The Newtown tragedy and selective mourning

Published: December 17, 2012
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The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The writer is associate editor of South Asia Magazine and holds a BA in international relations from Boston University

The names and ages of the victims of the horrific Newtown tragedy in the US state of Connecticut have been released. According to the official list, all 20 children, mostly girls, were between the ages of six and seven. Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old sole shooter, killed his mother at home before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School and opening fire on a class of innocent children — who were shot repeatedly — in one section of the school. Though carrying three guns registered to his mother’s name, thus legally obtained, Lanza solely used a semi-automatic rifle to conduct what is being termed “America’s most horrific mass shooting.”

Newtown, Connecticut, is a quiet, affluent area housing close-knit communities and rarely ever host to such deadly shootings. But things will never be the same again. The families of the victims will never be the same. The teachers who taught at the school will never be the same. The 500 schoolchildren who attended Sandy Hook that morning will never be the same. And neither will Christmas for the grieving families.

Since 1979, when gun death data was first collected by age, close to 120,000 children and teens have been killed due to gun violence. President Barack Obama emotionally and quite rightly stated that “meaningful action” must be taken to avoid future attacks like this but most analysts predict that unfortunately, few concrete steps will be taken to address the gun control debate and introduce more stringent state laws. According to Federal Law, US citizens can purchase guns for defensive purposes. Reality, however, illustrates otherwise. In 2011, House Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Arizona and earlier this year, a mass shooting occurred at the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado as well as at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Previous incidents include the Fort Hood shooting (2009), the Virginia Tech massacre (2007) and the Columbine High School shooting (1999).

The guns may be bought and registered legally, however their use is debatable. While those who buy them have to undergo written tests, submit fingerprints, undergo background checks and submit letter of references — unlike in Japan — the United States does not rigorously conduct medical and psychological examinations before clearing a citizen to purchase a gun. Again, this varies according to state. Gun control remains a controversial debate and some argue that President Obama’s fresh mandate will allow him to push certain policies more aggressively. It is, however, uncertain that this will happen.

In Pakistan, another debate has arisen. While some Pakistanis held candlelight vigils and vociferously condemned the shooting on social media outlets, others simply question: why should we even care? On a daily basis, innocent children in Pakistan are killed by drone attacks or caught in the middle of ethnic-religious conflicts. They are more worthy of our prayers and the need to highlight an American tragedy is both unnecessary and dare I say, beyghairati.

My simple answer to that is that tragedies do not compete. Many Pakistanis, while realising that they can do little to curb violence, never forget to say at least a small prayer for those who have died. When we mourned for Malala Yousufzai, we expected the rest of the world to sympathise as well, show solidarity with us and condemn the daily killing of children, whether through terrorist attacks or drone strikes. So, why shouldn’t the children of another religion and country deserve our prayers as well? A massacre is a massacre, regardless of geographical boundaries, whether it is an 11-year-old Pakistani girl going to school in Swat or a six-year-old American boy going to school in Newtown.

Unfortunately, Pakistanis endure and witness such atrocities every day and realise first-hand the psychological trauma associated with such heinous crimes. That is not an excuse to be selective in our mourning. It is, in fact, reason enough to stand united, not as citizens of Pakistan but as citizens of the world and show solidarity with those who are hurting, just as we are hurting, every single day.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 18th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (30)

  • sabi
    Dec 17, 2012 - 10:25PM

    How do you presume that Pakistani don’t feel pain at this tragic killings.This is indeed a very very tragic incidence and every sane pakistani was shocked by this news.We do pray for the families of the victoms that may God grant them peace in their lives.I hope you will pray as well ,childrens are children no matter what is their religion or nationality.

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  • Usman
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:28PM

    well, thankyou but i read you concern all over the US news websites before you typed it. and about your very accurate survey of people who are indifferent to this incident mentioning all the sources and fact sheets, i tell you that i see a great journalist in you! some conversations suit to be made while sipping at a cup of coffee with friends and that’s it! not every word or thought that comes to ur mouth or mind is worth publishing!

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  • WAEVA
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:42PM

    I dont think Pakistanis steer away from showing solidarity with the Victims and their families. They only question the double standards the United States has as the US makes it seem like the lives of American children are more important than the lives of Pakistani children who die on a daily basis because of AMERICAN drone attacks. Their deaths are nothing more than collateral damage to the Americans. It is this hypocrisy that makes people less reactive to the events that took place in that school. If the US continues with is double standards ppl elsewhere in the world WILL NOT react to deaths that take place in their country. Is it right? NO, every human life counts but the way people end up reacting is only natural. As harsh as it is Americans need to learn to respect and value the lives of people from other countries so that ppl can show solidarity with them in their time of need. Perhaps you can highlight such things in your articles too!!

