Is Violence Cultural?

 

As the #YesAllWomen hashtag trended over the weekend, I tweeted out a few of my own. In response to one of my tweets [about having been menaced on 3 separate campuses by male students who were antagonized by the low grades or critical evaluations that I gave], a friendly tweep asked whether my experiences could be ascribed to a culture of violence. It was an important question, and I didn’t respond as 140 characters seemed to be rather limiting. I want to think through one part of that question here. But I want to note: my comments are not a reflection on my friendly interlocutor; rather, I’m trying to explore my concern about the phrase.

I’m always surprised when the words ‘violence’ and ‘culture’ are placed in close proximity. Much like the phrase “social construction of race,” the notion of a “culture of violence” seems to create an artificial stopping point at what should be the beginning of an analysis. These days, the phrase ‘social construction of race’ indicates a moment in the political development of theories of race rather than some meaningful insight in itself. Similarly, the notion of a ‘culture of violence’ is often the description given to explain the pro-gun discourse that marks the US in international lights, or the massacres that seem to be occurring with increasing frequency in the United States. The most recent one to come to public attention was the one that a young man, Elliot Rodgers, carried out a few days ago. The phrase ‘culture of violence,’ seems to be immediately problematic in several ways. First, it obscures the specificity of various kinds of violence (a shooting in cold blood versus a woman who shoots at an ex-lover in self-defense; a serial massacre by a young man versus a military massacre of a village). I’m not suggesting that they are all horrific or heinous. Rather, I want to suggest that the level and quality of (dis)approval in each case is affected by the conditions and institutions which supported that action. The second, closely related, way in which the discussion of a ‘culture of violence’ is problematic is that it elides state-led policies that endorse certain kinds of violent actions—based on who is committing the violence and who the violence is committed against—rather than on the action in question.

Examples of the second would include executive policies such as a memo that authorized the use of drones to kill people who are suspected of terrorism (or having a governmental body vote in favor of a federal judgeship for the lawyer who co-authored that memo); or the actions of federal judges who exculpate police officers who shoot young black men while sentencing a political protestor to prison for elbowing a policeman for a boob grab, or a range of bills that unanimously approve the pre-emptive policing, or potential detention, or profiling and entrapment thousands of people who loosely fall into the same group as the 19 men who flew into the World Trade Center in 2001.

You get my point.

‘Culture,’ like ‘social construction,’ seems to sidestep an assumption that certain traits are permanently embedded, without confessing to that assumption. It seems that culture is most often used in 4 different ways:

1. As a marker of identity: Indian culture, Russian culture, Irish culture, etc.

2. As a comparative descriptor, such as when praising a group of people affiliated with a certain society as having superlative values: French culture, Western culture, progressive culture.

3. To ascribe ‘primitive’ or ‘regressive’ traits to a group of people who are united on the basis of some practices or beliefs or (mutual) recognition of identity: Muslim/Islamic culture, Black culture, Masculine culture, etc.

4. To describe a set of (negative) practices that people abide by or embrace (wittingly or not), and therefore become part of that group: A culture of: consumerism, rape, terrorism, narcissism, violence.

Over a decade ago, at the first philosophy conference I attended after receiving my doctorate, my excitement melted into despair as I heard the keynote speaker, a white feminist philosopher of some renown, painstakingly describe how Palestinians and other Muslim cultures were more prone to a ‘culture of terrorism’ than those in Western societies. It seemed to link violence to a population while avoiding references to biology, ontology, or nature. [Uma Narayan, Talal Asad and Edward Said have challenged such a link in their considerable writings, but to judge from its frequent invocation, it still seems to remain an easy go-to place.] And in forging this link, the keynote speaker indicated that these actions were compulsive, driven by the culture to which said people belong.

This kind of deployment of ‘culture’ is striking for its complete bifurcation from a discussion of historical, (geo)political, economic, social, legal structures: what is the history of Palestine (or Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, etc)? What are the material, geopolitical, social circumstances in which certain men and women engage in certain specific practices? What are the legal structures that punish certain men and women for acts of violence while retaining a blind eye towards others? How do we construe violence or terrorism, when lone individuals or groups associated with non-state entities who blow up cafes become the prime figures of terrorism (and if they survive, will most certainly face punishment at the hands of government or military forces)–while other figures–surrounded by government security personnel as they instruct others to deploy drones against certain persons in Yemen selected by a computer algorithm–are hailed as heroes and voted repeatedly back into positions of power? All this, while those who provide legal validation for such practices are elevated to the nation’s highest courts (the most recent example being, of course, David Barron)?

Such a disarticulation from a discussion of underlying structures entrenches the belief that these practices are inherent – perhaps uniquely so — to the group with whom they are associated. So, to talk of a ‘culture of violence’ suggests that there is a set of violent practices that constitute the fabric of a society, bringing that very society together as a unit, which that society (or some part at least) doesn’t necessarily question, criticize, or challenge.

That may not be the intent of using this phrase, since—in none of the above 4 senses is culture used as a factual descriptor (even when that is the intent of the speaker) but more as a rhetorical descriptor. It is always possible to falsify a statement about culture that presumes that most if not all of its people ascribe to a certain belief. Hindus are not all vegetarian; Not all feminists believe that the hijab is oppressive; Not all Muslims (women or men) believe that the hijab must be worn. The French don’t all believe in republicanism. All of these groups have internal debates about various issues, and it may be impossible without (even with) extensive surveys, to discover which part of the group practices/believes in the belief under question, and whether that part of the group constitutes a majority.

