Death at the Tree of Life Synagogue

Thursday, November 01, 2018

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We continue to mourn with the relatives and friends of the 11 Jewish men and women who were slaughtered on Saturday by a gunman who made it clear he hated Jews, claiming that they were in support of an immigrant caravan heading for the US from Central America.

The accused gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, also wounded six people, including four police officers who attempted to apprehend him after he opened fire inside the Tree of Life Synagogue at Squirrel Hill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

It was the biggest massacre of Jews in, of all places, the United States, which welcomed huge numbers of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe, some of those killed being survivors of Hitler's holocaust.

Those who are close watchers and admirers of life in the United States would have been horrified by the senseless killing of the innocent people, most of them elderly members of these Tree of Life congregation.

We are still to hear why the Tree of Life Synagogue was singled out by the gunman. The elderly worshippers would hardly have had a chance against the heavily armed intruder who is reported to have tweeted numerous hate utterances in the past.

The massacre was brought into even more stark relief because it came at the end of a week in which another hater sent pipe bombs to several prominent politicians and the CNN's New York office and yet another killed two African-Americans.

Taken together, these three incidents give the impression that hatred and violence are being seen as ready options for people who disagree politically with others. They would not have been the first of their kind, but they have an eerie feel about them.

Naturally, opponents of US President Donald Trump have pointed to his brand of rhetoric as giving encouragement to the local terrorists and white supremacists. He has, of course, rejected such allegations.

We are extremely saddened by these events in the United States which continues to be mankind's best hope against tyranny and terrorism. It is a ghastly irony that America has more to fear these days from homegrown terrorists than those rogue Islamists from the Middle East.

Jamaicans are still quite fond of America where they have large numbers of relatives. It is therefore not possible to feel detached from the everyday happenings there, even if it just out of fear that their loved ones could be caught up in the violence, wittingly or unwillingly.

As night follows the day, people are going to have political differences. In all democracies, people have the right to express these differences, without being subjected to violence. America has for a long time been the gold standard for free speech.

Prosecutors in Pittsburgh say they have begun the process to seek the death penalty in the anti-Semitic attack by Bowers. Whatever the outcome of the case, we will be unable to rest at ease until we see America return to the level of civility and tolerance that we have been accustomed to and which the Jews, as have so many others, sought out for its reputation of being the land of the free and home of the brave.

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