As my friend Charles Mudede noted, these graphs say it all (courtesy of The Sunlight Foundation):
Could it have been clearer? The United States is being held hostage by the National Rifle Association, which has enough senators in its deep pockets to block even the most basic attempt at meaningful gun control.
President Obama called the Senate’s capitulation yesterday “pretty shameful.” Make that totally, horrendously shameful. Just two days after carnage in Boston, the US Senate had not had enough death. Instead, it ensured that there’ll be more Newtowns, more kids mown down, more “senseless tragedy.” In fact the Senate has essentially written the script for it.
Since a few readers seem to think that I get “too angry” at times — Zen meditation never was my thing — I’d like to point out that the New York Times praised Obama for his evident anger, and that the lead editorial in today’s paper is very close to my current anger level. Titled “The Senate Fails Americans,” here’s how it begins:
For 45 senators, the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School is a forgotten tragedy. The toll of 270 Americans who are shot every day is not a problem requiring action. The easy access to guns on the Internet, and the inevitability of the next massacre, is not worth preventing.
Those senators, 41 Republicans and four Democrats, killed a bill on Wednesday to expand background checks for gun buyers. It was the last, best hope for meaningful legislation to reduce gun violence after a deranged man used semiautomatic weapons to kill 20 children and six adults at the school in Newtown, Conn., 18 weeks ago. A ban on assault weapons was voted down by 60 senators; 54 voted against a limit on bullet magazines.
Patricia Maisch, who survived a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011, spoke for many in the country when she shouted from the Senate gallery: “Shame on you.”
Newtown, in the end, changed nothing; the overwhelming national consensus to tighten a ridiculously lax set of gun laws was stopped cold. That’s because the only thing that mattered to these lawmakers was a blind and unthinking fealty to the whims of the gun lobby.
Polls show that an ever-increasing majority of Americans — 86% just last week –want at least proper background checks for those who buy guns online or at gun shows, yet the Senate denied even this most elementary precaution. Which means that this Senate does not represent the will of the people. Only that of the NRA.
It’s now up to voters to exact a political price from those who defied the public’s demand, and Mr. Obama was forceful in promising to lead that effort. Wednesday was just Round 1, he said; the next step is to replace those whose loyalty is given to a lobby rather than the people.
“Sooner or later, we are going to get this right,” he said. “The memories of these children demand it, and so do the American people.”
Politicians think we’ll forget. Let’s not. Senators are for re-election in 2014, and again in 2016, and again in 2018. And our responsibility as citizens is to make sure that every single one of those nay-saying bums who have sold their souls in order to stay in office is booted right on out of office.
In the meantime, I suggest they sponsor a mental-health-care bill, since one is evidently badly needed — for themselves:
Conservatives are angry at President Obama’s initial avoidance of the word “terrorism” for yesterday’s bomb attack at the Boston Marathon. (Today he finally used the word.) I’m angry at him for that too, but for a very different reason.
Obviously I know as little as you do about who made and placed those two bombs, but it was clear from the get-go that this was a terrorist attack. That is, a planned, concerted attack on civilians, in a crowded space, designed to kill and maim as many people as possible at random, and to spread fear and panic.
So why avoid calling it what it was? The reason given by White House insiders yesterday was that they didn’t yet know who did it and why.
Excuse me? What exactly does that reasoning imply? That the bomber’s identity defines his actions? That “domestic” terrorism is somehow less fatal than “foreign” terrorism? That if the bomber turns out to be anything other than Muslim, then it’s not terrorism?
A similar tack was taken by many liberal online commenters. “Let’s hold off on determining if this is terrorism until we know more,” they kept saying. But it seems to me that their caution was based on the same underlying assumption — that what they meant was “Let’s hold off on calling it terrorism unless the bomber turns out to be Muslim.”
In effect, they were acting as a kind of mirror image to Fox News, where the instant assumption was that since this was terrorism, the perpetrator could only be Muslim.
