Approaching Tragedy: What Needs to be Said about Terrorism
When somebody bullies you, you fight back or get help to stop the bully. When somebody attacks you, you fight back in self-defense to protect your safety. So why should your response be different in the face of a terrorist attack? Specifically, why should you refrain from making political statements out of only “respect for victims?”
When bullets were raining upon thousands of concertgoers in Las Vegas, the proper response was to locate and neutralize the shooter. That was how lives were saved. The police would have done no good to sit on the ground and do nothing, as if to say, “well, these people are dying, but there’s nothing I should do about it right now. I ought to aid the wounded and help families grieve before I go and stop the shooter. If I left them to stop the shooter, I would be disrespecting their suffering.”
This line of thought is plainly ridiculous - the police officer would save more lives by taking down the shooter - but oddly, this is the very line of thought which presides over political dialogue immediately following a terrorist attack. With the increased frequency and coverage of attacks, we’ve heard it more and more often. Politicians are “insensitive,” “callous,” “manipulative,” and worse if they take to Twitter, for example, and use the attack to make a political statement.
Both sides are supposedly guilty. For convenient illustration, I will use two examples from the 2016 US election, but the underlying principle of both has application to many, many more cases.
Hours after the London bombing attack on September 15 which inјured 29, President Trump tweeted:
“Loser terrorists must be dealt with in a much tougher manner. The internet is their main recruitment tool which we must cut off & use better!”
The left-leaning divisions of media and public were sent into a frenzy of disgust, disparaging Trump’s timing and use of the colloquial “loser.”
And on October 2nd, the morning after the Las Vegas Massacre which killed 59 and wounded over 500, Hillary Clinton tweeted:
“Imagine the deaths if the shooter had a silencer, which the NRA wants to make easier to get…. We can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again.”
Unsurprisingly, right-wing media and public took moral offense this time, pointing out “inappropriate” timing and that shooter Stephen Paddock could not have used a silencer, as it would have been quickly melted by automatic fire.
The issue with criticizing Trump and Clinton in this manner is twofold. First, doing so hinders the legitimate dialogue that they both, surprising as it may be, think should occur. Yes, they vehemently disagree on how to actually solve the terrorism problem. But the fact remains that they are putting forth ideas, and that they believe these ideas are instrumental in preventing future terrorism. For in the battle against terror, it is not a lone gunman who inflicts casualties, but a collective of evil, perverted actors. When you kill one, a single attack is over, but the battle is not. People are plotting terrorist attacks at this very moment. And like Paddock in Vegas, these terrorists take aim at the innocent crowd of humanity. We do not want our politicians to sit idly by while our brothers and sisters of this world fall beside them. We want them to act, to fight against the horror of terrorism, and to do that they must speak without treading on eggshells. They must act swiftly. We all should gladly take an “insensitive” tweet from President Trump in return for legislative pushes which save American lives.
And if you disagree that the gun legislation supported by Trump will save American lives, you’re not alone. Yet ask yourself: how do I prevent his legislation in the most effective way? The answer is simple. You debate rationally and thoroughly, and convince those unconvinced to take your side. If Trump says after a terror attack that we ought to prosecute terrorists before they commit acts of terror, the best way to prove him wrong if you disagree is to prove him wrong, not use terror victims to establish a moral high ground. Likewise, when Clinton said after the Las Vegas Massacre that silencers should be banned, conservatives ought to prove her wrong rather than demean her for standing on the graves of the dead. At least Trump and Clinton are trying to prevent terror, albeit in their own ways. When you call out politicians for being “insensitive” and nothing more, all you do is signal to others that you don’t care about the substantive solutions.
If anything, this all is for one final, critical point: active political statements made following a tragedy are a form of true respect for the affected families. Active political statements are a direct response. They assure the families that something will be done, and they provide them hope for јustice. On the other hand, statements about “insensitivity” and “manipulation” only put words in the mouths of grieving families. What right does a totally unaffected person have to make statements on their behalf? And why are political statements following tragedy so reprehensible when the terror they seek to combat is the most reprehensible action of all?
I have never seen, and will likely never see in my lifetime, a political statement in the wake of a tragedy which says to disregard the victims and their families. It is understood in every case that the most sincere condolences and genuine sorrow are deserved for them. So when a statement does not mention the families, do not jump to the conclusion that the speaker has no compassion for them. Understand the speaker, left or right, Democrat or Republican, does not omit the families - instead, the speaker invokes their presence and honors them with their call to justice. And anyways, should one expect anything other than a political response from a politician? It’s their job. Leave the eulogies to the preachers and families, where remembrance rightfully belongs.
Terrorist attacks are still happening and will continue to happen. As a civilized society, we must work together to end them, now. Don’t let fears of offense today stop us from saving lives tomorrow.