Thoughts on the Newtown, Connecticut Shooting

Newton Connecticut Shooting Children School

Sandy Hook Elementary

Children are dying everywhere around this world. Be it in Syria where they die daily (NSFL pictures) or in any war zone. Those deaths though, however tragic and cruel, are a byproduct of a civil strife taking place in their country. 20 children of Newtown, CT had no idea that their school-day on Friday would be their last day of life. The parents who dropped off their children at school didn’t know that would be the last time they would see their son or daughter breathing.

This is the third shooting to take place in the United States in 2012. After each of those massacres, the same debate among Americans erupted before it died down when the mania subsided: gun control and mental health.

Some people believe that their guns should be off limits. Their right to bear arms in the face of a possible tyrant government, as protected by the 2nd amendment, is sacred. I wonder though: how many more innocent children need to die until some Americans realize that the current state of their gun legislation is unacceptable?

Those who can fathom the current gun laws in the United States are jumping on the mental health bandwagon: the mental health sector in the United States is horrendous. Stigma regarding mental health issues is so enrooted in American society that few seek help – and when people crack, they do what Adam Lanza did to the children of Newtown.

On the other hand, you have many Americans who want tighter gun regulations, if not banning of civilians getting access to firearms altogether.

But I am not American. I don’t believe I should get a substantial say about internal regulations of a country I’ve never visited. Personally, I believe it should be a combination of both: Everyone being able to buy guns as easily as chewing gum should not be allowed. Why not require a psychiatric evaluation of the person wanting to buy a weapon before they’re able to purchase one? 

Eventually, those who want to commit crimes and massacres will find a way. But at least don’t make it a walk in the park for them.

The question to be asked about Newtown’s shooting, however, is the following: wasn’t this shooting very similar to the Aurora shooting which took place in July? And wasn’t that Aurora shooting very similar to the one that took place at Virginia Tech? The list goes on.

And herein lies the real problem: the media – American and international.

News of a shooting at an American school or movie theatre immediately gets turned into a sensational story as news anchors are instructed to amp up their look of concern while their producers scramble on the phone to bring in advertisers who want to make profit off the ratings that networks will be making by hosting people from around the area of the shooting.

When the media craze subsides and the shooting becomes second degree news, what’s the only thing immortalized out of the entire event? The shooter.

Does anyone remember any of the names of those who died in Aurora? In Virgina Tech? In Newton?

Now ask yourself this: do you know the names of the three men who committed those separate massacres?

When it comes to these shooting massacres, there’s a need for a lockdown. The media should refrain from going on news frenzies about the shooting because minute-to-minute, second-to-second coverage is effectively telling those with biochemically imbalanced, mentally ill people that they can become instantly famous, instantly known, instantly feared by bringing a gun to a school and gunning down enough people to become the country’s “it” news. The idea of playing God, of controlling the fates of the people they’re about to kill, of controlling their own life that they’re about to take, is implanted in these people’s heads. And the idea is so irresistible that it brings them to the tipping point.

I honestly don’t know what’s the one and true reason that the United States has this many shootings taking place but I don’t think there’s one reason to explain it all. The situation is strange to say the least. I only need to look at my country, Lebanon, where guns are more numerous than people and people with mental health issues would total the entirety of the Lebanese population and where security is as fragile as breadcrumbs – and yet we’ve never had such mass shootings.

My thoughts go to the families who lost their children, to the heroic teachers Dawn Hochsprung, Victoria Soto and Mary Sherlash who died to save their students. I would say hopefully this doesn’t get repeated. But we all know better.

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The Heroes of Sandy Hook Elementary

Connecticut shooting Heroes

Dawn Hochsprung (up), Victoria Soto (left) and Mary Sherlash (right)

Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was the location of a massacre that took the lives of 26 people, 20 of which were children. Amid the tragedy is an untold story of heroism that gives hope despite the darkness from which it sprung.

