Menu
Home

World

Global worry: Tucson attack augur more violent US?

The assassination attempt on a U.S. congresswoman seems tragically familiar to people in countries where political violence has been routine, and many expressed concern Monday that America's increasingly polarized politics will lead to more bloodshed.

Politicians, intellectuals and columnists — including people personally scarred by political violence — said it matters little that evidence so far indicates the accused gunman, a 22-year-old social outcast, was mentally disturbed and acted alone. They see him as moved to action by a climate of heated rhetoric.

Zeev Sternhell, a prominent Israeli academic and peace activist, called the shooter's mental state immaterial. "The argument that someone is not entirely sane does not absolve those whose incitement created the atmosphere for someone less stable to pull the trigger," he told The Associated Press.

Saturday's rampage, which critically wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and claimed six lives, "indicates just how dangerous it has become to practice politics — true politics that effects change" in the United States generally and in Arizona in particular, said Colombian columnist Maria Jimena Duzan.

"It's sort of a great alarm bell for understanding what's happening in a society where politics is increasingly being displaced by violence," said Duzan, whose reporter sister Sylvia was a victim of a political assassination in 1990. "It's what happened to us (in Colombia). And it needs to be impeded."

In Colombia, death squads employed by drug traffickers and wealthy landowners and often backed by military officers have killed thousands since the 1980s in a dirty war that has failed to eliminate leftist rebel violence.

The shooting, as well as widely hostile international views of Arizona's effort to clamp down on illegal immigration, have created a grim image of the state abroad.

Duzan considers Arizona a cauldron of political paranoia and fear — brimming with firearms that are regularly smuggled into neighboring Mexico and infected by the bordering nation's narcotics-gang violence.

Giffords, a Democrat whose district borders Mexico, is an outspoken proponent of immigration reform and has vigorously opposed an Arizona law that would let police demand identification papers from anyone they suspect of being in the United States illegally.

It remains unclear whether the shooter, who wielded a Glock 9-millimeter semiautomatic pistol with police say he bought at a gun store in November, targeted Giffords because of her politics.

Even so, Ecuador's top immigration official, Lorena Escudero, says she believes Giffords' politics made her vulnerable. She called the attack "the product of the enormous polarization that exists in the United States concerning human rights, fundamentally the rights of migrants."

In Paris, the newspaper Le Monde said the attack seemed to confirm "an alarming premonition that has been gaining momentum for a long time: that the 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."

Sternhell, who was lightly wounded in a 2008 pipe bomb attack, said he thinks the attack at a Tucson shopping mall where Giffords was meeting with constituents is related to radical conservative incitement against the Obama administration's health care reform law, which Giffords backed.

Like the U.S., Israel is a relatively prosperous democracy, but one riven by political and cultural divisions that at times breed violence, including the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

While even midlevel political assassinations in Israel get blanket media coverage and produce bouts of societal introspection of the type the United States is currently experiencing, the level of political violence remains unaltered.

Sergio Dahbar, a Venezuelan magazine editor, said the Giffords shooting is "being very closely followed in Latin America because we also have this illness in Latin America. We have the illness of intolerance."

Former Mexican diplomat and presidential candidate Cecilia Soto wrote in the newspaper Excelsior that the Arizona attack was "an alarming signal" not just for complicated U.S.-Mexico border issues "but also for the health of democracy in the United States."

She said it is far too easy to buy guns in the United States. Mexican officials often complain that the U.S. supplies the guns routinely used to kill politicians, police and journalists.

Latin America's less mature democracies have lived through frequent spasms of political violence. It has been so endemic in countries such as Mexico and Colombia that many elected officials don't dare appear in public without a retinue of well-armed bodyguards.

In the Netherlands security was sharply increased for public officials after two high-profile political killings: the 2002 assassination of anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn and the slaying two years later of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist.

"There is a safety mania in the Netherlands at the moment" as a result, said historian Han Van der Horst. The populist politician seen by many as Fortuyn's political heir, Geer Wilders, is himself the target of death threats, has round-the-clock security and lives at a secret address.

One nation where the Giffords attack attracted little media attention was Pakistan. Assassinations are common there, and political violence has increased over the past five years with the rise of Islamic extremism.

The Arizona rampage occurred less than a week after the murder of a liberal Pakistani provincial governor, Salman Taseer, by one of his bodyguards. It was the country's highest-profile slaying since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was murdered in 2008.

Islamic radicals in Pakistan have publicly feted Taseer's killer, with some commentators suggesting Taseer deserved his fate for criticizing laws that carry the death penalty for insulting Islam.

While Gilfords' slaying was universally condemned in the United States, mainstream politicians in Pakistan have shied away from condemning Taseer's murder.

His assassination was "a message to all liberal and progressive people (in Pakistan) to keep quiet, and scare and intimidate them," Taseer's daughter Sara was quoted as saying by CNN. "I'm sure in Arizona the general public is not feeling threatened, or not fearing that they can voice their views or openly condemn it."

Former Colombian President Andres Pastrana, who also served as his country's ambassador to Washington in 2005-2006, said he is worried about political intolerance in the U.S. but also impressed by the universal condemnation of the Giffords attack — and by how Americans are consumed with it.

Even relatively minor acts of violence such as home invasions are big news in the United States, he noted.

"By contrast, here it's just the latest headline."

___

Associated Press writers Libardo Cardona in Colombia, Aron Heller in Israel, Mike Corder in the Netherlands, Angela Doland in Paris, Mark Stevenson in Mexico, Chris Brummitt in Pakistan, Ian James in Venezuela and Gonzalo Solano in Ecuador contributed to this report.

(This version CORRECTS years Pastrana was ambassador in Washington.)