Saturday 8 January 2011

On the causes of murder...

The terrible attack on Gabrielle Giffords will shock us all - the attempted murder of an elected politician causes a mass intake of breath. And reminds us of the fragility of democracy. But our first response should be to turn our thoughts to the victims, their families and their friends. They are suffering and it shows no respect at all if our response to the tragedy is political.

The language of war and violence litters our political debate - we are 'fighting', 'campaigning', 'taking out', 'bringing down' - all aggressive words intended to fire up our supporters and demoralise opponents.

So when a US Democrat Congresswoman is gunned down this discourse continues for some. Instead of looking in shock, hesitating and thinking of that person's family, friends and associates, the search is on for a cause - a cause of the attack. Before any investigation, before we even know the name of the gunman, before we even know the death count...the finger is pointed. And it is a political finger.

It seems at least six people are dead, but what matters to some is to find a political source for the tragedy. Fevered shouts, name-calling and the naming of the culprit.  And in this case a nice easy target - or maybe I can't now use that word - has emerged in Sarah Palin who made the terrible mistake of putting crosshairs symbols on a map showing the congressmen and senators she wanted to target in the 2012 election campaigns. And we are supposed now to believe that this act - this terrible error - was responsible for some deranged maniac shooting down Gabrielle Giffords and around a dozen bystanders?

I do not believe for one second that this website map was intended to or acted to incite some person to the extremes of violence we have seen today. I hold no brief for Sarah Palin's politics - although I don't share some folk's irrational and violent hatred of her - and think that the cause of liberty is held back by those like her (and sadly too many her left-wing opponents) who combine it with judgmental bigotry. But I do not see in her campaigns any incitement to violence or any corrupting of America's democratic discourse.

If there is a lesson - and I would prefer to wait for investigations, to see whether we can understand why the murderer did what he did - it might lie in the language we all use. The wishing of people dead (I would have a pretty penny if I'd sixpence for every time someone publicly wished Margaret Thatcher dead), the celebration of violent acts (remember that criminally foolish student with the fire extinguisher) and the use of metaphors of war in our political campaigning - all these things could contribute to providing, for someone already minded to murder, some form of warped justification for such a terrible act.

But however much we should moderate the language of our political discourse, however much we should treat opponents as real human beings, there is no place for claiming that a debate littered with violent language causes or incites murder. It does not.

And rather than trying to create such a belief, we should instead be thinking about those shot - some of them killed. If it's your way, pray for them. Cry a little. Pause for political breath.

And show the dead, dying and wounded some respect.


1 comment:

Simon Newman said...

What judgemental bigotry is Sarah Palin guilty of?