A Hate Crime in a Loving Place

Is now a good time? Just three weeks ago, after a deranged twenty-something unloaded an AR-15 assault rifle into a crowd at a showing of the latest Batman film, the debate on gun control was pretty much dead on arrival. The verminous hoards of fearmongering conservatives claimed that it would be disrespectful and disingenuous to “politicize” such a tragedy, while the lapdog that is the modern Democratic Party did nothing to substantively address the issue beyond the usual condemnations and condolences. President Obama virulently condemned the shootings and said in a July 26th address to the Urban League that we “should do everything possible to prevent criminals & fugitives from purchasing weapons.” Of course, the promise of this remark was promptly made moot by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who clarified that the President was only speaking of taking actions that were “short of legislation and short of gun laws that can reduce violence.” After all, it is an election year and one wouldn’t want to upset gun-owning Americans or, more importantly, the gun lobby that donates liberally to both parties and outspends gun control lobbies in Washington by a rate of 17 to 1.

One would hope that the vicious and cowardly massacre of 7 people at a Sikh temple in Oak Ridge, Wisconsin would reignite the substantive debate that should have been taking place nationwide over the past few weeks. But, knowing the recalcitrance of politicians to do anything even tangentially controversial during the months preceding a Presidential election, it doesn’t seem likely. Legislation to prohibit the sale of large capacity feeders like magazines or ammo belts that hold more than 10 rounds was recently introduced by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), but is a largely symbolic measure as the 112th Congress is all over but the crying and everyone knows the bill is destined for the legislative scrap heap.

A young Sikh man sits in prayer after the massacre in Oak Ridge

All that being said, there is still one immensely prodigious opportunity left to open up a genuine national dialogue on the the recent mass shootings and what we can do to prevent their future occurrence. As fate would have it, the 1st Presidential Debate this year is taking place at the University of Denver, a mere 10 miles west of the movie theater where James Holmes terrorized a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Whether you view this as evidence of some divine providence or mere coincidence, it provides the perfect platform to actually have a substantive discussion on how these atrocities came to pass.

We could hold an entire Presidential debate on the causes and legislative remedies for the bevy of societal issues that enable a shooting like the one that left 7 dead in Wisconsin yesterday. While James Holmes may be a reminder of the failures of our nation’s attitudes and actions with regards to mental health, the recent tragedy in Oak Ridge represents an even darker side of the American character. Preliminary reports from major news outlets have indicated that the shooter was linked to a number of White Supremacist groups and that his attack on the Sikh temple was a hate crime. The shooter, Wade Micheal Page, was a 40-year old army veteran and a member of two white supremacist bands: End Apathy & Definite Hate. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Page was heavily involved in the white power music scene and says they have been following him as a member of their Anti-Hate Watchlist for the past decade.

There has been talk in the media and across the country of whether or not Page knew that Sikhism is an entirely different faith from Islam, but I don’t think it much mattered. White supremacists would make little differentiation between two groups of brown people based on which God they worshipped; they would be hated with equal venom. I don’t know why he chose that particular Sikh temple to terrorize, but I am fairly confident that Page didn’t give two shits about the fact that Sikhism is a faith that values social justice, equality and peaceful living. Hate is blind and it is vicious. Page would have shot up that temple had it been filled with Sikhs or Muslims or Jews or Blacks or any other pocket of humanity that didn’t look like he did. This was the same racist bile that filled the heart of Timothy McVeigh when he took down the Federal Building in Oklahoma City and its ideology of intolerance is as deadly as it is repugnant.

The scary part is that Timothy McVeigh was not insane and, I have a feeling, neither was Wade Michael Page. This is not the same beast as what went on in Aurora, Colorado, with each passing week pointing ever more strongly towards James Holmes’ insanity. No, Page is cut from the same putrefying cloth as Anders Behring Brevik, the Norwegian white supremacist and Islamophobe who killed 77 people in a series of orchestrated attacks last year. Some would argue that anyone who would murder so many people indiscriminately is by definition insane. I do not. I believe these are men who have simply lost their humanity. That is the bounty that is collected by hatred. It takes our souls and our hearts and renders them immobile. The irony of this latest massacre is that the men and women Page killed were busy reaffirming their own humanity and drinking from the well of human kindness.

Come this October, the question that I want to hear asked to both presidential candidates during the debates is not so much about gun control or mental health reform. Although those things are infinitely important and need to be discussed at length, I want to hear a more basic question: President Obama & Governor Romney, what do you plan to do in office to stop the spread of hate? We talk so much of a War on Terror in this country, but we can never fight terror. Like anger, terror is a secondary emotion—it comes from fear and it comes from hatred and it isn’t formed overnight. It takes a lifetime to cultivate the brand of disgust and detestation required to slaughter people you’ve never met. When we send thousands of drones into Afghanistan and Pakistan and they drop their thousands of bombs, how much hate is born? If a young Latino is pulled over and ordered to show documentation proving that he belongs in his own country, how does his hate grow? With every malicious attack ad, how does our burgeoning hatred push us farther apart? I have no clue. But, I do know that while Wade Michael Page approached the Sikh temple that morning filled with rage and anger, those inside the temple were busy feeding their souls and looking for salvation. The question now is, whose example will we follow?

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Categories: Social Justice

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