I was going to post yesterday about the introduction of neon lighting by French inventor/industrialist Georges Claude at the Paris Motor Show on December 3, 1910 and about how rapidly the innovation spread, brightening nights from Times Square to one stop light burgs in Iowa for most of the 20th Century. I would have recalled memorable signs. There would be a whiff of gentle nostalgia in the air. You would have read it, maybe smiled, and forgotten all about in an hour. Just like a lot of my entries here.
But the orgy of senseless violence at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California on Wednesday ended all of that. Coming on the heels of the deadly attack on the Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs, the worst mass murder since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting almost three years ago was like a kick in the gut. I sporadically followed the chaotic unfolding events through the afternoon and evening. At this writing 14 people were killed in the attack and 21 injured. Some hours later two suspects, a man and a woman, were killed by police in a wild gun fight on the street.
There will be no poetry this time. I’m versed out. The effort seems insignificant and puny in the face of the mounting grim statistics—more mass shootings—four or more victims—so far this year than days. This was the second one on Wednesday. And the stunning realization that everyone represented in those statistics was an actual human being, not a mere abstraction.
I have been struggling for two days to find something meaningful to say.
The dead shooters, Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and Tashfeen Malik, 27 were a married couple with a six month old daughter. When their identities were revealed media speculation assumed that the attack was terrorism, perhaps tied to Daesh (ISIL) or al-Qaeda. They were, after all Muslim and staged what appeared to be a well-organized, military style assault dressed in camouflage and body armor, and armed with assault rifles. Farook was American born and a citizen. Malik was from Pakistan. Although Muslim, neither was Arab,
Farook worked at in a county health office at the Inland Center for the last four years. He was reportedly well liked and respected by co-workers. The couple reportedly attended a holiday party with those co-workers that day, but at least one report said that they left abruptly and Farook seemed angry. They went home, took their six month old baby to his mother’s house, and collected fire arms, ammunition, and apparently a supply of pipe bombs from their condo. They returned to the Center and burst in on the continuing party. You know the rest.
So there might have been elements of workplace rage involved in the shooting. On the other hand the meticulous stock piling of arms and equipment, the construction of bombs, the rental of the black SUV they died in, point to well established plans. They had the earmarks of the kind of terrorist attacks that both Daesh and al-Qaeda hope to inspire in radicalized residents and citizens of Western countries especially when they cannot initiate and control attacks directly. It is possible that some other target was originally intended, something of greater symbolic importance, but that some slight or festering grievance led the couple to impulsively attack the Center. We may never know exactly how the nightmare played out. Only that it did.
Let’s assume for a moment that the attack was an unalloyed act of ideological terrorism. The immediate effect, other than on the victims, has been to feed the already high levels of anti-Islam rhetoric being peddled by the right wing, including Donald Trump and other leading Republican Presidential candidates. It has strengthened calls to bar acceptance of Syrian refugees even though Farook was a native born American citizen and neither was a refugee or had apparent ties to the civil wars in Syria and Iraq. It encourages attacks on Mosques and individual Muslims or those suspected of being Muslim. It makes American Muslim communities feel besieged and unsafe. Which, of course, is exactly the desired outcome. Frightened and alienated Muslims become in turn fodder for more recruiting and more terrorism. A vicious and unwinnable spiral of violence is launched.
|A makeshift memorial in the snow was in place at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs withing hours of the mass shooting there.
But what of the now almost forgotten Planned Parenthood attack just days before and the well established pattern of domestic terrorism by white men, many identifying as Christian, Even with the death toll in San Bernadine attacks by members or followers of various Patriot groups and Militias, Ku Klux Klan members, Neo-Nazis, Minute Men anti-immigrant vigilantes, anti-abortionists, and plain old paranoid gun nuts, have been far more numerous and deadly than terrorists attacks ascribed to Muslims in this country since the 9/11 attacks.
In many ways the fanaticism that inspires both kinds of terrorism is just two sides of the same sheet of paper. In both cases fanaticism and a sense of profound victimhood leads to violence. Both are equally unacceptable and must be dealt with firmly, resolutely, and with combination of good intelligence and top quality law enforcement in ways that do not make the situations worse. Remember that just as drone attacks and bombing by the U.S. had bread radicalized Muslims around the world, the bungled paramilitary raid on the Branch Dravidians in Waco, Texas and the siege at Ruby Ridge, Montana helped radicalize a generation of home grown White American terrorists.
The situations look so discouraging that I am almost ready to give in to despair. There seems to be nothing that I—we—can do. But there is.