So to use one of Obama’s own favorite phrases, let me be absolutely clear:
If the bomber turns out to be a lily-white right-wing Christian whose ancestors came off the Mayflower, he is still a terrorist. As clearly a terrorist as the stock image of the jihadi in a suicide vest.
Moreover, this was not “a tragedy,” as Obama called it — thus prompting countless television reporters to fall back on stock phrases like “a tragic day” and “this terrible tragedy.” This was murder. Mass murder.
“Tragedy” implies that it could not have been avoided, that it was somehow fated. That was the whole point of ancient Greek drama, where the idea of tragedy was invented. But terrorism is deliberate. It’s a cold-blooded decision made by humans (or rather, people who pass for human). And to call it tragedy is to imply one way or another that the perpetrator is somehow not quite responsible for his actions. (Yes, almost certainly ‘his’ and not ‘her.’)
Of course I realize that Obama probably decided on “tragedy” out of the earnest desire to avoid spreading panic and thus terrorizing more people. That’s part of the role of president, I guess: the national reassurer. But I was not reassured. Sure, his first response beat continuing to read from “My Pet Goat” by several miles, but that’s setting the bar about as low as it can get.
The so-called “war on terror” has been a disaster for the US not least because even when it happens right under our noses, we still can’t recognize that it’s not who does it that makes terrorism, or why. It’s what they do.
Whether they’re political or religious; white or brown or black; left-wing or right-wing; “domestic” or “foreign” or any combination of all of the above — if they target, kill, maim, and terrorize civilians, they’re terrorists.
And may every one of them — whether in Boston, in New York, in Oklahoma City, in Atlanta, in Beirut, in Jerusalem, in Baghdad, in Kabul, or in Benghazi — rot in whatever conception of hell you care to name.
I wish I could say that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s anti-Semitism surprised me half as much as it seemed to surprise The New York Times. (“Egyptians should nurse our children and grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists, Morsi declared in a videotaped speech three years ago. “They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout history. They are hostile by nature.”)
But the rampant use of anti-Semitic imagery in political rhetoric both in Egypt and in other Muslim countries (“apes,” “pigs,” “bloodsuckers,” said Morsi) is hardly news. It comes right out of the convoluted paranoia of The Protocols of the Elders of the Zion, which far too many Egyptians still take for fact instead of the fictional fake it was long ago proved to be. What concerns me is how it seeps into even the best-intentioned minds, in far less obvious but nonetheless insidious ways.
Consider, for instance, an exchange like this one, which I seem to have had a number of times over the past several years:
– “What do the Jews think they’re doing in Gaza?”
– “The Jews? All Jews? Which Jews?”
– “The Israelis, of course.”
– “Which Israelis?”
– “Well, the Israeli government.”
– “So why do you not say ‘the Israeli government’ instead of ‘the Jews’?”
This is what you might call the low-level shadow of anti-Semitism. My interlocutors (I love/hate that word) would never dream of using Morsi’s inflammatory language of hatred. They’re liberal and moderate American Muslims (some are believing mosque-goers, others self-described agnostics or atheists). And yet even they are not always immune to that conflation of politics and ethnicity, of Israeli policy and Jewishness.
Each time such an exchange occurs, there’s a pause in the conversation — a moment of discomfort as my interlocutor (that word again!) realizes what I’m responding to. And then comes a nod of acknowledgement, one that takes considerable courage, since none of us appreciate being called to account. Call it a small moment of sanity.
I recognize this because it’s mirrored in Israel, where talk of “the Arabs” — a generalization as bad as “the Jews” — veers more and more not just into outright racism, but into a kind of gleeful pride in that racism, as shown in David Remnick’s long piece on “Israel’s new religious right” in the current New Yorker.
Israeli politicians have taken to presenting themselves as defenders of “the Jewish people,” regularly using “Jew” as a synonym for “Israeli,” even though — or because — over 20% of Israeli citizens are Muslim or Christian Arabs. They do this deliberately, of course, just as the Morsi-type anti-Semitic rhetoric is deliberate. The emotional resonance of “Jew” is deeper and far older than that of “Israeli,” and thus far more useful as a carrier of both covert and overt pride and prejudice.