My concern with the above deployment of term ‘culture’, is that the speaker obscures the very structures that s/he claims to take into account by locating violence/narcissism/entitlement/rape in a generic culture. It is true that the phrase ‘culture’ can accurately connote a set of embedded attitudes regarding violence, rape, narcissism or consumerism. But—especially when ascribing these attitudes to a group that is already the subject of criticism—s/he connotes that the actions of these populations are driven by their culture. By ascribing certain events to a ‘culture of violence,’ I wonder if it prevents us from having a more insightful conversation about the specific elements that drive a certain event.

Let me be clear: I do NOT want to exculpate men (or women) who benefit from patriarchy, white supremacy, or other systems validating hierarchies or endorsing oppression against groups on the basis of race, gender or nationality. These are systems—grounded through laws, economic policies, geopolitical history, and social policies of rewards and benefits–which can engender acceptance about the privileges that accrue to some persons on the basis of being – say — male or white (often without regard to class), or to being middle- or upper-class white women. And while it’s possible to talk of a set of beliefs that seem to be shared by those who benefit from patriarchy or white supremacy, I think it’s much more effective and important to prioritize a focus on systems rather than culture.

A useful followup to this rumination might be to problematize the discussion of “privilege”—as in in white privilege, male privilege, etc. That will be for a future post.

Miriam Carey’s Temper, or Why Post-Partum Depression Doesn’t Mean You’re Crazy

 

Yesterday Miriam Carey, a 34 year-old African-American dental hygienist from Stamford, Connecticut, was shot dead by police after having veered her car into some blockades near the White House and Capitol building, after having gotten out of her car.

Ms. Carey managed to get out of the car, and was shot by several officers. According to a law enforcement official, she was not armed, and it was not known whether she presented an immediate danger.

There is a video clip of her trying to escape the horde of security people, while being pursued by a police car. There may be other clips as well, more graphic, more heartbreaking—but I can’t stand to look for them.  It’s still not clear how much of this event was instigated malevolently or was the consequence of a series of misinterpretations, errors, or overreaction. Initially, media outlets were reporting that the woman in the car had a gun and was a shooter. Only later did we learn that Carey was unarmed and had her 1 year-old daughter in the car, who was not hurt. Of the exact story, I am not sure.

What I am sure of was the immediate leap made by police and the media suggesting that Carey had “mental health issues.” Yet, even though various sites ran with headlines suggesting that Carey was mentally ill, they did not provide any solid evidence of this detail beyond a mention by a former employer, a periodontist, that she’d had a head injury resulting from falling down the stairs and the suggestion she had a temper and was fired because of it.

Carey’s former boss, Dr. Brian Evans, told The News that she “fell down some stairs and she had a pretty significant head injury” toward the end of the nearly two years she worked for him.

The story uses Evans’ words denying that her firing had been connected to mental illness to imply the opposite conclusion.

When they let Carey go last year, “it was nothing related to any mental problems that we were in tune to,” he said. But Evans added that Carey had a temper, and he recalled how she became incensed when he asked her to quit parking in a handicapped spot at the medical building.

“She got very angry with that, so that started some friction. And then from there she was never insubordinate per se, or anything like that, but she tended to go against the grain a bit,” said Evans, whose practice is in Hamden, Connecticut.

The story goes on to note her Facebook comments about ‘wack men,’ and her presumably frustrating dating experiences—as if that is a strange thing for a single, presumably heterosexual woman to post.

On NBC, the framing of Carey changed somewhat, but the main impression was that she was still crazy and violent.

Dr. Barry Weiss, a dentist, told NBC Connecticut that Carey was working for him in January 2012 when she suffered a fall and missed two to three weeks. He said that she appeared increasingly stressed after an unplanned pregnancy. Relatives have said that she may have suffered postpartum depression.

Weiss said that he fired her in August 2012 after patients complained that she was too rough.

Her mother has confirmed that Carey had post-partum depression after the birth of her daughter a year before. It is certainly true that defense attorneys for women on trial for killing their children, such as Susan Smith or Paula Thompson, have used post-partum as the basis of insanity defenses. But defense strategies are a poor foundation for identifying post-partum depression with violent tendencies, unless substantial proof is demonstrated.

The fact that Carey is Black has “politely” been ignored, much in the same way that Aaron Alexis’s racial identity was not mentioned by most media in the aftermath of the Navy Yard shooting. In fact, when I heard about the Navy Yard shooting, I assumed that the shooter was a white male. My assumption was partially based on the conspicuous absence of any mention of the shooter’s religious or racial identity and the immediate dismissal that the event was connected to “terrorism” (which amounts to the same thing).  As importantly, I knew that most mass shootings are committed by white men, as Mother Jones reported earlier this year.  It wasn’t until later in the day, after his photo was posted, that I realized Aaron Alexis was African American.

In his case, as in the case Miriam Carey, we’re starting to see the linguistically polite meme (because every group has got to have a meme!) that is being ascribed to non-teen-aged Black Americans who are associated with violent events: mental illness.  For male Black teens, they are still closely associated with inherent criminality, “thuggery,” and other violent, animalistic, and sexualized personifications. We have seen this for centuries. We still see it: from the slanderous superpredator mantle of the 1980’s, to the Central Park Five, who were convicted in the media as beasts and brutes, and the defense of stop and frisk by Ray Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD.

And still true to form, mainstream media reporters notoriously strain their necks trying to find a way to legitimate these stereotypes on behalf of the powerful and political authorities—repeating innuendo without proof—until they can string together a narrative that justifies the faulty assumption with which they began. And so, an unarmed black woman is again quickly assimilated into the meme of crazy, angry women who must have been at fault for the racial perceptions imposed upon her.

