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It's a problem with humanity, not India, China or America

By Matthew Schneeberger
Last updated on: April 18, 2007 14:24 IST
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The horrific massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, has left me devastated and confused. Before I go further, let me first offer my sincerest condolences to all those intimately affected by this senseless act of violence. Finding myself shaken to the core, as a mere bystander, I can hardly imagine the absolute anguish and misery the victims and their loved ones must be suffering.

I am a 23-year-old American, recently graduated from Denison University and working here in Mumbai; this incident is affecting me both personally and professionally.

As a proponent of America's higher education system, I proudly assist Indian students hoping to study in the US. I love academia and its pursuit of high ideals; I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to study and to strive for self-betterment. For me, the campus is a serene sanctum isolated from the vulgarities of everyday life; universities are bastions of dreams, fertile ground for planting information and cultivating knowledge.

Even more personally, my mother grew up in the Blue Ridge mountain range within ten miles of Virginia Tech's campus. I have several relatives who attended 'Va Tech' and the 'Hokies' were always one of my favourite athletic teams; I even own a few articles of VT apparel. As a child, I spent several summers on my grandfather's farm deep in the heart of 'Hokie territory'; compared to the gritty streets of my hometown (Cleveland, Ohio), I've always considered Virginia's soft undulations and lush green country-side an oasis of sorts.

In a matter of hours these two picturesque notions, the sanctity of the university campus and the benevolence of the sunny Virginia skies, unravelled as I sat fixated to the television, too stunned to cry.

Aside from the initial trauma and its effect on my person and psyche, I fear the incident will also catalyse long term malcontent in both the US and India. I can already see the gathering backlash; I pray it doesn't inhibit the bilateral exchange of talent and information between our two nations. Surfing the Net this morning confirmed my suspicions; individuals in both America and India are already twisting facts in order to pursue selfish political ideals.

Yesterday, xenophobes in the US were quick to raise the banner of anti-immigration; they openly injected anti-Asian sentiments into discussions of this singular event. They are calling it an act of terrorism; they say it's China's attack on America's love of information and education. These individuals obviously do not bother with details; the shooter was an introverted misfit with obvious mental problems; he happened to be Asian.

I've seen calls for the revoking of student visas; I've heard vague threats directed towards the Asian population at large. This incident is being used to fan the consumptive flames of isolationism and ignorance.

Those harbouring and dispensing this hatred conveniently forget the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado; two alienated white students massacred 12 of their classmates before turning the guns on themselves. Likewise, the prior deadliest school shooting in US history took place in 1966 at the University of Texas; the perpetrator, a deranged US Marine named Charles Whitman, killed 15 people and wounded 30 others before local police managed to shoot and kill him.

In America, race never entered the discussion during these aforementioned incidents. Instead, every effort was made to understand the individuals responsible -- their lives, their thoughts, their pasts, their likes and dislikes. I can only pray that the United States media wilfully turns the focus in this direction, refusing to dwell on the shooter's race. I have my doubts.

On the other hand, and equally disturbing, I've already seen Indians using the tragedy as an excuse for bashing the US. They suggest that Indians should 'stay at home,' and that studying in the US is dangerous and a moral pollutant.

I've read that America's 'gun-culture' and 'lack of parental influence' is responsible for yesterday's tragedy. While America's gun-laws may need revision, we must remember that a killer has a multitude of means for reaching such heinous ends. Guns can be obtained illicitly and homemade bombs have proven equally fatal in the past.

Furthermore, as initial reports pegged the shooter as a Chinese national, I read many Indians disparaging the Chinese. I find this incredibly disheartening and selfish; we're discussing real, tangible lives here, not abstract stereotypes or racist jokes. Killers have no nationality or ethnicity: as Biswanath Halder, who went on a shooting spree at Case Western Reserve University in 2003, killing one and injuring two others, reminds us.

Moreover, and what I find downright sickening, are several comments from readers intimating that America 'had it coming,' for its military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. I, myself, don't support America's foreign policy; I suspect neither did a majority of the victims. This wasn't a military building attacked; this had nothing to do with George Bush and Dick Cheney. American institutes of higher education represent the enormous potential of humanity; they pursue the betterment of the human condition through research and education. They do not advocate the slaughter of human beings, whether it is in Iraq, Sudan, Kashmir or America. I may certainly be biased, but university students are often the least contaminated by the disgusting blood-lust infecting our world. They didn't, as some so crudely have said, 'have it coming.'

Of course, there are questions of importance that must be answered: How did the killer obtain his weapons? Had he demonstrated any signs of prior mental illness? Why was campus security slow to warn the student populace of the initial shooting? These are particular questions with particular answers, however, and should not serve as indictments of an entire nation.

I met the love of my life, an Indian girl, while studying at university; I forged friendships with other Indians that will last my entire lifetime. I'm dedicated to the continuing integration of the two nations, and in general, the establishment of a global community. My studies taught me to see individuals as individuals, and not by creed, colour and caste. My experiences awakened a desire to see the world from a global perspective and to be its citizen, not merely an American. My university education tells me that yesterday's crime stems from a human problem, and not one of nations.

The crux of my interpretation, then, stands bare; the memories of the victims should not be desecrated by petty international squabbling and chest-thumping. This horrific incident was perpetrated by a deranged individual; innocent individuals lost their lives because of his wretched actions. The shooter was a South Korean national; the victims included two Indians, and students of several other ethnicities.

This tragedy should promote mutual mourning and unity, not divisiveness and mistrust. Let us, then, come together as an international community and condemn this senseless violence while properly honouring the memory of the victims, but please, leave the politics on the sidelines.

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