Crying out for change

We must never forget the victims of shootings in the United States

I am a student, a millennial, a daughter and a lot more. The reason I’m writing this is because I can’t sleep, I can’t go to school, I can’t walk around or go out with my friends without being scared. I lay awake thinking of the headlines, the numbers, the names and the families.

I’m not one of them. I didn’t lose a friend or family member to gun violence, but I am still so bothered. The recent shootings in the United States have pushed me beyond my limit. So here’s my question: What’s it going to take? How many more students, millennials, children, parents, friends and family members have to lose their lives? Have you watched the news coverage? If yes, then you’ve seen their yearbook pictures. That’s all we get—a yearbook photo and a name, and then they’re gone.

I walk into class thinking of the quickest exits in case of an emergency. I can’t go to a club without the thought that I won’t hear screams or gunfire over the music. Maybe you think I’m overreacting. Maybe you think this isn’t my business because I’m not an American citizen; but I am a citizen of the world. I have a voice and I’m so, so tired. Tired of seeing innocent people hurt, tired of seeing people who just wanted to go out with friends never come home and tired of being afraid. I go to bars and restaurants, to school and concerts, and so do you. It could be me and I refuse to be apathetic just because it didn’t happen to someone I know.

I want to know when it will be enough to tip the scales. I want to know why they didn’t tip a long time ago. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I had so much hope for change. I believed that, if anything was going to spark change, it would be that horrific event. I was wrong. In the last year, in school after school, at clubs and churches and concerts, people have been killed. After the Parkland shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School started an amazing revolution, but it’s barely reported in the news anymore. The Borderline Bar and Grill was hosting a college night which allowed 18+ clients for one night, when the gunman walked in and ended 12 lives, just a few weeks ago. Yet the media has already moved on because a more recent shooting happened somewhere else. The violence has been everywhere and it seems constant. I am asking anyone reading this: Aren’t you tired?

I want to act, I want to change, I want to yell and shout and make something happen—then I remember I can’t. I’m not loud enough, strong enough or important enough to create that change because I am one person. I am alone. So I’m writing this to express what I feel because I don’t know what else to do. We watch the news, we see their faces, and then we see them replaced by the next faces, moved aside and too quickly forgotten. Shock dies down, but they died first. How is it possible that we talked about the death of Harambe in my class for five weeks, when the lives lost in mass shootings are practically forgotten the next day? The world moves on so quickly, but the victims couldn’t, so why should we?

The news shows us the facts, the families, the sadness and then moves on to the next story. I’m not asking for them to change. I’m asking for all of us to take on a small piece of responsibility. To not forget their names or their faces. I feel heavy with the weight of the victims. It feels like everyone else is moving forward and forgetting too fast, and I am carrying them.

Let’s not forget them. Let’s carry them together. We are from the same generation as so many of the victims, and we are the ones who will make a change. Let’s start now. Research, speak up, make change, but most of all, remember their names.

Graphic by @spooky_soda



Standing stronger in solidarity

It hurts our hearts to write this editorial. On Oct. 27, 11 Jewish people were gunned down in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Just three days earlier, a man killed two black people at a Kroger grocery store in Kentucky. These horrific events remind us of another massacre close to home; less than two years ago, on Jan. 29, six people were killed in the Quebec mosque shooting. These fatal shootings have one key thing in common: minorities targeted by hateful white men.

When he opened fire on the worshippers in Pittsburgh, the gunman shouted, “All Jews must die,” according to CBC News. He had a far-right social media presence, especially on the website Before the shooting, the gunman posted: “HIAS [an American non-profit group guided by Jewish values] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The gunman in Quebec held similar sentiments towards Muslims and was pushed over the edge when he saw a tweet from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promising to accept more refugees. According to the Montreal Gazette, the day the perpetrator saw the message, “he took his gun into the mosque and started shooting ‘to save people from terrorist attacks,’ he said.”

Before he was captured by police, the gunman in Kentucky told a bystander that “whites don’t shoot whites.” According to CNN, he tried to enter a predominantly black church shortly before he shot Vickie Lee Jones, 67, and Maurice E. Stallard, 69, at a grocery store. The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime, according to the same source.

