Friday, November 6

Another meaningless shooting?

Here's James Fallows...
One consequence of having been alive through a lot of modern American history is remembering a lot of mass shootings. I was working at a high school summer job when news came over the radio that Charles Whitman had gunned down more than 40 people, killing 14, from the main tower at the University of Texas at Austin. I was editing a news magazine during the schoolyard killings in Paducah, Kentucky in 1997 and sent reporters to try to figure out what it all meant. I can remember where I was when the live-news coverage switched to the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, and the shootings at the one-room schoolhouse in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, and the Virginia Tech shootings two years ago. And all the rest.

In the saturation coverage right after the events, the "expert" talking heads are compelled to offer theories about the causes and consequences. In the following days and weeks, newspapers and magazine will have their theories too. Looking back, we can see that all such efforts are futile. The shootings never mean anything. Forty years later, what did the Charles Whitman massacre "mean"? A decade later, do we "know" anything about Columbine? There is chaos and evil in life. Some people go crazy. In America, they do so with guns; in many countries, with knives; in Japan, sometimes poison.

We know the emptiness of these events in retrospect, though we suppress that knowledge when the violence erupts as it is doing now. The cable-news platoons tonight are offering all their theories and thought-drops. They've got to fill time. I wish they could stop. As the Vietnam-era saying went, Don't mean nothing.

Normally I'd be in agreement, as I was after the Virginia Tech massacre.

But for this Fort Hood case, the suspect, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, is a devout Muslim and very religious. We don't know for certain that there's a connection between his faith and the shooting. But reports are he was troubled by the U.S. military's engagements and his coming deployment overseas against fellow Muslims. [Update: Witnesses say he shouted "Allahu akbar" during the rampage. He was to be deployed to Afghanistan.]

Given how many killings have been carried out in the name of Islam in recent history, well...

(Source: Pew, via Ordinary Scott)

Whether you think it's deserved or not, Islam has clearly earned a reputation for encouraging violence. This shooting will do its part to inflame the perception. No good shall come from this, but nor do I see how it will be empty or meaningless.

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