Connecticut School Shooting: If Adam Lanza Were Named Tariq Muhammad Would the Media be Calling This an Act of "Terrorism?"
My heart goes out to the families, children, victims, and all others impacted by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut.
America's obsession with guns has played out its dark game once more. We are eating our young because so many believe that America is a gunfighter nation. For them, the "right" to bear arms trumps any reasonable legislation about restricting access to certain types of firearms. This most recent mass shooting, which will likely be the worst incident of gun violence in recent American history, is not going to cause a rethinking of the country's love affair with such weapons. Nor will the mass murder of 20 children and 6 adults by Adam Lanza weaken the NRA's hold on our legislators. The NRA and their clan will retreat back to a default position and rhetorical redoubt where "guns don't kill people, only people do."
These same ideologues, who in the 21st century remain some type of throwback premodern tribesman at the early dawn of human history, are utterly devoted to a fetish object of metal and plastic which they worship as a god. For them, the mass shooting of children in Newton, Connecticut will be a funeral pyre whose light they will read as spirits dancing in the shadows, beckoning to them that more guns equals less crime, and that school teachers--and perhaps even children--should be allowed to carry firearms in school. Magical thinking brings public policy solutions that are not grounded in common sense or empirical reality.
As the details of the murderous rampage trickle out, all of the standard talking points by the media will be hit upon. Was Adam Lanza mentally ill? What type of weapons did he us? Were there warning signs? Acts of heroism by the adults and children in the school will be profiled. The first responders will be praised and profiled. People will cry. The pundits will tear up in an effort to show some personal, human connection, to a story that will feed the next news cycle, and will potentially make a career or two for some upstart journalist or TV personality.
Per our national script, there are several questions which will go unanswered...just as they always do. As I wrote about in regards to James Holmes, the Batman movie killer, there will be no soul searching about why white men are committing these violent acts. In the present, mass shootings have been almost the exclusive province of white men.
One would think someone in the mass media (or who studies gun violence and public health) would find that a mighty curious fact and want to delve deeper into the relationship(s) between whiteness, masculinity, and gun violence.
In all, there will not be a national conversation--one of our country's most overused phrases, what is empty language signalling nothing--exploring if there is a crisis in white masculinity, which in turn is driving these types of horrific crimes.
If Adam Lanza was an Arab American with one of those "Muslim sounding" names, then today's script would be quite different. Questions of "terrorism" would loom large: it would be the default frame for reading the Connecticut school shooting. In all, the United States has a post 9/11 hangover where a moment of national trauma made one group of Americans a perpetual Other.
A person of color who happens to be of Arab descent, and who is Muslim by chosen faith or birth, is not allowed to be a deranged individual who made a choice to kill dozens of people. His or her identity and personhood is one that is "politicized" by default in the West. As such, all actions, however random or outliers, are taken as representative of some type of collective identity, one where terrorism is an inexorable part of its character.
Once more the luxury of being white in the United States is the freedom to have your violent deeds be a reflection of a personal failing, as opposed to a cultural or racial one. On a practical level, White privilege is a set of taken for granted and unearned advantages in life. On an abstract level, white privilege also removes certain questions from consideration regarding such matters as social deviancy and crime. As we saw with James Holmes, and now today with Adam Lanza, an unwillingness to ask those hard questions about gun violence, white masculinity, and crime will only continue to hurt all of us across the colorline.