Violence product of words, laws

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Let’s hope 2016 is the year we agree no one has a special right to enforce ideology through terror.

Thus far, we’ve not done so well on that front. Too many times we’ve witnessed perpetrators of deadly rampages written off as suffering from mental deficiencies or as otherwise “brainwashed” by this or that ideology.

Those who enter restaurants, movie theaters, health clinics, concerts, churches or other public spaces with intent to harm others in the hope of advancing or in retaliation for a specific ideology are terrorists. Not “lone wolves.” Not mere shooters or gunmen. Not activists. Not disenfranchised. Not “let down” by the system.

Domestic or foreign, individuals hoping to spread their “good news” or prevent another’s by brute force deserve to be met with the full force of anti-terrorism laws.

This is not to say people will no longer have a right to voice beliefs or state opinions. Since my bread is buttered with opinion, I’d be foolish to advocate for such a prohibition.

But we do need to acknowledge that words matter, and be clear in our condemnation of untrue or unfair rhetoric, even when it stems from on high.

Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks to the crowd during the Ben Carson Family Festival on May's Island on August 8, 2015. During two recent television appearances Carson spoke out against vehement political rhetoric.
Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson speaks to the crowd during the Ben Carson Family Festival on May’s Island on August 8, 2015. During two recent television appearances Carson spoke out against vehement political rhetoric. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

On this point, GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson and I agree.

“Hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation … You don’t ever solve [problems] with hateful rhetoric,” Carson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” in response to the deadly violence at a Colorado Planned Parenthood.

On ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” he added, “There’s a lot of extremism coming from all areas. We get into our separate corners and we hate each other; we want to destroy those with whom we disagree.”

The first step on the path of destruction is dehumanization. When we tolerate or ignore those who willfully equate people with livestock or monsters, we allow an alternate reality to take shape in which humans are perceived as something “other,” something with less worth.

Add distorted video “evidence” of wrongdoing and elected officials more interested in scoring political points than leading, and the fuse on the powder keg sparks. Suddenly, doctors performing legal but controversial procedures are warped into bloodthirsty beasts that must be stopped by any means. Somehow, people in shopping malls or at church are morphed into mortal enemies who must be defeated.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t have to keep watching looped footage of gore on our television sets.

We can choose our words more carefully, acknowledging the statement, “I believe abortion is wrong, equal to murder” is very different from labeling doctors who perform abortions as murderers.

In Iowa, let’s demand lawmakers, who already have mandated gun safety courses as part of the permitting process, set common-sense standards. Online videos and 10-question, multiple choice quizzes are inadequate. Touching an actual firearm should be a requirement.

People dangerous enough to earn a spot on the FBI’s terrorist watch list shouldn’t be able to legally purchase firearms.

We can own this. We can pave the path forward — without bullets and blood.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on December 6, 2015. Photo credit: Cliff Jette/The Gazette