Particular and universal
Vigils, like this one in Minneapolis, were held across North America to express grief and solidarity with the victims of the shooting in Orlando. (photo by Fibonacci Blue)
Still reeling from the latest gun attack in Tel Aviv, which killed four people last week, we awoke Sunday to the horrific news from Florida that a gunman had murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando.
We whose job it is to put feelings into words struggle, though it seems nobody on social media lacks an opinion on gun control and the Second Amendment, homophobia or Islamic extremism, to which the murderer professed allegiance.
Immediately began the familiar cycle of Facebook solidarity, official condemnations and vigil-holding. President Barack Obama, who on the last such occasion of mass death declared, “Enough!,” had to conjure something original to say in this instance.
It is a peculiarity of the American political and cultural system that such tragedies are, it seems, accepted as a sad but unavoidable fact of life. Vested interests in the gun industry, which fund the powerful National Rifle Association, control members of Congress and have a not-insignificant base of grassroots Americans.
The murderer had been on the radar of intelligence authorities, yet he was able in the last two weeks to legally purchase a Glock pistol and a long gun, as was apparently his right as an American citizen.
When, in 2012, a gunman killed 20 children in Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, some thought that would be the turning point, the moment some sense of sanity would be applied to guns in the United States. Nothing of substance changed and, if not then, it probably never will. Indeed, gun sales increase after such incidents, as the Wild West of American founding lore finds new life in the 21st century – self-preservation through firepower.
There are perhaps few who can as readily empathize with the LGBTQ community as members of the Jewish community. Jewish individuals and institutions are routinely targeted in Europe. Such incidents are far fewer but not non-existent in Canada and the United States. The ghosts of the 1994 Jewish community centre bombing in Argentina haunt us still. And Israelis are routinely attacked and killed by terrorists.
Though thousands of kilometres away from Orlando, the gay community and allies in Vancouver came together for a vigil Sunday night, as they did across North America. When an attack like this takes place against a small minority, it has particular resonance for members of that group even if they have no immediate connection with the victims. As a newspaper, we join with Jewish institutions and individuals in Canada in expressing grief and solidarity with the victims, the survivors and their loved ones, as well as with the entirety of the LGBTQ community here and everywhere.
After such tragedies, it sometimes seems that the particularity of the victims is downplayed to glean a universal lesson for humanity. We hear phrases like “injustice for one is injustice for all.” In his remarks Sunday morning, Obama said: “This is a devastating attack on all Americans.”
This is a necessary and true statement, but we shouldn’t only universalize our solidarity. The shooting was a deliberate, targeted attack on gay people and Obama’s remarks included articulate expressions of solidarity with the LGBTQ community. He did not, for example, make the same mistake he did during the Paris attacks, when he referred to Jewish victims as “a bunch of folks in a deli.” The Jewish particularity of the victims in Paris and the particularity of the Orlando victims’ sexual orientations must be recognized in order to confront the prejudices that underlie them.