Only one label counts: ‘fellow human’
Two massacres in two months.
Both of these shootings – in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc. – happened in places that were supposed to be safe. The temple, of course, is a place of worship and of community. The theater is a kind of shrine in our civil religion, a place where people go to share experiences that transport them outside themselves.
Of course, there are differences. The movie playing in Aurora was bleak and nihilistic, so much so that the sudden appearance of a gunman in black body armor could be imagined to be part of the show. The murderer there seems to be mentally ill, driven not by politics or ideology but by the demons that live inside his head.
In Wisconsin, though, the killer seems to have been driven by hate (although certainly there is an argument that anyone so driven by such hatred by definition is mentally ill). He invaded a temple full of people he did not know to kill them because they were different from him and it was a difference he could not abide.
On the other hand, there has been something troubling, although certainly entirely understandable, in the response to the massacre. The Sikh community feels compelled to point out that its members are American. Of course they are. They also feel the need to say that although they might look Muslim to untutored eyes, they are not Muslim. Of course they’re not.
They should not have to say that, however. No one should be murdered. Not ever. Not in a house of worship, in a movie theater, in a shopping mall. Not anywhere. It does not matter whether or not they are American, whether or not they are Muslim.
We are all in this together.
People across the country have been reaching out to the Sikh community. Many Jewish communal organizations have spoken out and are offering help. Here, there will be a service in a Glen Rock synagogue on Sunday morning; all of us are welcome.
We might not be able to keep people who are mentally ill from committing acts of terrible violence (although we do have to get better at identifying such people before they fall entirely from our grasp into the blackness), but we can do our best to defeat senseless hatred. With the haunting echo of Eichah (Lamentations) not yet out of our ears and the first sounds of the shofar calling us to make an accounting of ourselves barely more than a week away, we can try to learn.