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  • Jim
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:46PM

    // On a daily basis, innocent children in Pakistan are killed by drone attacks // If indeed this is the case, why aren’t there photographs and videos? Why haven’t they been displayed at the UN? Why hasn’t Pakistan civil society campaigned worldwide with the evidence? Why not put it up and spread it across social media? Why hasn’t it made it to Al Jazeera and other non-western channels..or Pakistan’s own TV channels? Where is that one definitive image of a child killed by drone that can shake up the world and generate outrage? And why doesn’t the Pakistan air force shut down airspace or shoot down the drones? As they say in your part of the world, something is black in the lentils.

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  • Tragedy
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:50PM

    GREAT ARTICLE and really hit a nerve. The author has rightly addressed a debate that is currently underway.
    Sabi: I don’t think she is “presuming”, I think she is spot on. If you were to monitor some reports/social media, you will see that this debate is certainly underway as a result of conspiracy theories.
    Very sad indeed.

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  • Maula Jut
    Dec 17, 2012 - 11:55PM

    On his re-election, Barack Obama claimed that America was the greatest country in the world. But a fly tells me that 89 people are shot dead in America daily, making it the most violent society in the world. But a killing spree like this one understandably causes a high degree of grief and we should share America’s pain. Whenever a tragedy like this happens, America resorts to soul searching but it stops there. It is really a matter of assigning priorities. America spends considerable resources on fighting cancer or minimizing deaths on her highways but alas gun control is a no go area. Criticising Israel is another such area. But gay marriage is trendy. America sahib will decide what it wants. Sanoun ki(none of our concern).

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  • Maula Jut
    Dec 18, 2012 - 12:06AM

    @Jim:
    According to Islamic tradition, the dead are usually buried the same day. There is less emphasis on making films. It may also be difficult due to remoteness of the dwellings and lack of photographic equipment. But suppose such proofs are brought. You may then say that it was a fabrication. There is no way we can beat you at this dialectic. But God knows and he will do justice sooner or later.

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  • Pessimist
    Dec 18, 2012 - 12:50AM

    I wrote a similar comment on an ET blog. I guess it applies here:

    I think the world reacted the way it did because children were directly targeted. Innocent children were murdered for no reason. There was no reason to kill them. No there wasn’t. I guess we humans believe that children are immune to suffering and war, and we always react strongly when something happens to them. Remember Malala? She was directly targeted and hence the global shock. I’m not saying that lives of other children are insignificant, but I think this is human psychology if you directly go after a child. I would also like to mention the Beslan hostage crisis. That also gained international media coverage. Even the loony bin who attacked children in China was a global story. One more example, in the recent Israel-Gaza conflict, the image of the journalist holding his deceased son was one of the most powerful & disturbing images of the conflict.
    To sum up, there is always media coverage when children are the direct target of any attack. If one day (God forbid), a drone attack specifically targets children you’ll see that it would make mainstream media. That’s just life. I should stop rambling now, I hope you get my point….

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  • varuag
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:38AM

    @author

    So, why shouldn’t the children of another religion and country deserve our prayers as well?

    I understand that children need to be grieved as children without other identities heaped on them and the general tone and tenor of the article was spot on. However I have a serious problem with the above statement. When you state another religion, you are forsaking the people in your country who may belong to that religion. It may be an intended thing and by and large will hold water statistically, but it is ethically obtuse. This omnipresence of religion in the cultural DNA greatly pains me. Again I reiterate that the statement will hold true for a large part but it smacks of a certain unsympathetic attitude to the marginalized, howsoever un-intended it may be.