Victoria Soto, a 27 year old first grade teacher, hid her students in closets and cabinets. When the shooter reached her classroom and asked her where her students were, she lied and told him she took them to the gym. He shot her on the spot and left. Her entire classroom survived.

Dawn Hochsprung, the school principal, and March Sherlach, the school’s psychologist, did not hide like everyone else did when they heard gunshots resonate among their school’s hallways. Instead of ducking under tables and hiding in offices, they ran towards the gunshots. They were both murdered execution-style as they confronted the murderer Adam Lanza.

These three women, who put their lives second in order to protect the children that they’ve come to love, are a true embodiment of heroism.

These three women, who lost their lives yesterday, give hope to millions today that there are people out there who are so selfless they would rather die than see innocent children fall to an act of terror.

In a few days’ time, as the media frenzy surrounding the Connecticut shooting subsides, the media will sadly forget these women’s names. They will forget what they did. They will forget all the students who are still alive because of these women’s sacrifices. They will forget that the students these women saved have families that will remain eternally grateful their children returned to them unharmed.

It’s unjustifiable and heart-breaking for children and people anywhere in the world to be ruthlessly killed like this. It’s even worse when those children’s lives are lost due to the lack of simple policies. How many more children need to die and how many more teachers need to lose their lives so American legislators see that the current gun and mental health policies of their country are unacceptable?

A Pedophile at a Lebanese Catholic School

LBC has reported that 11 girls, aged between 6 and 8, fell as victims to a 20 year old arts teacher at a very renowned Lebanese Catholic school in Mount Lebanon.

The teacher in question, whose whereabouts are currently unknown and who has deleted all his social network accounts, asked the girls to give him nude pictures of themselves and it wasn’t except by coincidence that his actions were discovered.

One of the 6 year old girls he assaulted told her parents about how he used to ask her to lift her skirt and he’d press his body on hers.

The school asked the teacher to resign, pending investigations. Some of the parents have already filed charges. Others are still waiting on the necessary psychological assessments.

Does anyone know if Lebanese law is protective towards children? Or does it deal with them when it comes to these things the same way it does to women?

The issue of the sexual abuse of children is rarely spoken of in the country. More “pressing” issues are of concern but do our children even have the basic legislature to protect them?

I don’t blame the Catholic school for hiring this man. They surely had no idea of knowing he was a pervert but hopefully this becomes a cautionary tale for other schools in the country to properly vet any candidate that seeks a teaching position in their institution.

 

Harry Potter and I

It all started in July 2000 for me. I was a carefree ten year old who thought reading was more into the realms of punishment. So it was with carelessness that I listened to a conversation about some books called Harry Potter by some British woman between my dad and his brother.

My American cousin, Kristen, was reading the fourth book in the series at the time. Her dad suggested she’d give the books to me but we both vehemently refused: I because the 4th book was bigger than a dictionary and her because these were her books.

Flash forward a whole year and it’s December 2001, soon after the release of the first movie: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, the original title). My aunt takes my brothers, cousins and I to the movies to watch it and I get mesmerized. I thought the movie was enchanting, the story was captivating. And for a 12 year old, the idea that a movie like that actually had sequels was something that was just awesome. There’s actually a continuation to the story!

Then Harry Potter went into the back of my mind for the following six months. In June 2002, my uncle arrived from the U.S. with a paperback version of the first 3 books. So even though I still dreaded the idea of reading, I found myself enthralled with the first book, of which I had already watched the movie. While my friends were doing their oral final exams back in 7th grade, I was busy reading in class. Soon enough, I started the second book, with a sense of pride that I was now ahead of the movies. I took a hiatus in the middle of the second book before finishing the whole thing in one day on July 19th, 2002. I remember the day because it was the night before St. Elias’ day and my mom was shouting at me, holding the book while sitting on the swing on our front porch. The third book followed soon after. I finished reading Prisoner of Azkaban a few days later. I remember I was sitting kneeling by the bed when it was done. Come end of July, I was done with all Harry Potter books that I had in my possession.

