Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ignorance, Hate, Violence and Shout Outs to the Fringe

This past Sunday Wade Michael Page walked into a Wisconsin Sikh temple and murdered 6 worshipers and wounded about 12 others. Shortly after his rampage, he was shot and killed by police.

Page, a white supremacist and a founder of a hate group rock band 'End Apathy'. Wade Page was apparently yet another 'outlier' another marginalized individual who trekked through life as a loner. Kicked out of the Army for drunkenness. Kicked out of a band he was a part of in Colorado after suffering the indignity of having his girlfriend leave him for another band member. Page is another sad figure emblematic of the futile 'anger' that seems to have engulfed those who seem to barely have  a finger tip grip on reality and incapable of obtaining the most minimal significance, even in their tightly wound circles of relationships. That's Wade Page.

Or is it?

We should grieve what happened in this Wisconsin temple on Sunday. Sikh Muslims are erroneously linked to the attacks on the World Trade Towers on 9/11. These men and women - American citizens - whose right to worship undisturbed is just as sacred a right as that of any Christian church, deserve protection from domestic terrorist attack.

This is profoundly sad because Christians like me, are going to disavow any 'faith' relationship to Wade Page or anyone like him. As will most white Christians. We are all going to say that he is on the fringes of our society and that nothing he did represents the Christian faith. And we will want people to believe us.

Yet when adherents to the Muslim faith begged to not be painted with so broad a brush, a good portion of this country didn't believe them. When they tried to explain the true meaning of 'jihad' and educate us about their religion, still we shouted them down. When tried to explain that they had extremists and fanatics in their religion, just like everyone else, we took umbrage at the suggestion that 'extremists' exist within the Christian Church in America. No, 'godless Islam' was to blame for the downfall of America...

Our media, web based, cable and network, gave voice to nearly every ill informed, partially hinged ranter that could be found. Some outlets let the understandable pain, anguish and bitterness of some who were 9/11 victims be the only filter through which construction of the mosque/community center in New York was viewed and interpreted to the rest of the country. We allowed politicians clearly pandering to a constituency whose fears they had continually stoked, be allowed to voice those irrational fears as if they were serious people. They were interviewed again. And again. And again. Until a few thought that having had a microphone thrust in their face enough times was a call to run for the presidency - of the United States.

Wade Page is a product of some of this and to call him an 'outlier' let's the rest of us off the hook. All of us who thought we were sophisticated enough to tell the difference between Muslims from Indian, from Iraqi, from Afghan or Palestine and who shunned, whispered about or just feared anyone they saw with olive tone to dark brown skin, share some blame.

Page is evidence that we need to figure out how to more tightly control the ability to purchase guns in this country. He is evidence that we need better mental health care in this country. He is evidence that we need to stop accepting hate as a norm, in our country. He is evidence that we need to move politicians who don't know how to be responsible in front of microphones that reach a national audience away from those microphones. We need to shun them first and shame them if they continue to spew hate-filled nonsense and idiocy. Yes, there is free speech. But we must severely and relentlessly challenge and criticize speech that promotes rancor, hate and misinformation. And we should stop dismissing such speech as 'entertainment'. There's nothing 'entertaining' about it.

Page is a reminder that the majority of us may not listen to or hear the fringe element in this country; but in their desperate need for attention and acceptance, that lunatic fringe hears and sees the rest of the world. And all too often they find ways to grab our attention, as Wade Page did Sunday in a temple in Wisconsin.

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