As a Jew I find this political claim to represent me both insulting and obnoxious. Like an increasing number of American Jews, I’m appalled by the policies of the Netanyahu government (let alone those of its predecessors), and at the development of what has clearly become an apartheid regime. I deeply resent being lumped together with the Netanyahus of this world — and I equally deeply resent the attempt by the Netanyahus of this world to lump themselves in with me and define my Jewishness. How dare they? And how dare Morsi?
I’d ask “have they no shame?” but the answer is obvious.
After a mind-numbing two and a half hours of Zero Dark Thirty last night, I came away with a single piece of information: Jessica Chastain has amazing hair.
That red mane stays toss-worthily silky even in the deserts of Afghanistan. The dust clouds raised by helicopters landing right in front of her can’t dull her plastic glossiness. Nor can the sight and sounds of torture alter the uncanny blandness of her expression.
The movie’s much-talked-about scenes of torture are peculiarly sanitized: shown, but not shown. There is no real sense of agony or degradation. The chief torturer’s lines are a bunch of clichés straight out of the Hollywood B-movie playbook. And the effect of torture on both victim and perpetrator? So far as this movie is concerned, non-existent.
And this is what’s being touted as some kind of breakthrough for women? It’s hardly news that there are women CIA analysts, or women movie directors. And after seeing the infamous photos of Private Lynddie England at Abu Ghraib in 2004, do you really want to join the chorus of “Wow, look, a woman torturer!”
Zero Dark Thirty is a movie with zero point of view. It has no engagement with any of the political and ethical issues it indicates but never explores. Despite its subject matter, it is, in the end, a movie as bland as its star. Its “reality-TV” lens on the slow accretion of intelligence work is merely confusing. And I suspect director Kathryn Bigelow knew this, interspersing moments of ham-fisted emoting to keep her audience from nodding off.
All of which raises the question of why this movie was made at all. A question whose answer apparently lies in the swell of orchestral music toward the end, signaling American triumphalism.
But my reaction was more of a shrug.
“We” killed bin-Laden, true. And…?
3 Shot And Killed In Mich… 18-Year-Old Shot Multiple Times, Dies… Man Kills Wife, Teen, Himself… Man Shoots, Kills Own Son… Cops Shoot Teen Dead… Man Gunned Down In Parking Lot… 5 Dead In Spate Of Shootings… 2 Murdered In Philly… 2 Kansas Cops Shot Dead… Shooter Killed… 4 Die In Apparent Murder-Suicide… Ga. Cop Dies From Gunshot… Argument Leads Teen To Shoot Friend… Man Shot To Death… Teen Dies After Being Tied Up, Shot… Man Shot Dead In Street… Drug Deal Leads To Shooting Death… Mother Of 2 Killed In Road Rage Shooting… Man Shoots, Kills Intruder… 1 Killed In Coney Island… Man Dies From Gunshot Wounds… Cops Investigate Gun Death… Shooting Victim’s Body Found On Bike Trail… Man Charged With Shooting Own Brother Dead… Man Dies After Being Shot In Chest… Body Of Shooting Victim Found In Pickup… Teen Arrested For Robbery Shooting Death… Man Carrying 2-Year-Old Son Shot Dead… Man Fatally Shot Near Home… Parolee Dies In Shooting… 1 Killed In Buffalo Shooting… Man Shot Dead In Apartment Complex… Street Gun Battle Kills Grandma Bystander… Man, Woman Dead In Apparent Murder-Suicide… Woman Shot Dead By Intruder… 14-Year-Old Arrested Over Fatal Gun Attack… Man Found Shot Dead In Parking Lot… Woman Shot In Face By Ex-Boyfriend… 1 Woman, 3 Men Shot Dead… 2 Die In Attempted Robbery… Army Reservist Shot To Death In Alley… Man Shot To Death In Bodega… 2 Shot Dead In Burned House… Man Shot During Break-In… Man Fatally Shot… 20-Year-Old Gunned Down… Man Shoots Self During Police Pursuit… 1 Killed In Baltimore Shooting… Cops ID Shooting Victim… 60-Year-Old Man Shot Dead… Shot Man’s Body Found In Vacant House…. Woman Shot And Killed Outside Her Home… Shooting Victim Was ‘Trying To Turn Life Around’… Slain Shooting Victim Found In Street…. Driving