The Aftermath of Hate & Terror

On Sunday morning I walked into work and immediately saw the news: 49 dead; 53 wounded at a mass shooting in Orlando that is being called a domestic terrorist attack. I felt numb and was shocked. For hours, I have sat here wondering what there is to even say.

Some words by Robert F. Kennedy came to mind from a speech he gave the night after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. “It is not the concern of any one race. The victims of the violence are black and white, rich and poor, young and old, famous and unknown. They are, most important of all, human beings whom other human beings loved and needed. No one – no matter where he lives or what he does – can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed. And yet it goes on and on.” (Full text of RFK’s speech)

Politics will, in the end, find its way into this horrible atrocity. Both sides will back into their proverbial corners and begin spouting their typical talking points. The left will start talking about more gun control and hate crimes. The right will focus on Americans needing easier access to guns to protect themselves and radical Islam. Neither of these are actual solutions and only work to prohibit further discussion. As we have seen many other times, we talk today but do nothing tomorrow.

“Yet we seemingly tolerate a rising level of violence that ignores our common humanity and our claims to civilization alike. We calmly accept newspaper reports of civilian slaughter in far off lands. We glorify killing on movie and television screens and call it entertainment. We make it easy for men of all shades of sanity to acquire weapons and ammunition they desire.” Robert F. Kennedy~

In truth there is no easy solution. I wish I had one to make the pain and suffering go away. But as we move forward, we must allow common sense into the discussion. Our regular talking points have been worn out and have become a burden on making any progress.

In the US we have the constitutional right to bear arms. Common sense says that there must be a solution to gun violence that will uphold our right yet not arm the entire public. I don’t really want to be a part of a society where everyone must be armed all the time in order to protect themselves.

“We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.” Robert F. Kennedy~

Our emotions are running high. They range from disbelief to sadness to anger. And though it is normal and appropriate for these feelings we must not give in to them. If we allow ourselves to follow that path of darkness then we will become no better than the gunman as anger can only lead to more hatred and to more violence.

Today, I choose to be open in my political discourse on guns and our Second Amendment right. I acknowledge that there is not a single solution or an easy one. And I choose to see the light and the good in my fellow man. It was Anne Frank that wrote,”[I]n spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”


Genocide: The Modern Religious War

When one hears of genocide, most often The Holocaust comes to mind first.  Some of us are old enough though to remember such atrocities in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Rwanda in the 1990s.  The latter marked 20-years just last week.  Each time that we hear of such things we always say, “Never again.”  But each time that it happens, we tend to turn a blind eye to it as if ignoring the situation will make it better or go away.

In Rwanda, it was the Hutus and Tutsis that were trying to eradicate the each other.  In Kosovo, it was ethnic Albanians versus ethnic Serbs.  And in Bosnia, there were Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks all fighting each other. With history as hindsight, it was our first glimpse of the larger Christian vs. Muslim conflict that was playing out around the world… something we would be brought into more directly with the attacks on September 11, 2001.

With each of those instances we still stated, “Never again.”  And yet, even today we turn  a blind eye to the genocide of our world.  Now it’s happening in the Central African Republic (CAR) and has Christians (anti-balaka) and Muslims (Seleka) attempting to wipe out each other.  This conflict has been going on since December 2012 and has largely been skipped by western media outlets with the exception of a few scattered reports.



In December 2012, the mostly Muslim Seleka forces began a coup against the government which culminated in a seizure of power in March 2013.  They would remain in power for 10-months and during that time, according to Amnesty International, they “were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, looting, and massive burning and destruction of Christian villages.”

The President of the new government, Michel Djotodia, declared the Seleka disbanded in September 2013 though most of the militias refused to disband.  But as such atrocities mounted, he resigned in January  2014 due in large part to regional pressure.  A new interim government was formed and a new interim president was elected on January 20th.  US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, has flown to CAR to meet with the interim president who still has very little power or control of the situation.

With the Seleka forces now in retreat, the Christian forces (Anti-balaka) are now committing the same offenses against the Muslim communities as had been done to them.  And the Seleka forces are still committing the same attacks on Christian communities as they retreat.  It’s a slaughter running right down the religious divide of Muslim vs. Christian.

In February 2014, Amnesty International released a report that stated, “International peacekeepers have failed to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Muslim civilians int he western part of the Central African Republic.”  It went on to further criticize the tepid response from the international community to the situation.

My father, Soba Tibati, could hardly walk and could not run away when the anti-balaka attacked our village.  They decapitated him in front of my eyes as he sat on a straw mat under a tree outside our hut.  Twelve other members of my family were also massacred in the same attack.  The youngest was a baby girl who was just six months old.
Dairu Soba, survivor of an attack by anti-balaka fighters on January 8.
Courtesy: Amnesty International

On April 10, 2014, the United Nations passed Security Council resolution 2149 which authorized the deployment of a multidimensional United Nations peacekeeping operation (MINUSCA) with the protection of civilians as its top priority.  Other tasks include, “support for the transition process; facilitating humanitarian assistance; promotion and protection of human rights; support for justice and the rule of law; and disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and repatriation processes.”

