Thursday, August 9, 2012

Too Many Martyrs and Too Many Dead*


A friend texted me the other day:
“Blog topic:  How the Sikh massacres managed to stay on yahoo news for one day compared to colorado days and days.”
It's a question a lot of people have been asking, actually.

Sikh temple shooting getting less coverage than Aurora theater tragedy: Why?

Two mass murders happened two weeks apart, but they get very different treatment by the media. Were the Dark Knight killings that much more important?


I thought, what can I say about that?  We all know why that is.

Racism.  Brown people don’t count as much.

Riddhi Shah, writing in the Huffington Post, knows it.
On Sunday night I turned on the TV to find that only CNN was covering the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin that killed six. Fox News had a program about a prison in Latin America, and MSNBC, something else that was equally irrelevant [ed's note:  irrelevant?].
Compare this with the coverage of an incident that happened only two weeks ago, the shooting that killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo. Networks devoted themselves round-the-clock to the attack….
So, obviously, the question is: Why is it that the American people, and the American media in particular, care less about this attack?”
"This Is Your Brain on Violent Video Games”
is the title of the article this photo came from
Conor Friedsdorf, columnist on the Atlantic Monthly blog, has another explanation:  We don’t want to think about terrorist acts when the perpetrator is white, because of what it says about our social policy.
“Attacks like his are disconcerting to some white Americans for a seldom acknowledged reason. Since 9/11, many Americans have conflated terrorism with Muslims; and having done so, they've tolerated or supported counterterrorism policies safe in the presumption that people unlike them would bear their brunt. …What if white Americans were as likely as Muslims to be victimized by those policies? What if the sprawling national security bureaucracy we've created starts directing attention not just to Muslims and their schools and charities, but to right-wing militias and left-wing environmental groups (or folks falsely accused of being in those groups because they seem like the sort who would be)?
…[I]f the next terrorist attack on American soil looks like Oklahoma City?  How would President Obama or President Romney wield their unprecedented executive power in the aftermath of such an attack? Who would find that they'd been put on no fly lists? Whose cell phone conversations and email exchanges would be monitored without their ever knowing about it?”
Friedsdorf ignores – or presumably doesn’t know -- that white leftists, especially environmentalists have, in fact, been targeted by the post-9/11 security apparatus.  The Earth Liberation Front, made up almost exclusively of white activists, has been designated by the FBI as “America’s top domestic terrorist threat.”  Daniel McGowan, the subject of the excellent documentary “If a Tree Falls,” was one of a few non-Muslims incarcerated at the “Communication Management Unit” in Marion, Illinois, dubbed “Little Guantanamo.”  (If you missed the movie, it’s scheduled to be rebroadcast this Saturday on PBS’s POV.)  White antiwar activists, most associated with the little-known Maoist group Freedom Road, in Minnesota and Chicago were the targets of FBI raids and grandjury summons.

Friedsdorf also doesn’t seem to realize that many provisions of the PATRIOT Act were first put in place under the Clinton administration, immediately following the Oklahoma City bombing – and used exclusively against Muslims.

Nonetheless, he has a point in saying that we don’t like being reminded of inconvenient truths, such as that white supremacists are a bigger threat to “democracy” than either Islamists or anarchists.

But how’s this for a theory:  Incidents like the temple massacre, or the burning of the mosque in Joplin, Missouri (for the second time), don’t preoccupy us because we understand them all too well.  We wonder why the Aurora mall shootings occur – perhaps because we are in deep denial about how sick and alienated our society is.  We can’t really wonder why racist assaults happen.  As Rahiel Tesfamariam wrote, “the temple shooting … reflects the fact that racial hatred is as American as apple pie.”

In response to my blog about the Aurora shootings, another friend wrote:
“In SF this year there have been 130 gun shot victims. 50 of them died. It’s all bad but I have a hard time seeing the difference between one person shooting a bunch of people in one place and 130 people shooting 130 people in the streets, cars, homes, etc. And this is just stats for San Francisco.”
She’s right; we don’t call those 50 killings a massacre, but they’re just as dead as the 12 victims in Aurora and the 7 in Oak Creek.  But here are some other mass killings that don’t get days and days of coverage in our media:
  • Car bombs targeting Shia pilgrims killed 66 people and wounded over 200 on June 13 in Iraq during a religious festival.  Iraq Body Count lists 91 civilians killed in August.
  • Environmental activists in Brazil are being killed at the rate of one per week during the last year, according to the group Global Witness.  Total activists deaths in the last three years amount to 365, reported the UK Guardian.
So what’s my point?  We can’t think about it all.  We need to think about it all.  We need to find a way to look at all these mass killings, not as separate but as one huge blot on our collective conscience, and at the same time we need to acknowledge the different causes of each situation.

It is not completely true, though, that the “mainstream” U.S. has failed to make the connection between Aurora and Oak Creek.  A man named Cody Hickman, who survived the Aurora shooting, used the survivors’ facebook networks to create a group on Sunday called “Surviving Together.”  He wrote:

“For those who do not yet know, there was a shooting today at a Wisconsin Sikh temple. Lives have been lost, and many have been injured. In the wake of the Aurora Theater Shooting, we all now know what our neighbors in Wisconsin are about the go through. They will need support, and resources. The volunteers who run this page, as well as the Survivors of the Aurora Theater Shooting page are here to help in that effort. We would like to use our experience with this page to help those in Wisconsin, in whatever way we can.”

*The title is from the Phil Ochs song, "The Ballad of Medger Evers"

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