Altercation Leads To Shooting, 1 Dies… 3-Year-Old Dies In Accidental Shooting… Man Turns Self In After Allegedly Shooting Wife… Man Shot Dead Outside Home… 3 Slain In Separate New Orleans Shootings… Cops Investigate Shooting Death… Man Shot Dead In Ohio… Teen Shot To Death… Man Dies After Being Shot Multiple Times… Man Charged Over Son’s Shooting Death… Cops Find 2 Men Shot Dead… 1 Dies In Shooting… Man Charged Over Gun Killing… 1 Shot Dead In Confrontation… Man Charged With Murder Over Shooting… Motel Owner Shot And Killed… Husband Shoots Estranged Wife Dead… Suspect Arrested Over Deputy’s Shooting Death… Police Probe Fatal Shooting… Cops Kill 2 Suspects In 3 Shooting Deaths… Man Killed Fighting Back Against Robber… Man Killed In Home Invasion…. Nightclub Shooting Kills 1… Child Brain Dead After Drive By Shooting… Man Charged Over Shooting Of Ex-Wife… Body Found In Vacant House… Teen Fatally Shot…
Guns make me sick. Literally, sick.
At the sight of one, I get this queazy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I feel kind of faint. I want to throw up. I want to be anywhere but where I am at that moment, to put as much distance as I can between myself and the weapon.
In this, I am no coward. I am simply sane. I am damned if I’ll show that I’m intimidated, but I’d be crazy not to be. Because whether a gun is holstered at the waist of a policeman, held pointed at me by a solider at a checkpoint, brandished by a proud collector, or flashed by a thug outside a nightclub, it says one thing and one thing only: “I can kill you.”
So with all the years of psychology behind me, with all my “experience” with guns (the sound of a bullet whistling past your ear is not one you ever forget), why do I still not understand why others don’t react this way? Why do I not understand that guns evidently turn many people on, and make them want to be the ones doing the killing?
What am I to make of a Facebook “friend” who declares herself a peace activist, quotes Rumi, and then obscenely argues that if only the teachers at that Connecticut elementary school had been armed… ? Or of another self-declared Facebook peacenik who maintains that she is “neither for nor against guns”? That’s some kind of peace on earth. Forget good will to all men. Let alone women and children.
Over half the American population agrees with the National Rifle Association’s solipsistic dictum that “guns don’t kill, people do.” As though guns had any other purpose. The same majority agrees with the argument that “incidents” like the Connecticut elementary-school shooting — only one of an average of twenty such mass shootings each year in the US — are not a gun-control problem, but a mental-health one. And in a way they don’t realize, they are right.
The United States does indeed have a severe mental-health problem, but it’s not a matter of a sick individual here and there. It’s something far worse. It’s a mass psychosis, in which this country places gun protection above the protection of human life.
Guns are the sacred cow of American politics. Could there be a falser god?
Effective gun control is a political no-go. And even if it were possible, it wouldn’t be enough. All guns are initially made and sold legally. And the guns used to kill twenty 6- and 7-year-olds and their teachers in Connecticut yesterday were bought by and legally registered to the shooter’s mother — who was his first victim.
Here’s what we really need to do:
We need to amend the Second Amendment. We need to limit the “right to bear arms.”
And we need to brand the NRA a terrorist organization, one that aids and abets terrorism. The terror on the faces of the surviving children being led out of their school yesterday testifies to that.
Hillary Clinton’s tight-lipped glare says it all. The expected ceasefire in Gaza today did not materialize. Israel still bombing, Hamas still launching rockets.
I watch as the hardliners on both sides reinforce each other — delegitimizing not Israel, nor Hamas, but the Palestinian Authority.
Worse still, they knowingly do so at the cost of other people’s lives.
I watch in wordless misery.