And now I wanted more. But I waited a few months before starting the fourth book. Christmas break 2002. My best friend at the time, Celine, gave me a French copy of her Goblet of Fire book and even though I hated reading French novels, Harry Potter’s French version managed to captivate me as well. On Christmas eve, my uncle got me a bunch of gifts, one of which was the English version of Goblet of Fire. I picked up with that where I had arrived in the French version and as my good friend Paul Gadalla, a great person who started reading the Harry Potter books because of me, said: “the ending of this book was insane!” and he’s a 25 year old Political Science major. Where does that leave a poor 13 year old’s heart?

In late January 2003, my uncle informed me that the upcoming fifth book would be released on June 21st. And so my first wait with everyone who had caught up with the books started. I started to discover fan sites where people shared their ideas and I was fascinated with those ideas. I discovered that the title was Harry Potter and the Order Of The Phoenix and I saw a blue cover with floating candles that gave me no idea whatsoever about the content.

Leading up to the book’s release, Time magazine did a J.K. Rowling expose about her life prior to Harry Potter and her preparations for the upcoming book release. My copy of the magazine is worn out from the many times that I read that article. But I still have it.

And so Order of the Phoenix was released. It was over 800 pages, with more than a quarter of a million words. The book is not many people’s favorite but I really like it. It represented a sense of Harry growing up to assume his fifteen year old self, his first kiss and above all, revelations about his past that were not known before.

And then my two year wait for Half-Blood Prince, book 6, started. Apparently, JK Rowling does these massive book launch interviews where she discusses many details with fans without giving too much away. So I had those details printed to make sense of what awaited me. To say I was off mark again would be an understatement. After all, guessing with things regarding Harry Potter is not a very easy thing to accomplish. The sixth book was released and I got it on launch day, getting a free mug with it as well. I finished it in two days and it left me devastated that I had two wait two years before the story ends. It was also the most grim part of the tale so far. It was a book about death, souls, memories and the importance of friends in times of darkness. But did I want it to end? I sure did. I hated not being in the know.

J.K. Rowling had revealed that books sixth and seven would have one story arc but be two different books. Everyone I knew was on their toes for the final book. The amount of anticipation was insane. It was probably the most securely kept book ever. Massive prints were prepared for the huge opening day expectations. And to say those expectations were met would be a vast understatement. It sold over 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release on July 21, 2007 in the U.S. alone.

The final book was relentless. It had no dull moments. It was mesmerizing, captivating. It played with your emotions like a slinky and you loved it for that. Anyone who asks me what’s your favorite book would get this answer from me: Deathly Hallows. Sure, it’s not philosophy or some immensely mature book that you expect a 21 year old to like. Some would say that it’s mentally degrading of me to say that is my favorite book. But what is the definition of favorite? It’s the book that 4 years later, while your little brother is reading and asking you questions, still gives you goosebumps when you remember specific passages from it. It’s the book that you can read over and over again and go on the same roller coaster ride you jumped on the first time you read it. And it’s such a gripping book that it took me one day to finish it. It was done by 6 am on July 22nd, 2007. Yes, I only got a few hours of sleep.

As I’m writing this, I’m looking at my little brother Joseph finishing the Harry Potter books with the final pages of Deathly Hallow‘s epilogue remaining, a few hours before the Lebanese premiere of the final Harry Potter movie.
It makes me proud to see my brother read all the books and could think about reading other books subsequently, because Harry Potter has shown him the joy of reading.
It also makes me proud that the movie we are going to watch tomorrow has such rave reviews that top critics are calling it “wonderful, epic and grand.”