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  • varuag
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:56AM

    @author

    *So, why shouldn’t the children of another **religion** and country deserve our prayers as well?*

    I understand that children need to be grieved as children without other identities heaped on them and the general tone and tenor of the article was spot on. However I have a serious problem with the above statement. When you state *another religion*, you are forsaking the people in your country who may belong to that religion. It may be an intended thing and by and large will hold water statistically, but it is ethically obtuse. This omnipresence of religion in the cultural DNA greatly pains me. Again I reiterate that the statement will hold true for a large part but it smacks of a certain unsympathetic attitude to the marginalized, howsoever un-intended it may be.Recommend

  • Mirza
    Dec 18, 2012 - 3:42AM

    Amen!Recommend

  • aaaaa
    Dec 18, 2012 - 4:44AM

    Tragedies do not compete but neither are they the same. What happens in most shootings in the US is that the shooter has a past, red flags have been raised by police, by mental health professionals, by teachers, and so on, but they are not acted upon. In the case of drones, a straightforward, rational decision is made by sane professionals to eliminate people half way across the world. POTUS signs a paper every time which gives permission for drone strikes to be carried out. And this is also precisely why the Malala Yousafzai shooting does not apply here. A rational decision was made by the Taliban to eliminate a person because the said person was harming their interests. So yes, there is a difference. And your answer is overly simplistic to the point of being useless.
    It matters when people die, and we should mourn equally, but as is made very clear by US policy and our own leader’s apathy, some lives are more valuable than others. So why should we feel saddened when Pakistani lives are not as valuable as American ones?

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  • SK5
    Dec 18, 2012 - 5:34AM

    @Author
    “Selective Mourning”, Is that what americans do all the time with respect to kids they kill in foreign countries. And your here to give us Pakistanis a lecture on “Selective Mourning”?.

    I mourn all children who lose their lives regardless if there in Pakistan, U.S, Congo, Iraq(irrespective of religion or creed) etc……it dosen’t matter there all children for me. It would’ve served you well if you wrote an article condeming U.S. society for not mourning children that they kill in other countries, “Selective Mourning”.

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  • numbersnumbers
    Dec 18, 2012 - 6:01AM

    @Maula Jut:
    Lets see, 89 people shot dead per day in America times 365 days a year gives us around 32,485 Americans gunned down every year! Please give us references that your “fly” used because, according to Wikipedia’s article (gun violence in America), their numbers are far lower, and state that the majority of gun related deaths in America are Suicides. As for your assertion that America is the most violent society in the world, I would refer you to the 2013 issue of the Economists “Pocket World in Figures”. In that source the US does not even make the top 20 in either homicides per 100,000 people, or robberies per 100,000 people! The US appears to have a homicide rate of 3 – 4.99 per 100,000 (2010 year or later data) while the chart leader Honduras comes in at 82.1 homicides per 100,000 people and the number 20 country (Ethiopia) comes in at 25.5 homicides per 100,000 people!

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  • S.R.H. Hashmi
    Dec 18, 2012 - 9:45AM

    The young lady selected a soft topic and did full justice to it, and only a feeling person, with a tender heart could do that.

    I read somewhere that someone who does not love children, and does not love flowers, is not fit to be called a human being, because both are in essence the same. I have seen some really ‘hard’ people who would normally consider even laughing heartily to be some sort of ‘serious indiscipline’ opening up in the presence of children, singing, dancing and playing with them, as if they were of the same age. With that being so, being selective in mourning for children, or even for adults for that matter, is definitely cruel, and there can be no two opinions about it.

    Unfortunately, this selectiveness is not peculiar to Pakistan. When asked about the death of Iraqi children due to sanctions “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied ” I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

    That still does not make it obligatory on us as Muslim brothers of Iraqis to ‘retaliate’ and to reject mourning the American tragedy as something ‘unpatriotic.’

    I would conclude by saying that someone who is selective even in matters such as grief is not fit to be called a human being.

    Karachi

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  • S.R.H. Hashmi
    Dec 18, 2012 - 10:20AM

    The young lady selected a soft topic and did full justice to it, and only a feeling person, with a tender heart could do that.

    I read somewhere that someone who does not love children, and does not love flowers, is not fit to be called a human being, because both are in essence the same. I have seen some really ‘hard’ people who would normally consider even laughing heartily to be some sort of ‘ serious indiscipline’ opening up in the presence of children, singing, dancing and playing with them, as if they were of the same age. With that being so, being selective in mourning for children, or even for adults for that matter, is definitely cruel, and there can be no two opinions about it.

    Unfortunately, this selectiveness is not peculiar to Pakistan. When asked about the death of Iraqi children due to sanctions “We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” And US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied ” I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.”

    That still does not make it obligatory on us as Muslim brothers of Iraqis to ‘retaliate’ and to reject mourning the American tragedy as something ‘unpatriotic.’

    I would conclude by saying that someone who is selective even in matters such as grief is not fit to be called a human being.

