Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

Violence, Vulnerability and Values

It was more than a little eerie to be traveling in Europe when Metrojet Flight 9268 dropped from the sky amid speculation of a mid-air exploding bomb, which was later confirmed.

Muslim rebel with automatic rifle and machine-gun belt

It was just as eerie from our living room back in Oregon to watch the horror of the Paris terrorist attacks last Friday in places that just a few weeks before we had walked.

It was eerie to learn the same Air France flight we took a month ago was diverted to Salt Lake City because of a credible anonymous tip.

People embrace while preparing to get driven to Umpqua Community College to collect belongings Friday, Oct. 2, 2015, in Roseburg, Ore. Armed with multiple guns, Chris Harper Mercer walked in a classroom at the community college, Thursday, and opened fire, killing several and wounding several others and forcing the evacuation of students and faculty from the school. (AP Photo/John Locher)

AP Photo/John Locher

As we have reflected on terror across the sea, we remembered the horror at home before we left when a lone gunman, armed with an automatic rifle, pistols and explosives, walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg and started shooting at random, much like the shooters at the Bataclan theater in Paris.

Vulnerability is an inescapable emotional response. An attack can occur while you are in a classroom or on a plane, while eating a relaxing dinner or watching your favorite band. An attack can occur whether you are abroad or at home.

These attacks spark moral outrage and generate promises to mete out social justice. Even as arrests and bombing raids provide some form of catharsis, we still feel undressed by raw violence. There is nothing that can protect us from someone wearing a suicide vest.

As we search for an answer to why this violence occurs, we detect at least one common thread – an apocalyptic view of the world. These are agents of hell on earth.

Suicidal men and women – some educated, some not; some professing one religion, some another – seem bent on destruction and chaos as an end game. It’s as if they don’t want to miss out on the calamity of an apocalypse, so they start their own.

ISIS wants to establish a caliphate. Lone-wolf shooters want their manifesto of discontent published. Neither desire strikes sane people as a reason to murder random innocent people.

Mass shootings are crimes of premeditation, not passion. They spawn from tortured logic – violence will deepen existing racial and religious divides or will force people to pay attention to alienation or poverty or mental illness.

These events may or may not divide or draw attention to serious issues. But they do succeed in breeding a communal sense of vulnerability.

Fear is a powerful human emotion. It can inspire acts of grace and courage. It also can ignite hateful comments and actions.

A woman carries her child to escape from the burnt tents at Zattari Syrian refugee camp near Mafraq, Syria, on March 8. A heavy fire broke out and consumed a large number of tents. UNICEF reports that more than two million Syrian children are internally displaced refugees within Syria.

The refugee phobia following news that one of the Paris terrorists carried a Syrian passport is a case in point. Politicians called for raising the gate and putting alligators in the moat to bar entry by refugees, even though authorities concluded the Syrian passport was a fake.

Apparently the “No Entry” sign also should apply to infants, according to one politico, because you never know if they are carrying an assault rifle under their shabby clothing.

In response to one of my posts on Facebook sympathetic to permitting refugees to come to America, someone wrote, “Wait until innocent people are being killed.” As if there aren’t already innocent people being killed, which led to the mass exodus from Syria.

Paranoia extended beyond refugees. A leading presidential candidate talked openly of monitoring mosques and registering Muslims.

Another companion of fear is hysteria. Suddenly a community is divided into “us” and “them,” which makes it okay to beat up someone for disagreeing with you.

American valuesEveryone wants to have a sanctuary, somewhere they feel safe. When madmen and madwomen mow down people in classrooms and cafes, in theaters and shopping malls, we feel helpless to prevent it. The vulnerability is vicarious.

Our vulnerability is real, but succumbing to the fear it engenders is deficit surrender to terror. We must act to enhance our safety, but not at the expense of our values. When our values are vulnerable, we are really in trouble.

 

 

 

 

 

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