Sunday, August 19, 2012

Better Responses to Terrorism

I’ve been thinking about terrorism a lot this summer. It’s easy to, between awful events abroad, and multiple shootings here in the U.S. Terrorists are a peculiar set of murderers; they are one of the few segments of the human population who it is laudable to kill. They are black sheep who bring it upon themselves, folk who perform such evil work that no one will tell you to stop hating them.

There’s a corrosive irony to hating people for their hatred, and I fear in many cases it leads to harmful reciprocity. My family mostly hails from Ireland and what was once Czechoslovakia, two sources of nightmarish reciprocal hatred. Hutus and Tutsis, Jews and Arabs, Protestants and Catholics – history can be a catalog of revenge, but there are more personal examples. Consider Harvey Pekar being beaten daily in his childhood by black children who had experienced such oppression that they attacked a light-skinned child out of instinctive reciprocity.

In that context, even feeling terribly for his victims in Aurora, the national rush to hate Jason Holmes unnerved me. Especially if the man were insane, hating him would neither repair what he did nor better equip us to deal with others like him who are out there now. These are feelings I haven’t worked out, but they’re the same that gave me no pleasure at the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The “5/1” episode of The Newsroom reminded me how out of sorts I felt that night, when the U.S. celebrated that they’d shot a man.

Helping the harmed is more worth celebrating than punishing the harmer. That is how you spread a valuable behavior; we can be compassionate every day, rather than vengeful once, and if we were violently vengeful every day the world would be awash in gore. I appreciate catharsis. I understand our long (and likely genetic) history of vengeance, and that our senses of justice vary - but under no circumstances where there are victims ought compassion to be disengaged. After the Texas A&M shooting, I wondered why it was that millions of people can watch a news program hating a killer, rather than paying attention to those directly affected who require assistance. It would be ugly to reduce this to entertainment value.

This is why I support Indiegogo’s donation drive to assist victims and surviving families of the shooting at Milwaukee’s Sikh Temple. To the cynics: this is a cleat example of good in the world. This isn’t even a Kickstarter that will get you a neat gadget or album in the end; it’s just a drive by some connected people to connect many others in gestalt aid.

This is not about judging or hating a shooter. This is about compassion for victims. All proceeds will go to paying medical bills and funeral costs for people who were caught in this terrible event. Already over 1,500 people have pledged to help with medical bills of survivors and funeral costs of the deceased.

It’s heartening that they’ve passed their original $25,000 goal to (at this writing) $155,310. But anyone who has suffered the pain of burying a loved one knows funerary costs can be immense. The United States’ healthcare system has a proper reputation, too, for disastrously high costs for dramatic injuries, even with health insurance. In this case, no wounded victim could have suspected such problems before bullets tore into their place of worship.

If you can spare a donation, please consider it. If you can’t, and plenty of people can’t in this economy, please simply consider every other way we participate in these matters. It will determine what world we live in.


  1. I first read this last night and had to go away and think about my response.
    When Bin Laden was killed I put up a post saying that I could not understand/accept jubilation at anyone's death. Some of the responses to that post were negative in the extreme.
    I believe that the death penalty is more about revenge than justice. Killing someone does not bring any of the dead back to life.
    I will see whether my budget can stretch to this drive. It is completely consistent with the way I try and live my life.
    Thank you for this post.

    1. And thank you for your thoughtful comment. I'd imagine if your post received a lot of attention then it would receive a lot of negativity. He was the most loathsome black sheep alive, and challenging hatred can breed more. It's a very difficult thing to wrestle with.

  2. You raise some good points John. I too felt unease at the celebrations surrounding the executiion of Bin Laden and hate meeting hate feels a destructive force, both sides convinced in the righteousness of their anger leaving no room for manoeurve. The sentiment that helping the harmed is more important than celebrating the punishment of the harmer is something we mustn't lose sight of. Compassion mustn't be killed by hate but I think sometimes this can be the harder path to follow.

    1. It can absolutely be difficult to act upon compassion rather than hate, particularly in extreme situations and particularly when you are in a group reinforcing the behavior or alone with no one to check your mind. I've experienced it plenty of times, though thankfully I've seldom been carried away enough to hurt someone. Inescapable actionable anger is something I've almost always regretted after the fact, even when I didn't act upon it.


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