Tuesday, 11 January 2011

US - crisis of conscience

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Maybe just maybe at long last America is finally having a real debate about the causes of the slaying of six people in Tucson and the 14 injured, including the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Giffords. Thank goodness she seems to be making good progress. However, I say maybe, as I fear that the Right will fall over itself to divert attention away from its poisonous rhetoric and vitriol by finding all sorts of reasons why someone picked up a gun and tried to kill Gabrielle Giffords, her staff and those around her.

When I posted a link to the previous post on the LinkedIn social media network, I received various comments. Those comments ranged from protestations that the President was well protected and unlikely to be assassinated through to my post being "wholly inappropriate" and concluding with wanting to report me to the FBI and CIA (no idea why but presumably highlighting the appalling language used in political debate and the consequences of that language makes me a threat in some way). Frankly, I doubt whether some had actually read my post. I apologise to any one who took offence and yes the headline was hard hitting, but it is time that the vitriol ends.

As someone who has a solid antiwar record and a long-standing commitment to peace resolution of international disputes through the United Nations, some of the comments are rather bizarre. Nevertheless, the most curious outcome was that some readers entirely missed the point of the post. 

Here is the advert used by Gabby Giffords' opponent, Jesse Kelly:-


Right winders can squirm and make all the excuses they like but civilised democracies do not shrug and accept so called mainstream political candidates preaching such contentious one liners as "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office Shoot a fully automatic M16". The Republicans will argue that it was just a regular fund-raiser and that guns are part of the American DNA. May be they are correct but now is the time to take a step back and ask; perhaps its time we stopped associating our gun culture with defeating political opponents. 

Guns belong on the ranch or in the hands of professional soldiers and police officers. It is inevitable that those who are mentally unstable and/or extremist right-wingers will pick up on this language as being normal and acceptable. They will also take it to the next logical level. 

After Tucson, Sarah Palin had a perfect opportunity to calm the rhetoric and take it down a notch. Did she? No she did nothing of the sort. Palin needs to show some political maturity and leadership but saying that some language has gone too far.

Examples of the 'gun language' in politics (from The First Post):-
  • "Don't retreat, reload" was one of Palin's lines to her supporters when one of her Tea Party picks was whacked in the polling booth in November. 
  • Other Tea Party maenads had their own punchy lines. Michele Bachmann, from Minnesota, truly over the top and now locked up by nervous Republican leaders in the House Intelligence Committee, where by definition she has to keep her mouth shut, has been in the habit of saying, "I want citizens armed and dangerous".
  • Tea Partier Sharon Angle, who nearly defeated Senate Majority leader Harry Reid last November in Nevada, liked to invoke the possibility of "Second Amendment remedies" – the Second Amendment being the one that sanctifies in the US Constitution the people's right to bear arms. 
  • Conservative Florida radio host Joyce Kaufman, designated staff director of a newly elected Florida congressman, quit her job after two days in Washington when a video clip surfaced displaying her exclaiming at a political rally last July 4: "If ballots don't work, bullets will".

Equally, some vitriolic attacks by those on the Left have gone to far. MoveOn.Org have very commendably petitioned Congress to drop 'violence' from political language. Absolutely, but do they seriously think comparing George Bush to Adolf Hitler was a reasonable discourse of her foreign policy?

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Likewise, for over 2,000 people to befriend a FaceBook page stating "I hate it when I wake up and Sarah Palin is still alive".  Frankly that is just appalling. The examples of abuse on that page send shivers down my spine. The posts are talking about political opponents, as if they are enemies to be killed in a war.

As a Member Parliament, I faced death threats and threats of physical harm in my constituency office resulting in two court cases against unstable individuals. I shudder to think what would have happened if they had access to guns. So speaking from experience, I urge the American people and its leaders and influencers of public opinion on all sides; tone down the language of debate and engage in consensus building.

As Gabby Giffords said, "We are on Sarah Palin's targeted list. The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of the gunsight over our district. When people do that, they have got to realize there are consequences to that action."

It's time America woke up, otherwise more unstable and extremist people are going to get whipped up in the intolerant, violent language and pick up the guns. With an election coming and candidates out in the open more regularly, there is an increased risk that someone somewhere will try another assassination. My fear, is that there will be an attempt against the President.

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