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Robert Azzi: Maybe Stephen Paddock did it just because he could



For the Monitor
Saturday, October 07, 2017

Last Monday morning, before sunrise, as I prayed, I included in my prayers – along with prayers for the victims, survivors, and their families – “Please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim.”

It’s a sorrowful addendum – one too often intoned by too many believers.

“Please, God… ”

It’s a prayer we’ve repeated often; after San Bernardino, after Mother Emanuel, after Orlando, after the Boston Marathon – after Mandalay Bay.

“Please, God…”

Terrorist Stephen Paddock’s motive – if he had one – is still unknown and what I think scares so many people is that one may never be discerned.

They’re scared because they may have no one to blame: maybe he was just a lone wolf.

Understand, please, just white terrorists get to be “lone wolves” – every one else is just a terrorist.

How ready so many were, in those first hours and days, to search for links to Islamic terrorism, to find an Other to blame. Some search still for conspiracies, for a second shooter, for an excuse not to consider whether the enemy we have met is us. Indeed, a New Hampshire talk show host intimated on Thursday that the government and media (except himself, of course) may be conspiring to keep the truth from Americans.

Maybe, too, we’re not searching in the right places. Maybe we need to search amidst the disorder in national soul.

Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, Dylann Roof, Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook, Robert Lewis Dear, and too many others, are not just Christian, Muslim, or supremacist. They’re seriously mentally-disturbed human beings – consumed by demons unseen and unheard by us – untethered from all moral, ethical, and societal norms that bind communities.

People who are not mentally deranged don’t stockpile over 40 guns, thousands of rounds of ammunition and multiple bump stocks for peaceful purposes.

People who are not mentally deranged don’t abandon infants.

That’s not within our human DNA.

People untethered from societal norms struggle to justify their alienation, their anger, and often wrap themselves in false cloaks of piety or patriotism to try and justify their criminal acts against humanity.

Religion, politics, social activism, it doesn’t matter – no one wants to go down as just being a “crazy” criminal – so they rationalize, justify, deceive themselves that they are serving a greater good through violence. Except, perhaps, for Stephen Paddock.

Or someone rationalizes for them, as Bill O’Reilly did for Paddock when he called the Las Vegas massacre “the price of freedom… The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons.”

Tell the families of the 58 dead about the loons. Tell them their loved ones deserve the funerals of martyrs for their noble sacrifice in defense of the Second Amendment.

Today, for some, there is disappointment. After all, if it had been a Muslim, they would immediately know how to respond, whom to demonize, whose house of worship to torch.

In response, President Trump could have tweeted, as he did after Orlando, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”

And we would be reading tweets claiming that the Muslim ban should be more broadly enforced, that mosques should be closed, Muslims registered.

How disappointed some others must be that it wasn’t someone from a community of color. After all, what’s been described as the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history can’t possibly be by someone who looks like “us.”

Even though “some of us” have been responsible for more violence – so often institutionalized – against minorities and communities of color than can ever be atoned for. America has endured generations of lynchings, pogroms, red-lining, segregation and discrimination all designed to keep minorities and people of color in line.

Perhaps, if Paddock had been a person of color, President Trump could have added, “If some of those wonderful people had guns strapped right here, right to their waist or right to their ankle and this son of a bitch comes out and starts shooting and one of the people in that room happened to have (a gun) and goes ‘boom, boom.’ You know what, that would have been a beautiful, beautiful sight, folks.”

Perhaps we to need to approach this differently.

Perhaps we who have been taught to read in the name of our Sustainer, who have been taught what we do not know, need to approach this differently.

“Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers,” Thomas Merton wrote, “Hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate these things in yourself, not in another.”

When we learn to hate those things in ourselves perhaps we’ll be ready to confront them as a nation.

We may never know Paddock’s motives. We may never know what dark demons drove his nightmares, drove his compulsion to kill.

We may, in fact, find he only did it because he could.

That’s the scariest scenario of all:

Because he could.

Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter. He can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.