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A longer, different, version of this article entitled “The Smearing of Miriam Carey: How the Media Bungled the Capitol Hill Shooting,” was published on Salon on Oct. 7, 2013.

Violence Begets Violence: Turning to Dr. King in the aftermath of the Boston Bombings

This piece is in Salon, under various headlines:

Where does the hate come from?

Amid this tragedy, we ought to remember that violence begets violence, force begets force

By

Yesterday’s news of multiple explosions going off near the end of the Boston Marathon route was heart-stopping. That such a joyous event — attended by tens of thousands of families, of international visitors and athletes — could be so violently disrupted by such heinous evil was unfathomable. The tragedies are made all the worse by the realization that for some, it was a memorial in the name of the children and adults who died in the Newtown massacre. And even as I empathized with yesterday’s victims and their families, I shudder to think that they experienced what countries around the world treat as a fact of their quotidian existence.

That pain and grief was the same as that which occurs whenever I read another report about a U.S.-led drone strike that has killed children, maimed teenagers, destroyed weddings in Pakistan or Yemen or Afghanistan. Yesterday’s news — of a child dead, of the injuries of many a father and mother, of the limbs of exhausted athletes and supportive spectators blown off, of others whose limbs were amputated in the triage for survival — again brought to mind the prophesy of “violence begetting violence.” As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warns in his “Loving Your Enemies” sermon, delivered in Montgomery, Ala., on Nov. 17, 1957:

Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody.

And yet, that cycle of force begetting force, of the increasing permanence of violence that is soaking into every facet of our society, seems to be lost on so many, especially those who are capable of stopping it: our political and military leaders. Again, in the prescient, wise words of Dr. King:

Somebody must have sense enough to dim the lights [of destruction], and that is the trouble, isn’t it? That as all of the civilizations of the world move up the highway of history, so many civilizations, having looked at other civilizations that refused to dim the lights, and they decided to refuse to dim theirs. And Toynbee tells that out of the twenty-two civilizations that have risen up, all but about seven have found themselves in the junkheap of destruction. It is because civilizations fail to have sense enough to dim the lights.

Click through to read the rest….

On the Regulation of Firearms

Robert Prasch thoughtfully unpacks the firearm regulation debate.

Robert E. PraschAlmost two months after the massacre in Newtown, and six months after Aurora and Oak Creek, our political classes show some signs of taking an interest in gun control.  I say some signs as the President has reiterated his deep concern for “rural gun culture” and Senator Harry Reid is on record as being unenthusiastic.  Senator Dianne Feinstein, amazingly, is largely on the correct side of this issue.  I guess there is a first for everything.

To enhance our understanding of the problem, we need to define some terms.  The next step is to consider the several parts of these crimes so as to reveal where intervention may be most effective.  Hopefully, such an exercise gets us away from the fatuous “pro-gun” vs. “anti-gun” narratives that generate more heat than light.

A Definition and a Few Facts

Mass shootings and serial murders are each forms of mass murder. In the United States, mass murders are, statistically speaking, a relatively minor element of the death-by-firearm problem. However, mass shootings are different from serial murders in that the latter occur over a period of time.  Additionally, serial murderers often target a specific type of person or persons (rival mobsters in the case of mafia hit-men, young couples in the case of the Son of Sam, or prostitutes in the case of the Green River killer).  However, though mass shootings are a small part of the problem, they induce the greatest “headlines.”  The reason, besides their intrinsic horror, is that their victims are often drawn from populations that — statistically speaking — are substantially less likely than others to be the victims of gun violence (Newtown, Columbine, Aurora, the Amish of Lancaster County, etc.).

Of the approximately 30,000 people killed by firearms in the United States during any one of the last ten years, just short of 2/3rds have been suicides.  Of the approximately 10,000 people murdered by gunshot, about 2/3rds were killed with a handgun.  Shotguns and rifles account for somewhat less than 10%.  The data on the variety of firearm used in the remaining 25% of murders seems to be unknown or unrecorded.  Some writers have invoked these statistics to suggest that “assault weapons” are too small a part of the overall problem to warrant regulation or an outright ban.  But their conclusion is founded upon the erroneous belief that a handgun cannot be an assault weapon (The Austrian Ministry of Defense clearly thought otherwise in 1980 when it selected Glock as the manufacturer of its semi-automatic pistols).

The Three Components of the Problem

Speaking analytically, mass shootings have three components: a malevolent shooter (or in a very few instances, shooters), one or (typically) more firearms, and a target location.

Examinations of what have by now become a tragically large number of such episodes points to an emerging “profile” of the “typical” mass shooter.  They are overwhelming white, male, between 17 and 35 years of age, and from small towns.  Most of them exhibit a fascination with violent games and movies, combined with little if any prior military experience (Wade Michael Page is an exception, although his poor record resulted in a General Discharge from the US Army, rendering him ineligible for reenlistment).  While, ex post, it has been found that most perpetrators were depressed, few of them had an “official record” at least in part because, being psychopaths rather than psychotic, they had few interactions with mental health professionals, and for that reason were not identified as a threat to society.

Let us turn to the qualities of weapons.  Relative to murderers and even serial murderers, mass shooters are more likely to use firearms that can be described as “assault weapons.”  Now, it must be understood that “assault weapon” is a popular but loose category, one that requires elaboration.  Usually implied in this term are semi- and fully-automatic rifles and handguns with detachable magazines that can hold ten or more rounds.  Precision requires a bit of context.

