Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An Open Letter Regarding the Deeper Significance of the Virginia Tech Tragedy

“Corruption has appeared on the land, and on the sea, on account of what
Men’s hands have wrought...” – The Noble Qur’an

Greetings of Peace,

…In the days ahead, competing ideological factions in the public square will do their best to manipulate the tragedy at Virginia Tech to suit their own political ends. Some will argue that the issue is about gun control, while others may use this tragedy to expand the immigration debate. Few, unfortunately, will have the insight or courage to address the issue for what it really is – a tragic manifestation of our own collective and very bitter societal fruits.

As the full magnitude of this human tragedy began to unfold – 33 dead as of this writing (including the perpetrator) - many thoughts rushed through my mind. In addition to the aforementioned verse from the Qur’an, I recalled a memorable observation that was made by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many years ago…:

Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights, because material growth has been made an end in itself, and, in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger…

When an individual is no longer a true participant, when he no longer feels a sense of responsibility to his society, the content of democracy is emptied. When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society. This process produces alienation – perhaps the most pervasive and insidious development in contemporary society.

This observation goes right to the heart of the issues raised by the bloodbath at Virginia Tech University, last Monday. The crazed gunman, a 23 year old South Korean born senior, majoring in English, named Cho Seung-Hui, has been described by those who knew him as a loner, an introvert, and as someone who exhibited (in his writings) violent and deranged tendencies. It has also been reported that this troubled young man suffered from chronic depression, and had few (if any) friends; traits that represent a common denominator for many (if not most) of America’s mass murderers.

It is indeed interesting to note that persons familiar with this young man on campus noticed early warning signs of potential disaster. I’ve read one of Seung-Hui’s short plays (“Richard McBeef”) and was immediately struck by the mental disturbance it revealed about its author. I’ve also been struck by what a number of students have had to say about their past impressions of Cho Seung-Hui.

Former classmate Ian MacFarlane had this to say about the young man at the center of the nation’s latest tragedy:

When I first heard about the multiple shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday, my first thought was about my friends, and my second thought was "I bet it was Seung Cho…" Looking back, he fit the exact stereotype of what one would typically think of as a "school shooter" – a loner, obsessed with violence, and serious personal problems…
A major part of [our] playwriting class was peer reviews… When we read Cho's plays, it was like something out of a nightmare. The plays had really twisted, macabre violence that used weapons I wouldn't have even thought of. Before Cho got to class that day, we students were talking to each other with serious worry about whether he could be a school shooter. I was even thinking of scenarios of what I would do in case he did come in with a gun, I was that freaked out about him. When the students gave reviews of his play in class, we were very careful with our words in case he decided to snap. Even the professor didn't pressure him to give closing comments.

And thus, even among his student peers, there was this visceral awareness of a real disturbance below the surface of Seung Cho-Hui. Ian Macfarlane now opines, “I hope this [tragedy] might help people start caring about others more, no matter how weird they might seem, because if this was some kind of cry for attention, then he should have gotten it a long time ago.”

In the coming days our voracious news media will dissect this tragedy in every way imaginable, and comparisons will repeatedly be made, no doubt, with prior mass killings (or campus-related murder-suicides)…

The real challenge for America will be what lessons and/or productive resolutions come out of this most recent tragedy in Blacksburg, Virginia. On an encouraging note, the memorial service that was held at Virginia Tech yesterday (Tuesday) was both dignified, and structured in a way that was conducive to collective healing.

In addition to the academic and political leaders on hand, the program also included interfaith messages of hope and healing from a Muslim, Buddhist, Jew and a Christian (in that order), along with a mental health professional who alerted the academic community (and family members in need) to the services that would be available on campus for as long as they were needed…

…Now, the difficult work ahead begins. Most of us know someone who exhibits many of the signs of chronic depression and/or other forms of mental or emotional disturbance…The Virginia Tech massacre reminds us of the immediate in-your-face-challenge that each of us has, or should have, as concerned citizens. In addition to this individual challenge, however, there is the larger societal challenge that we must also face.

Like so many similar tragedies on American school campuses over the past few years, the Virginia Tech massacre is a tragic reminder of two maladies that grip the very soul of our global community (especially the “developed” West): alienation and a culture of violence. Until we do more to address ourselves to the root causes of these twin evils contaminating the human spirit, history will continue to repeat itself - again, and again, and again.

As it is written, ALLAH (The Almighty) will not change the condition of a people, until they first change – through the appropriate exercise of their own limited free will – what is within themselves. May God help us to meet this monumental challenge!

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
The Peace And Justice Foundation


Angie Ellaboudy said...

Also on

Angie Ellaboudy said...

In his video, Cho says: "You have vandalised my heart, raped my soul and tortured my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic more life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ to inspire generations of the weak and the defenceless people."

I wonder if he's going to be referred to by the media as the "Christian Terrorist" - or are phrases like that only reserved for Muslims?

Naveed Ahmad said...

Ian Macfarlane now opines, “I hope this [tragedy] might help people start caring about others more, no matter how weird they might seem, because if this was some kind of cry for attention, then he should have gotten it a long time ago.”

subhanAllah. I hope so too. I knew "weird" people over the years, but they are no longer with us. Lord help us with compassion, we seem to have it when its already too late.