Neighbours to a Hostage Situation


October 30, 2015 by rebelwithalabelmaker

It isn’t apathy.  It’s not that they don’t care.  They care so much.

They are acting like beaten spouses who are trying to figure out what they could do differently to get the violence to stop.

Every time there’s a mass shooting, they fill up my Facebook feeds.  This isn’t okay, they say, over and over again, trying to find the right way to say it that will suddenly cause the lights to go on in the minds of their citizens.

And, as a non-American, I would be loathe to criticize.  Loathe to tell them that the way they think of forced marriages or female circumcision in other cultures is how the world thinks of their cultural practices around guns–the endless images of rows upon rows of school children butchered over some dreamed up idea of the right to bear arms.  It seems cruel to tell them about the way the rest of the world watches them, when they argue about what rights are enshrined in their constitution.  How silly that seems.  Words written hundreds of years ago and enshrined as holy texts are all interchangeable.  When these texts allow for the slaughter of innocent people, they should be overruled.  Nothing is that sacred.  It’s that simple.

It is cruelty to say this, because the Americans I know are, for the most part, already doing everything they can to stop it–speaking out in every way they know how against a powerful minority that holds the guns.  Studying in a distance education program alongside Americans, I have been putting my head down and repeating “not my culture, not for me to have an opinion”, because I know how damaging a blustering, uninformed, well intentioned speech maker in a foreign culture can be.

Would I do that if I were witnessing friends reeling from the horror of honour killings that nobody was taking sensible measures to prevent?  Would I do that in the face of people carving up the genitals of their children in the name of religion or culture?  I wouldn’t.  I’d try to speak temperately and sensitively, and I’d try to listen more than I spoke, but I wouldn’t stay quiet.

When it comes to America, I have done a lot of listening.  That is the nature of Canada.  We watch the violence unfold on TV, and we live our daily lives in an atmosphere that is in sharp contrast with what we are seeing.  Which creates a strong sense of hope and pain.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  In Canada, it isn’t.  Not because Canada has unique or special gun laws–we are more the norm than the exception.  America has unique gun laws.  Ludicrous ones.

Over the years, my sense of “But don’t they see?” has evolved to a gut wrenching “Oh.  They do see.  They just can’t figure out how to change it.”  Much like I can’t figure out how to change the systemic, silent, and extremely convenient freezing out of various Aboriginal groups and cultures in my country.

Dear America:  The rest of the world does not see your struggle with guns as a debate about various rights and freedoms and public policy.  They do not see you as wrestling with a complex problem that is hard to fix.  It’s easy to fix.  Other countries have figured it out.  We see you as like the religious zealots praying over AIDS but unwilling to let anyone use condoms.  The bodies of the butchered in this one go down with those honour killed, or tortured into suicide by the “treatments” for their homosexuality.

Since you know this, and since the majority of you want gun control and so many of you are speaking vocally out in favour of it, it seems cruel for me to stop here.  I need to go on, to say this:

Dear America:  I’m sorry for your loss.

I’m sorry you are trapped in a violent system that you did not create and struggle to figure out how to dismantle.  I’m sorry for the helplessness, and the fear.

And I’m sorry that because you are powerful, we fail you as neighbours.  We fail to speak out as we would for those being sacrificed to cultural delusions in other countries.

Next time, when I see you join in a collective sob for the latest river of blood and bullets, I want you to know that I stand beside you silently.  Like I would for the woman holding the hand of the body of her honour killed sister, wondering if there was something she could have done differently.

I may not be one of you, but I feel your heartbreak.  And I do have a right to speak about it.

Even a responsibility.

3 thoughts on “Neighbours to a Hostage Situation

  1. Thank you, Liz. As one of the crazy Americans who is willing to say out loud that I don’t just support minor, fiddly gun control legislation but a complete overhaul perhaps starting with better amendment, I really appreciate this. Our gun culture is absolutely insane, and I worry that we will export it the way we have a lot of other bad ideas.

  2. Greta James says:

    I think maybe this might be a little bit to simple of a solution. I am not an expert on the gun laws in the United States, but it seems unlikely that it is simply a matter of outlawing guns. On the face of it it seems like the problem is the accessibility of guns, but I imagine it is deeper than that. If you really want to hurt someone, you can do it no matter what country you live in.

    I think it is more likely the case that the gun laws and the shootings are the result of the same underlying force. For example, you mentioned honour cultures in other parts of the world. There is also a history of an honour culture in the southern states. This culture would tend to propagate both the belief that you should get back at your enemies with force if necessary and the right to bear arms. In this case, it is not the guns causing the shooting, but a third factor causing both. While changing gun laws might help, it would not address the root of the issue.

    I’m not saying honour culture is the root of the problem. I don’t know the situation well enough to diagnose it. I do think, however, that if big problems have simple solutions they usually get solved. If it isn’t solved, the problem is probably not as simple as it appears. I do agree, however, that making it harder to get your hands on a gun can’t hurt!

    • That’s what I thought, too… but then I read more about Australia’s transition. They seemed to me to be just as gun crazy, and it turned on a dime. I also think about in England, when they switched from ovens that made it easy to kill yourself to ovens and didn’t, the number of suicides went drastically down (by roughly the amount of the oven suicides). When the easy opportunity was no longer there, people didn’t keep looking… I found that counter intuitive, but encouraging. (Citation: Dad).

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