On December 14, 2012, late in the afternoon - I became aware of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. It was painful to read the stories, emails and newsfeed as they poured over the tragedy. In times of crisis and pain like this, as a Muslim I immediately turn to prayer to gain strength and to reflect on the situation. In the evening, I joined an online prayer service on SeekersHub in Toronto.
The Toronto team was able to gather a large crowd at the Hub and online for our prayer for the victims and families of the murder in Connecticut. "The believer is pained by the pain of another," said Shaykh Faraz Rabbani while leading the prayers for the affected families of Connecticut.
Mainly through social media discussions, I began reading various viewpoints regarding the shooting. Some argued for greater gun control. Is this tragedy due to a lack of gun control policies? Maybe. We can consider this argument. But let us consider the argument that frequent mass shootings of innocent people are not symptoms of lack of gun control policies as well. Did Timothy McVeigh use guns in the Oklahoma bombing?
Others compared the discourse on the Newton Shooting to a month earlier discourse on the Israeli bombing of Gaza. On November 2012 - while bombs were hitting Gaza, and over 160 people died – many of whom were children, the US House of Representatives in one minute gave its “vigorous support” and “unwavering commitment” to Israel. Both, the U.S. Senate and House passed by unanimous consent resolutions defending Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip. These resolutions expressed no regret or mourning at the Palestinian loss of lives.
In response to the resolution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) disputed statements that the U.S. House of Representative unanimously endorsed Israel's “right to act in self-defense” in Gaza. According Rep Kucinich, the bill was introduced at 12:04 pm. The resolution was “agreed without objection” by 12:05 pm. “There was no notice, no committee hearing, no discussion and no debate. In such a fashion, we achieve unanimity on great matters related to the Middle East,” said Rep. Kucinich.
As the discussion on the Newton shooting continued, some commented on the use of drones in Pakistan, and how the deaths of innocent people in Pakistan by US drone strikes has passed without mourning, grief or reflection in the US. Recently, a U.S. drone killed eight people in rural Pakistan, bringing the estimated death toll from drone strikes in Pakistan this year to 35.
In a Washington Post article published on January 13, 2013 - Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minnesota) argued, "A recent study by human rights experts at Stanford Law School and the New York University School of Law found that the number of innocent civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes is much higher than what the U.S. government has reported: approximately 700 since 2004, including almost 200 children."
What does the violence in Gaza or Pakistan have to do with the Newton Shooting? I believe they are all connected.
Prophet Muhammad, upon him peace and blessings taught Muslims that, "The people before you were destroyed because they used to inflict the legal punishments on the poor and forgive the rich." This is not just an Islamic teaching but it was also taught by noble Americans who nurtured our country to a higher understanding of human dignity and value.
On April 4, 1967, Reverend Martin Luther King challenged America regarding the Vietnam War. In my opinion, what is true of the Vietnam War is true of the war in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and in Gaza, where many Palestinian civilians were killed funded by the US tax dollars. In "Vietnam: A Time Comes When Silence is Betrayal," Martin Luther King said the following:
"My third reason [for opposing the war] moves to a deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the past three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked me, and rightfully so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today my own government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent…”
This weekend - as a nation we will celebrate Reverend King's life. As we reflect on his life - let us step in his shoes and imagine having a face to face interaction with the desperate, rejected and angry young Gazans or Pakistanis, like King had with the Blacks in the ghettos.
Then, they ask us, and rightfully so, what about Gaza and Pakistan, and look at the destruction of Gaza funded by US Tax dollars? And they further ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Doesn't the US hit Pakistan with drones killing innocent people in Pakistan? How can we talk about gun control when we are financing violence in Gaza. How will we respond?
Like Prophet Muhammad and MLK, I firmly believe you cannot condemn the violence of the oppressed until you firmly condemn the violence of the strong, of those with power and influence.
A condemnation of the violence in Connecticut requires us to also condemn the violence which killed many nameless children by our own weapons. Our drones and missiles kill children as well, and not just guns. Instead of a national debate on gun control, we need a national debate on all forms of violence and accountability to the rule of law.
Furthermore, I encourage us to reflect on our thought processes and our self-defense rhetoric and ask ourselves - how different is our voice and our thoughts from those that took the lives of innocents in school shootings? Are we looking at people outside our boundaries, over there, the way the shooters behind the school shootings looked at our innocents in schools? Has our pain and fears blinded and deafened us from seeing, hearing or comprehending the voices of those "hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence?" Read the article - The reviews are in: 'Zero Dark Thirty makes me hate muslims'
Tragic events like the Connecticut shooting remind us to do some soul searching. What makes any country great is the commitment to great principles like human dignity, human rights, value of life and rule of law. Are we going to hold ourselves accountable for selectively applying these principles when they suit us? Do we believe these principles are for everyone or only for certain Americans?
I think it is important for the American perspective to wake up and realize that all human life is created equal and that problems far worse do exist and need to be addressed just as urgently. By saying this, I don't at all mean to minimize the brutal massacre of children and school teachers or the pain and suffering of those who are in Connecticut. What I do mean is that violence like this is far more widespread than we realize, and that where these types of events occur on a massive scale there is rarely a movement to hold perpetrators with power and influence accountable to the rule of law.
My heart goes out to the people who were affected by the unspeakable crime in Newtown and to all the nameless and faceless children who died everywhere without a committee hearing, discussion, public debate and mourning.