Column: Blaming ‘The Other’ for Orlando
I woke up, like everyone else, to tragedy Sunday morning.
Five minutes into my bleary-eyed view of the CNN reports, I already saw how this would go. First, there would be a wringing of hands about guns. Then there would be attempts to identify a motive. If a Muslim was somehow involved, a search for motives would cease. There would be moving disavowals of violence from Muslim-American leaders, and Facebook or Twitter would fill up with comments about how “they” never do enough to disavow violence.
Even while they were doing it.
There would be gun-control advocates wondering why a civilian would get his hands on a military-style automatic weapon, and others who’d respond that the carnage could have been avoided if there were other civilians with military-style weapons allowed in that presumably gun-free zone.
There would be the obligatory attack on President Obama if he didn’t use the “right” words to describe the carnage, meaning that he didn’t call it an attack of Islamic terror.
When it came out that the target was a gay club, people who have a thing against Christianity would be bummed because, darn it, they couldn’t blame evangelical or Catholic haters for the violence. They’d like to blame Islam, but they wouldn’t want to offend the wrong people.
And, this being an election year, the candidates would try to figure out a way to pick up electoral support, all the while pretending not to care about the polls.
My parents should have named me Cassandra, not Christine. All of this came to pass. Not that it makes me happy to have the playbook for these tragedies imprinted on my mind.
When something like this happens, there is always the hope that something new or better will emerge. One prays (in the secular sense) that cooler heads and voices will prevail. One prays (in the real sense) that this will be the last time anything similar happens (except for the media, who exist for just such moments).
But there is always disappointment because we are human beings and we want to blame “the other.”
That “other” could be a responsible gun owner, if you think gun access is too easy and gun-control laws are too lax. That “other” could be a native-born U.S. citizen whose parents immigrated from Pakistan, and you think all refugees fleeing ISIS are actually jihadists in sheep’s clothing. That “other” could be someone who opposes same-sex marriage if you think any criticism of gays amounts to bigotry.
I’ve been to this dance too many times to believe we’re capable of change. We are so hard-wired to believe that “the other” is a threat that we don’t want to listen to other views.
Gun-control advocates think those who defend gun ownership are natural enemies. They hate the NRA and blame all carnage on people who arm themselves, whether legally or not. Conversely, NRA members resent gun-control advocates for trying to eliminate their constitutional rights.
People who think a wall should be built blame jihad (or Mexicans) for mass murder, even when presented with the fact that killers are native-born-and-bred. People who think any discussion of the intersection between violence and ethnicity or nationality is racist feel superior to those knuckle-dragging bigots and discount their concerns.
And people who, like Hillary Clinton recently noted, think we should be able to “love who we love” think that anyone who defends their religious freedom to dissent is at best spouting hate speech and at worst, apologists for mass murder.
I’m sick of them all. What happened to the days when deaths were mourned, and fingers pointed afterward when the heat of anger and despair had cooled to the equally painful but more manageable state of sad clarity? I think social media, including Facebook, Twitter and iPhones erased that possibility, forever.
We are pathetic, my friends, because we are predictable in the roles we play. It’s not a Greek tragedy, but a reality Cassandra would recognize.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.