Soldiers are defenseless unless they can fire their weapon.  It follows that periods when the weapon is being reloaded are moments of vulnerability unless the soldier is being “covered” by companions.  As most mass shooters operate alone, the moments spent reloading are the single best opportunity for bystanders to charge the perpetrator, thereby bringing an end to their rampage.  As an example, the Tuscon shooting came to an end when Jared Lee Loughner attempted to change the 33 round magazine on his Glock semi-automatic pistol, which presented Patricia Maisch with an opportunity to grab it as other bystanders wrestled him to the ground.

In the 18th century, a well-trained soldier needed between 15 and 20 seconds to “prime and load” a musket after firing.  This means that four rounds a minute were his maximum sustainable rate of fire.  The bolt-action rifles that eventually replaced this weapon in the 19th century were not only more accurate, but the expended cartridge could be rapidly discharged and the firing chamber reloaded by merely pulling back and rotating a bolt on the side of the weapon.  This would take only 4-5 seconds depending upon the experience of the rifleman (today’s models, such as the Remington 700, a widely used hunting rifle with a 3 to 5 round internal magazine, are even faster).  The result was a substantial advance in the weapon’s offensive and defensive value.  Offensively, more shots may be fired per minute.  Defensively, there is less “down time” between shots, which reduces the rifleman’s vulnerability.

Let us consider the phrases “semi-automatic,” “fully-automatic,” and “selective fire.”  The quality of being “automatic” is all about reducing the lapse of time between the firing of rounds — an essential quality for any weapon to be useful for military or police purposes.  A semi-automatic weapon, which can be either a rifle (such as the A-15) or a pistol (such as the Glock), has the following quality. Upon pulling the trigger once, the weapon will fire, discharge the spent cartridge, and load a new round in the firing chamber without any further action on the part of the person firing it.

In the case of a fully-automatic weapon (such as the M16), all of the above will occur and the weapon will continue firing until such time as the person operating it releases the trigger, the magazine containing additional rounds empties, or the weapon jams.  The only factor limiting the rate of fire of a semi-automatic weapon is the speed with which one can pull the trigger.  By contrast, the limitation on the rate of fire of a fully automatic weapon is exclusively mechanical.  Consequently, the latter can fire at rates of between 450 and 900 rounds per minute (obviously, a soldier will have nowhere near enough ammunition on hand for this to be a sustainable rate of fire).  Finally, a selective fire weapon, such as the M16 (the military version of the A15), can be switched at will from semi- to fully- automatic.  Its most modern version, the M4, allows for an additional choice, a three round “burst.”

The final factor to consider is the locations favored by mass shooters.  As with their personalities, many factors are present, but the number of recent tragedies allows for the identification of some patterns.  In general and perhaps unsurprisingly, mass shooters are drawn to places where substantial numbers of unarmed persons congregate.  This suggests that these individuals are interested in killing while seeking to avoid a fight.  We do not see them going after “hard targets” such as police stations or border posts.  On the contrary, the locations they select have much in common, perspective-wise, with the violent video games and movies they seem to favor – where the “action figures” can act upon others without themselves being targets in any meaningful sense.  Stated simply, mass shooters are not “tough guys.”  Taken as a whole, they are distinctly cowards.  While they are clearly suicidal, they seem anxious to avoid a painful death.  While they are willing to kill themselves with a bullet to the head, or surrender to authorities, they appear equally anxious to avoid being shot in the course of their crime.  Of course, and most sickeningly, they do appear to take pleasure in imposing pain (and death) upon masses of people whom they have not met or otherwise interacted with.

What Can We Do?

From the above, it seems that there are essentially three “points of entry” for preventive measures.  We may enhance the monitoring and regulation of individuals.  We may enhance the regulation and monitoring of weapons. Or we may enhance the regulation and monitoring of spaces where large numbers of unarmed persons gather for fun, prayer, learning, or shopping.  Let us consider each of these, in rank order of their undesirability.

Greater Monitoring and Regulation of People

 For the past twenty years, there has been a strong and uninterrupted push by governments across the English-speaking world to increase the monitoring and surveillance of the citizenry.  CCTV cameras are ubiquitous in the United Kingdom and rapidly gaining ground across the United States and Australia.  National ID cards were a fascination of the Labour Party in the U.K. and are periodically raised in the United States.  Private data collection, NSA’s massive monitoring of all our communications, the evisceration of FISA under the flimsy guise of reform, data fusion centers, the insidious but persistent push for a national biometric data-base, and other efforts have each and severally been embraced by the political classes.  Whatever happens with firearms regulation, and we are already seeing it in the several Democratic Party proposals for “immigration reform,” we can be sure that increased monitoring of the citizenry will be part of the plan.  We already select whom to kill in Pakistan and elsewhere on the basis of a “disposition matrix,” and those who may or may not board an American flagged commercial aircraft are selected, secretly of course, by the same methods.  You can be certain that many of those who rule over us are itching to extend these information-based technologies to gun ownership for reasons other than the safety of the citizenry.

Just in case you do not know, a disposition matrix determining whether or not you could own a gun would likely draw upon criteria such as the status of your student loan, your credit rating, your employment history and whether or not you change jobs frequently, whether or not you adhere to an unpopular religion, things you have said by email or on your Facebook page, etc.  These and many other criteria could all be factors in the construction of such a matrix.  Again, as with those being barred from commercial aircraft, you would be deemed guilty until proven otherwise, you would not know the rationale for your having been barred, and there would likely be few, if any, grounds for appeal.  Big brother knows best.  As is always the case in these matters, being poor or individualistic are prominent “red flags.”  In short, the program would be just one more form of enforced homogenization of the population and its attitudes.  As mentioned, we have enough of this in the United States already.  Lets not present our government with yet one more rationale to secretly monitor and manage the population.

