How to read acts of violence

There has been a lot of news of violence on TV over the past week, including the more than 30-hour lockdown in Moncton

There has been a lot of news of violence on TV over the past week, including the more than 30-hour lockdown in Moncton, a shooting incident in Seattle and latest as of the writing, an incident in Las Vegas, Nevada on Sunday.

So is it just that we hear more of these violent shootings and killings because the communication technology has improved or is it simply the fact that these incidents have begun to spread?

If it is the latter, what is the explanation?

It is a fact that the wealthy and prosperous societies in the west have grown numb for a long time now to the news of violence coming from the Middle East, South Asia and Africa; the newsrooms of most broadcast media just mention those incidents in passing, paying lip service, as it were, to reports of violence in poorer regions of the world and print media, only if they need copy to fill some space.

But when it comes to incidents closer to home, where they hurt most, we remain glued to TV screens for days to get as many details as possible from the armies of reporters assigned to provide coverage from as many angles as possible.

Ironically, the violence in the poorer, less developed societies of those far-away lands has a much easier and plausible explanation:  It is mostly desperation with a lot of brainwashing involved.

Having lived in several of those less developed countries and witnessed the levels of poverty and misery that people have to endure throughout their lives, I can vouch that it is not very difficult to acknowledge the suitability of the circumstances to breed anger, rage and, consequently, violence when people, particularly the young who have a lot of energy but nothing to look forward to resort to violence in the hope of changing the world and achieving martyrdom, a sacred stature in Islam.

Of course, the naivety of the youth just facilitates the brainwashing by the old and shrewd to use the energy and innocence of the former to score against what they perceive to be the “decadence of the west”.

But what about the west, itself?

First an observation: We don’t hear of similar incidents taking place in western European countries, at least not in the frequency and intensity as in North America.

Secondly, from a purely statistical standpoint, in North America, particularly in Canada, these incidents have been on the rise over the last few years.

So is it fair to conclude that it is not the exuberant consumerism of the west that leads to those personal breakdowns, which result in expression of exasperation through random killings and that they are just individual outbursts without a possible sociological explanation?

But then the question is why these individual outbursts are increasing in number, even in Canada, a country, which has come to be known for the tolerance and compassion of its people.

Are we unwittingly creating circumstances whereby we are letting people become desperate in their search for a better life?

The conventional wisdom is that if people have hope, if they can realistically believe that they have a good chance to achieve a decent living standard within an embracing community, they will not develop the fury that might ultimately lead to violent outbursts.

If that is the case, are we in North America, as one of the wealthiest societies in the world, failing our own people?

The answers to such questions are not easy to find and it might take years of research and study to establish any behavioural patterns that might or might not link the perpetrators of the acts of violence in terms of their social/family backgrounds, levels of achievement or personal traits.

But one thing is certain: it is probably time to start to look at these incidents against a wider social/economic/cultural background instead of just treating them as individual criminal acts of violence.

– Mustafa Eric