What are the common denominators here? The truth is, these are all hate crimes, whether or not they’re labeled as such by authorities. We must recognize the fact that when hatred brews and explodes in such violent and extreme ways, these acts are not “senseless” or “random.” They are vicious attacks on people who are constantly demonized. All of these gunmen were white and were fueled by ignorance, anti-black racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia.

These tragedies are all the more difficult to process and reflect upon when the 24-hour news cycle seems to churn out such stories every single day. We must find a better way to interact with these occurrences and understand that they are more than just news stories.

Most importantly, we need to show solidarity. Even if we don’t identify as Jewish, Muslim or black, we cannot simply express shock when violent acts happen. When we stand together and condemn hate crimes, we are not only showing support for victims—we are telling the world that we vehemently disagree with those who perpetuate hate crimes. We are rejecting the motivations that spur white men with guns on. We are choosing to emphasize our humanity and renounce intolerance.

It warms our hearts to see people around the world attending Shabbat services, even those who don’t identify as Jewish. Seeing Muslims forming human defence lines around synagogues, the same way the Jewish community did after the Quebec mosque shooting, is uplifting to see. Watching Montrealers rally against anti-Semitism and attend vigils for the victims reminds us of the strength of community. Hearing members of a black church in Kentucky express solidarity with victims at the Pittsburgh synagogue reminds us of an important trait we all share: compassion.

Graphic by @spooky_soda



Pondering and laughing over Charlie Hebdo

The seriousness and jest in satire and religious mockery

Two satirists and a religious studies professor walk into a room: this isn’t a joke, but what happened last Tuesday at an event sponsored by Concordia’s Montreal Institute of Genocide and Human Rights Studies (MIGS) in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France.

The panel’s resident academic and assistant professor in the Departments of Religion and Theology, Dr. André Gagné, began by contextualizing the discussion and showing the historical and modern differences in Islam itself. Islam, said Gagné, has had a long history of using imagery, and rather than forbidding its making, made the distinction between imagery for representational and illustrative purposes—which was sanctioned— and imagery as something to stand between God and man and be the object of worship—which was considered idolatry.

“It is sad to see there is actually little justification for such horrific crimes,” he said, continuing: “[these are] interpretations over which people are fighting to the death in the Middle East.”

For Gagné, religious adherents pick what they will of their religions, and thus picking one ‘authentic’ Islam among many for the role of yardstick is an ambiguous concept: “There is no such thing as a true or false Islam. Scholarship has abandoned the concepts of orthodoxy and heresy. What we see are simply the various manifestations or facets of a religion,” he said.

However, this does not mean that the violence exhibited by some Islamists is completely groundless, especially when one considers the concept of abrogation, whereby latter, generally more forceful and violent, verses of the Qur’an (revealed at a time where ascendant Islam feared less from its pagan milieu) replaced older, sometimes more peaceful commandments revealed when Muhammad needed to tread more lightly.

“People who say that the Bible or the Qur’an do not contain violent commands or narratives have not carefully read them or are simply deluding themselves. Holy books do contain the good and the bad,” he cautioned.

These exhortations can sometimes give direction when personal and collective injustice is experienced, or when people searching for an aggressive worldview as answer to the ‘hopelessness they experience.’ When one is vulnerable, says Gagné, is when one is most open to radicalization, and it is up to modern secular societies to both integrate and accept religious traditions and to maintain a critical perspective toward ideologies by upholding humanistic principles.

“Ideas that promote violence should be denounced and resisted. This is why Islam, or any other religious tradition that stifles human dignity, should be critiqued.” For Gagné religion, unlike other parts of culture, is still strangely off-limits and sacrosanct. Pluralism entails the right to disagree, and the need for religions to cope with disagreement—something contemporary global Islam may be as yet unable to do.

“Muslims can surely disagree with the assessment people can have of their tradition, but the best way to state their case is with ink and paper. This is what freedom of speech is all about,” he said in a brief statement at the start of the panel.

“It is strange how we are quick to say the perpetrators of the Paris attacks do not represent true Islam, but rarely say the same thing when the attacks are far from home,” said Gagné, referring to the West’s obsession with Islamist attacks only insomuch as it was the centre of the story. Ignored is the the rampant Muslim-on-Muslim violence the world over.