Securing Places Where the Public Congregates

What about securing more of the locations where innocents congregate?  This has been the “solution” advanced by the National Rifle Association and other self-styled 2nd Amendment protectors.  Their proposal is that more of us should carry weapons, and especially concealed weapons, in the hope that a modification of risk-factors will deter future shooters who, as indicated above, usually do not have any inclination to fight.  Now, if our focus is narrowly and exclusively to address the problem of mass shooters, this is not a completely stupid idea because, as we have seen, these are not “tough guys.”  Being fearful of pain and lacking much military experience, they are not prepared to handle the chaos of a shootout, even if (as would be likely) they had the inherent advantage of superior weaponry over a random civilian who happened to be nearby with a small pistol tucked into their handbag or under their coat.

Where the NRA is mistaken is in their belief that comparative firepower is the only consideration.  We know that suicides and accidental shootings rise sharply in households owning a gun, so it is likely that the total number of firearms deaths would rise.  Also, as fewer and fewer people have had any experience with the military, we have ever-fewer persons with any exposure to combat training.  Among other risks, we face the danger of a teacher’s weapon being grabbed by someone with evil intent, or of a civilian mistakenly shooting an innocent person in a panic.  Training America’s teachers, to say nothing of any substantial portion of civilians, in close-quarters combat, fire-discipline, and gun safety would seem to be both impractical and too expensive to be a serious solution.  Finally, the proposal to hire retired cops to wile away the day snoozing by the doors of our schools simply provides additional targets and the illusion of safety without adding much in the way of a deterrent.  Why?  Because the shooter will always have the element of surprise and it is unrealistic to expect an armed guard to be able to nullify that advantage by remaining at maximum vigilance throughout their shift.

Regulating the Qualities of Legally-Owned Weapons

This brings us to the qualities of the weapons circulating amongst the public.  Now, before we begin, let us be clear that the United States has always regulated the public’s access to weapons.  None of us can own or operate an F-18 fighter jet, a tank, or an artillery piece.  Neither may we own a heavy machine gun with its fully automatic features and light-armor-piercing .50 caliber rounds.  The principle as to whether or not the government may regulate the public’s access to certain classes of weapons has long been settled.  Our contemporary dispute is solely and exclusively about the variety of weapons that we may or may not own.

Let us, then, jump straight to the conclusion.  There is no reason why any law-abiding American civilian would ever need a semi- or fully-automatic weapon.  Rapidity of fire rather than accuracy is the only reason for such features and that quality, in itself, makes such weapons unsuited to our neighborhoods.  Moreover, there is no reason why a civilian would need a magazine that can hold more than seven rounds.  They should be banned.  I will add that the gun legislation recently passed by New York State’s does not “grandfather” large magazines already in the public’s possession, and I believe that any federal legislation would be wise to follow that example.  The problem is not the age of large magazines, it is their existence.  We don’t want them around.  Our police don’t want them around, and they should be illegal.  To ease the burden on those who purchased them in good faith, the government could offer to buy them back, perhaps at a reduced rate over time.  After a fixed period, owners of such magazines should be subject to non-trivial fines and other penalties.

The Counter-Arguments

But what of hunters?  Many people hunt for sport, but we should not ignore the fact that hunting makes a difference in the food budgets of many families.  Moreover, with the United States vigorously renewing its commitment to neoliberalism under Barack Obama, we can expect that the median family wage will to either continue the declines it suffered during his first term or the stagnation of the Bush terms that immediately preceded it.  Happily, the rules proposed above in no way impede hunting.  Hunters have freely selected their weapons for years and, for reasons of weight and accuracy, they overwhelmingly prefer bolt-action rifles.  Unsurprisingly, and for the same reason, the US military’s M24 sniper rifle is modified Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, so we can be confident that it is the superior firearm when accuracy is the primary consideration.

But what of defending our homes?  After all, with neoliberal economic policies, local budgets have been under pressure for decades.  One consequence has been a reduced police presence in the neighborhoods of the poor.  Simultaneously, that most stupid of all American wars – the War on Drugs – is continuing to support the growth of gangs.  For these reasons, many of our poorest citizens have been forced to contend with greater rates of violent crime even as they are increasingly dealing with it on their own. Are they not entitled to weapons with which to protect themselves?  While aggregate statistics support the propositions that increased gun ownership is correlated with increased accidental gun deaths and an increased probability of being the victim of a shooting, it is unreasonable for us to smugly suggest that statistical aggregates should define the choices of every citizen or family.  That said, it is hard to understand why any household would need a Glock semi-automatic pistol with one or more 19 or 33 round magazines for self-defense.  Anyone anticipating the possibility of such a destructive shootout in their home should be asking themselves some questions about what kinds of goods they are storing in that home.  The point is simple.  For most of the past hundred and fifty years, people who have felt the need for an additional level of home or personal protection have been well served by revolvers such as those manufactured by Smith & Wesson.  The ability to fire 5-7 rounds without reloading should be more than enough to deter anyone attempting to break into a home or, failing that, delay their progress until the police arrive.

In light of the above, the only constituency clearly harmed by the rules such as those proposed above would be “gun enthusiasts.”  Some people, as we know, enjoy owning and firing automatic weapons.  And let us be clear, they are not criminals and have no criminal intent.  While others may not share their taste in recreational activities, we should acknowledge that for some Americans laws such as those proposed here would constitute a positive harm.  However, all laws restrain the actions of a few in the interests of society.  This is no exception.  The point is to make such laws only when necessary.  Sadly, we cannot allow the recreational pleasures of a minority keep military-grade “weapons of mass destruction” legally available for anyone who can afford to purchase them.

