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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/25/15

Putting the Charleston Church Shooting in Perspective

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Message Prakash Kona

Dylan Roof
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I was looking at the profiles of the victims of the Charleston Church Shooting and one of them was an 87 year old woman. You can only imagine without really believing your senses the extent of the heartlessness it must've taken to pull the trigger on an 87 year old person. It defies everything that is rational and human in this world.

However, if for a few minutes we stopped being obsessed with "race" we would realize that there is more to the killings than just racism. Plain common sense: not everyone who is racist would embark on such horrific murders. Even those deeply committed to the idea of a segregated society where there is no space for difference, as some of us might be in our weaker moments, we would not think of doing something as gruesome as this.

Most expression of racism like other forms of discrimination is largely confined to the senses in how we look, touch, listen to and feel the presence of people or the kind of space we tend to keep when we communicate with them. More often than not, we keep our preconceptions and prejudices to ourselves or share them with like-minded people. What we call institutional racism is seen in the foreign policy and the tacit support it receives from the majority of people for it to acquire legitimacy.

White supremacy as such is an outdated notion that saw its heydays in colonialism and slavery. Just now its champions are mostly website based lone rangers and need not be taken seriously. I don't believe it exists as a serious threat to the political order. What we get to see among individuals such as Dylann Roof is perhaps nostalgia for a bygone era, a nostalgia that stems from the inability to cope with change.

Notions of supremacy are not peculiar to whites alone. You get to see it among the ISIS members in Iraq, Syria and Libya -- and whose brutality is as hard to believe as that of Dylann Roof. You get to see it among the Boko Haram in Nigeria. You get to see it among the Hindutva groups in India. You get to see it among sub-nationalists -- Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. We are not running short of the golden age syndrome folks. They fill the books of history. They are people who want to bring the past into the future through the gates of the present. To that extent their agenda is clear: they are not interested in arriving at points of view through a healthy exchange of ideas.

The two categories that dominate day-to-day life in the US are: normal and abnormal. Normal is about simply conforming to the culture industry and trying to get to the top which means that the normal people are a ridiculously small minority as far as numbers are concerned. The rest of the people barring the elites who constitute the category of the "normal" are those who would fall under the category of the abnormal with most of them desperate to look as normal as possible.

Nobody is born normal in my view. The pursuit of one's own nature automatically pushes one to deviate from the norm. The same instinct that makes people creative is the one that makes them criminal as well. Freud says that Dostoevsky had the potential to be a great criminal which he would have been had he not chose to be a great writer instead. All of us potentially have criminal or murderous tendencies. I owe it to the undying affection of my parents and friends that I never could be an extremist though personally I choose not to be completely "normal" either. To me it would mean the end of my selfhood.

In a country like the US, the most discriminated against are the ones who fail the appearing "normal" test. The parameters for normalcy could be predominantly biased in favor of white kids but that does not mean that it includes everyone. Poor whites that come from working-class backgrounds are as excluded as blacks or immigrants.

I am appalled by all this discussion related to race and racism because it is not looking at the flawed socialization of the child. Think of Lennon's haunting lyrics from "Working Class Hero:"

"When they've tortured and scared you for twenty-odd years
Then they expect you to pick a career
When you can't really function you're so full of fear"
This is why I think that by forgiving Dylann Roof, some of the families of the victims did the most rational thing possible under these circumstances, simply because the positive energy generated through such ethical behavior reverberates to the well-being of everyone in the social order.

It is only much later in life I learnt that space is a psychological and emotional thing and not a physical thing. In fact that's what Tolstoy's story "How much land does a man need?" is all about. People can be happy even if they had very little space if they could learn to be happy with themselves and proud of who they are. Space is an emotional thing and each individual has the whole universe to him and herself. Rumi and Saint Francis owned the universe while possessing nothing. It is all about how much of the lives of others that we are able to include in that spatial sense as part of our emotional universe.

Victims of emotional abuse are deprived of the pride that comes from being oneself. They have effectively failed the "normalcy" test and the family, the school, the community and the Church is simply not interested in their existence. The outside world is alien to them. The young people from Muslim families living in the comfort of the UK and the USA went to join the ISIS -- I can imagine how lonely and lost those kids must have been to think of going and dying in Iraq and Syria fighting for an illusion of a perfect society.

I only blame the families and the community that failed to convince these young people that they are wanted. People need to be loved and accepted no matter what. Neglect is the worst form of emotional abuse deadlier than the bubonic plague and the AIDS epidemic put together. It was my view that American boys and girls enjoyed a great deal of freedoms. Now I don't think the same thing. What looks like freedom is emotional neglect where children are left to fend for themselves. In which moronic country of the world are five and six year olds given "choices" to decide what they want to do! Where are children allowed unlimited and undirected access to the Internet and guns except in the US!

Such a freedom where you are left to your own wits is merely euphemism for isolation and complete neglect. This is the background against which we must read the actions of young men like Dylann Roof. They are not ideologically driven because such people are not prone to doing things in a dramatic manner which is mostly attention-seeking behavior. These are existentially confused youth looking for a cause. At heart they are children fighting that sense of smallness and pain given to them at birth. This is the reality of those cast away as "abnormal" in a morbidly normal society such as the US.

I personally don't think that these are ideologically motivated murders. On the contrary they are rooted in a social structure that has already categorized certain individuals as outsiders -- and someone as young as Dylann Roof merely needs a cause to enroll as an insider. In that sense Roof's mindset is not fundamentally different from that of the youth who are fighting for the ISIS in the Levant. I am convinced that if it had been a church with all-white members in it, he would commit the same murders without compunction. A re-socialization program has to be undertaken on a war-footing to give the young a sense of belonging and a conscience as part of the education. That's the only real solution to the problem instead of investing too much time looking at it from a purely race-related angle.

I cannot imagine being white and entering a black church in any part of the US without being confronted by the intolerable look of terrible suspicion. This I am sure will be the case for a long time to come. That unfortunately is the worst fallout of the tragedy. And given the dominance of American media in the divisive way that race-related issues are framed, who is to say that it is not a justified suspicion!

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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