Regardless, the world can no longer ignore and turn a blind eye to the ongoing situation in the Central African Republic.  Genocide is still genocide regardless of who is committing the atrocity.  We should never utter the words, “Never again” as we should put a stop to genocide at any moment that it arises.  Instead we should look to the motto, “Not now; not ever.

Boston Common

The Politicizing Of Boston With Immigration Reform

It seems only fitting that I write this post today.  On April 19, 1775, the first battles of the American Revolution occurred at Lexington and Concord.  It would be the start of a long, drawn-out war with Great Britain that would officially end with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  This past week, the eyes of the entire nation have once again been on the city of Boston… what was generally considered the cradle of the rebellion against the British monarchy.  This time, though, it is because of act of violence that left three dead and over a hundred people injured.  Authorities do have suspects.  One of them is already deceased while the other remains at large at the time of this writing.  However, I’m not actually here to discuss the bombing or the suspects directly, but an indirect consequence that all of this is having on a different discussion that is just now taking center stage in Washington… immigration reform.

deskepticon_1How this connection is made is quite simple.  The family of the suspects is from the Russian republic of Chechnya in the Caucuses region… an area that has been fighting with the Russian government for independence.  However, both suspects were born in the country of Kyrgyzstan.  One of the brothers came to the US in 2002 while the other arrived in 2004.  Both were considered refugees from Chechnya.  The youngest of the brothers had become a permanent resident of the US in 2011.  This part of the immigration debate actually has to do with legal immigration instead of the illegal part that we so often discuss.  The Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, Bryan Fischer, tweeted, “Part of the ‘national conversation’ about Boston should include whether we suspend Muslim immigration to the U.S. NOW.”  And liberal columnist for the The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, Cynthia Tucker, tweeted, “This smacks of the sort of terrorism that has plagued Britain, committed by legally-admitted but alienated residents. #BostonMarathon”  Though both sides of the political spectrum seem to have some agreement with this, both couldn’t be farther from the truth in this debate.

By Fischer’s own comment, we are to completely stereotype an entire group of people and forbid them from coming to this country and living as ordinary, law-abiding citizens that contribute to our country and to our society because of the actions of these two men.  Somehow, there seems to be a double standard to this on a couple of different levels.  It’s easy to find a scapegoat in this situation… to blame all Muslims and immigrants (even those that are non-Muslim) for the violent acts of these two suspects.  However, one must wonder what Mr. Fischer would say be saying if they were Christian and from somewhere in Europe.  Yes, they do exist, too.  And contrary to what Ms. Tucker tweeted, Britain’s problems haven’t always been the influx of Muslim immigrants.  It used to be the IRA (the Irish Republican Army) which was deemed a terrorist organization that bombed innocent people, and they were Christians.  So should we not let Irish people immigrate to the US… or Christians for that matter… in case they might have terrorist intentions?  I don’t see anyone speaking up in favor of this.  We tend to judge those types of immigrants on an individual basis, so why shouldn’t we do that with Muslims still?  What about Italian immigrants?  It used to be that Italian immigrants made up parts of the mafia that would go around terrorizing the cities in which they lived.  Should they be excluded from immigrating here because of past mistakes of people they have no connection with?  Again, I don’t see too many people speaking up in favor of this either.

And as much as people would like to infuse the debate on immigration reform into the Boston Marathon bombings… thus politicizing it, these same people are still forgetting about American citizens (people that are born here as US citizens) that commit acts of terrorism.  We are turning a blind eye to this part of the conversation.  If we are to deny an entire group of people legal immigration status because of the action of two people, should we not stereotype our own citizens with the same levels of hatred?  The Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 were bombed by Eric Robert Rudolph.  He was an American… not an immigrant.  He belonged to the Christian Identity movement which is a militant, racist, and anti-Semitic organization.  Though not an immigrant, should his acts be held against other Christians?  What about Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing?  Should white men not be allowed to rent moving trucks because of the horrible act this man committed?  In both of these questions, any rational person that is not speaking with absolute fear would answer ‘no.’

