Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Tragedy and Rhetoric in Chicago

The suicide by self-immolation of Malachi Ritscher, a recorder and photographer of Chicago’s avant-garde jazz scene is a personal tragedy that has left those who know him shocked and confused. That he did it in protest of the Iraqi war makes it no less tragic. Rather than reflect on what may have contributed to this tragedy, many seem to celebrate it as an act of political theater, as witnessed by many on-line comments. The alacrity with which some have leapt to capitalize on this shocking act is nothing short of ghoulish, like the offensive ranting of “Sweejak:”

“yes this should be plastered all over the MSM. Talk about taking info-war seriously. At least it ought to be sent to every newly elected official and preferably plastered onto W's tricycle or whatever the fuck he drives around in.

I have no problem understanding the mind of a suicide bomber, it isn't mysterious or unfathomable, while not as pre-meditated it's the same reason people jumped out of the burning WTC.... no option.”

There is a burgeoning debate on jazz blogs whether this was an act of a deeply disturbed individual, a rational act of dramatic protest, or both. However, there seems to be little contemplation of the effect which the inflammatory rhetoric currently in vogue with the extreme left might have on someone in an agitated state of mind.

According to the obituary Ritscher wrote for himself, he maintained the website: killthepresident dot net. In his “Mission Statement” Ritscher writes of a real or imagined opportunity to assassinate Sec. Rumsfeld, writing: “I passed Donald Rumsfeld on Delaware Avenue and I was acutely aware that slashing his throat would spare the lives of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. I had a knife clenched in my hand, and there were no bodyguards visible; to my deep shame I hesitated.” In the past, advocating for and fantasizing about political assassination would be considered a clear warning sign of mental instability, but current extremist rhetoric has normalized such sentiments in a way that might have had a profound effect on Mr. Ritscher's fate.

Self-immolation immediately brings to mind Jan Palach, the first of several Czech students to self-immolate in response to the Soviet invasion, which re-established hardline Marxist rule in then Czechoslovakia. Palach’s action was shocking because it seemed so logical to ordinary Czechs. There was no other recourse under Soviet authority.

Those who seek to glorify and exploit Ritscher’s death make false analogies. Despite claims to the contrary, dissent is not just tolerated in America, it is catered to. Just try to walk through Union Square without hearing criticism of President Bush. If good can come from Ritscher’s suicide, it will be from inspiring a “cooling off” period, as extreme partisans reflect on their rhetoric of recent years. Ritscher’s real legacy will of course be the hours of recordings documenting Chicago’s music scene. That he cut short his work on-behalf of the city’s musicians is a true tragedy. To exploit it to score cheap political points is simply ghoulish.