No matter what the motivations of any of the terrorists, a common denominator underlies these most recent cases—the ridiculously easy access to weapons and the insane gun culture of America. The shooter in Colorado Springs and the couple in California both obtained their weapons, including high power assault rifles, multiple-round automatic pistols, and all of the ammunition they wanted entirely legally. You and I can go out amass the same sorts of arsenals today if we have the money. In fact, each well publicized shooting encourages more people to go out and arm themselves to the teeth in supposed self defense. And some of those people become so attached to their weapons, that they soon become a cause in their own right—and perhaps a reason to kill.
|Middle American gas stations like the one I work at sell this and other magazines fill with paranoia and ads for all of the gear you need for a domestic terrorist operation.
And it is not just the weapons and ammo. All of the other gear, including the Kevlar body armor used in San Bernardino is just as easily obtainable. The gas station/convenience store where I work overnights on weekends has a rack full of survivalist and gun magazines with ads offering virtually everything you need to outfit yourself as some kind commando avenging angel. In additions to thousands of gun stores and even Big Box retailers, there are dozens of gun shows every week in most metropolitan areas where unlicensed and unregulated dealers peddle anything you want without background checks.
No other country in the world has anywhere near the ridiculous number of mass shootings, other murders, suicides, and dumb accidental deaths as the United States because no other country allows such unrestricted cheap and easy-to-access firearms. It turns out that guns might not kill people and that people kill people—but they do it far more regularly and efficiently when they have guns.
The Gun Lobby and its right wing toadies chants than restrictive gun laws don’t work and that criminals and terrorist will still find ways to arm themselves. But the experience of the rest of the world shows that this claim in a flat out lie. Even if gun restrictions fail to prevent every shooting or act of terrorism, they reduce most and if America is the dystopian standard, the vast majority of cases.
Restrictions on explosives, which Americans have long accepted, also prove the point. Yes, Farook and Malik built bombs, but they were crude pipe bombs which failed for one reason or another to go off. If they had, death and damage would have been limited. But there have been tight restrictions on dynamite and blasting caps for decades and after the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing tight restrictions were placed on the sale of ammonium nitrate fertilizer used in building the powerful truck bomb that destroyed the building. Modern high powered plastic explosives—the kind favored by international terrorists—are almost impossible to obtain and difficult to smuggle. The difficulty in building really powerful or sophisticated bombs because of these restrictions is one of the reasons there have been so few cases of foreign originated terrorism in the US since 9/11.
If restrictions on explosives work, why wouldn’t reasonable gun laws.Yesterday the Senate, despite the overwhelming desire of Americans of all political stripes and including a majority of gun owners, continued to blindly obey its NRA masters, voted against mild gun laws. They must be held accountable
|This meme from Facebook from the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Larger fellowship helped me when I needed it.
The second thing I—and you—can do, is to not give in to fear and despair. I know. It isn’t easy. But remember, despite spectacular headlines, hour upon hour of breathless cable news coverage, break-into-your-regularly-scheduled-program-bulletins on network TV, you statistical chances of being killed in a terrorist attack or mass shooting are infinitesimal—only a tiny fraction of that of dying in an auto accident, or even of being struck by lightning. Defy fear—the object terrorists of all ilk—refuse to surrender to either panic, which can only lead to scapegoating—or the inertia of helplessness. Live your life with defiant joy.
I know. It ain’t easy. This week I spent my evening hauling our somewhat pitiful and skinny artificial Christmas tree up from the basement, untangling the lights, and hung all of the mismatched ornaments accumulated over decades including ones made by the childish hands of my now adult daughters. I smiled over each treasured memory. I put out the Santa Claus cookie jar in the kitchen and filled it with little anisette sugar cookies, set seasonal nick-knacks, hung the wreath on the door, put up the giant Grandpa Pat and Grandma Kathy stockings sent to us years ago by Granma Rae, my Dad’s second wife and widow, arranged the miniature Native American figure crèche set on the coffee table, and put up the felt Advent wreath with the little embroidered ornaments that my wife Kathy made by hand. The TV was tuned to sappy Christmas specials and I sang along to familiar old songs. Late at night with all of the other lights out, I sat in my chair and just admired the multi-colored glow of the tree.
|I savored our little Christmas tree in the darkness of the early morning in the front room.
I never forgot the horrors of the week. I didn’t want to. But I also did not forget what is bright, beautiful, and loving.
Take that, terrorists!