When I heard the news that the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had been shot in front of a grocery store, I was in a state of denial and shock. These things are not supposed to happen in the USA. Just a few days ago, Salman Taseer, the prominent governor of the Punjab Province in Pakistan had been assassinated for opposing the religious right in Pakistan. As tragic as his murder was for his family and Pakistan, it had occurred in a faraway country, where even the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto had been murdered. Even though we have learned about the tragic assassinations of Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy through the history books, we do not usually think about such events occurring in the contemporary USA.
The early reports had suggested that Congresswoman Giffords had been fatally shot, but later reports confirmed that she was in surgery and there was a significant chance that she may survive the attack. I felt a great sense of relief at that moment. This feeling was quickly tempered by the reports that a number of other victims had died, including a nine-year old girl, a judge and one of the Congresswoman's aides. Just the thought of the parents of the girl made me want to cry.
Then the name of the alleged shooter was released: Jared Loughner. For a brief moment, I felt sense of relief that the name did not sound Muslim and there did not seem to be any connection to Muslim terrorist organizations. I think that the image of Salman Taseer's recent assassination had me worry that the shooter in Tucson may have also been somehow linked to religious extremists. However, the moment I felt the slight relief that there did not appear to be a "Muslim connection", I also immediately felt saddened by my sense of "relief". There was nothing to feel relieved about. Six people had been murdered and a great Congresswoman who had been doing her job and talking to her constituents was now fighting for her life.
We do not yet know the exact motivations of the shooter, whether he suffered from a mental illness and whether he was acting alone or as part of a group. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik had the courage to say that the "vitriol" of anger, hatred and bigotry can affect unbalanced people. It is likely that he will be severely criticized and attacked for these comments, because we know so little about the motivations of the shooter, and whether the shooter was indeed responding to the current "vitriol". However, there is little doubt that hatred and anger can promote violent and tragic acts. This has been true throughout human history, and it is just as true in Pakistan as it is in the USA. At this point we can only hope and pray for the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords as well as the other survivors of the attack. We can pray that the families of those who were murdered will have the strength to recover from the tragedy.
At this time we must also think about the fact that our words can indeed impact fellow humans, in ways that we may not be able to predict. Every time we utter or tolerate words of anger and hate, we may be contributing to a culture of violence. Disagreements are not only common but even necessary when we discuss topics such as religion and politics. However, the tragedy in Tucson may remind us that we have to convey our disagreements in a tone of respect and with the intent of achieving true dialogue instead of hostility.