James’s Musings

thoughts, photography, and geeky stuff
from an unrelentingly curious Silicon Valley entrepreneur

Tucson = Islamabad? (or Extremism Exists in America, Too)

by James G. Beldock on January 8, 2011

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.

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Laura Lauder January 9, 2011 at 8:02 am

James,
A beautifully written treatise on the human extremist who lives among us everywhere. Except, in America, we allow them, regardless mental illness, to legally purchase guns. We even allow them to conceal them, and we often don’t require training or registration. Gun laws in America are a victim of our democracy and the power of money in politics – the NRA’s outsized power is a shanda. PAX and other civil society groups must work together to support the Gabby Giffords of the Congress to outlaw handguns and semi-automatic rifles, or to at least require waiting perioeds, background checks, training requirements, registration, etc. Alas, these requirements would not likely have saved Giffords or Tiller from their would-be murderers.

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