foisting these violent and outrageous forms of legalized anarchy on our society. We certainly do continue also to need protection from the tyrannies of state power, which was the original historical justification for keeping popular militias from being disarmed, but free access to guns are clearly no longer the way to ensure the preservation of our liberties as a people, if indeed they ever were. On the contrary, these recent incidents of mass killing provide the government with cover to hide an unmistakable drift toward authoritarian rule in the name of providing security.
The monitoring by the FBI and Homeland Security of the extreme right should no longer be derailed by their conservative allies in Congress. Contrary to the national mood, it is not Moslems that are the main subversive threat active in American society, but it is the rise of the militant right wing that poses a mortal threat to the future of the republic. These forces are being emboldened by private sector militarization that is still treated even by mainstream America as a sacred right. The New York Times reports in a front page story on August 7, 2012 that conservatives in Congress objected to a 2009 FBI/Homeland Security report, “Rightwing Extremism” that sensibly warned of rising dangers of racially motivated violence due to the election a black president and the continuing recession. In response to this criticism, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, not only withdrew the report and apologized for its flaws, but also apparently greatly reduced the number of analysts monitoring the activities of these racist and neo-Nazi skinhead groups. It is not too late to demand her resignation as a sign of good intentions to lessen the prospect of the regularity of such tragic events.
In essence, the Oak Creek atrocity warns us anew of the promiscuity of violent libertarianism and the associated dangers posed by right-wing extremism. If we wait patiently for our government and its leaders to do the right thing we are almost sure to be disappointed. Hopefully, our better angels will offer more activist counsel!
Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, an international relations scholar, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, author, co-author or editor of 40 books, and a speaker and activist on world affairs. He is currently serving his fourth year of a six-year term as a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights. Since 2002 he has lived in Santa Barbara, California, and taught at the local campus of the University of California in Global and International Studies, and since 2005 chaired the Board of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. His most recent book is Achieving Human Rights (2009).
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