Politicizing a Tragedy: A Guide For Beginners

Like many others, I was greatly disturbed by the news of the stampede in Mecca that killed over 700 people on Thursday morning.  We like to be outraged when tragedy strikes.  When James Eagan Holmes committed mass murder in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, our nation was horrified; all of us shocked by the visceral evil of this man, slaughtering 12 innocent citizens and injuring 70 more.  It was easy for us to channel our grief into outrage then.  After all, there was one man who was responsible for all of these deaths.  Undoubtedly, today’s tragedy has made us all feel sick in the same way that the Aurora shooting did.  But, for many, outrage might be more difficult to muster.

 Look we need to talk about what happened.  I’m appalled by the fact that people can do this to each other.  It’s mind-boggling.  When we are struck with this sort of fervor, we lose our humanity.  Whether in religious pilgrimage, in support of your favorite soccer team, or trying to get that black friday sale on a brand-new George Foreman Grill at Walmart, there exists in human nature the capacity to become frenzied and lose all regard for each other in a haze of pure self-interest.  And to me that is every bit as disgusting as the actions of the American-as-apple-pie mass shooters.

So I think we need to talk about how a tragedy such as this one can occur.  I refuse to accept that this is just something that happens when you have a crowded (understatement wow) city street.  I think that the constant in other such mob-mentality tramplings is a crazed mental state.  It can be brought on by consumerism, and it can be a product of ultimate fandom.  And yet, part of me hesitates to search for causes and solutions because of the divisive nature of this tragedy.  It seems that the conditions under which this tragedy occurred were aided (and abetted, if I do say so myself) by religious faith.

But because I know the social ramifications of “politicizing a tragedy” (we hear this accusation after every mass shooting in America and it fucking sucks), I have decided to include a helpful little guide so we can all avoid doing so and perhaps have a productive dialogue about this horrible accident.

Being an Asshole and Politicizing a Tragedy: Like pornography, we know it when we see it.  “Look at the evidence: 700 Muslims killing each other in the name of God.  They must have gotten confused with their jihad and ended up killing their own kind.  Bomb Iran.”

Politicizing a Tragedy: Being much more cavalier about what you wanted to say before the tragedy struck.  “This is an Islam problem, and Obama is a communist” (If you are already politicizing a tragedy, might as well go for a two-fer and maybe sneak it under the radar).

Being Insensitive: Hinting towards your underlying political agenda, but not saying anything untrue or straight up dick-ish.  “When was the last time there was a stampede at a nativity scene?”

Not Politicizing a Tragedy: Looking for a solution so a tragedy won’t happen again.  “Why did this happen?”  “What can we do better?”  “What is it about religious faith, along with crazed fandom and Walmart sale prices, that can lead to such a loss of humanity?”

Edit: The order of the guide was reversed to avoid confusion and potential advocacy for “being an asshole and politicizing a tragedy.”


One thought on “Politicizing a Tragedy: A Guide For Beginners

  1. With so many facets to a particular event – the victims, the persecutor, motives, result, and more, is it overly simplistic to create a few guidelines to deal with an event of the given magnitude, such as full-on massacres or stampedes? It goes without saying that the “frenzied” human nature is of animal-like proportions. However, this guide not only applies to events of brutality, but should too be use as a guideline to behave in situations day-to-day i.e. be sensitive, refrain from ignorant political accusations, etc.
    One gleaming question comes to mind: Are we targeting the right audience here? When it comes down to these horrific events, aren’t we, as readers and passive CNN watchers, predominantly victims of these events? Don’t we instead need these guidelines to fall in the hands of the media and new coverage teams? Maybe, mass media is our target here – they have a broad reach and exposure, and with that, comes influence. The media’s portrayal, reaction and reflection of events influences and change the minds of viewers. In the same way, public knowledge of these brutal events is largely derived from the media. Both facts and opinions come from news coverage – a tricky tight rope to walk along. Therefore, journalist ethics are immensely important. Without question, sensitivity and the political stance of the media is more important than ever… a heavy discussion for another day.


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