There is a final point to consider.  A popular bumper sticker observes, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”  This may be true.  But automatic weapons are complicated to use, especially if one is planning a mass shooting.  Potential perpetrators who have not had the benefit of military training will need opportunities to learn to use them and maintain their skills, which will be difficult if such weapons are illegal.  That, in itself would constitute a substantial addition to public safety.

Newtown, CT: The Culture of Terror and the Failure of the National Security Agenda*

Yet again. Yes, again. Another heinous massacre in Newtown, CT. When I read of the details on Friday, I didn’t plan to write about it. I didn’t want to write about it.  I wanted to lose myself in the heated discussions over the misleading and graphic depictions of torture in Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty, in the Twitter project of NYU student & artist Josh Begley, who is tweeting every drone strike between 2002-2-12, in the details of the pre-trial motion hearing of Pfc. Bradley Manning as reported by Nathan Fuller and Kevin Gosztola and others; in the discussions of the conflagration of the meaning of terrorism in NY courts.  I wanted to consider those “national security” issues that form the basis of my work.  But in fact, the horrific event that occurred in Newtown, CT is also a national security issue. It is the result of the failure of the National Security Agenda put in place in the US since 9/11.

There isn’t one dominant definition of national security, but it might be safe to suggest that in the U.S., national security relates to domestic and foreign policies created in the name of fighting the “War on Terror.”  The policies of National Security relate to waging wars on sovereign Middle Eastern nations on the pretense that they have hidden WMD’s, or that their women need saving from Afghan men, or that they have nuclear weapons technology that will be used against us if we don’t level sanctions. National security refers to the hunt for alleged terrorists through pre-emptive policing, warrantless and indefinite detention, torture, solitary confinement. National security refers to the solitary confinement, humiliation, and abuse of whistleblowers such as Bradley Manning for turning over evidence of ethical wrongdoing by the U.S. armed services to transparency organizations such as Wikileaks.

The media coverage of the Newtown murders and the memorial speech given by President Obama would lead us to believe that what happened on Friday in Connecticut is worlds away from national security issues, because effective national security lies in rooting out terrorists. And we know that terrorists operate in dark shadowy cells, in the basements of mosques—in Kandahar, in Sana’a, in Abbottobad, in Queens, Brooklyn, Paterson, NJ, Lodi, CA. Terrorists don’t walk up to schools in grassy, leafy, quiet New England towns, with semi-automatic rifles in their hands, and after killing their mothers, force their way in, and shoot twenty 6 year olds multiple times at close range. Terrorists don’t have Asperger’s. Well, maybe they do. But only if they’re Muslim.

The media reports and the corresponding images of the heinous massacre in Newtown, CT have done their utmost to distinguish the unique tragedy of this shooting, to humanize the beautiful young children whose families grieve for them so heavily. Everything we hear about Adam Lanza reinforces that this was a random tragedy, fueled by the easy accessibility to guns. It had nothing to do with the Culture of Terror. Nothing to do with National Security.

Doesn’t it? In fact, the latest shooting of schoolchildren is the latest evidence that the national security project of the U.S government has failed.  The shooting in Newtown, CT is but part and parcel of a culture of shooting children, shooting civilians, shooting innocent adults, that has been waged by the U.S. government since September 12, 2001.  It has been directed by two United States Presidential Administrations, and has intensified under the second President, a Democrat.

And let there be no mistake: many of “us” have directly felt the impact of that culture: Which “us”? Yemeni parents, Pakistani uncles and aunts, Afghan grandparents and cousins, Somali brothers and sisters, Filipino cousins have experienced the impact of the culture of killing children. Families of children who live in countries that are routinely droned by the U.S. Air Force. Families of children whose villages are raided nightly in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Culture of Terror has been waged insistently through Pres. Obama’s policy of drone strikes. Or by U.S. Cruise missiles, as the one that targeted a Yemeni wedding party in 2009, in which 20 adults and 21 children died.  The Culture of Terror is intensified when the journalist who reported that strike was jailed—at the command of POTUS—and remains in jail to this day.  The Culture of Terror was waged insistently on the day that the same President was re-elected–when another drone strike was launched in Yemen, and 3 more people died. The Culture of Terror was perpetuated when the US insisted on the right of Israel to “self-defense” in Gaza—in the face of the systematic, legal, theft of land and the disproportionate “targeted” killings of Palestinians by the Israeli government.

And in case, you have forgotten: here are the numbers for Israel’s “self-defense” in Palestine:

From January through September 2012, Israeli weaponry caused 55 Palestinian deaths and 257 injuries. Among these 312 casualties, 61, or roughly 20 percent, were children and 28 were female. 209 of these casualties came as a result of Israeli Air Force missiles, 69 from live ammunition fire, and 18 from tank shells.In 2011, the projectiles fired by the Israeli military into Gaza were responsible for the death of 108 Palestinians, of which 15 were women or children, and the injury of 468 Palestinians, of which 143 where women or children. The methods by which these causalities were inflicted by Israeli projectiles breaks down as follows: 57 percent, or 310, were caused by Israeli aircraft missile fire; 28 percent, or 150, where from Israeli live ammunition; 11 percent, or 59, were from Israeli tank shells; while another 3 percent, or 18, were from Israeli mortar fire.

