Partisanship has no place in aftermath of the Arizona tragedy

In the immediate aftermath of the tragic shooting that took place last week in Tucson, Arizona, there were two general waves of reaction that are typical in any such tragedy. The first was a sense of shock and sympathy for the victims. The second reaction was one of laying blame and assigning responsibility for the deadly shooting.

While this seems quite ordinary on the surface, something struck me as quite odd. The major target of blame that I could see, aside from Jared Lee Loughner, the man who committed the crime, was former Governor of Alaska and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

How does Sarah Palin fit into this story? The primary target of the shooting was U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat. Last year, during the U.S. midterm election campaign,
Palin featured a map identifying 20 house Democrats who voted in favour of the health care bill. Each of their districts was labelled with a crosshair and a call was made to voters, “Let’s take back the 20, together!” Giffords was one of the House Democrats identified on this map.

Tragically, six people were murdered as a result of Loughner’s shooting spree. Fortunately, his assassination attempt failed and Giffords survived, though she is currently hospitalized and in serious condition.

Immediately after the failed assassination, the media went wild; many stories around the world associated the shooting with Palin’s campaign. Although there was, at that point, no indications of Loughner’s motives, some commentators went so far as to argue that Palin should face criminal investigation.

The argument of whether or not the campaign map was in good taste is a different story. It is not completely unimaginable that such an image could be considered incitement and that a mentally ill man may misinterpret it as a call for an assassination. But to call for a criminal investigation or even suggest that Palin is responsible for this shooting without any indication that there is any connection whatsoever is ludicrous.

International media outlets went farther than attacking just Palin. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, this attack confirmed the fear that “verbal and symbolic violence that the most radical right-wing opponents have used in their clash with the Obama administration would at some point lead to tragic physical violence.” With absolutely no evidence suggesting that Loughner’s actions were political or that Loughner even held right-wing beliefs, Le Monde threw all journalistic integrity out the window in what can only be described as a complete lack of media responsibility.

At this point, there is no definitive motive associated with the shooting spree, as Loughner is refusing to co-operate with the investigation. Various theories have spread based on posts he previously made online. For example, he listed one of his favourite books as Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Since Giffords’s father is Jewish, this has led to suspicions that the attack was based on her ethnic background.

Another one of his favourite books is The Communist Manifesto, not typical of someone who is supposedly, at least in the eyes of Le Monde and many others, a member of the “radical right wing.” There has also been mention of previous history between Loughner and Giffords. According to a friend of Loughner, he held a long grudge against her after she failed, in his eyes, to properly answer a question he asked during her campaign.

Regardless of the true story behind the shooting, it is inexcusable that this tragedy was hijacked by partisan politics.

It is a slap in the face of the victims and their loved ones to turn such a tragedy into a political battle. Instead, the victims’ memories should be honoured and the shooter should be brought to justice according to the law.