You see, our stories with Harry Potter are very much alike and yet very different. we’ve all started reading differently and we’ve all obsessed over the books to varying degrees but we’ve all entered this magical world and never wanted to leave. It’s not that our reality was bad, it’s just that the world of J.K. Rowling’s imagination is so pure and vast and beautiful that you feel like being there, even as a “muggle”, doesn’t mean you’re intruding. And it doesn’t even make you different. After all, the last four Harry Potter books each set the record for most books sold in 24 hours, with each new book breaking the record set by the previous one, a testament of the people who wanted to escape to that world as soon as its doors opened anew.

Upon finishing the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling was asked: “how do you want to be remembered?”
Her answer is something that I keep in my head till this day because it should be a life mantra for many. She said: “As someone who did the best she could with the talent she had.”

And it’s precisely that which is the biggest lesson that the Harry Potter series presented to us through its flawed and vulnerable hero: a story about the importance of aiming high in life and not being afraid to fall. J.K. Rowling was on welfare before the idea of the books popped into her head almost complete while waiting for a train.
While I know that creativity is defined as divergent thinking that, when simmering, allows you to come up with novel ideas, her personal struggle and story is also a testament that you can pull through the hardships of life.

At 10:00 pm, later today, I would have finished watching the final Harry Potter movie. The tagline for the movie is “It All Ends.”
For us, that tagline has a double meaning. You might say that it also signals your childhood ending. But whenever you look at the Harry Potter books, you can’t help but remember the days when you were reading them. Sweet memories and reminiscing… Either way, your childhood lies within you. But like Harry you have to eventually grow up and keep those memories with you. Just look at this post and the amount of memories in it. Who knew I remembered the exact date I finished Chamber of Secrets or in what body position I finished reading Prisoner of Azkaban or how I had read of Goblet of Fire or the Time magazine with the J.K. Rowling article?

They say we’re the Facebook generation. I beg to differ. We are the Harry Potter generation because these books will be what our grandchildren’s children will remember our years by. Until then, “all was well.” Excuse me as I go put my Harry Potter book that my brother just finished in its proper place in the bookcase.

Remember, Remember The 26th Of March…

I’ve been breathing for 21 years and a few months. This totals to more than 7700 days of me being alive. Out of those 7700 days, the one that’s imprinted in my mind the most is a cold, grey and dark day in March, 12 years ago.

March 26th, 1999.

I remember it was a rainy day. One of those days that start off wrong for a nine year old because his favorite TV station was not showing his favorite TV show that night. They were showing an award show for ads, instead. So I was discussing how horrible that was with a friend as we were going back to class after a recess.

So I came back home on a Friday and I postpone doing my homework because, well, it is Friday. An hour later, around 6 pm, my mom comes into the house in a near state of hysteria. She was crying while shouting: “They’re lying to me…. Something happened to my brother, they’re lying to me”

I looked at my mom with a sense of disbelief. What was going on?

My grandma gets my mom to sit down and she hands her a glass of water. My mom was still shaking. Then, my dad comes inside. He sits next to my mom and hugs her.

She asks “Is Hanna dead?”

Hanna and my uncle had gone hunting.

My dad nods and says “but I’m not sure about Elias (my uncle)”.

My mom starts crying even more. It got to a point that a nine year old like me can’t handle so I went to my room and cried. When I came out, my mother had left with my dad. They had gone to tell my uncle’s wife about what happened.

So I go outside, still crying. My aunt (his sister) comes to our place and she sees us all distressed. She shouts from the top of the stairs: “Elie, what’s going on?”

I couldn’t answer her. I had no idea what was going on in the first place, let alone what to say to her. So my aunt left immediately.

That was the last I saw of my mom, aunt and dad for the next two days.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I kept hearing gunfire and I knew it had something to do with my uncle. I remember looking out from my room’s window and seeing people on our balcony. I asked them: “what’s going on? Is my uncle okay?”

They replied “Yes, Elie, don’t worry. Go back to sleep”.

Naturally, nothing was okay. The following day, the whole village was dead quiet. My cousins were brought over and we all had no idea what was going on. We were told my uncle had died but not the reason. So my cousin Perla, his daughter, started drawing on a board how her dad was now in heaven.