Great conversation on Al Jazeera’s The Stream yesterday: I was with Lisa Fletcher and Anushay Hossain in the studio — I love her blog Anushay’s Point — and Omid Safi, Nouman Ali Khan, and Michael Muhammad Knight joined in on Skype. Plus an excellent video comment from Hind Makki in Chicago, which led to a lively post-show discussion, starting at the 25.15 mark, on reclaiming the narrative from both ‘Islamist’ extremists and Islamophobic bigots.
It’s a good thing Nouman Ali Khan wasn’t in the studio, because I’d only have totally embarrassed him by leaping up to give him a huge hug. I really do have to figure out how to be cool on TV…
Like I say, hang around for the post-show segment — the silent majority is silent no longer!
Filed under: fundamentalism, Islam, sanity, ugliness | Tagged: "Muslim rage", Al Jazeera, Arab spring, bigotry, extremism, freedom of expression, Islamophobic video, Libya, NYC subway ads, The Stream | 9 Comments »
Could that pernicious video have ended up working against itself? Could this be the tipping point for both Islamophobia and its mirror image, militant “Islamist” extremism? Is this where both are revealed for the ugly con game they really are?
Perhaps the one good thing about the video is that it is so upfront in its ugliness. It’s no longer just you and I saying it; it’s also the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, whose anger was palpable: “To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose: to denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.”
Now we know who made the video: a convicted con man, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, indicted on multiple charges of bank fraud and check-kiting. And he may indeed end up back in jail, since by posting his work to the Internet he violated the terms of his probation. That’s little consolation, of course, for the multiple deaths he’s caused — at least a dozen so far. And none at all for those who don’t understand that the principle of freedom of speech, no matter how hard it is to accept, applies to all. Under a different administration, the same principle by which they demand that he be jailed could then be turned around and applied to them.
But we know more. We know that the protests against the video have been used and manipulated by Al Qaeda and Salafi types, who manipulated the sincere outrage and insult of protestors to further their own political agenda and try to destabilize newly elected governments. In the process, they also furthered the agenda of their Islamophobic blood brothers, providing graphic images of Muslims doing everything Islamophobes expect — rioting, burning, killing. But for the first time, all countries involved seem to have clearly recognized this and given voice to it, perhaps none more perfectly than Hillary Clinton: “”The people of Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia did not trade the tyranny of a dictator for the tyranny of a mob.”
We know that Twitter is alive with condemnations of the violence from Libyans, Tunisians, Egyptians, and more. Mainstream Muslims, both religious and secular, will no longer tolerate being intimidated into silence by those who claim to speak in their name for a violent, extremist travesty of Islam. They are speaking out in unprecedented volume and numbers.
And we know this: the new governments of Libya and Yemen instantly condemned the violence and apologized for the death of Ambassador Stevens. In the words of the president of the Libyan National Congress, it was “an apology to the United States and the Arab people, if not the whole world, for what happened. We together with the United States government are on the same side, standing in a united front in the face of these murderous outlaws.” Residents of Tripoli and Benghazi staged demonstrations to condemn the attack on the Benghazi consulate and to express their sorrow at the death of Stevens, who was widely admired for his support of the revolution that ousted Qaddafi.
Even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt finally realized that this was not a matter of defending Islam against outside enemies, but of defending it against its own worst enemies on the inside.
All this, it seems to me, is new. As is the reaction of the US administration, led by Obama and Clinton — calm, measured, determined, and in the spirit of Ambassador Stevens himself, the opposite of the heavy-handed American imperialism of the past. Imagine if this had happened under Bush, or under Romney, and shudder at how they would have reacted.
Could it be, finally, that more and more people are getting it? That both the Islamists and the Islamophobes are losing? That sanity, however high the cost in lives, might actually prevail?
Filed under: fundamentalism, Islam, Middle East, ugliness | Tagged: Al Qaeda, Egypt, Hillary Clinton, Islamophobia, Libya, Muslim Brotherhood, Nakoula, Obama, Salafis, Tunisia, Twitter, Yemen, YouTube video | 9 Comments »