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Sunday, April 22, 2007

South Korean vs. Arab reaction to terror

Many articles have been written about the Arab reactions to 9/11. Critics claim that Arabs refused to condemn the atrocity in an appropriate manner, and Arabs would point to articles and statements that did seem to condemn it.

Even so, there was still a nagging feeling in much of the West that the condemnations were not strong enough, that they weren't heartfelt, that something was missing.

In the wake of the VA Tech massacre, looking at the South Korean community's reaction, it is now clear what was missing: shame and responsibility.
For Korean Americans especially, the tragedy is hitting close to home. Though they don’t personally know Cho or his family, local Korean Americans share a cultural and ethnic background with them.

I’m very ashamed,” admitted Buwon Brown, a community volunteer who is Korean American.

Dong Lee, an editor at the Korea Central Daily News’ office in Seattle, said the community was “very shocked, very saddened by the news.”

The state’s only Korean American legislator, Paull Shin, said he was watching the news early Tuesday morning as he was getting dressed. He “collapsed” when he heard the gunman was a fellow Korean American. “I could not face the reality. How could this have happened? I lost my control,” Shin recounted.

Later that day, the Edmonds legislator took the floor of the Senate chambers to apologize on behalf of the Korean American community. He told his fellow senators, “This (shooting) really affects me deeply. I’m sorry.” Afterwards, his colleagues came over to console him and to emphasize that the shootings were not his fault or the Korean community’s.
South Koreans expressed shock Wednesday, as new details revealed that the Virginia Tech shooter was Cho Seung-Hui, who was born -- and lived for eight years -- in Seoul.

President Roh Moo-Hyun held a special meeting with aides Wednesday to discuss the shooting and figure out further steps to ease the situation.

The president is expected to make a statement of apology at an event in Seoul Wednesday afternoon. His office has issued two statements of condolence about the mass killings.

"It's a tragic incident. But to find out that he is a Korean, I am ashamed and confused," a shipping-company employee said. "I keep asking myself what would have made him do such a thing. It's a very bad day."
A wave of shame washed over the Rev. Kun Sang Cho when he learned the Virginia Tech shooter was a native of South Korea.

He knew the murders occurred hundreds of miles away, possibly at the hands of a mentally ill young man. But what most pained Cho and many other Korean-Americans living in Colorado was that the shooter was Korean -- one of their own.

"They feel ashamed," said Cho, pastor at Asbury Korean United Methodist Church. "This is our culture. If one of my members got involved in a crime, all members feel the shame."

To honor the 32 victims of the shooting, Cho's church will host a community memorial Sunday at 4 p.m. at 7140 S. Colorado Blvd.

First-generation Koreans tend to have a cultural sense of shared responsibility, said Adrian Hong, a board member of the Mirae Foundation, a national organization of Korean-American college students. "If something good happens to one, it happens to all Koreans, and if something bad happens to one, it happens to all of them," he said.

Kyeyoung Park, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles and member at the university's Center for Korean Studies, said that because Korean culture tends to be homogeneous, new immigrants rely on one another emotionally.

"In Western culture there is an emphasis on guilt; in many Eastern cultures the emphasis is on shame," she said. "I think Korean-Americans want to do something because they feel ashamed. Some of them feel truly responsible, even though it is ridiculous to think they are responsible for the action of this person."

Park said some first-generation immigrants identified with the comments of South Korean Ambassador Lee Tae-sik, who said not only do Korean-Americans feel ashamed but called for them to "repent." He suggested a 32-day fast - one day for each victim of Monday's carnage.
Now we can understand more fully what was lacking after 9/11 and countless other Arab terror attacks.

A condemnation is not a heartfelt, spontaneous reaction. It is almost always a contrived, carefully written, political reaction more for damage control than for true remorse.

Koreans don't have madrassas with daily exhortations against infidels. Koreans don't have daily or weekly terror attacks against the West. Koreans don't have countless newspapers and websites demonizing Americans.

And yet, they spontaneously show true, heartfelt shame - and a sense of shared responsibility - for the actions of a lone crazed man who happens to be one of them. While they have a fear of a backlash, their shame is not a calculated reaction designed to blunt political reprisals - it is a true reflection of what they are feeling.

This is what was missing after 9/11 - the kneejerk reaction of guilt, shame and responsibility from the Arab community. Instead we saw attempts to deny, or redirect, or contextualize the despicable acts - never to take ownership.

While the Koreans are taking responsibility for the actions of a single nutcase, the Arab Muslims spent all their time trying to abdicate their responsibility for the culture that brought about Al Qaeda.

All the condemnations in the world is not worth a single heartfelt apology. And even though it is absurd for the Korean community to apologize for something that is clearly not their fault, the fact that they are doing it shows true remorse.

The world Arab community in general, and the Muslim Arab American community in particular, never felt truly sorry for 9/11, or else they would have acted beyond the way that Koreans are acting today for an event that is miniscule in comparison.