The reactions to the shooting that took place at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sunday all have one thing in common: expressions of tragedy. Beyond that? There is a lot of disagreement about what needs to be said, what isn’t being said and what it all means. While some would have us focus on gun control, others would highlight American ignorance over the differences between Muslims and Sikhs. Others still focus on the linguistic choices made in coverage of the recent shootings, questioning when to say “terrorist” and when to say “hate crime.”
I don’t pretend to know everything, or really anything, but I do think it’s important to consider the questions raised by the shooting in Wisconsin, particularly as seen side by side with the Aurora shooting.
- Sikh vs. Muslim: Should we really be focusing so much on the differences between Sikhs and Muslims? While the event serves as an important teaching opportunity, the focus on differentiating Sikhs from Muslims seems to insinuate that a “revenge shooting” against the “correct”group (Muslims) would be okay. Is there a way to make this distinction and teach people the difference between the two groups without making underhanded digs at the Muslim population?
- Islamophobia: Related to the above question, at what point will the coverage acknowledge the issue of Islamophobia? Shooting a Sikh place of worship because you think it is a Muslim place of worship points to the deep and lingering Islamophobia within our country. The shooter’s links to 9/11 make this question all that much more pronounced. At some point our country does have to acknowledge the serious problems its white population faces with Islamophobia following 9/11.
- Gun Control: As a blogger on Femeniste asked, “Is it time to talk about guns yet?” In the aftermath of the Aurora shooting many claimed that it was an inappropriate moment to discuss gun control. When is the right moment then? If our society is so scared to talk about gun control surrounding two horrific shootings, when will we talk about it? I’m not advocating the complete illegality of guns, or suggesting that with more stringent gun control laws all shootings would disappear. I am, however, questioning our unwillingness to have frank discussions about the issue. If the only potential comment is “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” we are never going to reach any sort of point of discussion.
- Race: From the first articles on the shooting that noted that the shooter’s race had not been identified, race was a factor. What role will race play in the coverage of the shooting? Already it has been determined that the shooter has white supremacist links, a factor which makes it that much more inevitable that this will become a racial discussion. My fear is that it will become a shouting match, with people unwilling to have a serious discussion.
- Terrorism: People have been quick to note that the phrase terrorism was never used with James Holmes, so was it an act of terrorism? Many speculated about the differences between his case and that of the shooter in Wisconsin because the phrase terrorism was used only in the case of the Sikh shooting.
- Mental Illness: At what point does potential mental illness free either of the shooters of their responsibility? Additionally, with the high number of shootings that turn out to be in people previously determined to be mentally ill, what does that say about our mental healthcare system? Since the shooter in Wisconsin was identified as a Vet, will we able to talk about issues of mental illness in the armed forces, or will the issue be dismissed as it so frequently is?
This shooting alongside the Aurora shooting clearly raises important issues and forces some uncomfortable topics onto the table. Having multiple shootings in such a short window committed by white men in small cities in “the Heart of America,” whatever that means, challenges the notion that crime is an urban issue, endured and committed by minority populations. While the Aurora shooting brought the issues of gun control and mental illness to the foreground, the Oak Creek shooting raises even more uncomfortable issues. With all of these phrases and topics floating around, my hope is that at least a few of them get the attention and consideration they deserve.