I had never heard of Gabrielle Giffords until her name appeared below a breaking news headline on Saturday 8th January. I didn’t know she was a member of the US congress, what party she represented, whether she was liked, good at her job, or known nationally within the States.
But I was shocked by the images, people crying, chaos,panic, paramedics rushing towards helicopters.
Six people died, one only a child, fourteen injured, while Giffords still fights in a hospital bed.
A lone gunman and lethal intent changed the lives of many.
In the ten days since I have seen something I recognised – fear. With fear comes blame, a natural human reaction that often masks our fear so well we never have to acknowledge it. Blame is the great distraction and has been very busy, even in this case where the gunman is known and under arrest. Blame the opposition party, another candidates tactics, the right-wing media, the mental health system, blame the sheriff’s office, blame. And blame sometimes makes change happen and lets us feel a little better. We can see a result of our anger and relax, thinking we have lessened our vulnerability.
In the ten years since I lived in the US many, many things have changed. The ‘Other’ has been demonized, whether a mild-mannered, dark-skinned young man or someone wearing clothes that signify their religious beliefs or someone who thinks differently. These obvious targets have been easy to spot and easy to alienate to isolate their differences.
But this time someone like the boy next door pulled the trigger. Disturbed, yes, with a history of erratic behaviour and problems, but someone you’d walk by in the supermarket without a glance. Someone not initially recognizable as a threat. That is what we fear most, the unknowable violence that may exist in the heart and mind of anyone in our environment. And ironically fear is what unites all who pursue and demean those different to themselves.
Before we can deal with our fear, we need to accept our vulnerability.
We need to acknowledge that our blame should not light on easy or obvious scapegoats and that it is a distraction from hard and complicated issues, and processes that need to change. We need to acknowledge that fearing the unknown and the different narrows our views and our minds. There is no easy solution to prevent tragedies like this from happening again, but one thing is certain we cannot let fear overwhelm our desire to live.
We cannot let it prevent us from standing up for what we believe, from doing good for others, from letting ourselves be seen.
You met our multinational Dialogue 2010 cultural innovators last spring in a roundtable discussion of hybrid life at expat+HAREM and followed their reactions to a polarizing book promotion. In this round they offer their thoughts on the recent shooting incident in Tucson, Arizona.
Tara Lutman Agacayak’s Enough
Catherine Bayar’s We the People
Elmira Bayraslı’s The Irresponsible Country
Sezin Koehler’s The Culture of Violence