Montreal Gazette cartoonists Pascal Élie (Pascal) and Terry Mosher (Aislin) balanced the intellectualism with the welcome dose of (solemn) lightheartedness that befit satirists.

“If you’re going to laugh at other people, you’re going to have to laugh at yourself. The proof is in the pudding,” said the irreverent and rascally Mosher. “When the Pope says we are not allowed to poke fun [at religion],” he continued, referring to the Pope Francis’ reaction to the attack when he said the world should not be surprised by violence when the sacred is mocked, “let me be blunt: fuck him. This is a very established part of the process. We poke fun, this is what we do, and we’re a very important part of freedom.”

Fittingly, humorous self-criticism alongside Gagné’s academic introspection was at the heart of the message Pascal and Aislin delivered. More than anything they pointed to the need for criticizing ourselves and making fun of our own actions, as during the PR nirvana that occurred when world leaders joined in a solidarity march in Paris in support of the freedom of expression. The amusing thing the two noticed—and drew—was a good portion of those ministers and presidents were part of coercive, oppressive regimes that have a long pedigree of media control and intimidation.

“We grab these things and sort of run with them,” said Aislin, cycling through a series of cartoons poking fun at the ‘Je Suis Charlie’ trend. “You have to get cheeky and poke fun.”


Gun enthusiasts, beware

Image via Flickr

April 20, 1999: Columbine High School, Colorado. 13 deaths. April 16, 2007: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 32 deaths. December 14, 2012: Sandy Hook Elementary. 26 deaths. How many more lives must be lost because of gun violence before the U.S. government takes action?

In 2011, 8,583 people in the United States were killed with firearms. This statistic is hardly surprising for a nation with the highest gun ownership rate in the world, with 89 guns for every 100 Americans. American history is no stranger to gun violence. Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings in the United States, 25 of them occurring since 2006. In 2012 alone, 151 people were either killed or injured in a mass shooting.

Year after year, Congress continues to ignore the problem. President Barack Obama has promised to make gun control a priority during the first year of his second term. He has already assembled a task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, to come up with some solution to end tragedies like the Sandy Hook shooting.

However, the President has a tough battle ahead. The National Rifle Association has spearheaded efforts against gun control, and with approximately 90 per cent of its political contributions going to the Republican Party, the Republicans will in no way want to risk their relationship with such a major benefactor. The party will likely dig in their heels as much as possible (as is almost tradition in American politics), and that lack of action is probably the biggest roadblock in America’s fight against gun violence.

There are a lot of excuses that are thrown around in the argument against stricter gun regulations. Some say guns keep people safe, and that restricting gun laws will make it harder for innocent people to defend themselves. After the tragedy at Sandy Hook, it was even suggested that teachers be trained and have weapons at schools in order to combat a gunman. However, as the shooting at Fort Hood Military Base on Nov. 5, 2009 showed, even against armed, trained military men, a shooter can do a lot of damage. In that shooting, 13 people were killed and 29 others were injured.

Another argument used by gun enthusiasts is the protection of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” Many people in the United States take that to mean the government has no right to organize any form of gun control, but in the context of the amendment, it seems more likely that the founding fathers and writers of the Constitution related the right to bear arms with being a member of a militia.

So much evidence has piled up in favour of gun control, it’s not clear how long-gun enthusiasts will be able to keep up this fight. One convincing example of the positive effects gun control has is evident in Japan, a country which has implemented strict laws and many requirements for gun ownership, including a rigorous written exam. Japan has had a large amount of success in keeping gun violence low, and because of their gun laws, they have the second lowest murder rate in the world. While the exact techniques Japan uses may not be effective in the United States due to the difference in population, the overall concept should help curb American gun violence.

It may be too late for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary, or the many others who have met the same tragic fate, but we can honour their memory by doing everything in our power to stop these tragedies. Obama has his sights set on assault weapons, and while that’s going to help, the United States needs to focus on improving gun registration techniques and making it harder for people to acquire weapons. The harder it is to obtain a firearm, the less tragedies will occur. The time to act isn’t after the next school shooting — it’s now.

Exit mobile version