The Art of Selective Outrage

A boy is beaten, taunted, violated with sports equipment by his peers, because he loves his friend too dearly.

A girl and her brother, both prepubescent, are used for sexual gratification by those entrusted with their care. Their community turns a blind eye, and deaf ears.

A young man sits quietly in a house of prayer, kills nine people in cold blood, and walks out.

A young woman is harassed constantly. Ever vigilant against those who would coerce, drug or abuse her, she is still held at fault.

An adolescent goes into their school with weapons of war. They wreak havoc, killing classmates and teachers alike, because the world is not what they want it to be.

A man in the full of his prime shoots an unarmed child, killing him, with no provocation, no warning and no exigent circumstances - he meets no repercussion.

A woman seeking healthcare must navigate a corridor of yelling, angry protestors, calling her a murderer. Sometimes, they are even violent. Though she seeks a service other than that which they protest, she becomes a target all the same.

An old man perches in the lap of luxury, and rains chaos and doom on the heads of the unwitting.

A group of young men chant "no means yes, yes means anal"; Another group celebrates the racial purity of their club.

Someone is beaten, dragged, and shouted at, because they "look foreign". They were born and raised within a mile of the place they were attacked, and participate normally in their society.

A man is arrested for trying to enter his own house, because a neighbor thought he was a burglar.

A man shoots several people in a healthcare facility, because he disagrees with one service very rarely provided there.

One man drives his truck into a crowd and is labeled a maniac. Another does so, and is labeled a terrorist.

A man uses his public position to stoke unfounded fears of violence from one group; shortly thereafter, presumably preemptive violence ensues against them.

An organization nominally dedicated to public order routinely, disproportionately, induces disorder and fear in a subset of the population for which they are responsible.

A young man ships improvised explosives to various strangers' homes, and a city struggles to cope.

How much of this behavior is terrifying? All of the victims, their friends and family, and anyone like them, know fear of the possibility of it happening to them. Every day, even — no, especially — in the US such brazen acts of self-righteous violence (or self-indulgent abuse) take place, claim and shape lives, and are quietly swept into the ash heap of history. They are labeled individual acts of lone or lunatic perpetrators. Considered out of the norm, beyond the conceivable. But are they, truly?

Some, yes, are rare. But most are commonplace. They happen so often it only comes to our attention in especially gruesome or normally quiet contexts. The hype over a potential "terrorist" connection is precisely as subtle as the references to "gang" or "thug" behavior. Certainly, there are cases where each of these deliberate distinctions are merited, but what then do we use for those perpetrating the aforementioned list of offenses?

The phrase "violent extremism" was derided as diluting the problem. But the terror most citizens face does not come from abroad, nor is it couched in a literalist interpretation of Islam. It may not even be rooted in a literalist reading of Christian scripture, though some (anti-abortion; homophobic) may claim it to be. The problem is not so neat, but it is clear. A concern of definition by disidentification, rather than positive association. The demonization of 'the other' is whipped into a frenzy, and the self is defined in opposition to them.

This is not to say that overreaction is the sole province of the majority. There is too little room in debate for the subtle nuances between an act and its intention, between a person's entire legacy and the most regrettable (or laudable) facet of their history. Humans are complex creatures, neither good nor bad, but they do things that either help or hurt others - often without seeing the full context or consequence of their actions.

If it is imperative that Islam introspect, and diasporic communities coalesce, then it is equally important that the white communities learn to own up to their prejudices and entitlements, and their role in perpetuating these circumstances. The clear double standard for what is individual failure versus collective responsibility is a heavier burden than merely the changing of laws or vernacular.

If police must be held accountable for misconduct, so too should the ones who involve them unnecessarily be penalized for misuse of public services. It is not enough to chastise the agents of force for using the tools given them - they must be deployed more intelligently, and less often. The citizenry who relies upon them must learn other ways of resolving conflict, and the governments that sanction them must learn other ways of intervening.

If the presence or honoring of a noted racist, misogynist, white supremacist, ethnic-nationalist, etc is offensive; then at least have a dialogue about why it is so - and why they should or should not be held in any esteem. No great man or woman was great because they had no failings, but rather because of what they accomplished in spite of them. If we constantly judge figures of history against standards of our time, they will inevitably fall afoul of contemporary sensitivities at some point. Of course, falling afoul of sensitivities is often its own honour - the renegade is as close to deific in the American psyche as wealth is - but, at least in theory, the rebel is honored not because they rebel, but the principles for which they do so.

More importantly: resilience, perseverance and comprehension, among the most admirable of qualities, cannot be honed without conflict both internal and external. Aversion does not resolve conflict; avoidance fails to teach the relative importance of differences, or strengths of common ground; silence and shouting neither help draw parallels nor grant perspective.

One cannot hope to adapt to a changing world without at least some of these skills (conflict resolution, perspective, awareness of context). Efforts to stop the world from changing always fail. But this blade must cut both ways - those whose fear creates a world of strife and oppression must learn to live with uncertainty and less than perfect control; those whose lives are scarred by abuse and disadvantage must learn to rise above the personal injury and indignation. Promises of either unlimited power or unending misery should not be implicitly made to anyone, let alone made along such broadly arbitrary lines as race, ethnicity, gender, wealth, or faith.



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