By now, you have heard the news. A gunman opens fire on a public figure in violent repudiation of that public figure’s beliefs. The public figure is shot. Extremists mark another victory. Think I’m writing about the today’s horrific attack in Tucson, Arizona? And happy that the public figure, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is expected to survive? I could be. But sadly this particular public figure, Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, was not as “lucky” as Rep Giffords. He died on the spot, having been shot twenty-seven times, murdered because he spoke out loudly against the strict anti-blasphemy laws promulgated by Gen. Zia ul-Haq during his “presidency” (which ended in 1988).
Last year, I traveled Pakistan to speak at a counter-terrorism conference. I met numerous devout, serious Muslims who decried the senseless violence extremists have brought to their country. Little did I think that, just a year later, I would be comparing those well-meaning, peaceful Pakistanis with the peaceful, shocked residents of Arizona. But here we are, a modern first world democracy, confronting the fact that our own internal extremists brook no more dissent than do Pakistan’s and feel no more compunction at shedding the blood of leaders with whom they disagree than do the likes of Mumtaz Qadri (Taseer’s murderer and bodyguard). In Pakistan, extremists murdered Benazir Bhutto for her non-extremist beliefs; in the United States, extremists murdered Dr. George Tiller for practicing abortion. Pakistani extremists defy the Koran when they take the lives of other Muslims whose beliefs they do not agree; American extremists defy their (mostly Christian) beliefs when they take the lives of those whose beliefs they don’t like.
Now we find out that the alleged perpetrator in Arizona is mentally ill. Does that exonerate him? Make him any less an extremist? The vast majority of schizophrenics lead non-violent, if unenviable lives. Few of them create YouTube channels devoted to anti-government rantings. So I brand him extreme. When will we—Americans and Pakistanis alike—act collectively against the overt hostility of our public debate, before it roils itself into outright murder? We live today in a democracy transmogrified into a killing field, in which those with whom we disagree politically are not only not worthy of our respect, but not worthy of their own lives. It is already too late to save the first victims. Will Americans wait until political killing is reaches the heights it has reached in Venezuela, or Pakistan, or Myanmar?
I have spent much of my professional career fighting to end one type of violence: gun violence. Every day, my work at ShotSpotter helps save lives, solve gun-related crimes, and take criminals off the street who would otherwise keep using guns to destroy lives and communities. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be asked to join the Board of Directors of PAX, our country’s leading non-profit dedicated to reducing youth gun violence. I thought I was making a difference. And then I wake up on a day like today, and I read the news from Islamabad, and the news from Tucson, and I realize just how much more difference there is to be made, and how much work we all have before us.