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Sunday, January 09, 2011

A danger to democracy

The shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords yesterday and the murder of six other people, including a nine-year-old girl, a federal judge and a member of Giffords's staff is a hugely offensive crime that cannot be tolerated. Eighteen people in all were shot indicating an horrific murder spree by an individual or individuals who can only be described as deranged.

The Observer says that at a press conference following the murders, the Pima County Sheriff, Clarence Dupnik, blamed political vitriol for fuelling the attack:

"People tend to pooh-pooh this business that we hear about all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living doing that," he said. "That may be free speech – but there are consequences."

He said Arizona had become "a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry" and that "people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol".

The paper adds that the shooting has sparked fierce critics of the toxic political climate both in Arizona and the US as a whole: In recent months, Giffords, a supporter of the healthcare reforms, had received death threats, and her offices had been shot at.

While the motive for the shooting was not immediately clear, Giffords is one of 10 Democrat members of Congress who were the subject of harassment over their support for Obama's healthcare overhaul.

Her Tucson constituency office was vandalised in March after she voted in favour of the controversial health bill, which was bitterly opposed by the US right.

If this is the case then it is deeply worrying. The election of Barrack Obama has seen some very disturbing examples of extreme political vitriol by some who believe that they are national politicians and statespeople as well the mainstream media, much of it centred on the President's healthcare reforms. This vitriol has taken the form of character assasination, deliberate misrepresentation of policy positions and of facts and often, made-up stories/

I have to say that there has been an element of this too in the venom directed by the Labour Party and others towards the Liberal Democrats and the Coalition Government since the General Election. It is nothing like as bad or on the sort of scale seen in America, but it has the potential to get there if the perpetrators allow it to get out of hand.

There are reports that Sarah Palin is busy purging her twitter account of venemous comments and references to firearms. I cannot substantiate such comments and for all I know they may form part of the sort of misinformation referred to above, However, Palin and her Tea Party acolytes do have a case to answer for the way that they have conducted their campaign and for the type of rhetoric they have used.

The use of a gun sight over districts they were targeting, including that of Gabrielle Gifford was not just inappropriate but can now be seen as dangerously provocative. These people were partly responsible for the vitriol referred to by County Sheriff that contributed to this shooting incident.

Just how bad it can get is evident from this story about reaction in Pakistan to the murder of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer last week. The Governor had come to the rescue of a Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, who had been sentenced to death for blasphemy after an argument with some Muslim women over a glass of water:

After Bibi's conviction last November, the case seized the attention of Taseer, the outspoken governor of Punjab. Outraging conservatives, he visited Bibi in jail along with his wife, Aamna, and his daughter. He posed for photos, offered warm support, and promised a presidential pardon. He spoke on high authority – President Asif Ali Zardari told Taseer he was "completely behind him", a reliable source said.

The bold intercession had been prompted by Taseer's daughter. During a family holiday at the Punjab government's winter residence in Murree, a hill resort above Islamabad, Shehrbano had alerted her father to Bibi's plight through her Twitter feed. "He took the phone, read the tweets, and sat and thought about it for several hours. Then he said we should do something," she recalls.

He was playing with fire. Religious leaders were outraged at Taseer's description of the blasphemy statute as a "black law". Protesters torched the governor's effigy outside his sweeping residence in central Lahore. A radical cleric in Peshawar's oldest mosque offered a 500,000 rupee (£3,800) reward to anyone who killed Bibi. Then last Tuesday Taseer's guard, 26-year-old Mumtaz Qadri, turned his weapon on his boss and pumped him with bullets.

In America we have already seen evidence of this type of agenda, such as the mixing of religious intolerance with politics. If we value our democracy we need to fight against such illiberal ideas and avoid offering hostages to extremism in the way we debate the issues. The cost of not doing so can already be seen in Pakistan and America.
Peter: I have often attacked you on this Blog and on my own. We do not share much in common it would seem. But on this I am in total agreement with you. If this carnage is as result of "political vitriol" in the US then we must fear for the whole of Liberal Democracy.
... so when President Reagan was shot in Washington, DC with explosive rounds what were we to think? A left-wing conspiracy? Nope, turned out to be an insane person with a fixation on Jodie Foster, the film actress.

What about when 'the sniper' was shooting people, for the most part, in the wider DC metro area; yes said some, obviously a right-wing guy from the white supremacy faction of XYZee. Turned out not to be the case at all. I should know, like everyone else living in the DC metro area, I lived through it and covered my apartment windows and was carful as one could be when visiting my local 711 for mundane things like milk. One of the many victims was an FBI analyst shot outside a Home Depot store on Route 50 heading for Seven Corners about a ten minute ride or less from where I lived (I lived for a few years near a 711 just off Route 50 in Arlington).

It is very unfortunate that there are some who are already making political capital out of this dreadful shooting spree in Arizona. We don't know the facts in anywhere near their entirety. This is a time as others have said, “To be thoughtful and calm” – politics should be put aside at this time and I understand that Congress will have a period for mourning and there will be no votes on anything before Congress tomorrow. Both sides at Congress are mortified at what happened.
I agree with Sea Wood to some extent. Parliamentary representatives round the world seem to attract attempts on their life from the lunatic fringe. In England there was the attack on Nigel Jones, then MP for Cheltenham, which took the life of a fellow party-member, and the more recent incident in the East End. In neither case did the assailant appear to have a coherent rationale for their actions.

The difference is the gun culture in the US. Because both the English attacks were with bladed weapons rather than firearms, there were fewer casualties. Also, I agree with Peter that the inflammatory nature of recent political argument is conducive to more Taseers & Giffords.
It was only a few years back when the Lib Dems had a 'decapitation' policy when it came to Senior Tories.

Is that irresponsible as well? How far do you take these things? Its commonly said by all Parties that they 'target' seats for instance.

The sad reality is that some left leaning bloggers could not wait to start blaming the American Right and the Tea Party. Even Mark Mardell of the BBC joined the fray. Frankly its shocking. Why dont these people wait for the facts first?

With regards to the Palin leaflet, the Democrats also had a very similar one with the target crosshairs...

Its a sad reality of life that these lunatics are out there, however the blame should not be laid at the door of the Republicans for this one.

The debate here in the USA is very heated and when you look at the level of debt then you can understand it.
Anon (7:05 AM)> very well put (and no, that wasn't a post from me, but obviously from someone else resident in the USA).

From what has been revealed so far a picture is developing of a young man with serious mental issues which were not receiving treatment.

Also, the shooter used an extended clip; this is something that needs, imho, attention of the law makers.

There was a woman at the event who helped stop the shooter reloading his gun; this lady certainly helped prevent the shooter firing more shots and likewise with respect to the gentlemen who tackled him to the ground.
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