Arizona Massacre

Yesterday, January 8, as most of you know, a gunman shot U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the brain at point-blank range.  She is alive but her condition is critical and the prognosis difficult.  The assassin murdered a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl, and four other people.

I wanted to write today about some lighter-hearted topic, the Mozart fest on Radio 3, the Vivian Maier exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center, but my grief, outrage, sense of violation are too great not to mention this latest atrocious set of murders by U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.  We started the week with the assassination of a moderate Pakistani governor by one of his bodyguards, with appropriate grave head-shakings over extremism in Muslim countries.  But we have our own extremists here, and it’s time we said, “enough” to them.

Rep. Giffords had received many threats because of her support of immigrant rights in a state that is setting the standard for intolerance.  She also voted for health care reform, which led to further threats on her life.  As the New York Times reported on January 9, “Ms. Giffords was also among a group of Democratic House candidates featured on the Web site of Sarah Palin’s political action committee with cross hairs over their districts, a fact that disturbed Ms. Giffords at the time.”  Although Palin has now taken down this map, it was still up and active at the end of the day when Giffords was shot.

The assassin may be, as some news reports assert, mentally unstable, but it is to the mentally unstable that rhetoric like Palin’s, or Nevada Republican candidate Sharron Angle, speaks.  During her campaign for U.S. Senate, Angle said more than once that it was time for “Second-Amendment remedies” against the Democratic controlled Congress of 2010.

Dr. David Gunn and Dr. George Tiller were both murdered by people who had been stirred by years of violent rhetoric, including “Wanted” posters, and websites that not only urged the doctors’ deaths, but gave details of their schedules, their home addresses, and the whereabouts of their wives and children.  The purveyors of the websites, and religious leaders who proclaimed the violent rhetoric were never held accountable–we only spoke metaphorically, they said.  Not our fault if unstable people took the words literally. Just as in Punjab, where it wasn’t the fault of violent religious rhetoric that led one of Governor Salman Taseer’s bodyguards to murder him.

When Henry II said of his Archbishop of Canterbury, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?” (words which, if they were spoken at all, were uttered in Latin or French; the king spoke no English) he was not surprised that his barons took him up on it.  And in their heart of hearts, no bishop, Fox commentator, or politician is surprised when John Salvi or Scott Raeder or Jared Loughner uses a gun against the target of their vitriol.

My only hope is that in their secret hearts they are appalled at the effect of their language, not pleased.

  • Mancunia, England

    I have re-read all your Warshawski novels up to Tunnel Vision, and Ghost Country over the holiday season, finishing this morning and it seemed as though I was awake again to to my place as a woman in the world; that I had re-connected to a happier, more conscious self; that I was no longer hiding and am able to see where I want to be a take steps to get there.

    Then I heard the news about Gabrielle Giffords. My prayers are with her and her family. But also with all people who are working to maintain a fair and inclusive society. We have to fight the fear created by the murders in Arizona and hope that those who would work to prevent moving towards a world where we can live together in acceptance of differences will now accept that they have a responsibility not to use their beliefs to turn blind eyes/ears/hearts to the effect of their rhetoric on anyone who lives in judgement of their neighbour.

  • Idzan

    I watched the horrific incident live on CNN. And it happened in front of Safeway. I pray that Giffords and all those who were shot will survive. May God bless the souls of the judge and the little girl.

  • Thank you both for your empathic response to this horrible episode. On a completely different note, Izdan, I’m so happy to know you’re coming to Chicago. I’m sorry about the Borders on Michigan Avenue, but there’s a wonderful bookstore on the city’s south side, with something like 135000 different books. The Seminary Co-Operative store, at 5757 S. University Avenue. Safe journeys!

  • Penny Thornton

    Appalling obviously and probably fuelled by right-wing propaganda because of Giffords naturally democratic support for health-care etc. But once again the fact of easy availability and access to guns is a huge factor. It seems that the old wild-west right to bear arms is held as sacrosanct but in reality what place does it have in a modern society? There must be questions about the 22-year-old man who has been arrested who has been described as troubled. Why did he have or have access to guns?
    If gun laws were changed in the US, no it would not stop some shootings but it would not be thought of as “natural” to have guns in your home or car and people would not grow up thinking that they should have guns.
    Loads of questions raised re the Tea Party group (Sarah Palin etc) and their gung-ho attitude in stirring up people. The world is telling itself that someone like Sarah Palin could not possibly be nominated by the Republicans but is very afraid that this could happen. That she could actually become President would be obscene.

  • Asa


    This is what one of Palins supporters posted at her Facebook page:
    ‘It’s ok. Christina Taylor Green was probably going to end up a left wing bleeding heart liberal anyway. Hey, as ‘they’ say, what would you do if you had the chance to kill Hitler as a kid? Exactly.’

  • Anonymous

    The arrogance of the political right is appalling. They will never admit they are stirring up the unbalanced misfits of society.

    The high Sheriff in Tuscon, AZ is exactly right–the hatred spewing from radio and tv commentators has contributed greatly to this tragedy. It is nice to hear a voice of reason in such an insane situation. I admire him for speaking out about this matter.

