American Exceptionalism

Late last year, I wrote an op-ed for my school newspaper of the same title following the shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.

“Today, as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder — a horrific massacre — of dozens of innocent people.”- President Obama, June 12, 2016

A horrific massacre…

In no other country on earth is this story even possible, 50 killed and 52 wounded by a gunman at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This is truly an American problem, an American story. This is American exceptionalism. Nearly a decade ago, a lone gunman killed 32 people and then himself at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Today, that horrific number is now second in the list of deadliest mass shootings. The story of mass shootings, whether occurring at a high school, on a college campus, an elementary school, a church, and yes, even a nightclub, are seared into our collective conscience. The chime of a breaking news alert rings out from our phones, our laptops, and our t.v.’s. News networks begin round the clock special coverage about the incident, we watch as the usual public officials (mayors, sheriffs, governors, congresspersons, and the President) release their statements, ask for our prayers, and call for peace.

We know how this works. Many of us swear not to read the Facebook comments and avoid confrontation on other social media. We wait to hear about the motive, the shooter’s state of mind, and we talk about guns.

We collectively shake our heads and ask what more can we do? We simply hope that we ourselves will never see violence like this. We pray that we won’t one day appear in the pictures of strangers crying and hugging one another, or be one of the victims being wheeled away on gurneys, or on a list of names released by the county coroner. We hope that our loved ones never have to tell the world what our final text was.

We hope and pray for these things while limiting our collective senses to the idea that we can’t do anything about it. That idea, it’s dangerous. It neglects the responsibility that we have in our present to address these issues, homophobia, radical religion (of all faiths), and, yes, gun violence. Neglecting our present responsibilities diminishes the hopes and dreams of our future.

Let’s stop saying, stop suggesting that there is nothing that we can do. Let’s have real, sensible conversations about gun violence, homophobia, transphobia, and the radicalization of religion. Let’s recognize that for many people guns are a symbol of pride, heritage, manhood, while for others, they are a symbol of the intolerance, mob justice, and danger. Let’s step away from our often religious zeal that colors discussion around gun violence, regardless of the side that you’re on. Let’s recognize that this is not simply a mental illness problem, an ease of access or lax restriction problem. We must recognize that this is an American problem, an American story, and that we hold the power to change the narrative that is being written.

The people who were killed early this morning, though we don’t yet know all of their names, were just like us. They are us. They wanted to live, and laugh, start families, start careers, and grow old. I have no doubt that they wanted to do their part to one day change the world.

We owe it to them to do all that we can and more to sit down and have real conversations about gun violence, to block out the pundits on all sides of the aisle, and to talk with one another as brothers and sisters in the journey of life.

We have long said that we’re an exceptional nation and an exceptional people. I certainly believe that we are; however, we must recognize that not all of the things that make us exceptional are positive.

If we are truly exceptional, then let’s rise to the occasion and address these problems in our society head on, with full force. There will never be a better moment. There will never be another time, because next time is now.

To any and everyone who practices the Islamic faith, know that there will always be people like me who will stand up and stand with folks like you. We will defend you and your religion against gross generalizations of faith. We will not be afraid to tell our friends and family when they are wrong. We will always focus on the root of all religion, love. Your presence in this country makes it a better one for all of us. You contribute to a more rich and vibrant culture and awareness about the world. Your faith is interwoven into the very fabric of what this country is and of who we are as Americans. Please, don’t ever forget that.

To any and everyone who is part of the LGBT community, we can do this. We have seen before that love wins. There are good people all across this nation and the world who will stand with us and fight with us to advance the common cause of respect towards all humanity.