WRD - refugeeThe problem with stereotyping a group of people is that it is only done out of fear and has no place in rational, logical discussions.  Fischer went on to tweet later in the day, “I think we can safely say that Rubio’s amnesty plan is DOA. And should be. Time to tighten, not loosen, immigration policy.”  So again, his thought process is that the violent and hateful acts should also be placed on other legal immigrants just because they are immigrants.  I would also hazard a bet that he also speaks out heavily on illegal immigration.  The problem with that is that we can’t deal with illegal immigration unless we deal with the broken legal immigration system.  And by tightening it to the point to where he’d possibly be satisfied, it would probably only exacerbate the illegal immigration situation.  In this particular instance, you can’t have it both ways.   And he also forgets one tidbit of additional information… that these two suspects were refugees.  The US has a different set of policies when it comes to refugees from war-torn areas than just people wanting to immigrate to our country.  Should we be stopping all refugees from entering our country?  While the Bosnian War raged on during the 1990s, the US took in thousands of Bosnian refugees.  I live in a city where many of these refugees have settled.  They are peaceful, law-abiding people that have worked hard to be a part of our society.  Since coming here, they have opened up new “mom and pop” businesses and have worked to add their culture to our own.  If a couple of them had been bad seeds in the way that the two suspects in Boston have been, does that mean we should have stopped allowing them to come into our country?  Absolutely not.  And what about the ones that were already here?  Would we have kicked them out, or would they be allowed to stay?  The problem with stereotyping as I am seeing done, as it is being injected into the immigration debate, is that it doesn’t hold up in an actual rational debate.  When people start speaking (or tweeting) this utter-nonsense, it just shows that they are afraid.  Terrorism lives on fear… but it can’t win when there is courage.  And one of the best things I saw that day in Boston was the courage of those who rushed toward the scene to help those who needed it the most.  We must always be diligent, but we must not give in to fear.  Terrorism can’t win so long as there is courage to combat the fear, and stereotypes can’t win so long as there is logical, rational thought to defeat it.

The second suspect is now in police custody.  Keep in mind, he is still considered a suspect.  Under the US Constitution, he is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  The task now falls onto the state to get him convicted.

Point-Scoring on Immigration – Slate
Questions from Boston – POLITICO

The Silent Discussion

For the past several days, across our country, we have been glued to the news at the horrible events in Newtown, Connecticut.  The word “tragic” just doesn’t seem to do any good to describe this awful event.  But it finally has this nation talking about several subjects that have been off limits for the past several years.  I’m not here to discuss gun control or not.  I did that in an article last August when no one else seemed to be talking about it after the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin.  Though we have talked about the news story, everyone seemed to leave the overall issues aside.  As the country now debates gun control and even mental health issues, I can only assume that the larger issue will be completely overlooked and the secondary ones will resort to the same old political rhetoric that have scared us away from them in the first place.

America_Mental_HealthI’ll start with the overall secondary issues, and first on that list is mental illness.  Though the media might put on the term of “deranged” onto any individual who caries out these mass shooting spree that is not an indication that they are mentally ill.  According to an article from the St. Louis Beacon, “Statistics show that the overall contribution to violence by mentally ill people in the United States is ‘exceptionally small’.”  So though the media might put on words to make us think in such a way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true.  Some of these individuals are just committing suicide, but because of the way our media and the viewing public operate, they decide to go out in a blaze of glory that will forever get them remembered, and they always try to outdo the previous ones.  Think about it… with all the mass shootings over that past several years, how many of the gunmen’s names do you remember and how many of the victims’ names?  We obviously can’t stop people from committing suicide 100% as much as we would like to, but we can take away their motivation for doing these mass shootings… especially if the person committing these vile acts remained nameless.  But what about those that are mentally ill, even if it is a small percentage.  Obviously, this puts the spotlight on mental illness again.  In this country, we have tended to ignore mental illness for the past several years.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 26.2% of Americans 18-years old and older (about 1 in 4 adults) has a mental disorder.  When applied to the 2004 national study conducted by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that is roughly 57.7-million people.  These could range from social phobias, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism to major depressive disorder, bi-polar disorder, and suicide.  There are two sets of stigmas that we should be addressing with mental health.  First is the stigma we place on the individual.  We tend to treat them differently as if they aren’t part of our society.  We tend to chastise them, make fun of them, and overall place a “bad” image of them on the people that are around.  The second stigma comes to parents that have children that have a mental disability. Every parents wants to think their child is perfect, but sadly that is never the case.  The stigma here goes to the parent feeling like they are a failure if there is something wrong with their child, and they want to hide it away as much as possible.  The only failure is when a parent refuses to admit there’s a problem and seeks that help for their child.  I’m not claiming every parent is like that as many parents do seek help and guidance from professionals in those situations, but there are still those that don’t.  And even as these children grow into adults, parental guidance can sometimes go out the window.  It is imperative that family and friends continue to watch to make sure that the individual is getting the help that he/she needs as an adult as they might have gotten as a child.  And as a society, we need to start disassembling the stigma that there is something “bad” about mentally ill people.  Most struggle with it, and, in fact, you probably know someone who is but you may not be aware of it.  Most are kind and caring people that wouldn’t do anything like what we’ve been seeing on the news, but there are those few “bad seeds” that ruin it for everyone else.

