On the 1st of October, a gunman using a series of semiautomatic rifles modified, legally, to fire like machine guns, killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others in what is now being called America’s deadliest mass shooting. When lawmakers once again pleaded for stricter gun control measures, the White House responded that it was wrong to politicize tragedy. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called any discussion of such legislation “premature”. “There's a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” Sanders said.
At the end of the same month, on my favorite day of the year, the 31st of October, a New Jersey truck driver mowed down 8 people, and injured 11 on a bike path along the West Side Highway in lower Manhattan. That very evening, Trump had a variety of responses, ranging from decreeing the death penalty, expanding the use of Guantanamo Bay "courts", making stabs at senator Chuck Schumer, and pressuring congress to end the Visa Diversity Program.
For those who don’t know, the Diversity Visa Lottery Program, more commonly known as the green card lottery, was part of an immigration reform plan passed through the House and Senate and signed by then President George H.W. Bush in 1990. It was designed as an attempt to correct the quotas that had begun to disadvantage European immigrants, specifically the Irish, who were overstaying their tourist and student visas in large numbers. More than two decades later, Chuck Schumer tried to get a bill passed that would actually remove the diversity visa program and move to a merit-based system. So we might gather, once again, that Trump has no idea what he’s talking about. Or we may see a warped form of political logic here: I suspect that when he hears “diversity,” he thinks “black,” “brown,” and “Muslim”.
By November 3, 2017, 12,986 people had died in America because of gun violence, this year. Subsequent to the attacks of September 11, 2001, six Americans have died every year at the hands of Islamic terrorists, foreign and domestic for a grand total of about 96 individuals. Why then would the President react so mildly to one (far deadlier) tragedy and so strongly to another? Perhaps because the latter attack fits pleasingly into Trump’s rhetoric. It serves to fuel one of his many violent narratives, that America’s issues stem from all those goddamn Muslims and the brown people we keep letting in. The former? That raises uncomfortable questions about who Americans truly are.
There are some mornings you wake up crying. Two such mornings remain with me from my last year in America. The first was the day I woke up to learn the Pakistani media celebrity and activist Qandeel Baloch had been murdered by her brother—one of the few news stories I allowed to filter in through my self-imposed Pakistani news blockade. The other was after a night of nightmares that Trump had won the election, and then woke up to find those terrors a reality. Something about these two mornings, though I don’t have the words for it yet, made me ready to return to Pakistan.
Now I peer into America from the outside. I don’t miss being made to feel like I had personally fucked up America. As if my brown, Muslim existence was the reason for someone’s joblessness, their gun violence, their divided nation. These things I knew intellectually were caused by capitalism, deep-seated racism, anti-immigration rhetoric, gun lobbies, etc., etc. But eventually I couldn’t take it anymore: the disheveled man on the subway yelling that I should be thankful that he was attracted to my non-white self, was no longer an inevitable casualty of existence as a brown woman. It had become inseparable from the unwantedness, the rejection I had begun to feel, something general that hung in the air.
As I write this, I hear news of a mass shooting in a Texas church coming through the airwaves. I find myself typing this response, not for validation or out of resentment, but as a small attempt to call out to the America I left behind. It is a country I will always have a deep love for, but it is also a place that seems profoundly lost, yelling at disenfranchised immigrants while its native sons commit horrific massacres. America, it is in your best interest to be cognizant of the ways reactions to such tragedy vary, depending on the perpetrators. You really need understand how some people get pushed into the fringes, just to make you feel safe, and how that security is an illusion as long as you ignore the true perpetrators. That sort of disconnect doesn’t result simply in political frustration; it also leads to pain and death.
AMAL ZAMAN is a journalist based out of Karachi, Pakistan. She was formerly an editorial assistant at MR.