A post today in response to a question:
Today when I turned on the radio it was in the middle of a discussion they were having about the suspects and I heard them say “Speed Bump”. I then realized they were in conversation and referring to the older brother as “Speed Bump”.

The guy who died was a monster, he plotted to take away precious human life and he killed a child – even though he was a father!!!  I have no doubt if he survived he would feel no remorse…but for some reason, hearing this man referred to as a speed bump on talk radio really bothered me.  So now I go searching for “why” it bothered me? Is it because I’m a Christian and value all human life? How can I value his life when he aimed to hurt so many and successfully killed 4 people?

 

To call this guy “speed bump” is to reduce him to something less than human.  Which is an understandable impulse, because we struggle so with how any human could commit acts of violence, especially at this level.  To dehumanize someone takes away the work that we would otherwise have to do: to look at someone’s reasoning, the despair that drove them to a horrific act, the parts of their lives that were “normal”.  To dehumanize someone is to make them as unlike us as possible, to not have to consider that someone with whom we might share characteristics actually committed a crime of this magnitude.  It means that those of us who are parents do not have to think of him as holding his daughter – feeding her at 3am, changing her diapers, making her laugh. It means that those of us who are parents don’t have to think of him as our son – don’t have to feel his mother’s grief (and it means we can laugh at “that stupid woman’s” denial – but really, could you ever believe such a thing if it were your kids?  I couldn’t.)  To dehumanize someone means that we don’t have to examine our own violent tendencies – our love of blowing things up on the computer, or on a movie screen; our ease in armchair judgements of who deserves to live or die, who deserves love, or mercy…

But unless we are willing to say that human beings are born evil – to believe that Tamerlane and Dzokhar were never, from birth, able to be anything except monsters – then this act of dehumanization is as detrimental to us as it is to them.  It tears us apart as human beings, keeps us from looking at the alienation, the fear, the pain that other young men and women in this world might be feeling.  It keeps us from admitting to the fears of our own hearts, and from accepting the solace that someone might be able to offer.  As hurt and angry as we might get, most of us can restrain the impulse to spread that pain – to lash out in such a premeditated, thoughtful way.  Most of us have enough empathy to recognize that hurting others physically will not make our own pain go away.  It would be helpful if we recognized that verbal and emotional violence is nearly as painful – maybe moreso for being invisible – that it tears our souls and tears our hearts and we try to fill the resulting holes with something – militancy, patriotism, conspiracy… fill in the blanks. 

It’s worth recognizing as well that to simply call this guy a “terrorist” or a “jihadist” is also, to a lesser extent, dehumanizing.  These terms reduce him to this one act, this one thing that clearly and distinctly makes him different from the rest of us.  It’s worth listening closely to all of the ways in which these two young men are “othered” – how they went from being white, American citizens to being militant Muslim terrorist immigrants.  It is worth noting how hard we push back against anything that makes them similar to us, how we are willing to make this attack more like 9/11 than like Aurora (which, in actuality, it more closely resembles).  It is worth noting the emotional violence that we are currently doing to so many people who are watching coverage of these events, and who might look a lot more like Tamerlane or Dzokhar…

Nothing excuses what these kids did.  That they suffered I do not doubt, but such suffering never gives us the right to hurt others.  I wish that both of them had to come face to face with the consequences of their actions.  I wish that both of them had to look into the eyes of the parents of that little boy, or into the faces of those who were severely injured.  I wish that both of them had a chance at some remorse, some human connection – a chance to repair the damage done to their hearts and souls, to come back into relationship with God.  It may never happen, but there is always hope – I have to believe that God will continue to seek the heart of the younger brother, will never stop trying to turn him back.  I have to believe that God never gives up on any of us, and grieves the ones who die while still alienated from God and humanity.  And if I want to be in a right relationship with God, I have to not give up hope either: to not dehumanize, to not suggest that anyone is past repentance, past redemption.  If I want to be in a right relationship with God, then I, too, must grieve the souls lost to darkness and pain.  And not call them “speed bump”. 

When people dehumanize others – dead or alive; when people suggest that anyone is inherently unlovable or unworthy, the question becomes, “what is the implication of what you just said?” What is beneath it – what fear, especially.  Translate such comments into “I’m afraid of…” and generally you will hit upon the truth of what is really being said – about each other and about God.

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