Mass Shootings 1980-2010So can we stop these types of shootings?  Not really.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about gun control or the Second Amendment (as it has been defined by the Supreme Court).  According to statistics (cited both in The Arizona Republic and The Washington Post), overall crime in the US is down.  However, to the untrained observer, it would appear that mass murders are increasing.  But according to official police reports to the FBI as stated in The Boston Globe, there has been no increase in mass shootings in the past few decades.  An average of 20 such shootings occur annually and an average of 100-people die each year according to the data.  That puts it rather coldly if one thinks about it in such terms.  So the conversation now moves to gun control, and let’s first get the old political rhetoric out of the way… gun control does not mean they are going to take away law-abiding citizens’ guns.  According to an article in Mother Jones, from 1982-2012 most of the weapons that the assailants used were purchased legally and that the weapon of choice was usually a semi-automatic.  Depending on which side of the political spectrum you fall on… more gun control or more guns, one can always find statistics and facts to back up their claims.  And both can be used as a solution to this part of the problem.  As stated earlier in the paragraph, most of the weapons used in these mass shootings were purchased legally by today’s law, though if the laws were tweaked a bit, it could keep certain individuals with mental health/psychological disorders from purchasing their weapons.  And Congress could put back in place the assault-weapons ban which expired in 2004… which the extension of the law had the support of then-President George W. Bush; however, the Republicans in Congress had been brainwashed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Democrats were too afraid to go near the subject and risk political backlash.  There is no reason for such weapons in our society.  Sure, most that own them do so legally without incident.  Even in the case of Newtown, Connecticut, as it appears now, the weapons were bought legally by the shooter’s mother and were hers, and that he took them.  Again, you can’t prevent that, but you can limit the amount of semi-automatic weapons that are out there to carry out such horrible attacks.  But there are other things other than placing a ban on semi-automatic weapons in place.  Out of the first world countries, the US has the most lax gun laws.  According to CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, to buy a gun in Japan, a person must pass a written exam, a skills test, a drug test, and a mental health exam.  What would be wrong with such regulations here?  Most law abiding citizens would still be allowed to own a gun.  And the flip side of this argument, if more people were allowed to carry a gun, then some situations could have a drastically lower number of fatalities… and there have been some instances when lives have been saved by someone taking out a gunman with a personal weapon that they were carrying.  So both worlds are needed.  There needs to be common sense regulations (i.e. the ban on semi-automatic weapons) but also allowing people to conceal and carry as well.  Both can exist together.

InDeclaration: Gun Control and the Right to Bear Arms

We’ve tried to break this whole situation down to gun control in this country with some people attempting to bring in mental health, as well, and both are certainly key to it.  But we need to look at our culture… which includes the media.  We are fixated on violence… from TV shows to movies to video games.  It’s what sells, so that’s what gets made.  And the media doesn’t help by covering not the victims of such an attack but rather the person that carried it out.  I asked a hypothetical earlier which you should answer to yourself.  How many victims do you remember and how many shooters?  We need to reform our culture and thus our society to not be fixated on such things.  Some of the individuals that do this want to go out in a blaze of glory, and they achieve that by who we are and what we do.  If we put all the attention on the victims and none on who did it, they would lose their main reason.  Notice that each time it happens, they try to outdo another one that came before.  It’s one thing to commit suicide (as most do kill themselves in the end), but it’s another to take out a bunch of other innocent people before doing it.  Is anything we do going to solve this problem 100%.  Nope.  There will be times when people will find a way to carry out these attacks.  And though they can’t be prevented, they can be reduced in numbers so that we aren’t hearing about them every month.

As our politicians tackle the issues of mental health funding and gun control laws, we, the people, must focus on our society and how we correct a wrong turn that we made a long time ago.  We must be willing to seek help (for ourselves or for someone we know) if they need it.  There is nothing “bad” about having a mental illness and needing to get that help.  We must teach our kids that value of peace and love.  This does not happen by returning God into our schools.  I am a religious individual, and, to me, God belongs in our homes, our places of worship, and most importantly, in our own hearts.  Those are lessons that need to be taught at home.  Home life can be hectic, but there needs to be time for such lessons.  We should be discussing all of it.  And when I say we, I mean everybody from the President and Congress to the moms and dads and children.  The event in Newtown has awakened a discussion that we should have started having a long time ago before it ever got this bad.  Don’t let this moment slip through the cracks.  Let’s all start doing our share of this national conversation so that when we say “no more”, we can actually mean it.  This latest mass shooting tore at every heart string we had, and I don’t want to see what the next one will consist of to outdo it.  No more turning a blind eye.  It’s time for the real discussion to begin.

NY Times – “Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?”

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