Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Act of Terror

When I first read about the mass shooting incident in South Carolina this month, where nine people were gunned down in a church of all places, my instinctual reaction was that of numbness. Mass senseless gun violence has become a norm in America to a point of desensitizing the public. When I saw a picture of the shooter, his cold demented expression immediately put him in the category of killers before him. He seem to fit a mold that has become all too predictable. Young, white, disturbed, abandoned and brainwashed by a culture of violence and hatred, that is pervasive in this country today. I had written a few pieces in the past on such senseless murders in America and the impotency of the system to do anything meaningful about it. I felt there was nothing new to say here, that had not already been said. The incidents keep happening like clockwork and the nation has an intense momentary debate and then everything goes back to the way it was until the next horrendous act of terror.

When little children were gunned down at a school in Newtown, Connecticut,  I thought the nation would be shaken enough to do something about it. When people watching a movie were senselessly murdered in Colorado, I thought that would be a turning point. Now people have been gunned down at a place of worship, will anything change? I doubt it. Even the President acknowledged his disgust about the government's ineffectiveness and apathy in stopping such murders from being committed with relative ease, by passing any meaningful gun control legislation. 

As the usual media mania raged with relentless punditry, many have tried to separate this carnage, from previous ones. The first distinguishing factor that was vociferously expressed was that the shooter in this case was not clinically insane. His Facebook postings and allegiance to white supremacist groups revealed the depth of his hatred towards African Americans, Jews, Hispanics and anyone who did not qualify to be "white". He went into that particular church on that day with a clear intention to kill black people. And he chose that very church for its importance in the community of Charleston. Therefore the act was premeditated, driven by hate and racial prejudice.

The shooter may not have been clinically insane. He may not have heard voices in his head to kill and be killed, like many of his predecessors had. But it is hard to disagree, that he did suffer from another kind of mental illness called racism. I firmly believe anyone who harbors racism in this day and age is at some level mentally ill. All mental illnesses have degrees of severity on a spectrum. Some have it less than others. Some don't know they have it. Others are working on a cure. The shooter in this case, was on the extreme end.

In America, the disease of racism is more rampant than one would imagine. The fact that the Confederate flag still flies on a mast in South Carolina, shows that this disease is alive and present.
Though great strides have been made in stemming its spread, it is very present and shows its ugly face every now and then. Most recently it was seen entrenched among policemen in many parts of the country. The police shootings across the nation revealed its malignant spread.  

In 2011, I made a film called 300 Miles to Freedom. The film documented the journey of a slave in the 1800's from captivity to freedom. While researching and shooting the film, I got a glimpse of what it meant to be a slave in the darkest period in American history. By any account, slavery was the most evil system of oppression ever engineered by mankind. Its unholy legacy still reverberates to this day, reminding us of the human capacity to do evil. Only Hitler through his pogroms came close to the level of inhumanity slavery inflicted on fellow man at its peak.

No matter what one might think and believe the Confederate flag means in the present, under no circumstance is its legacy worth celebrating. Whatever Caucasian people in the south might feel nostalgic about, it is pale in comparison to the evil that was engineered and inflicted in its shadow. The flag as President Obama eloquently said, "belongs in a museum", a museum that rightfully shows its place in history in all its gory glory.

Another point of debate was whether this mass killing was a "terrorist act". If a Muslim person was pulling the trigger, there would be no argument. Even though according to a recent New York Times article, homegrown non-Muslim radicals have killed more people than Jihadists. The FBI director proclaimed this was not a terrorist act as it did not have an overt political agenda. In my mind there is no question this was a "domestic terrorist act". When a group of people feel terrorized by an individual or a group, it is a terrorist act. The black congregation in the church was most definitely terrorized. There was a clear political agenda of "hate" against a certain group of people expressed. It was a terrorist hate crime as most terrorist crimes are. What differentiates one from another is only the act's scope and its impact. 9/11 was a terrorist attack, as was the invasion of Iraq by the American forces, as has been every shooting that has taken place in this country at the hands of its citizens.

A few days from now, after the grieving is done and another man is condemned to die for having fallen victim to a disease that clearly has no instant cure, life most likely will go back to the way it was. When there is no immediate cure for a disease the next best thing to do, is to change the environment within which it breeds. The NRA slogan "Guns don't kill people, people kill people" has expired in its logic. People do kill people, but people with no guns, kill less people, that is indisputable and it is a vision worth aspiring for, as a people and a nation. In current American society, the 2nd Amendment enshrined in the constitution, makes sense only to the delusional. It is time to act beyond politics and bipartisanship and rethink and imagine a time of no violence. There is no place for guns, torture, unfettered surveillance, racism and hate in a civilized society. America has come a long way to distance itself from its past. It is clear, it has a long way to go. There is no rest for the weary. It is what it is.