As I sat down to write this column, word of the horrific terrorist act in Orlando was spilling across the news. We’ve been told that it was a record-setting act of gun violence in our nation and we are left reeling, angered, frustrated and –perhaps– frightened. It is all too easy for us to imagine one of our own children heading off to a night of dancing and the sharing of community and winding up dead, the victim of a hatred that, like a black-hole, draws into itself every bit of light it encounters.On Facebook I have seen endless posts declaring, in response to this horrific act, “Love Conquers Hate.” I don’t believe it. Hate is too deeply rooted in the human psyche to be conquered. Love cannot conquer hate but it is, surely, an appropriate response to hate.
We must aspire to love even more intensely what the haters despise: freedom of conscience and action.
One of the first reactions to the slaughter in Orlando that I read was a column by Frank Bruni that appeared in the online edition of The New York Times on June 12, the day of the murders. I want to share a few excerpts from his powerful essay with my own reactions interlaced.
Bruni writes, “ But let’s be clear: This was no more an attack on L.G.B.T. people than the bloodshed at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris was an attack on satirists....Both were attacks on freedom itself. Both took aim at societies that, at their best, integrate and celebrate diverse points of view, diverse systems of belief, diverse ways to love. And to speak of either massacre more narrowly than that is to miss the greater message, the more pervasive danger and the truest stakes.”
Indeed, if the motivation for this crime, as authorities suspect, turns out be rooted in the worst kind of religious intolerance, then the necessary response is not more love, it is an ever-deepening commitment to the wonderfully complex and diverse society that we call “America”. It requires of each and every one of us a rejection of the kind of venomous rhetoric that we hear on a daily basis from the likes of Donald Trump, words that form the background “static” from which perpetrators of hateful crimes emerge.
Noting the fact that the targets of this attack were members of the LGBTQ community, Bruni writes: “But the threat isn’t just to L.G.B.T. Americans, as past acts of terror have shown and as everyone today must recognize. All Americans are under attack, and not because of whom we drink, dance or sleep with, but because of our bedrock belief that we should not be subservient to any one ideology or any one religion. That offends and inflames the zealots of the world....Often our politicians can’t find their voices. But sometimes their words are precisely right....President Obama, speaking about the victims on Sunday afternoon, said: ‘The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub. It is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, is an attack on all of us and on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country.’”
On the Wednesday evening following the murders, like thousands of Americans throughout the country, many Cape residents gathered on the Village Green in Falmouth for a vigil of mourning, solidarity and commitment. It was an opportunity to acknowledge the reality that President Obama articulated...such attacks are attacks on all of us.
Bruni quotes Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti who addressed a Gay Pride rally just hours after a man laden with weapons was stopped on his way to that city’s Pride celebration: “Today we know that we are targeted as Americans, because this is a society where we love broadly and openly, because we have Jews and Christians and Muslims and atheists and Buddhists marching together, because we are white, black, brown, Asian, Native American. The whole spectrum and every hue and every culture is here.”
Bruni ends his column with these words: “It was a perfect description of the country I love. It was an equally perfect description of what the Orlando gunman couldn’t bear.”
We know what the gunman and his ilk stand for. The more important question is, “What do we stand for?”