The Culture of Terror has been consistently, repeatedly, enforced through the innumerable practices of rendering and torturing Muslim men and women alleged to be terrorists. Without ever providing evidence of their terrorist activities. The Culture of Terror is waged every minute that Bradley Manning is incarcerated in solitary confinement for having turned over documents that show the immoral, illegal, reprehensible practices of our U.S. Armed Services at the behest of the POTUS.

The Culture of Terror is reflected in the mass shootings in Oak Creek, WI, in Newtown, CT, in the 60 other places where mass shootings have occurred in the last 3 decades in the U.S. It is reflected in the deaths of countless children (2700 children in 2010) in the United States through needless and random gun violence—despite restrictions on guns. It is avoidable violence. The Culture of Terror is reflected in the “See Something, Say Something” posters, directed by the Department of Homeland Security, found all public transportation systems in the U.S. In the Pamela Gellar anti-Muslim posters posted all over NYC and Washington DC.  The Culture of Terror is reflected in the deportation of over 1.4 million migrants over the last four years. In the separation of 46,000 children from their parents (only in a 6 month period in 2011) . In the jailing of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi for sending money to his family in Iraq despite the needless sanctions imposed by the U.S.  In the refusal to allow a Muslim U.S. veteran fly home from Qatar to see his mother until the prolonged intervention of journalists and advocacy groups made it happen. In the fear that contributing to Bradley Manning’s or Julian Assange’s legal defense funds will render ordinary innocent citizens vulnerable to arrest and jailtime and similar privation of Constitutional rights. In the development of ever-longer kill lists and “disposition matrixes.”

In each and every one of those instances, the Culture of Terror is organized and directed by the U.S. government. And in each and every one of those instances, the Culture of Terror reflects a failure of the goal of National Security.  Because the goal of National Security cannot—can never succeed—if some among us must live in fear of being arrested, persecuted, imprisoned without charges, susceptible to being tortured or killed for being Muslim, Arab, hijabi, religious, the son of a suspected terrorist, a political dissenter, a whistleblower…

The project of National Security is the project of forcing us to live in fear of each other, of cutting social services to families whose members have severe neurological, psychological illnesses–in order to fund an increasing Culture of Terror. The National Security project is the project of allocating “2/3 of a trillion dollars” for 2013 alone: for the purpose of continued US military presence in other sovereign nations. The National Security project is to reward banks and financial institutions with even more money for their achievement of plundering the life-savings of thousands of ordinary citizens. For gratuituously rendering Americans homeless through subprime mortgage foreclosures.

What is the difference between the heinous tragedy that occurred last Friday in Newtown, CT and the instances that I mention above?  The key difference–Attorney General Eric Holder, POTUS Obama, Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Sec. of Defense Leon Panetta—will tell you, is that the poor children in Newtown, CT were the innocent defenseless victims of a lone gunman, whereas the U.S. is in the full-fledged battle of combatting terrorism—which makes the murder of innocent civilians, of innocent children an unfortunate collateral damage. They will tell you that the housing crisis was the unfortunate result of greedy bankers, but they tried to punish the bankers. They will tell you to “Look forward, not backward.”

But in fact these are not the primary differences. The primary difference is that the U.S. has legitimated the Culture of Terror—and the failure of National Security—by insisting that needless violence, the random deaths of thousands of children and adult women and men, the gratuitous incarceration and solitary confinement of thousands of young men without charges is a necessary approach to “solving” terror.

The second primary difference is the complete lack of accountability—demanded from or given by– the U.S. government, the U.S. Congress—on the issues of unjust wars and invasions, human rights violations, damaging racial profiling, illegal drone and missile strikes, and countless other damage to ordinary citizens in the US and around the world. The third primary difference is that the same Liberals who are shocked by the shooting at Newtown, CT, in fact have legitimated the Culture of Terror by endorsing, voting for, and re-electing POTUS and his murderous terrorist Administration–instead of demanding accountability.

And that same legitimation—and the absence of outrage at the murders of thousands of innocent civilians around the world—whose parents, families, grieve identically to the families of the youngsters and teachers who tragically, horrifically died in Newtown, CT—shows the massive failure of our National Security agenda and the “War on Terror” in the era since 9/11.

Yet again. Yes, again.

___________________

*Revised.

Mosques, Temples, and Theaters: We Need to Change the Script

Yesterday, less than 48 hours after the shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a mosque in Joplin, Missouri was burned to the ground. It was the second time that someone had tried to burn the mosque down in a month, and the third time that the mosque has had a fire on its property.  A suspect hasn’t been found.    The FBI suspects arson. The mosque is completely gone. It was burned during the month of Ramadan. Gee. The third fire on its property, and the second in less than a month. The third time. Arson? Really, you think?

I only happened to come across this news as I was perusing some comments regarding the Sikh Temple shooting. There has been virtually no reporting on it. Let me look into my political crystal ball:  A mosque gets burned to the ground, after two previous attempts: The perpetrator will be a white, angry young man, possibly part of a crowd of young angry white men.  I will predict a “white supremacist organization.”

Am I a genius? Maybe.  After all, some of us in the South Asian community understood well before the media confirmed it: the shooting at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin was the work of a white supremacist whose name, Wade Michael Page, would only be released hours later And some of us in the progressive pundosphere anticipated well before most details came out about the Aurora, Colorado shootings by James Holmes, that he would be characterized as a quiet, loner type. And at least some of us understood in the hours after the shooting at the United States Army Base in Fort Hood, Texas, that the shooter, because he wasn’t white and because he was remotely “Arab”—and even though he was a soldier and an Army psychiatrist–that his actions would be characterized as those of a “terrorist.”

