In the aftermath of those murders, I heard many people remark on Roof's age: so young, they said, how could he do it? (Roof is twenty-one years old.) Putting aside for the fact that men (and I don't mean women) are statistically most violent between eighteen and their early twenties, I want to focus on something else, something that reminded me of another extremist, even younger than Roof. His name is Ogün Samast, and he was only seventeen when he assassinated renowned Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007, a year before I arrived in Ankara with my family.
Dink had received many death threats by Turkish ultranationalists (if there are differences between ultranationalists and fascists, they are hard to see) for questioning the official line regarding the Armenian genocide, which is denial. For his criticism of that official line, he was prosecuted three times for insulting Turkishness under Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, until he finally paid with his life.
Samast and Roof would seem to have insecurity and dejection in common. But Samast and Roof are not the point, however horrific their acts. The virulent ideologies they believe in are the problem, and it's surprising how much they have in common, beginning with the supposed sacredness of their ancestors. You know who that is in Roof's case: the Confederates and the Lost South and all that. For Samast and, to be perfectly frank, the great majority of Turks, it is Atatürk, whose memory and legacy is every bit as sacrosanct to them as the Confederate flag is to certain Southerners. This is a hostility to any other version of events than those they subscribe to that is so brittle it can turn deadly.
But there is something else that links these murderers, and it goes beyond even the idea that achnowledgment of wrongdoing (by one's predecessors) equals tainting of those same people. And that is a sense of victimization by the perpretators. That is why, in this the 100-year anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Turkey officially takes offense when Germany and other governments recognize the slaughter of millions as genocide instead of the unfortnate circumstances of war. They take it as further evidence of European hostility toward Turkey.
And that is why some Southerners, even Oklahomans who did not exist as such during the Civil War, defend their skewed ideas about their supposed heritage by upholding a flag that didn't even represent the Confederacy until the Civil Rights Movement. Their pride is of utmost imporance, but it is also, apparently, quite fragile.