By Yuram Abdullah Weiler

El Paso Mass Shooting: Symptomatic of an American malignancy

August 11, 2019 - 1:25

“Truly We created you from a male and a female, and We made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another.” —Holy Quran 49:13

On Saturday, August 3, 2019, a young American male entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas and opened fire, killing 22 people, eight of whom were Mexican nationals. The rampage, which was one more mass shooting on an ever-lengthening list of such abominations, elicited a predictable outpouring of heartfelt grief, sympathy and concern for the victims and families, but few dared to suggest that this tragedy was merely symptomatic of a tenacious and longstanding American societal malignancy.

This malignancy has two virulent components: gun violence and white supremacy. White supremacy stems from the white Euro-colonizers who originally established the U.S. on the blood of millions of Native Americans. Author and lecturer Barbara Alice Mann has not exaggerated when she refers to the colonization of North America as “a 500-year organized crime spree.” The capitalists who descended from the original white Euro-colonizers amassed their fortunes by the trading in and using slave labor. As Professor Julia Ott of the New School for Social Research writes, “Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism.”

Native People’s scholar Vine Deloria, Jr. explains how the whites viewed the Native and African Americans.  “Because the Negro labored, he was considered a draft animal,” explained Deloria, “Because the Indian occupied large areas of land he was considered a wild animal.” Highlighting the tenacity of white supremacy, Deloria writes, “Whites have always refused to give non-whites the respect which they have been found to legally possess.” He goes on to point out that when it comes to the legal rights of non-whites, there is a contemptuous disregard exhibited by the whites. 

The same contemptuous attitude is often exhibited by whites towards Mexicans and Latin Americans, as is exemplified by the current U.S. president and his racist remarks on social media and at rallies. Last October, he wrote of an “invasion” of immigrants at the U.S. - Mexico border and even sent troops to stop them.  Oddly enough, the White House resident even accused Mexico of “abusing” the United States and must “stop the invasion of our Country by Drug Dealers, Cartels, Human Traffickers, Coyotes and Illegal Immigrants.”  The U.S. president denied any connection between his racially inflammatory rhetoric and the admission by the El Paso Walmart gunman that he wanted to shoot as many Mexicans as possible in “response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”

If there is a “Hispanic invasion” the U.S. itself is primarily responsible for creating it.  After the American war on Mexico, tens of thousands of immigrants began to enter the U.S.; the numbers rose due to increased demand for agricultural workers after the Civil War and again after the First World War. Likewise during the Second World War, the Bracero program brought migrant workers from Latin America to fill the labor gap. The Latinos, 75 percent of whom may be undocumented, work hard at agricultural and other jobs that whites refuse to fill. These workers, most native to Mexico, are frequently targets of injustices and abuse by their employers, and live and work in constant fear of deportation by U.S. immigration authorities.

Then there is the pandemic of gun violence in a country that has an estimated 390 million firearms, the highest in the world.  The United States has the highest rate of murder and manslaughter in the so-called developed world. Nearly 40 percent of U.S. citizens own firearms, a right attributed to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It is not clear and has been a matter of debate whether the amendment was intended to grant a collective right to the state or an individual right for gun ownership. In fact, the individual right to possess firearms was not confirmed until 2008 in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. 

The gravity of the societal malignancy in America is illustrated by the unconscionable statistics. Guns are the second leading cause of death for white children and teens, and the leading cause of death for Black children and teens. In an average month 52 women are shot to death by an intimate partner and some 4.5 million have been threatened. An astounding 3 million children witness gun violence every year. Rather than protect, access to a gun increases the risk of death by homicide twofold. Strangely enough, as if inflicting hatred upon themselves, white men commit 74 percent of the suicides by firearms.

Band-Aid fixes are proposed for the gushing wound of American gun violence. Politicians promise to pursue “responsible legislation” for gun control. Yet no one dares to ask why the sale of military assault weapons is permitted in the first place.  No one connects the gun violence on an individual level with the cultural violence perpetrated by the American government.  A casual review of American history will convince the reader that violence is the American solution to all problems, even the problem of inadequate diplomatic skills.

Such violence began with the much lauded founding father, George Washington, who was a slave owner, and viewed Native People’s claims to their land “as an obstacle to easy and fluid commerce.” William Henry Harrison considered “the murdering of Indians in the highest degree meritorious.” Of course the “merciless Indian Savages,” as Native Americans were referred to in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, honored their Law of Innocents, which forbad the killing of women, children and elders, and dated back to at least the 12th century.

At the heart of all the vigils and gatherings, outpourings of sympathy and empathy, speeches by politicians and pleas for love and forgiveness by clergy, lies a failure to address the depth of the societal malignancy driving mass shootings: namely, the futility and abject pointlessness of the American way of life. “The shooter is just a momentary concentration of everything else grinding the dignity and meaning out of American lives,” explains American author and social critic James Howard Kunstler.  Appearing to confirm this analysis, the shooter in the El Paso massacre reportedly has written, “I'm not really motivated to do anything more than what's necessary to get by. Working in general sucks…”

What, then, is the cure, if there indeed is one?  For starters, Mann suggests, “Open admission of past transgressions must be required.” She continues by giving the example of Germany, where the U.S. organized tribunals at the end of the Second World War, as a possible paradigm to follow in setting up what she refers to as Truth and Justice Tribunals. Similar tribunals were established in South Africa following the long-awaited collapse of the apartheid regime there.

“We await a restructuring of American life into real communities of people working together at things that matter,” writes Kunstler, “and it will require the demise of the things that have worked so hard to destroy all that, namely, the tyranny of the giants, the town-killing Walmarts, the suffocating monster of government, the media manipulators of reality, the too-big-to-fail banks.” Concurring while urging more definitive action, scholar and activist Ward Churchill notes, “The U.S., at least as it has come to be known, and in the sense that it knows itself, must be driven from North America.”

The racially-motivated massacre in El Paso is, as are all such abysmal acts, the antithesis of what the Holy Quran recommends: that we should come to know one another—not kill one another. Seyyed Hossein Nasr explains that the verse points to the diversity of humanity, which should cause people to gain a deeper appreciation of one another. By dividing human beings into diverse peoples of different colors, customs and languages, God has placed us under perhaps the greatest test of all; a test that white America is failing miserably.