That night, there was a full blown report on the news about the events in my town. Toni Rouhana, a fifty year old man, had opened fire on my uncle and another man when they were hunting outside his property. The army was held in a crossfire with him all night. They had received orders from the president Emile Lahoud to keep him alive at all costs. They fired grenades at him, he fired grenades back. They fired smoke bombs, he was well prepared against them. He was trained in the civil war with Marada (Sleiman Frangieh’s party). Meanwhile, while the army fought him to attempt to capture him alive, my uncle bled to death because the man did not allow anyone to pick his body up, even the Red Cross. Later on that night, when the army realized it’s near impossible to capture a man so well-prepared alive, they blew open his house with an RPG missile and shot him down. They discovered a human skull inside his house and a book about devil worshiping. They also discovered the food my uncle had given him earlier that day, because he did not have enough money to buy it.

That Sunday was Palm Sunday. I woke up and saw my mother looking at the coffee she was supposed to drink. I went over and hugged her. She started crying and asked if I knew what happened. I nodded. She said my uncle was turned into a pincushion. She said he had pleaded for his life when the man opened fire and killed his hunting buddy. And I kept on hugging her.

Then they dressed us up in our Palm Sunday clothes and took us to my grandma’s house. My aunt was sitting in a corner alone, rocking her head back and forth. My uncle’s wife was sitting next to my grandma crying for her kids. My grandma was crying, telling everyone how “Elias from under the dirt wants them to go to church for Palm Sunday”.

So we were taken to church. Mass had already started. We opened the door and entered. The church fell quiet.

My grandma had worn black for twelve years till 1999. She started to move towards brighter shades of color early in January and April. I have not seen my grandma not wearing black since that day in March, 1999.

Burning Tires

I’ve read many people saying that what certain protesters did today, burning tires and blocking roads, is hypocritical seeing as these same protesters “defamed” similar protests, albeit on different grounds.

I have a few things to note regarding this. The protests Lebanon saw today were a spontaneous act by a group that saw its choice at how this country should be running, one it clearly expressed through national parliamentary elections a year and a half earlier, going down the drain. These people felt oppressed. They were scorned. For a whole day of demonstrations, which ironically falls almost on the same day the other protesters burned tires, no one died, property was not damaged and the expression of anger simply resulted in excessive traffic on certain roads.

On the other hand, when the “defamed” people protested, people died. I know of at least one man from my own district who was killed through a sniper’s job. The whole protest at that point was to prove a point against the government at the time by the opposition. Wouldn’t you think that people would be given a choice to participate or not in the “strike” as it was called at the time? The answer is no. The whole strike was shoved down our throats. Some people had to close down their business in order for them not to get trashed. People were forbidden from going to work. Some were banned from seeking medical help. I personally know of one woman they did not let pass to go to her chemotherapy. Her husband, a supporter of the movement at the time, pleaded but to no avail.

On that day, I was in my senior year of high school. The school gave us the freedom to do whatever they want. If you support the movement, you can not attend. If not, then come to class. Classes were supposed to be held. So I went to school. Imagine going on a side-road from my village and seeing tires burning there. I mean, what’s the point of burning tires on a road that’s not even that important? They simply wanted to have fun. I got to school. Classes were not held, simply because the headmistress, who incidentally announced this supposed “choice” we had, did not show up. This headmistress’s uncle was an MP with Aoun at the time. Another example of shoving the “strike” down my throat.

As far as I know, the people demonstrating today did not shove it down people’s throats. And I repeat, they did not kill anyone nor have they damaged property. The outer shell might the same. And I disagree with this outer-shell in all circumstances, meaning I refuse this way of protesting in absolute value. But the foundation is much, much different. It’s so different, in fact, that I believe a comparison based on the outer shell becomes null.

Let me conclude by saying something I shared with a friend today. Hell has no fury like a sect scorned.