I was born in the San Bernardino county hospital. I was the only blond baby in a patchwork quilt of race and language. To me, the diversity in that nursery epitomizes the nation where I grew up: a country where men and women of every color and creed were free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.
One year ago, I was staring into my cell phone in disbelief: there had been a shooting at a San Bernardino Christmas Party, less than a mile from where I was born. More than a dozen were dead. Their lives had ended in the same place mine had begun all those years back. I couldn't get to sleep. I stayed up all night wondering about the human race, wondering about America.
Tonight I have the same questions: America, who are you? Do you still hold these truths to be self evident- That all men are created equal? With unalienable rights? Innocent till proven guilty? I worry that we're loosing our identity these days- running scared. With every new act of violence the lines are drawn deeper between the left and the right. We're outraged, we're heartbroken. There's a lot of yelling but not much conversation- lately it feels like the only thing we have in common is anger.
Genres of Bloodshed
The names and the faces flash across the screen every evening in a nightly parade of violence and despair. I hope for a silver lining- that this could be the catalyst for change, giving our nation a common desire for peace, for an end to this senseless bloodshed. But so far this is not the case. Instead, with every new mass murder, the division lines in our nation only grow more defined.
Different voices begin to yell loudest depending on who the perpetrator is and who the victims are. Was the gunman Muslim? We need to fund the war on terror. Hispanic? We need better border control. White? Lone wolf? We need better mental health facilities. African American? We need to fight gang related crime. These divisions are used by voices on the right and the left to prove their point. Almost as if we have specific genres for the violence.
There's a violence in the water.
If you're looking for a common thread in all of these mass murders, it is this: every one of these gunmen (and women) held a deep seated belief system/psychosis/neurosis that they personally needed to take up arms to accomplish the task at hand. These perpetrators of violence felt that their cause, (Allah, greed, fascism, depression, etc...) was worth the death of their victims. No matter how innocent.
Are you angry? Are you mad enough to do something? You should be. Maybe you're angry enough to take up arms to accomplish the task at hand? To grab a gun and take matters into your own hands?
Ironically, the act of violence you're responding to was fueled by this very same ideology. It's a deep seated belief that the personal use of weapons is the best or only way forward. It's a strange resemblance.
We the people
All of these disparate story lines have another uncomfortable commonality: almost every one of the attacks on American soil this year was committed by American Citizens upon American Citizens. This is not a foreign enemy: we are killing ourselves.
For the small percentage carried out by Muslims, people might argue that Islam is to blame. "it's a violent, murderous faith." What about Democracy? Or Socialism? Or Christianity? Do we have a better track record? Do we assume that every Christian in America approves of the violent attacks on Planned Parenthood? Do we hold Marx responsible for the atrocities that Lenin committed?
In the same way we cannot paint every Muslim American with the brush of ISIS. Stereotypes might be "good" for a nightly broadcast or to win an election, but these issues are not cut and dry. Who are you? Who am I? People are ever changing bundles of emotion and action, riddled with contradictions and good intentions. We are the people: Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and otherwise.
Yes, there are generalizations and stereotypes and prejudice- but these broad stroke categorizations are oversimplified attempts to comprehend the violence around us. This "We" vs."They" thinking doesn't help the conversation; we are individual human souls not statistics or data. After all, prejudice is a form of fear.
The Irony is that this prejudiced delineation is exactly what ISIS wants. Turning our colorfully complicated world into a binary black and white- it's what they have repeatedly said that they are hoping to achieve with every attack. (See my post, "What ISIS Wants") Why would we assist them in their efforts? Yes, there are a million divisions between us: color, belief, background, and desire- but lowering ourselves to prejudice and hatred only destroys the Freedom and the Liberty that our fore-fathers fought for.
But Something must be done
What sort of America will we give to our children? More mass shootings than days in the year? That's a stunning, horrifying, heart-breaking statistic. We cannot become callous to these needless deaths. Let the blood of these victims not have been spilled in vain. Let us grieve the empty places at holiday dinner tables, the holes in the family photos where human souls should be.
There's a violence in the water. It's shocking. It's terrifying. It's terrible.
But what is an act of terror? Is it only defined as a Muslim act of violence? A year ago more than 12 people at a San Bernardino holiday party were tragically killed by Muslim Americans. What about the four people who were gunned down in Savannah earlier that same day? What about the 19 hospital workers and patients who were killed by American Military air-strike? Is there a hierarchy of terror? Does the terror of one individual matter more than the terror of another?
What can we all agree on? Can we agree that human lives matter? That this senseless violence robs us of our friends and family? These victims are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. Funerals and graves replacing graduations and birthday parties. Real heartbreak. Real blood.
What is a war or terror? Is it an attempt to fight for peace and safety for ourselves and future generations?
Maybe it's a collective response to all of these acts of terror. Saying, "Your senseless murders will not steal our justice, freedom, or compassion. Human life is valuable, the blood of your victims cries out from the ground. Your terrorists acts are low, cowardly, and representative of a dark culture of hatred and fear. We refuse to let your world destroy the free world of justice."
the land of the free and the home of the brave
My parents and teacher taught me to love and respect the folks who looked like me and the folks who didn't- the folks who agreed with me and the folks who didn't.
Maybe I'm overly idealistic, but I think that's what America is. On a good day. Or better put, that's what America could be.
America, who are you? Are you a monster? Are you a bully? The grand experiment of freedom is on the chopping block. Are we the good guys or the bad guys? Are we Darth Vader or are we the resistance?
I am an American who loves his country. And more than I love my country, I love my countrymen and women. We are different, you and I. We have different views on life. I have Muslim friends, Christian friends, atheist friends, Jewish friends, you get the idea..... I have friends who support the NRA, gay-rights, pro-life, pro-choice, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. That's one of the things that America still stands for, right? Freedom to believe different things, to pursue different interests?
You might say that we're bound by different rules. Yes, we are. Or at least we claim to be. If you claim to fight under the banners of freedom and justice, then you are indeed bound to a higher standard. If you stoop to fear and hatred to win this fight, you have already lost.
I appeal to my friends, We're better than this. At least we could be. I believe that human life is worth more than this. The land of the free? The home of the brave. You've got your opinion and I truly want to hear it. But, yelling in all caps online doesn't give your opinion more weight or logic. And I find it to be Un-American - and closer to the binary black and white world that ISIS wants.
I want to talk these things through - I don't want to use my words like bullets. I want to find solutions. I want to find peace. Yes, God bless America. But above nationalism, God bless these tired human souls on this weary planet. God bless us all.