According to US Republican presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, it is a “blood libel” to suggest that her violent political rhetoric played any role in Jared Loughner’s act of mass murder in Tucson last week.
On her Facebook page, Palin asserts, “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them.”
And there you have it. Criminal acts stand alone. They are without context, without background, they are unaffected by the social or political culture in which they occur.
What a difference a decade makes.
Cast your mind back to September 2001, and try to imagine anyone in the US, let alone a leading conservative politician, suggesting the Trade Tower attacks began and should end with the criminals who committed them.
Palin would have us believe there is nothing to be learned from Loughner’s crime, no significance to the fact that it took place in Arizona, where gun laws are among the most lax in a very lax country and angry Tea Party bombast dominates the political conversation.
It means nothing that, up until last week, Gabrielle Gifford’s riding appeared on Palin’s web page, superimposed by a set of crosshairs, accompanied by the instruction to reload, not retreat.
To many north of 49, this denial sounds peculiarly American, a product of the far right extremism that dominates the US airwaves.
Anyone whose memory stretches back to December 1989 should know that there are Canadians among us capable of exactly the same baffling self-deceit.
When a man carried a rifle into the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal shouting “I hate feminists” and murdered 14 women, any suggestion the attack took place against a cultural background of any sort was shouted down with vitriolic anger.
Women who described the crime as an anti-feminist act in a misogynist society were accused of exploiting tragedy for political gain, the exact same accusation that’s being leveled against so-called liberals in the US today.
The Montreal shooter was clearly deranged, just like the Tucson shooter, and just like Loughner, he went insane in a dark, empty room, a room without culture or context.
Let’s for a moment indulge this notion. Let’s suppose Loughner never read a webpage or watched Fox News or gave a moment’s thought to politics, or, if he did, that it had no effect on his actions.
Let’s say he chose that Tucson shopping centre at random, that his madness sent him there without reference, that the fact that Gifford was a Democratic congresswoman played no role in his choice of venue, just as neither Marc Lepine’s selection of young women studying to enter a male-dominated profession nor his anti-feminist ranting meant a thing. These were, after all, madmen.
If this were true, if Loughner’s psychosis was indeed so deep as to be devoid of social context, is it safe to assume all madmen are alike?
Should America proceed with business as usual, go on with the violent political imagery, the discourse of hatred, the proliferation of military style weapons, the rabid polarizing of society into the patriotic Right and the traitorous Left, in the belief that furious talk can never incite furious action?
Is it safe to accept Palin’s belief that such acts stand alone, and have nothing to do with the society in which they occur?
On the day of the Trade Tower attacks, one theme was picked up and spread from mouth to mouth, from politician to pundit. The world, we were told, will never be the same. It was not so much a prophesy as a promise. In the horror of that day, Americans made a collective vow to change the world. Heard from beyond the US borders, it was a chilling mantra. It wasn’t a promise of peace, a decision to work toward a less violent world, to erase the motives for such brutal attacks. It was a declaration of war.
Today we are hearing what sounds like the opposite response. Palin tells us not that the world will never be the same, but that it will never change. War has been declared, the righteous Right is on the attack, liberals are in their crosshairs, their supporters are encouraged to reload rather than retreat, and if someone who was caught in those crosshairs ends up on the pavement of the Safeway parking lot in a pool of blood, that is a random tragedy and has nothing to do with anything but the madness of the killer.
To suggest otherwise is a “blood libel”.
To put this idea in perspective, let’s indulge another little fantasy for a moment. Let’s suppose the deranged individual who gunned down a group of Americans at a public rally was not Jared Loughner, a crewcut son of Arizona who tragically succumbed to mental illness and broke his mother’s heart.
Let’s imagine his name was Ahmed or Ali, that he was born in Saudi Arabia, or Yemen, that he attended a mosque, that his grieving mother wore a burqa.
What would Sarah Palin say then?
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.