    Karachi

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  • Zohaib Hassan
    Dec 18, 2012 - 11:20AM

    I totally agree with what you have written, that tragedies do not compete, and secondly unlike us, no one in the US is sympathizing with the killer, nor anyone is trying to justify the killings.

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  • SoniaK
    Dec 18, 2012 - 12:27PM

    Loosely put up stance and unconvincing story!!! back it up by figures- or get some maybe!!!

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  • zeeshan sheikh
    Dec 18, 2012 - 12:44PM

    These liberals are now giving me headache. for about 10 years no articles were there about drone victims. where as a fundamentalist like me have condole on american websites.

    Hypocrites everywhere.

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  • THE
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:02PM

    @Jim: You are seriously misinformed and ignorant. A simple google search can give you everything that you have questioned. I am giving you the link to BBC’s coverage of the recent and biggest protest against drone strikes.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-19854297

    Maybe you should do some research before doubting the facts that are present in the form of dead children in the tribal areas of Pakistan who are killed by drone attacks.

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  • Thor
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:17PM

    Dear pro American writer,
    Can you answer a little question for, why don’t Americans call their shooters as terrorists and just tag them shooter and ill people?
    Sincerely,
    Pro Pakistani and American Guy

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  • Moazzam Salim
    Dec 18, 2012 - 1:21PM

    I am going to be a little more blunt; I have not seen any American mourn or condemn the US sanctioned killings of children in Gaza, Pakistan or Afghanistan. And if you ask me it is the same attitude of mindless violence that the US Government shows in its international relations which is now manifested in the attitudes of its citizens. period.

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  • Kanwal
    Dec 18, 2012 - 4:23PM

    We do mourn any loss of life, having seen so much of this happening in Pakistan everyday. But the problem is dear author, there is so much going on here already, and so much of it has direct or indirect contribution (call interference) of USA, that we have kind of lost the ability to differentiate between the US goveernment and the US people. I think US people are very much oppressed too. I appreciate your writing, but the public here has enough on their plate already. So we will say a silent prayer and would then like to solve the problems of our land first.

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  • kishwar enam
    Dec 18, 2012 - 5:53PM

    Well written Arsla!

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  • kishwar enam
    Dec 18, 2012 - 5:56PM

    This is exactly how I felt. Well written Arsla!

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  • Kaalchakra
    Dec 18, 2012 - 6:11PM

    Dear Arsla

    You have articulated a view commonly expressed by many non-Muslims. They say that Muslims in general lack any real sympathy across religious divide. Yet that is not true. A Muslim by definition is sympathetic to the whole world. Did not the Dear Prophet say that the death of one person is the death of entire humanity? But a Muslim is also a fair person. When a Muslim mourns the death of any person (which is as genuine a mourning as that of any non-Muslim), he also does not forget other deaths. Is that not the way of justice? May Allah guide you to the right path. Ameen.

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  • Indian troll
    Dec 18, 2012 - 10:00PM

    @WAEVA: The standards first have to be set by the people of the country themselves! Do pakistani people care about lives or even humanity?

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  • Jim
    Dec 18, 2012 - 11:41PM

    @THE This is the kind of half-assed denial and obsfuscation that makes Pakistan a delusional troubled state. Your link is about anti-Drone protests. No one has questioned there are protests and there is an anti-drone sentiment, not just in Pakistan but also in some sections in the U.S. What I am asking is why don’t you roll out the evidence that thousands of civilians including children have been killed etc. You conveniently duck that question and point to Google. I am not interested in Google. If the Pakistan government, its military, its civil society is genuinely interested in gathering support of civil society elsewhere, they would produce evidence — videos, photographs etc. I assure you if you do that will be anti-Drone demonstrations by people from New York to New Delhi, Instead, we get this half-assed explanations — people are buried too quickly, there are no video cameras etc. It just diminishes your own case — and speaks poorly of your intelligence. Of all kinds.

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  • WAEVA
    Dec 19, 2012 - 3:00AM

    @Indian troll:
    AHH the Indian troll speaks!! you point fingers at Pakistan because you have successfully made india into a Utopian land where no maoist exists, heroes like Narendra Modi are worshiped like gods and of course female infanticide is non existant. Yes sir indeed standards have to be set by the Pakistani people they must start caring about humanity just the way their neighbors do.

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  • kaalchakra
    Dec 20, 2012 - 10:05PM

    WAEVA

    Well said, wahvah. You so well captured the argument for Pakistanis and against Indian trolls. I hope the author sees wisdom as well. Pakistanis just don’t want Americans to hypocrites.

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