Saturday, July 29, 2006

Strange Reaction to the Seattle Shooting

Medics Evacuate the Wounded (Seattle, not Israel)

It finally happened. On Friday, a gunman penetrated the Jewish Federation building in downtown Seattle and opened fire on people inside, killing one woman and seriously injuring five others, some of whom are in critical condition. Naveed Afzal Haq, an American citizen of Pakistani descent, apparently identified himself as an American Muslim “angered by Israel.” The FBI believes that he acted alone and does not belong to any terrorist organizations. It is possible that the attacker was a mentally unstable individual; his police record indicates a prior charge for lewd conduct. Most American Muslim organizations immediately condemned the terror attack. Nevertheless, there have been a few isolated reactions that deserve some scrutiny. I was a bit baffled, for example, to read the following statement by Ziyad Zaitoun, a 52-year-old civil engineer taking part in a protest against Israel’s operation in Lebanon, who was quoted in the Seattle Times:

"[A]ny time something like this happens — especially against the state of Israel or people connected to the state of Israel — we fear for our lives" as Muslims, Zaitoun said.

There are some who claim that American and European Jews are alarmists who exaggerate threats to Jewish communities in the Diaspora in order to further pro-Israeli political agendas. Those who belittle threats against Jews and Jewish organizations, sometimes simultaneously insist that Muslims, in America, Europe, and the Middle East, are more deserving of “victim status.” Inevitably, the clamoring for victim status becomes a zero-sum game. After all, the perfect victim cannot also be a perpetrator. Furthermore, the argument for Muslim victim status sometimes turns into a corollary argument that Jews are the real perpetrators. Zaitoun’s statement plays on fears about a backlash against Muslims in America to insinuate that the state of Israel, Jewish organizations and their allies represent a mortal danger to American Muslims! This is a malicious and dangerous distortion. Zaitoun might be justified in dissociating Muslim Americans as a whole from the attack (though the reality is that there are some in the North American Muslim communities who do incite attacks against Jews). But his insinuation could also justify further attacks, as it implies that Jews are threatening Muslim lives.

It was also bizarre to read that

Seattle police were protecting temples and mosques Saturday after a suspected hate killing prompted fears of the Middle East crisis spreading to the United States (CNN).

Muslim extremists in Canada, the US, and Europe have attacked Jews and Jewish institutions in the past. In doing so, they have indeed spread the means used by terrorists in the Middle East to North America and Western Europe. But it is simply misleading to suggest that the “Middle East crisis [is] spreading to the United States.” This statement implies that there has been some kind of parallel Jewish response, and that American Jewish groups and individuals are gearing up to launch attacks on mosques or Muslim community centers. In fact, American Jewish organizations, perhaps because of their long experience in battling hate crimes, have been very vocal in speaking out against attacks on Muslims institutions and the marginalization of Muslim Americans.


Halla said...

This shooting was so senseless,(not that any is sensible) this guy had to be mentally disturbed! One of the things I like about the US is that all people with separate religions and nationalities can live together and agree to disagree but still live together!

Asaf Kedar said...

Hi Amos,

I think you're over-interpreting Zaitoun's comment. As I understand it, he's simply afraid that some Jewish (or, for that matter, Christian) extremist might decide to avenge the Seattle shooting.

As for the victimhood issue-- I strongly disagree that "victim status" is a zero-sum game. In a conflict such as we're experiencing these days, many people on all sides find themselves in a state of injury and vulnerability. And vice versa: there can be more than one "camp" of perpetrators. Plus, it often happens that victims, precisely in the name of their (essentialist conception of) victimhood, transmogrify very quickly into perpetrators, even as they continue in certain respects to be victims. I think that recognizing the complexity of these categories and the dangers inherent in their rigidification is an important key to mitigating conflicts and even avoiding them to begin with.

Amos said...

Hi Asaf,

Maybe I was not clear enough about what I meant when I said that "clamoring for victim-status becomes a zero-sum game." I certainly did not mean to suggest that there are essential victims and essential perpetrators. I was talking about people's interpretations of the conflict and their constructions of victim and perpetrator identities. That act of constructing these identities, which is what I meant by "clamoring" IS very often perceived as a zero-sum game by the various actors.

I disagree with your interpretation of the statements. It makes sense that Muslims would be afraid of "retaliation" when other Muslims (American or foreign) attack US sites. But why did he single out attacks "against the state of Israel or peope connected to the state" (the latter is an interesting formulation, no? does he mean American Jews?) as causing him particular anxiety?

Delana said...

Halla i agree so much. but the truth about America, besides her beauty and hope. america is at war with itself.yes you can practice any religion.And yes you can study what you want to learn.You can even live(as long as you can afford lol)anywhwere you want, pick a state!! but with all this beauty why I ask!!!Do we have people that kill thier own babys,why do we have gangs of uncaring children,ready to shoot you if you breathe to much in thier air.we have serial killers who's minds have gone so far off there is no return from thier molesting little children,who if you ask me should be put to sleep humainly like a dog. For the most part our country does care and nurture its nation and others. but alas we are not perfect.But I invite anyone to live next to me.My cucumber garden is growing wildly,. free pickings to immediate nieghbors (lol)_

Halla said...

Delana, You have a point! In Israel you do not to worry about the degenerates in life (in that way its much safer) but there is always an underlying conciousness of religious differences. I don't live there but I notice it when I visit. As an Arab/Palestinian being Christian among Muslims and as an Arab among Jews and lets not forget a woman in the arab world watching how I dress in public.

The thing is, in a normal life over here(not what you see on the news) no one really cares about what religion you are and you can dress however comfortably you want(I know thats trivial).

Asaf Kedar said...

ok Amos, sorry for the misinterpretation of your words. I'm glad we agree about the complex nature of the victim-perpetrator logic.

Anonymous said...

SEATTLE - King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng will not seek the death penalty in the case against Naveed Haq, who is charged in the shooting at the Jewish Federation in Seattle that killed one woman and injured five others.

It looks like there is anti-semitism in Seattle - BIG TIME.