Almost every time we have a shooting spree – as American as apple pie – I react with the same observations: how (i) the U.S. is unique in the world in both the prevalence of firearms and the number of deaths by firearms, (ii) nothing serious has been done to address this, and (iii) when violence is perpetrated by someone foreign, we say it is due to the inherent violence and evilness of his culture and religion, whereas our All American shooting spree is never taken as a poor reflection on our values, even though the levels of violence in our society are overwhelmingly greater.
So, for example, when a crazy Muslim American shoots up an American military base – something oh so uniquely American – we immediately call it terrorism and blame Islam. But if that American man had not been Muslim, as in the other 61 mass shootings during the last 30 years (seven this year alone), we’d all be talking about mental illness, how we’d be safer if everyone were armed, and generally treating the senseless murders as an unavoidable natural disaster that lasts a two day news cycle.
We are the exceptional nation where the narrative is always that they are evil and violent, not us. But there comes a time when – no matter what the 24 hour news rackets or the GOP tell us – we have to face the question: if guns aren’t to blame, then are we the truly violent ones?
We are exceptional in the world in part because:
- We are unique in our active and flourishing genre of entertainment dedicated to war-hero worship. We love war and war heroes and cannot get enough movies and TV shows about them. Forget what you hear about Muslims being enticed to jihad (if they were so violent, we’d all be screwed). No one else glorifies war like we do.
- The raw data on guns and deaths by firearms are stacked heavily against the U.S., not to mentioned the some 300,000 violent crimes with a firearm each year.
- “In 2011, US corporations sold 75% of all the arms sold in the international weapons market, some $66 billion of the $85 billion trade. Russia was the runner-up with only $4 billion in sales.
- We have mourned, and rightly so, the children and adults killed this week in Connecticut, but we completely ignore the 176 children killed by U.S. drones abroad.
- What Falguni Sheth accurately calls the “Culture of Terror“, the U.S.’s National Security agenda and policy which has no qualms with drone strikes with huge civilian casualties, extrajudicial executions, extraordinary rendition, due process-free and indefinite detention, torture, and never ending war:
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.”
Forget the rhetoric about a violent Muslim world. There are no guns in Tunisia or Egypt, but they can still fight for democracy (ironically against their U.S. back dictatorships). I would love to see polls in the Muslim world about how many people support (1) war in general and (2) Al Qaeda specifically, and I bet you’ll see that in both the numbers are tiny. Nevertheless, poll Americans on how they feel about constant, never ending wars, drone strikes, civilian casualties, guys like Khalid El Masri being wrongly kidnapped, raped and tortured by the CIA with absolutely no recourse in U.S. courts, and all of the above described by Sheth, and honestly answer the question which society is obsessed with violence? Heck, even today the NRA — thinking that the U.S. is the Wild West — calls for armed officers in America’s schools. Why should the U.S. be the only country in the world that needs armed officers to protect their children? Are we that dangerous a people?
If you ask me, I’d probably say that it is all just a problem of access to guns, politics and the N.R.A.’s power, and not something innately violent in America’s DNA. But if the guns are not the problem, you might have to reassess your belief in American Exceptionalism.