As I write this on Friday morning, safe (or am I?) at home in Seattle, we don't know much about the mass shooting incident overnight at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. No doubt by the time you read this, we'll know more. I don't need to know more, though, in order to say what I have to say, because I know one essential fact: the killer is not a Muslim.
Because he's not a Muslim, over the coming days excuses and caveats will be incorporated into our national "narrative" about the incident, etcetera, etcetera. We've seen this movie before. The President of the United States has already said something suitably solemn. No doubt he'll fly into Denver, as he flew into Tucson last year, and speak eloquently at a memorial service. But we need more and better than that - not only or primarily from the president, but from ourselves and each other.
Some readers surely will object to my pointing out what the alleged killer is not. But the fact that James Holmes is not a Muslim - indeed that, as a former San Diego neighbor put it, he "seemed to be a normal kid" - is all too relevant. Not that Muslims aren't normal; they're no less normal than you or me or James Holmes. What the Aurora rampage should bring home to normal Americans is that the clear and present danger to American society is not only among us, it is us. Not to put too fine a point on it, but in Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine one of the makers of the show South Park (I forget which one) describes the Denver suburb of Littleton, site of the infamous Columbine massacre and not far from Aurora, as "painfully normal". I've been to both towns, and I concur.
After Jared Loughner killed six people and almost killed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson on January 8, 2011, I wrote an article asking "Is America Any Different from Pakistan?" The article drew parallels between the Giffords shooting and the then-recent assassination of the liberal Pakistani politician Salmaan Taseer. It also drew predictable rhetorical fire, such as this:
Yawn yet another typical leftie more than willing to jump on the bandwagon of blaming the right, America, and any other group he/she opposes for the actions of a mentally insane person. Jared Loughner appears to have been a psychotic, I suspect a schizophrenic.
I might be accused again now of politicizing a tragedy. So be it. The insistence that something is not political is itself a political gambit, in fact a bullying tactic. And, as a free American, I'm sick and tired of being bullied and told to live in fear.
If I'm sick and tired of it, I can only imagine how my Muslim friends must feel, after more than a decade of being made to feel less than American. This is very relevant at a time when prominent right-wing politicians are getting away with making McCarthyist insinuations about who gets to count as American and who doesn't. Jared Loughner was dismissed (as above) as a lone nut; no doubt James Holmes will be too. When a troubled young U.S. citizen named Faisal Shahzad tried to blow up Times Square, TV coverage ran provocative taglines like MADE IN PAKISTAN. (I felt compelled at the time to write an article titled "Some of My Best Friends Are Pakistanis".) It's not fair. And it's past time we acknowledged that troubled young men like Loughner and Holmes are made in America.
This particular incident may not be directly political, but it certainly is symptomatic. In terms of the news cycle, it will have its day, then America will, as we say, move on. Americans are good at moving on, the way Mr. Magoo used to move on through mayhem of his own making. Before we do, we might want to reflect on what the phenomenon of lines around the block for midnight screenings of a film like The Dark Knight Rises says about our society. Much was made in the pre-release hype of the film's 9/11-esque scenario. And then the real-life gunman who kills at least twelve and terrorizes an entire movie audience and a nation beyond turns out to be a normal American. Hmm.
ETHAN CASEY is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004), Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010), and Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti (2012). He is also co-author, with Michael Betzold, of Queen of Diamonds: The Tiger Stadium Story (1992). Web: www.ethancasey.com or www.facebook.com/ethancaseyfans Join his email list here.