Guest contribution by Syazwina Saw
Living on Twitter is a precarious existence.
Events do not manifest themselves well in just 140 characters. What you get are soundbites and facts, retweeted as endorsement or vilification, made popular by approval or mockery. When I joined Twitter in the end of 2008, I became a spectator to the Iranian revolution which died almost as soon started. And then there was Egypt, which continues to be a battlefield of ideals, beliefs and morals. Sometimes we fixate on details. Sometimes these prove to be insights.
And when you live several continents away from the United States, as I do, then waking up in the morning means bracing yourself for whatever happened eight hours ago. Before I went to bed on Friday night, I saw tweets of people sending prayers to Newtown, but without further detail.
And we woke up to the news of 20 children murdered at school.
My timeline today is a picture of shared grief, horror and disbelief. It is an outpour of sympathy and vilification, of prayer and condolences, of anger and blame. The online debate immediately turned to gun control and mental health, and within the heady brew of blood and politics, a few facts are mentioned again and again:
Eighteen hours before the shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, Michigan’s State Senate pushed through a bill which allows people to carry a gun or rifle into schools and kindergartens. Obama continues to champion the use of drones in Afghanistan and other countries in order to target terrorists, but which generates a high number of civilian casualties, many of them children. Israel continues to receive funding from the US, most of which goes into the Israeli Defense Forces – two days ago, an IDF soldier killed 17-year-old Muhammad Al-Sulaymah who was bringing home a cake to celebrate his birthday.
It appears that there is a pattern here, which continues to perpetuate itself.
While the culture of violence has become, as with everything else, an increasingly global phenomenon, how it manifests is local. It shows up in our communities and it happens to our children. The death of the young, whatever the circumstances, is always a tragedy in itself. They symbolize our dreams and hopes, our investment for the future which we dream of but may never see fulfilled. When children die, we are left with the scraps of our messes. The empty spaces they leave behind echo our loss, their silent screams creating a wall of grief.
Unfortunately, when children die, we also reduce them to sound bites. We reduce them to spectacles of previously unimaginable tragedy; we speak of them in whispers and with stunned expressions, as though they are isolated events. We treat their deaths as if they are without context. We fault these tragedies on singular subjects, usually the killer presumed deranged or desperate, and not as if they are the result of years of permitted violence.
There is something amiss, and its cause is great, its habits too ingrained, that we prefer to hide behind our grief and point fingers.
We at Sixteen Minutes to Palestine extend our hearts and prayers to the families, friends, and victims of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Syazwina Saw is a writer and editor for ISSUE Magazine and a graduate student based in Malaysia. She has also helped in the development of Sixteen Minutes to Palestine. She tweets here.