It’s been over ten days since the mass shooting at US military offices in Tennessee and here in Texas, flags are still at half staff in memorial of the five soldiers that were killed.
Flags have been lowered across town in San Antonio, where I have been visiting this week.
Even the Mexican flag has been lowered, along with the Texas and national flags:
As heinous as this killing was, mass shootings have unfortunately become a common news story in the US with over 200 mass shootings this year alone:
But the reaction to this latest mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee seems to stand out from the others. Not only have flags been lowered across the country for an extensive period (with the White House under intense criticism for not lowering them immediately) armed citizens–some reportedly belonging to militia groups– have also taken to the streets to “guard” recruitment offices with automatic weapons:
Mass shootings have continued after the tragedy–as soon as a week later when a man opened fire at a Louisiana movie theatre, shooting 11 people and killing two. But following that brutal crime, I don’t remember hearing anything about armed citizens deploying in front of cinemas to protect movie-goers, despite the fact that this is the latest in a series of shootings at theaters.
There were also mass shootings just before the Tennessee massacre, most notably the massacre at a Charleston, South Carolina church that claimed 8 lives. But I don’t remember hearing about armed men deploying in front of churches, particularly black churches, which have been subject to a history of violence. I also don’t remember hearing anything about flags being lowered nationwide in mourning for the victims of the Charleston murder spree. In fact, a flag many felt represented the type of racist discourse that may have influenced the perpetrator, was still flying high after the killing, despite demands that it be brought down.
So what is it about the killing of the Tennessee soldiers that has sparked such a powerful, visceral reaction, enough to bring armed citizens out into the streets? Is the murder of soldiers more appalling than the killing of civilians? Or are there other contributing factors?
The shooters in all three cases are believed to be disturbed individuals. All are also said to be American citizens raised in this country but only in Tennessee is the perpetrator reportedly Muslim. I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would have been as jingoistic had he identified with a different faith or no faith at all.
In the painful search for answers after such tragedies, perhaps we should be concerned not only by the individual killers but also by the collective knee-jerk reactions to them, which may reveal just as much about the troubled social conditions we inhabit.
The Daily Star reported today that a bodyguard associated with prominent banker Antoun Sehnaoui stabbed a man to death in a “road rage” incident. But with the victim stabbed some 15 times after being kicked around the street as seen in multiple cell phone videos, it might be more appropriate to call this act a barbarian homicide on par with what so horrifies us about the violence of groups like ISIS.
Of course when there is no beard involved, the story is told a bit differently. Initial reports and blog posts did not even mention Sehnaoui’s name at all, using curiously vague terms like “powerful banker” instead. Both LBC and MTV do not mention Sehnaoui’s name in their reports, neither did The Daily Star in its first article on the topic, though it was included in a subsequent piece.
To its credit, LBC also noted with an onscreen graphic that the police failed to intervene despite repeated calls by the victim’s wife:
Yet this apparent fear of naming Sehanoui, who is the head of SGBL Bank–one of Lebanon’s largest– may be due to the fact that he has actually threatened legal action against anyone using his name “slanderously” in association with the crime in a statement issued by his lawyer. In the statement Sehnaoui, claims he supports full justice for the victim– Georges Al Rif, a father of four–and that this case was an “isolated incident.”
But was this really an isolated incident and to what extent should Sehnaoui be held accountable for the armed and very dangerous men on his payroll? In fact, this is not the first time we read about the alleged brutal violence of Sehnaoui’s bodyguards in the news.
Many will remember the shootout that occurred in a nightclub in 2010 when Sehnaoui’s bodyguards were summoned before a court for their possible involvement in firing a hail of bullets that wounded another businessman. According to OTV, some 100 bullets were fired and several eyewitnesses claim the violence was perpetuated by the Sehnaoui bodyguards:
Meanwhile a Twitter user alerted me to yet another incident of a fatal shooting where Sehnaoui’s bodyguards are also claimed to be involved, according to at least one report. But I could not find any news articles on that one. Can anyone verify this?
At any rate, are all of these coincidences or “isolated incidents” as Mr. Sehnaoui claims? How probable is it that his bodyguards would be implicated in at least two extremely violent crimes and yet he claims to support justice? What happened to the those who shot up the nightclub? Did they remain employed by Sehnaoui even after the armed violence?
Sehanoui is not alone. I watched and filmed firsthand as a bodyguard associated with MP Nadim Gemayel raced his car into a crowd of protestors, severely injuring one. The event happened right in front of a police station:
The Gemayel bodyguards had previously beaten activists savagely and threatened them with machine guns when they activists demanded they remove their cars that were blocking a street leading to their offices. Gemayel offered numerous varying testimonies on the case when interviewed in the media, even claiming the young feminist activists threw rocks and sticks at his vehicle, an outlandish story not supported by any of the video evidence, which he later backed off of. Still was justice ever served? What happened to those bodyguards?
In yet another case earlier this year a woman was reportedly beaten by bodyguards associated with interior minister Nouhad Machnouk. The women, who turned out to be a lawyer is now suing. But will she make any progress and will the minister be held accountable in any way?
The Lebanese people have long been plagued by the violent savagery of elites and their bodyguards, who not only helped destroy the country during the war years but continue to cause havoc today, blocking streets, intimidating or physically assaulting civilians and then threatening those who speak up or even mention their names in association with the crimes they commit. Media outlets perpetuate the impunity by remaining silent or propagating falsehoods in their favor, often because the news outlets are owned by the politician or his associates. And to top it off, police–also fearful– often stand by and do absolutely nothing. Fortunately today technology is changing this total grip on power as people can now document and broadcast these events in ways never previously imagined. Hopefully this progression of citizen empowerment will eventually continue to the courts and legal system.
One item worth debating: Should elites also be held accountable for the men who carry deadly weapons in their name? Perhaps bodyguards would be less monstrous if their bosses could actually go to jail for the violence they regularly commit.
Tonight, some have planned to march to Mr. Sehnaoui’s mansion demanding justice. Others have started a crowd-funding campaign to help the family pay for the legal case. And the hashtag #JusticeforGeorges is starting to go viral on social media, along with dozens of news stories. Step by step, people are starting to chip away at once untouchable elite power that endangers their lives and those of their children. It is sad that Georges and many others have had to pay the ultimate price so that society can begin to question those who rule this country with impunity.
UPDATE: A crowd of police have deployed to protect Mr. Sehnaoui’s mansion from family and friends of the victims. One woman shouted out: “Where were the police yesterday when Georges was stabbed in the street?”
UPDATE 2 (18/7/15): The crowd-funding campaign to raise money for Georges’ family has already exceeded its goal and raised over $15,000 in just one day:
UPDATE 3 (18/7/15): The news site Naharnet is expanding the list of alleged past crimes by the bodyguard who killed Georges as well as other bodyguards supposedly working for the same banker. In addition to the 2010 nightclub shooting, they have compiled a list from various news organizations which includes:
-The reported shooting death of a man at a motorcycle shop in 2012 (mentioned briefly above) in Saad Bouchrieh
-The reported beating and cutting off of an ear of a sports instructor in 2012 and intimidation of a female student at Zahrat el-Ishan school in Ashrafieh
-The reported beating of a valet parking attendant in 2009 at Sofitel hotel in Ashrafieh
You can read the full roundup here. If anyone can confirm or deny of these events please feel free to share in the comments below.