This post is by Rebekah Sinclair and it was originally posted at her website.
A Hunger-Games-like enthusiasm best characterizes the coverage of last week’s “man hunt” after the Boston bombing. Okay, so they aren’t really the Hunger Games, and perhaps that comparison may even seem too soon and too cruel, but the similarities ought not be lost on us.
Unlike the people of Boston, who immediately chose to emulate the best in humanity—to decry violence and serve one another—the rest of America has not followed their example. Emulating instead the violence at the epicenter of the explosions—the will to do harm and failure to see life through the eyes of and with compassion for its victims—we have turned a tragic and unfortunate chase into a disturbing man hunt. We have uniquely combined the seductive retribution of Bin-Laden-chasing with the nail-biting and immanent excitement of last minute plays at a tied Super Bowl.
The American media has approached the search for the brothers Tsarnaev with an appalling eagerness I most immediately identify with the Capital city of Panem in the Hunger Games. Crowds have cheered as the brothers were chased, cornered, shot at, injured, killed, run over, etc. And lest we justify our gleeful enthusiasm regarding our current fight by noting the extreme difference in these circumstances—admittedly, forcing children to fight to the death is a bit different than chasing a man who’s killed many people—we should remember that prevention and justice were the same ways Panem justified its televised hunt. Panem glorified the violence on the screen supposedly in order to deter more violence and more uprisings. Likewise, on the 24-hour coverage of this hunt by every major news channel in the US, we’ve come to see the violence, and hear the ricocheting of bullets and the clattering of gunshots, as necessary, even praiseworthy background noises in our quest for greater good.
But we are not, or do not have to be, Panem. We are still writing our own story and we could do a better job of it. We do not have to desensitize ourselves to or rejoice in the loss of life or the carnage used to capture those we feel should be brought to justice. We can mourn, rather than cheer, loss and death, even if it’s in the name of preventing violence. Or do we not have it in us to be better than the injury, the horror, the aggression and blood we reject?
In most of the worlds spiritual traditions, turning one’s cheek, loving one’s enemies and praying for those who persecute you are all responses to rehumanize those we’d rather hate. They represent the more difficult but more important efforts to embrace, mourn, and have compassion for those we think, by our measures of justice, ought instead be shot, capitally punished, or crucified. From this perspective, from the best of what I think we can be, it is not acceptable to revel in violence and loss, even if that loss means the end of what many, with so much unquestioned conviction, call “pure evil.” Rather, we have a chance, especially in moments like this—precisely in the heat of a man hunt—to cease glorifying violence, to cease getting turned on when what we name evil gets what’s coming to it.
We also, even more importantly, and with greater effect on society, have a chance to re-discipline our imaginations. As people tried to fill out the identity of the perpetrators in their minds, guessing at race, ethnicity, and religion and filling in the gaps with ill-thought, Hollywood expectations, it highlighted the poor use of imagination to which we are so accustomed. One acquaintance, in an effort to justify the hunt and it’s drama, even suggested he thought these two boys, given the chance, and without this “Hunt Of Justice,” would be dragging the bodies of their victims through the streets. As if the chase and America’s delight in it were justified by this man’s singular and wild imagining. He chose, unwisely, I think, to exercise his powers of imagination in the direction of suspicion and increased violence. But he could just as easily have stopped the cycle of violence by leaning his imagination in the direction of empathy, sorrow, even compassion.
We too can embrace what is perhaps our greatest power and freedom, to consciously interrogate our assumptions and their foundations. Though we are told that crises help cement and validate our beliefs, perhaps instead, they are invitations to question, read, wonder, and imagine all the more carefully. If we allow lazy imaginings and thoughtless, ingrained expectations to do our thinking for us—especially in times when we are most vulnerable—we perpetuate the systems and the delight in violence we claim to abhor. These are the times that it is worth the extra effort to gather the full force of our imaginative abilities in the effort of breaking expectations, of turning cheeks, of offering olive branches instead of increased suspicion. These are the times we are called, by the best in us, to wiser uses of our imagination.
In all likelihood, we are all in agreement that steps had to be taken to prevent others from being injured or killed by these young men. And I join those who praise and admire the men, women, and dogs (lets not forget the dogs) who helped catch Tamerlan and Dzohokhar Tsarnaev. But if we agree on that, perhaps we can also agree that the pursuit and trauma that ensued in their catching ought not be glorified or taken out of its heartrending context. The chase and the death we have witnessed these past few days may have been inevitable, though I’m not sure they were. But they are, at any rate, an enormously tragic extension of the initial explosion, and not a righting of it.
Finally, I believe we lose something important, something crucial—maybe even the very thing we’re trying to defend—when we make distinctions between the lives and violence that are worth grieving, worth protecting, and those that aren’t. For example, most news stories that have come out so far today aren’t even using the boys names anymore—they are no longer even human and relatable and mournable. They are a blip, a disruption, an abstract concept: the “Boston bombing brothers.” While I’m as fervent a fan of alliteration as anyone, surely something significant suffocates when we exchange concrete experience for catchy tags and mournable identities for marketable, eye-catching news blips. So long as that line between the grievable and the ungrievable exists, so long as that line can be moved, we all risk being on the wrong side of it. Yet I cling to the hope that the cycle of hostility, fighting, retribution, and gun pointing can be broken when we collectively and individually mourn and revalue the lives, the hunt, the death of the “perpetrators.” If all lives are sacred, as I believe they are, then we must affirm, now more than ever, that the lives of those people we perceive don’t share that belief—that don’t consider all life sacred—are themselves no less sacred because of those beliefs.
For those who are or ever were part of the Boston community, and to the loved ones of those injured, killed, or otherwise affected by the bombing, my deepest sympathies and fullest compassions are with you. But despite this tragedy, you have made this story one of redemption and greatness—you so quickly broke the cycle of aggression and turned our spellbound attention to care by showing us the best face of humanity. I apologize that the focus on violence was quickly rekindled with a singlemindedness unique to American media. I hope that, as this story unfolds and if, god forbid, we should come into such moments again, we can join you in emulating the best and greatest side of the humanity exposed that day, rather than the worst.