Although there were two mass shootings over the weekend, the tragedy in El Paso is different from Dayton. It is also different from the shooting scourge that continues to plague the United States. The El Paso massacre made perfect sense.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott suggested that the shooter was sick and that better mental health was the solution to such crimes. But this particular shooter is not mentally ill. The killing made perfect sense.
There were immediate, and all-too-familiar outcries from all around the country: a need for gun control countered by tepid concern for better mental health screening. There were understandable condemnations from politicians, but some of those seemed a little too self-serving. There were promises of swift justice from law enforcement that also seemed a little too self-serving. Still, it is in the realm of justice that we need to focus our attention because the shooting in El Paso made perfect sense.
Justice in this case cannot be defined by revenge nor can it be restricted to punishment. It includes seeking and eliminating the causes and opportunities for such violence. But seeking justice is also a question of determining responsibility. And El Paso challenges our society on an entirely deeper level. Because this shooting made perfect sense.
Blaming the shooter is easy. It is also simplistic. It does not address the underlying cause that would lead someone to commit mass murder. Several editorials and opinion pieces were careful to suggest that President Trump cannot be blamed for the actions of a mass murderer. Perhaps that was the savvy thing to do. But it is dishonest. For if no one else knows the truth, Donald Trump does. This killing made perfect sense.
If someone shouts fire in a crowded theatre, and people are trampled to death in the ensuing stampede, we blame the person who shouted fire. Italy recently did just that when four men were convicted of causing the deaths of two women after they used pepper spray to start a panic in a public square where people had gathered to watch a soccer game. The men had hoped to steal wallets and cell phones as people ran for cover. The Italian justice system held them accountable for the deaths. That also made perfect sense.
Now to America. Let us put the blame for the El Paso massacre where it belongs—squarely at the feet of Donald Trump. On a daily basis he spews hatred, sows division and stokes fear. He derides, demeans and dehumanizes people of color and people whose religion is not Christian. Far from being Christian himself, he turns his back on people in need—at least people of color, in need. Only a person with no moral compass could suggest that asylum seekers are invaders.
Refugees escaping death in their own countries are not an invading army. They carry no weapons and have no desire to take over this country. They seek safety and help. Almost all are Christian, but that is of no benefit, because they are people of color and do not fit Trump’s vision (or whatever you call it) of America.
Like the criminals in Italy, Trump needs to be held accountable. Some will object that the examples are not analogous. The men in Rome intended to cause a riot. Trump did not intend to cause murder. But Trump did intend to cause fear and fuel hatred. Emboldened by presidential tweets and rallies, the shooter in El Paso used the exact same language that Trump does, referring to the refugees as invaders.
Further proof of Trump’s intention can be drawn by contrasting his formal statement about the two massacres with his daily venom. When he speaks at a rally or off the cuff to reporters he is animated and vitriolic. By contrast his formal statement was a robotic recitation of words on a teleprompter. It was about as interesting as reading the label on a can of tomato sauce and it was less than convincing. There was no feeling for the statement did not come from the heart.
Donald Trump, the very stable genius, knows what many others apparently do not. The mass shooting in El Paso was not senseless. What would be senseless would be giving Trump another four years to make a great country bad.
“Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!”
Perhaps I should retitle this post “Unraveling the Web”. There is a duality of treachery and naiveté at work in our world. That has, of course, always been the case. But today a new veil seems to have descended over nations, clouding the judgment of the innocent; its opaqueness obscuring the deception and intent of the deceivers. We must not allow ourselves to be so hoodwinked that we are left to repeat the phrase of failure: “Wow! I didn’t see that coming.” Nor can we take refuge in the hubristic assertion: “It will never happen here.” For even in the United States, unwitting citizens have fallen victim to intentional malevolence.
Only by exposing the first thread we can hope to avoid being ensnarled in an intricate web that paralyzes not only the body, but also the mind. And to understand the depth of insidiousness, the true nature of this deceit, we might begin in the Middle East with ISIS and the name of God.
For all its propaganda, the so-called Islamic State has nothing to do with God. It is not about submission, as the word Islam means. It is not about faith. If anything the Islamic State is an insult to true Islam, for rather than calling for submission to the one God, it demands obedience to itself and its own narrow construct of religion. ISIS is an insult to every faith. Much more evil though, is that at its core ISIS is an insult to Allah.
Along with submission, Islam also means peace and purity. But these ideals, like freedom and justice, cannot exist in a society where the beliefs and self-described “truths” of some—a singular interpretation of revelation—are determined to be the only interpretation, and consequently forced on everyone. This remains the case whether those “truths” are held by a majority or a minority; whether they are Jewish, Christian or Muslim truths. In other words, peace, purity, freedom and justice cannot exist in a society that is ruled by religion. Any religion. But then ISIS is as uninterested in those virtues as it is in truth. As uninterested in truth as it is in faith.
The Islamic State was woven from a seemingly simple thread that seduced the innocent: Submit your lives to God. But as that thread pivoted from point to point, and the web began to take shape, the idea of the divine was lost in a complex and convoluted design. God faded into mere illusion. The twisting and tangling fibers serve oppression and megalomania in pursuit of world domination, or what the ISIS rebels euphemistically call a worldwide caliphate.
The first Arabs to be ensnarled by ISIS did not recognize its deceitful use of religion. They did not realize the extent to which someone else was about to determine the meaning of submission to God. “Wow! They didn’t see it coming.” The effect was too swift. The entire Middle East, and by extension the rest of the world, quickly became entangled, stuck to the silk. Violence is now both the attraction to this web and the only way out—unless we can find a way to unravel the net of ISIS, expose its true purpose, disengage its hold on people and emasculate the ideology. That requires the whole world to remain on alert.
In the West it was initially easy to be critical. Distance from the fighting, combined with ignorance of Islam, lead some westerners to sit smugly in judgment. After all, “It will never happen here.” But reality is far more complex and unsettling, because Muslims are not the only ones to fall prey to religious treachery and twisted faith.
A quote often attributed to Sinclair Lewis (he never wrote it, but it does reflect his thought) reads: “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.” Such a statement twins two worlds—politics and religion. It speaks to the advancement of corporations over people; to a government by the corporate elite, for the corporate elite. It also suggests the inability of US citizens to recognize when they are being manipulated and their faith and patriotism distorted for someone else’s design and gain.
All across the South and creeping up through the Midwest, state after state has duplicated deceptive and misleading legislation all designed to sow division and enshrine bigotry. From voter ID, to welfare, to immigration to marriage equality, Americans are being conned by clever, reckless, and yes, duplicitous, politicians. These wholly unnecessary and ostensibly simple laws are being codified for one reason only—to dominate and control.
But most cunning for their disingenuousness are the legislators invoking religious freedom. The problem is, this concept of religion does not represent freedom. It is a new kind of slavery. Not unlike ISIS in Iraq, in Syria and beyond, these American politicians have decided what true religion is, how to live it, and how to shun and exclude anyone who is different. These politicians are no closer to true Christianity than ISIS is to true Islam. But then, like their counterparts in the Middle East, they are not interested in truth, either.
ISIS is coming to America. In fact, it is already here. We have yet to determine its nomenclature. But make no mistake: It is the same beast. A different name; a different religion. The same kind of leaders; the same result. And when it is too late, when these purveyors of false truth have successfully duped and misled the country, the average American citizen will be left with only one reply, “Wow! I didn’t see that coming.”