It is clear enough now that Twitter has assumed an essential place in the communications infrastructure of the United States, and the world. Like radio, it is a cheap, immediate platform for telling tales (with 140 characters or less) and I have come to appreciate it as such.
So, when word broke about the shootings at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, I not only gleaned information from tweets but sent out several dozen messages over the course of what will be remembered as one of the darkest and most challenging days in Wisconsin’s history.
The great thing about Twitter is not just the immediacy of the communication but the immediacy of the response. If folks see something significant in a tweet, they retweet it. If they want, they can add their comments.
I was struck by two aspects of the response Sunday. First, of course, is the reality that our contemporary thought police are every bit as ambitious as George Orwell could ever have imagined.
Most of the tweets I sent regarding the temple shootings were basic news, about developments at the temple, about the responses of President Obama, Mitt Romney and Gov. Scott Walker to the killings. Yet the barest mention of guns brought predictable objections from folks who fear any debate about whether it might make sense to put some limits on the availability of semiautomatic weapons.
The same goes for any mention of the targeting of religious minorities. Those who prattle on and on about “religious freedom” get uncomfortable when the debate focuses on something real: a violent assault on the most fundamental of all religious freedoms – the right to worship in safety and peace.
Some of our more wild-eyed friends on the right even objected to a mention that the heroic Oak Creek police officers who undoubtedly saved many lives at the temple were members of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. So be it. I think most of us are proud of our Wisconsin police officers and firefighters, and respectful of the unions that fight to ensure that they have the training and the equipment they need to protect and serve.
But, while there are always some disappointing (and just plain strange) responses, what was far more notable on Sunday was the deep humanity and broad engagement of Wisconsinites, people across America and people around the world who followed the developments in Oak Creek.
The primary responses I saw on Twitter were of sorrow, of a search for answers, and of a respect for religious pluralism as it was outlined by Thomas Jefferson.
Late in the afternoon, I sent a message that read: “Sikhs at Oak Creek temple are providing water, food to journalists and police as part of religious tradition of hospitality.”
More than 2,400 people retreated those words. Almost 300 marked the message as a favorite.
Why? Not because of any profound statement on my part.
What struck people — at least those who wrote responses — was the simple humanity of the gesture. And the great beauty of people of faith practicing that faith, even in a time of trauma.
Even in times when bitterness and division are commonplace, most of us retain an ability to be moved by small acts of faith that remind us that there is hope for this state, this nation, this world.
Read the Rest: John Nichols: The beauty of faith — in 140 characters.