Violence and politcial freedom

Salman Taseer, Governor of Punjab, murdered by bodyguard

There are a number of worrying news items in the past few days.

Especially worrying are the shootings of Salmaan Taseer in Pakistan and the congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona in the US. Both seemingly shot by extremists. Salmaan Taseer was known to be a moderate and the governor of the Punjab province in Pakistan. He was for modifying the harsh blasphemy laws in the country which specifies the death penalty for anyone convicted of blaspheming against the prophet Mohammed. The law has been used to settle grievances – especially against Christians and other religious minorities in the country – thankfully the death penalty has never been carried out. Although having said that a number have been killed by mob action, incited many believe, by the law on the statute book.

Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly

Gabrielle Gifford with her husband

In the US case it appears that another extremist shot and wounded the congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed another 9 and wounded another 13. One of the killed was a nine year old girl. In the US the political discourse has become more and more polarised between the Republicans and Democrats and in particular between the Tea Party (which seems to be mainly connected with the right wing of the Republican party) and the Obama backing backing Democrats. Several commentators have noted Sarah Palin’s comments and specifically Gabrielle Giffords comments prior to her being shot:

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they have to realise that there are consequences to that action,” she said.

It refers to Sarah Palin’s website where crosshairs of a gun were focused on the electoral district.

The local sheriff has pointed to the unhealthy attitude being engendered

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous,” the sheriff said. “And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

In both of these cases a small minority of a population seek to cause strife and initiate violence against what they deem to be wrong. In both case nut-cases use guns to kill. In both cases people who should know better use language which stokes grievances.

In both cases, I am sure that many of those that did the stoking would say that they are against violence. And some have waded in to defend people such as Sarah Palin and her language. But isn’t it interesting that all too often the language used evokes the language of battle or war or violence.

Maybe its time for the majority of us to start telling people that the use of violence and violent language is not appropriate. But also to start supporting those who would stand up to the people of violence.

And so if there are more potentially violent clashes this year in this country maybe we need to be more outspoken against the use of violence and its use. Even if we sympathise with their aims we need to remember that the means are just as important. The consequences of our not doing so can all too tragically lead to incidents such as those in Pakistan or the US.

Real political freedom requires we make space, in respect, for those we disagree with. But it does not require us to make space for those using violent language or violent means. Violence seeks to destroy political freedom. Violence seeks to impose the perpetrator’s views on society. It distrusts freedom.


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