Today, as I follow Western world leaders’ responses to increasing violence, I am astounded by blind patriotism which has become the hallmark of reactions. President Donald Trump declared the Manchester bombing associates “evil losers.” Theresa May proclaimed that “enough [extremism] is enough.” And we, as a world, have come to condemn those who do not conform to national sentiments as “terrorists.”
As a society, we have criminalized dissatisfaction and denounced it as unpatriotic. Despite the fact that we so proudly peddle freedom of choice alongside ability to influence, because the very livelihood of our nation relies upon the propagation of this myth, it is ultimately just that — a myth peddled for the sake of survival. As a nation, we prioritize the survival of the state above all else; as a people, we are second-class citizens to the demands of such state power. And as a society, we suffer devastating consequences.
When I wake up each morning, I am welcomed to the world with a bombardment of notifications on my phone. Two and a half weeks ago I was alerted about the Rancho Tehama shooting. Nearly four weeks ago it was the Sutherland Springs shooting. Nine weeks ago it was the Las Vegas shooting. It is evident that violence runs rampant in the United States. But, why do we never discuss the root cause of such violence? What is it that we are so reluctant to discover?
A new day, a new place infiltrated by violence, the primary narrative goes. But, this is only an excerpt of a much larger story of violence. This is the part that is advertised by media corporations, cultivated by political operatives, and the buzz of our local and national discourse. It’s a toxic, time-worn and narrow conversation which does not enhance our ability to mitigate violence, but trains us to reproduce and preserve the very oppressive power which initiates violence. It is a conversation which steers us repeatedly from the revealing questions about who we oppress and how, and instead places unwarranted, burdensome focus on bump stocks, background checks and ISIS. And it is this very limited conversation which renders us seeking to contain the quickly catching fire of dissent and the resultant violence, rather than addressing the underlying dissatisfaction which sparks such violence.
In a society where a complex, legislative labyrinth separates the populace from the power-holding policy makers, exerting influence is difficult. It is no wonder that people frustrated by the inability to have their voices heard diplomatically turn to violence not as a choice, but as their only option. If we want to truly address violence which ultimately results from dissatisfaction, we must first address the cause of such dissatisfaction, and the voice-oppressive sociopolitical environment in which it wallows.
Labeling people as “terrorists” and “evil losers” does not mobilize us for such a conversation, rather these labels operationalize sporadic address via background checks, profiling and other like techniques. Deployment of such techniques not only fails to address dissatisfaction which will inevitably lead to further violence, but renders all previous violence futile in that it has once more failed to initiate needed conversation.
So, we must forge forwards without protective labels which differentiate “us” and “them,” “terrorist” and “patriot,” which obscure the meaning of true patriotism. Patriotism, after all, is not about preserving a regime, but bettering it. If we truly seek to better, and not to simply preserve the American regime, we must reframe the fundamental questions which guide our discourse, our national sentiment, and our governance.
Rather than asking how to stop physical violence, we must ask why the dissatisfaction from which it stems exists. And, we must be willing to listen with open minds and inclusive hearts to the narratives which echo back in reply.
There is no such thing as a victim and a terrorist in this new conversation, but those who are hurt and unheard. And perhaps, they are one and the same.