Why did we know? It’s not that we were psychic or we had a direct line to God. Rather, we have become accustomed to the scripts that American law enforcement, the FBI, and the media run in the aftermath of (too) many mass shootings:

A group of Sikhs shot by a white man? A white supremacist. A group of (mostly) white Americans shot by a white man in the Midwest? In a theater? A loner. In a high school by two white boys/men? Troubled loners. By a man of East Asian origin on a college campus? A deranged loner. An Army base shot up by a Palestinian-American (US Army psychiatrist)? A terrorist (by definition deranged and ideologically zealous). A black man is repeatedly run over by two white boys in a truck? So strange; racism is gone. We have a black president. A black boy gets shot by a white man? Random and probably deserved. Black men on death row for crimes they didn’t commit? Justice prevails. So say the governors who allow them to be executed, and so follow our media.

These scripts are pulled out so neatly, one marvels at the level of organization that allow them to be read out so easily. And yet, like most scripts, they are edited to provide a clear, easy-to-follow narrative that appeals to the audience’s most intimately held beliefs. Those beliefs are drawn out, and impressed again to memorize what our irrational sides fear: those white guys are loners; those young white/Asian men are troubled and deranged loners. Those brown men are terrorists. Those black men are hoodlums and gangmembers.

The Oak Creek Police held a press conference after the shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where they declared that the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism. How did they define an act of domestic terrorism, a reporter asked. The Chief of Police declared that it was an act of terrorism done within the confines of the country, by a person who was not from another country. In fact, domestic terrorism does not exclude acts committed by foreign nationals according to Sec. 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act, one of the first and overarching bills that was passed to combat terrorism after September 11, 2001.

Though his definition was incorrect, his answer was illuminating—because it reflected the fiction that Americans have been trained, through these repeating scripts, to believe: most evil against Americans is committed by foreign (and usually Muslim) men, and most Americans are white.

But part of the newsworthiness of the shooting was that another massacre (and so soon after Aurora) was occurring, but this time against “foreigners.” And so the media became obsessively focused on the non-Muslim brownness of the victims. Perhaps a bit far-fetched.  But how else can we explain the obsessive focus on the “Sikh-ness” of the victims? Or the questions about whether Sikhs as a group have enemies (Didn’t the victims of Aurora, Colorado have enemies?) Or whether “anti-Semitic” acts have been committed against Sikhs in the past? Yes. This was asked by a Fox News broadcaster.

When the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting happened the week before, there was no discussion of the “whiteness” or the “Americanness” the victims, even though every one who died was white and American.  In fact, the focus was on how “normal,” how kind, how loving, how smart they were in their roles as children, soldiers, parents, and students. Aren’t the temple-goers also “normal,” kind, and loving? They are a religious people, like so many Americans. Many of them are Americans, like the victims in Aurora, Colorado.

James Holmes, the shooter in Aurora, was also white and American. And so media turned to its usual, Ted Kaczynski script: genius, troubled, loner.  In the case of Oak, Creek, the shooter was white, but since the victims were brown, the shooter had to have been a white supremacist. According to Chauncey DeVega, even white supremacists were hoping he wasn’t one of them.

And now that a mosque has been burned to the ground, we barely hear anything about it. That’s part of the script, too: A mosque? Muslims? Not that interesting. After all, how can Muslims be peace-loving? Don’t they want to kill Americans? They attacked America.

Like most scripts, these are fictional.  But unlike most movies and novels, the FBI and the media outlets that draw on these scripts claim to be reporting the truth. And to move from novelistic narratives to more accurate, documentarian narratives, it is necessary to confront the ideological truths that underlie the mass epidemic of violence that America is confronting. Yes, better gun control can help to manage the violence. Page’s gun was the same type used in Aurora, and in the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last year. It was a 9 mm semiautomatic, and it was legal. And it would have been legal even under President Clinton’s 1994 Assault Weapon ban. But the Joplin mosque was burned down. I doubt that banning matches will solve the problem at hand.

Other truths must also be confronted. In large part, the shooters and arsonists who are behind many, if not most of these events in America, are white men.  In large part, these men have either come of age in the shadow of September 11. They have watched the media, heard Department of Homeland Security officials, and followed as mostly white male (and some female) politicians have given the anxious go ahead to wage an enormous war against Muslims abroad (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or at home (in the form of the War on Terror).  Several of them have served in a military that follows the orders of two U.S. Presidential administrations by training their men to shoot, invade, drop rockets from helicopters, and drones controlled remotely from Syracuse, NY and other air force bases in the United States.

These white men have learned their lessons well, whether in the military or from hours of media news: the frustrations of a scared (white) America can be dealt with waging a war using guns, bombs, chemicals, and drones.  They have learned that it is ok to kill those who you believe to be behind threats to your comfort. They have internalized the message that those you fear can be addressed without words, without dialogue, but with violence, with power, with coercion. They have learned that some religions are automatically evil and that those who adhere to those religions must be destroyed.  And these white men reflect an ideology of violence that has permeated America in the name of the War on Terror. Sadly, that ideology, perpetuated by our white men and women in power, carried out by American soldiers, and endorsed by a lapdog media, isn’t fading away. It’s becoming bigger, stronger, and more murderous.

These men are not mad or crazy.  They are the well-trained students of American foreign and domestic policies. They have learned well the United States’ message: that violence and mayhem are the answer.  We need to change the scripts, and confront the fallout of a decade of the War on Terror—and other excuses for state-led violence quickly, before the chickens come home to roost.