  • Bewildered

    According to an article in the Guardian the gunman once referred to a classmate who had had an abortion as a ‘terrorist’. A young woman who terminates her pregnancy is a terrorist? What on earth is going on here? How to account for this obsession with abortion by the American right?

    I understand the religious objections to abortion, which, though I don’t share them myself, seem perfectly rational. I also understand why denying women the right to control their fertility has always been central to fascist and far-right ideologies. But what we’re looking at here is quite different from the situation in, say, much of Catholic Europe in the first part of the twentieth century, where abortion was illegal without being anything like the same kind of obsession it is in the US. How is it possible for anyone, even some unhinged gunman, to equate it with terrorism, with an attack on the US state? This is truly the dark side of the American polical psyche.

    Someone – I forget who, perhaps Marina Warner – speculating on the Catholic Church’s preoccupation with abortion since World War II, saw it as displaced guilt for the Vatican’s complicity in the Holocaust. If that’s right, then maybe this curious protectiveness towards unborn life in the US is American displaced guilt for its crimes – from Korea and Vietnam, to South American, to Iraq and Afghanistan. There has to be some explanation for a phenomenon that leaves me, as a European, completely bewildered. When did abortion first become this important in American political discourse? I’d love to know how Sara accounts for it.

  • This is terrible. And what is worse is the media coverage. We had the TV tuned to CNN on Saturday night, mumbling away in the background. One of the anchors (whose name escapes me right now, but always makes me think he should be pulling Santa’s sleigh….) tried valiantly to get one of the on-scene reporters to say that the perpetrator had an anti-Semitic motive. What was THAT all about? (The reporter had been looking at the gunman’s MySpace page, but refused to speculate along with the reindeer guy.)
    Who, other than the obviously disturbed young man who committed this atrocious act, really, truly knows what his motives were, or what precipitated the event? Of course, it’s easy to blame the rhetoric spouted by Republicans, the Tea Party, or the alignment of the moon, and all of these may have had some bearing on the matter, but most of what the media has been reporting is pure speculation. I, personally, wouldn’t mind blaming Sarah Palin, but that’s just my personal prejudice against her obvious (and pathetic) attempts to grab the limelight in whatever way she can.
    Sadly, Sara, I believe that all those people you mentioned, in their secret (black) hearts, are pleased at the effect their vitriolic rants have on the unstable people of the world.
    I sincerely hope that all of the victims recover and that Ms Giffords can regain her health and resume her life.

  • These are all valuable comments. Bewildered, I’d like to respond to this point but don’t have time right now–I think there’s a line from the end of sanctioned racial murder in the US south to the obsession with controlling women, but it’s hard for me to put into a coherent thought. Bag Lady, I think encouraging people to feed on their angriest thoughts is a good way to destabilize just those who are marginally stable, but many ordinary people as well. After Kristallnacht, Freud wrote a rather insightful essay on the way in which acting as a mob allows people to return to daily life without remorse, compunction or even reflection.

    Peggy you raise the gun point which is also important. Gail Collins points out in today’s NY Times (http:/// that the Glock Loughner used is designed solely as a weapon for murder and that we have allowed the NRA to bully and cow our politicians into allowing anyone and everyone to carry these, with laughable requirements for permits.
    Asa, that comment is so sickening that it makes the whole day seem unbearable.

  • Asa

    I’m sorry if my comment made your day unbearable 🙁 That was not the intention. I don’t think Palin is capable of recognizing she’s done something wrong. All I ever hear her say is Poor me, Soo unfair, Everyone picking on me, Bo-Ho. And the fanatics will stay fanatic. But the vast majority? Who aren’t extremists? I think and hope they will be swayed by this. Maybe something good will come out of the tragedy.

  • genny

    I thought it was very interesting (and not surprising) that the Speaker of the House preferred to attended a cocktail party in DC with 160+ republicans rather than attend the memorial service in AZ. If Gabby had been a republican can we guess where he would have been?

    His excuse that this was already scheduled is insulting. Certainly Pres Obama cancelled events to be at the services, as did other members of Congress.

  • Idzan, Malaysia

    Thank you Sara for the tip on the Seminary Co-op store. Will check it out. I have also kept the Tribune story on the best bookstores in Chicago. With our exchange rate 3.2 to USD as compared to 3.7 previously, I hope I can spend a bit more. I hope to buy some second hand books too. When I was in New England for my eldest girl;s graduation in 1999 , I went to Newton Mass. Mobile Bookstore. I am really impressed with the store’s collection.
    About the massacre, I am happy to read that Congressman Giffords is recovering. I am also sad to read the Loughner’s anguished apology for their son’s heinous act. They also do not understand why this happened.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t surprise me. He handed out cash for the tobacco industry on the floor of the House in the 1990’s. The service in Tucson was much better without him.

    Obama’s talk at the memorial service was uplifting and just what the people needed to hear.

  • Carsonl

    Have you read the commentary on this issue that shows “the right,” including Sarah Palin, had nothing to do with the shootings??

  • Dear Sara, I hope you won’t mind copying your text on my political german blog.

    With best wishes

    Klaus Baum

  • Shirley Ann B–yes, Obama’s talk was truly inspiring and healing and I hope many people heard or read his remarks. The whole speech moved me enormously, but especially his comment near the end, “I want to live up to [Christina’s] expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations. ” Amen and amen


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