Published on
The Guardian/UK

Compassion, Not Anger, Is Best Response to Sandy Hook Massacre

I know what it's like to lose children in violent circumstances, but we cannot support a culture of fear

Like countless other people, I was shocked and mesmerised by the murders at Sandy Hook school. So many innocent souls and committed teachers who risked their lives to protect their six- and seven-year-old pupils. Twenty children shot again and again, an act so sickening that even the chief medical examiner for Connecticut said he had been in his job for a third of a century but that this massacre of innocents was the worst he had ever seen.

Millions of people shared the devastating sadness. For me, there was something else, a shadow I couldn't turn away from. For the events brought back the deaths by bombs of my own three precious daughters and niece during the attack on Gaza in 2008. Gaza couldn't be more different from America's quiet, affluent Newtown. Yet for me, there was a horrendous connection in the violent killing of children. In the murdered child Grace I saw my daughter Aya; in the valiant teacher Victoria, who died protecting her students, I saw my own daughter Bessan, a mother to her sisters. I saw them; I was seized by the images to such an extent that I stopped driving on a green light. "What's wrong, Dad," asked my son Abdullah.

"Your sisters are with me," I answered without a pause to reflect on what I had said.

I, unfortunately, don't have to guess what the parents of these murdered innocents are going through: the shock, the disbelief, the mourning and the memories that will remain for ever.

And like many of the parents and the community and many of the people of the US, I felt angry: why did these innocents have to die? But then I am led beyond grief and anger, to resolve: this must not happen again. We must do something.


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What, we should ask ourselves, would these parents want us to do? Put more guns into households and schools, arm every six-year-old innocent with a weapon whose only purpose is to kill or injure?

That is the path of fear, and the absurd notion that more guns will result in less violence. The path of fear leads to anger, hatred, violence and depression. As a physician I can say it leads to mental and physical illness. It helps neither the parents nor any surviving children in the family.

There is another path, one of human connection and compassion. We all watched the victims and the parents, and we felt emotionally attached to them. We saw retired psychologist Gene Rosen talk about how he saw a group of frightened children in his front yard, and how he took them inside and gave them the stuffed animals that his grandchildren play with. How do we continue that connection – not just by sending teddy bears to the streets of Newtown but by urging our lawmakers to ban these deadly weapons; by going further and following the example of Australia, which after buying back existing weapons observed its murder rate plummet.

We are seeing things change. Petitions to Congress to ban assault weapons. The announcement from the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management that it will sell its investment in the company that makes the AR-15-style Bushmaster weapon that was used by the killer. This after the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in the private equity firm, said it did not want to invest in a company that makes guns.

We need more Gene Rosens and more Connecticut teachers to show that life must be affirmed. All of us are part of this effort, connected like a single cell is connected to the entire body. We need to end, at long last, the culture of fear and murder and come up with something better. The moment is now.

Izzeldin Abuelaish

Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor and infertility specialist. In 2009 three of his daughters were killed by Israeli shells. He now campaigns for peace and teaches at the University of Toronto

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