America

Recently there has been a sharp increase with regards to violence-related news coming from the United States of America — think Baltimore.

And whilst putting pen to paper for today’s column, another such item topped international headlines: Two gunmen who opened fire outside a cartoonists’ event in Dallas had been shot dead.

Let me start by making a personal comment. Like most teenagers growing up in post-war Europe, America was a dream destination. It was common to say that once an adult — and once having the money, of course — a trip to the USA was simply a must. There was music, there were movies, there was nature there was New York and San Francisco and so much more we could not wait to explore and experience first-hand and in person. And for those of us who developed an interest for all things historical and political, there was quite naturally the “thank-you America” component for having been key actors in freeing the continent from Nazi terror.

I am fully aware of the fact that some of those who were in their twenties and thirties whilst I was still attending high school saw things less positively because they had different opinions, in particular about the Vietnam war. My generation and age group had a somewhat more optimistic, pragmatic attitude. Heading west from central Europe symbolized a journey not just across the North Atlantic but towards freedom, liberty and, as they say, “If you can make it here [New York], you can make it anywhere.” It was not that European nations could not offer the same individual liberty or freedoms we younger people thought that in the new world all would be bigger, brighter and better. That said, perhaps it would be the same but just so much more of it!

Then it happened: At the tender age of 23, I set foot on American soil for the first time and a life-long experiential voyage began with many return trips — “experiential” because eventually a more complex picture of daily life in America emerged. Probably like anywhere else, if one finds oneself on the wrong side of the tracks, everything changes. There is poverty, crime, race issues and access to welfare funds and health care. There are shops where the owner will welcome customers with an automatic rifle next to him to make sure that when cashing up, both his daily takings as well and his very physical well-being are both as intended. And here we are: The widespread availability — and mostly legal availability — of guns and rifles may help some of us to better protect ourselves and our families but it for sure opens the door to others who misuse them and go on a shooting spree. Think fatal school shootings consider attacks on politicians or, only yesterday, an assault on a — no matter how controversial to begin with — cartoonists’ gathering. It is too easy to blame the sheer existence of personal firearms for these crimes but, according to me, there must be a correlation.

Gun-related violence on the one hand, outbursts of violence in general on the other hand and this includes (race-related) incidents such as the death of Freddie Gray, where ultimately law enforcement officials committed a serious crime, six of them now charged with murder and manslaughter.

It is, of course, not up to me to patronize but in my humble opinion, American society might wish to start to reflect upon how citizen-citizen — as well as citizen-law enforcement officials — relations can be structured in a less violence-prone manner. Baltimore could become a turning point.

SOURCE: TODAY’S ZAMAN