AFRICANGLOBE – The murder of nine African-American men and women in a Charleston, South Carolina church on Wednesday night is an event that raises many troubling questions.
Millions of people, in America and worldwide, want a deeper explanation than the superficial nostrums offered by the media and official political circles.
The initial media characterisations of senseless violence by a mentally disturbed individual explain nothing. Little better is the attempt, spearheaded by President Obama in his nationally televised remarks on Thursday, to place the killings at Emanuel AME Church in a straight line of continuity with the atrocities of the civil rights era, such as the murder of four young Black girls in the 1963 Birmingham church bombing.
The position that racism is the fundamental and even exclusive cause of the Charleston tragedy leads to an extremely demoralised perspective, as seen in the much-discussed commentary by comedian Jon Stewart at the beginning of his Thursday night television programme. Stewart blamed the killings on a “gaping racial wound that will not heal, but we pretend doesn’t exist”.
Here racism is torn from its social and historical roots and transformed into an independent and permanent aspect of American social psychology, as though racial attitudes and relations today are unchanged from what they were in the Jim Crow South and the past half-century has been lived entirely in vain.
The public reaction to the Charleston massacre was one of horror and outrage. There was no significant support for Roof’s actions, as there was for the crimes of the Klan in the 1960s. And it was a tip from a white woman who recognised his car and followed him, at her white employer’s urging, that led to his arrest. A deeper explanation of the Charleston massacre must be found, not in the alleged survival, in unchanged and ahistorical form, of the attitudes of the Jim Crow era, but in the contradictions of contemporary American society and global capitalism in the 21st century.
Racism may describe the motivation of Dylann Roof, but there have been dozens of such mass killings in the past two decades in which the individual motives have varied, but essentially the same social phenomenon has been expressed: Alienated individuals, usually acting alone, erupting in homicidal rage against crowds of innocent people: Students at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech; moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado; immigrants at a service centre in Binghamton, New York; school children and their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut; constituents meeting a congresswoman in Tucson, Arizona.
Mass killings are a social, not individual, phenomenon, and must be understood as manifestations of a social malaise: The deepening contradictions of American capitalism, and, above all, the increasing resort to violence on the part of the American government at all levels. President Obama noted in his remarks on Thursday that “this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries”. The implication was that widespread gun ownership is the problem, another superficial and empty explanation favoured by liberals and the Democratic Party.
The reality is that what most distinguishes the United States from all other countries is that the US government is continually engaged in “mass violence” around the world. For the past quarter-century, US military forces have been involved in almost continual warfare: The first Gulf War (1991); Somalia (1992-94); Bosnia and Kosovo (1995-1999); Afghanistan (2001-the present); the second Gulf War (2003-2011); Libya (2011); and now the third war in Iraq, this time being waged in Syria as well (2014 to the present). Add to that the “war on terror,” now approaching its 15th year, a conflict limitless in time and space, which has become the pretext for savage repression both abroad and increasingly at home.
Millions have died in these wars and civil wars, making US presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama the leading mass murderers of the 21st century. Obama meets weekly with CIA and military aides to sign off on lists of people to be assassinated by drone-fired cruise missiles. What have been the consequences of a quarter-century of American wars? Around the world, more than 60 million people are now refugees, the vast majority of them from countries like Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan, destroyed as functioning societies by US invasion or civil wars provoked and instigated by Washington for the purpose of dominating the oil resources of the Middle East and maintaining the world position of US imperialism.
And the harrowing death toll would be multiplied many times over if the US-instigated confrontations with Russia over Ukraine and China over the South China Sea should explode into military conflicts between nuclear-armed powers. Within the United States, democratic forms of rule have steadily eroded, with the growth of a military-intelligence apparatus that dwarfs anything that has ever existed, and which increasingly looks on the American population itself as an enemy to be targeted. This is the context in which the enormous increase in police violence against Blacks must be understood.
As Ferguson, Missouri demonstrated so graphically last year, the methods of war in Iraq and Afghanistan are being brought home against the American working class. A quarter-century of war has polluted American politics, culture and the media with the glorification of military violence, incessant fearmongering, and the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.
It is now routine for media pundits to speak of “taking out” people and political candidates to espouse murder in their campaign platforms. Only three weeks before the horrific events at Emanuel AME Church, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham launched his presidential campaign with this boast: “If I’m president of the United States and you’re thinking about joining al-Qaeda or ISIL, I’m not gonna call a judge. I’m gonna call a drone and we will kill you.”
By: Patrick Martin