This question, made infamous by one woman (who happens to be running for president) has been swirling around in my head for the past two days as TV “analysts” attempt to label this week’s carnage in California. Was it workplace violence? Terrorism? A mix of both? Heck, I even heard one commentator on CNN ask if the female shooter could have been suffering from post-partum depression!
Many media outlets have been labeling the event as a generic “mass shooting” and making comparisons to Newtown and the Colorado movie theater.
Mass shooting, workplace violence, terror… “what difference does it make?”
My contention is that it matters a whole lot how we classify these events. If we don’t label, or diagnose, the problem correctly, how do we know how to react and/ or prevent them from happening again? If 100 extraordinarily sick people suddenly flooded the local emergency room, would it matter to hospital staff how they became ill? Would it make any difference to officials if the ill all attended the same wedding ..or lets say just flew in from Timbuktu?
You bet it would.
I have asked myself why we are so reticent to identify terrorism when it stares us directly in the face. I think the answer is found in the examples above. If these two shooters were insane, or really, really pissed off at a co-worker, then the situation is contained; it’s no less awful, but at least it’s over. As horrible as the planned parenthood attack was, authorities knew the crime was perpetrated by one (crazy looking) guy living in a shack in the woods. There was no need to look for accomplices or worry about “phase two” of some greater operation. This was the medical equivalent of food poisoning at a wedding..terrible and potentially fatal for those who were there, but clearly over and not spreading.
Not so with terrorism. You’d better believe the FBI is chasing down any and all with connections to these two perpetrators. Remember the Ebola crisis and the frantic attempts to trace everyone who had contact with the infected? This is what terrorism is like, and what makes it so profoundly scary is that we’re not sure who else is out there poised to strike.
Do labels matter? I believe they do. Labels are our attempt to diagnose a problem. If we miss-diagnose, we miss treat. In our war on terror, we seem to continually turn the microscope into a mirror. We stare straight into the nucleus of violent radicalism and all we see is a reflection of ourselves.
Why do we do that?
We do it because it’s much simpler to condemn and “cure” our western ills than it is to wrap our minds around an apocalyptic, metastasizing, death worshipping, blood lusting cult. In comments made after the shooting, our president said that “We need to search ourselves as a society to make sure we take the basic steps that would make it harder, not impossible, but harder for individuals to get access to weapons.”
Trust me when I say that I’m all for common sense gun legislation, my problem is that Mr. Obama said nothing further.. about terrorism! Last month a plane was brought down by a soda can bomb. What do we do about that, ban coke? Our government needs to focus on the human beings committing these atrocities, not just the metal objects they use in their commission.
We cannot afford to take our eyes off this growing threat to the world – and leaders must call it what it is.
Post partum depression; don’t we wish.
photo credit: www.theblaze.com