Annette van de Kamp-Wright
Editor of the Jewish Press
As is often the case when something horrendous happens in this country, my inbox is full of press releases declaring solidarity with the victims. The flags go half-staff, there is sympathy and empathy and outrage and much Facebook chatter (did you change your profile pic yet to illustrate how engaged you are?), not to mention confusion about who did what when.
It’s a complicated thing, processing a mass shooting. Lines need to be drawn, solidarity needs to be expressed, blame needs to be assigned and the sooner someone can tell us where that blame lies we can move on.
But something else happens, the days after tragedy strikes. We focus on that element that most closely fits our own personal agenda.
For those of us who are raising LGBTQ children, we cannot ignore the fact that it was a gay club that was attacked Sunday morning. It was gays who were targeted, for no other reason than plain old prejudice. It scares us, that our children, even in 2016, still face that type of hate. Not based on what they do or say, but simply on who they are.
That prejudice may or may not have been born from the shooter’s religion. It’s too easy to blame religion for human error – free will should count for something, shouldn’t it? Nonetheless, the Islam-as-national-enemy narrative fits neatly with what happened in Orlando. Plus, he mentioned ISIS- no need to look any further.
Then, there’s a gun issue. Seven hundred rounds within one minute, one commentator said on Sky News. I have no way of knowing whether that’s a possibility, but I do know that the weapon the perpetrator had was not meant for hunting. It was meant for carnage, for murder, and the outrage and renewed call for better gun control is no surprise. Which, of course, leads to the gun lobbyists doubling down and vowing no one’s taking their guns.
There is the discussion about mental health we should be having, in fact, we should have it every time someone opens fire into a crowd—and every time someone doesn’t. But we’re too busy with all the other stuff, and the issue of mental health is not something that can be summarized in a pro-or con type of discussion.
And so we all retreat in our respective corners, ever further divided. We compartmentalize our fear, our shock; the noise level temporarily increases, only to die down when we grow tired. Nothing really changes. Except for the victims, their families and friends. For them, everything changes.
Why is it that our response is so set in stone that we can’t focus on several different angles at once? Is it possible to fear for the safety of our children, to be worried about the backlash against Muslims and immigrants and join the gun debate all at once? Or have we become so complacent that any horror that hits our news feed has to immediately be forced into a narrative we were already familiar with? Can we maybe (just this once) take a step back and wonder how we got here? Can we stop talking so much and start listening?
It’s a tall order, putting aside our various agendas and removing ourselves from our favorite talking points.
But those victims, they deserve for us to try. They deserve for us to just be sad, if only for a little while, without attempting to come up with all the answers. It’s true for Orlando, it’s true for last week’s attack in Tel Aviv, it’s true for every victim of every mindless hate crime and terror attack everywhere. They deserve for their deaths to not be politicized. And as counterintuitive as it may seem, sometimes we don’t all have to have an opinion immediately. Because the chance that that opinion is reactionary and without nuance is very, very high.