Two random acts of violence against public figures in two corners of the globe took place withing four days of each other. Jared Loughner shot and critically injured Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona; Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri killed Salman Taseer, whom he was assigned to protect. Both killers acted on their own, both have become public figures of fascination, and both raised concerns about the nature of divisive public debate in their countries.
Here I would like to share a couple of reactions to the shootings that came my way this morning.
First is this excellently written post, which transcends the polarising debate that ensued the Tucson shootings, and which I recommend reading entirely.
Jared Loughner came from one of those northwestern houses. His high school is in a part of Tucson that, when I was growing up, was nothing but empty gullies and creosote. Jared Loughner is frightened like Arizona is frightened, and so we ask: what radio stations did he listen do, what websites did he visit, who got him started on his syllogisms about the gold standard. These are questions about causality, and we are in a realm where causality founders. I would suggest that instead we talk homology, or metaphor—admitting frankly that we are doing this—because it is already the fate of Jared Loughner to have become a metaphor and a symptom.
And here is an angry reaction from Taseer’s estranged son:
Even before his body was cold, those same men of faith in Pakistan banned good Muslims from mourning my father; clerics refused to perform his last rites; and the armoured vehicle conveying his assassin to the courthouse was mobbed with cheering crowds and showered with rose petals. I should say too that on Friday last every mosque in the country condoned the killer’s actions; 2,500 lawyers came forward to take on his defence for free; and the Punjab CM, who did not attend the funeral, is yet to offer his condolences in person to my family who sit besieged in their house in Lahore.And so, though I believe that my father joins that sad procession of martyrs standing between him and his country’s descent into fear and nihilism, I also know that unless Pakistan finds a way to turn its back on Islam in the public sphere, the memory of the late governor of Punjab will fade. And where one day there might have been a street named after him, there will be one named after Malik Mumtaz Qadir, my father’s boy-assassin.
While the debate has centered around the role of political vitriol preceding these shootings, the reactions that came after the shootings that are perhaps more shocking. The US media and political establishment went into a surprising and crazy spree of finger pointing and name calling. In Pakistan, while the crowds celebrated the shooter, the ‘sanctity of prophethood’ seemed to dominate public thought.
In this context, I found both these texts refreshing. Aatish Taseer, the deceased Pakistani leader’s son, angrily grieves his father, laying the blame on Islam, yet not losing sight of what his father, a Muslim politician, would have thought. The Tucson blogger evocatively describes American paranoia in a manner that journalism would not be able to match. Both are personal, cutting through, and prompting a re-examination of politics in the wake of the shootings .