Va. Killings Widely Seen as Reflecting a Violent Society

By Molly Moore
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

PARIS, April 17 -- Officials, newspaper columnists and citizens around the world Tuesday described the Virginia Tech massacre as the tragic reflection of an America that fosters violence at home and abroad, even as it attempts to dictate behavior to the rest of the world.

From European countries with strict gun-control laws to war-ravaged Iraq, where dozens of people are killed in shootings and bombings each day, foreigners and their news media used the university attack to condemn what they depicted as U.S. policies to arm friends, attack enemies and rely on violence rather than dialogue to settle disputes.

"I'm not saying that it could only happen in the U.S.A.; no one could prevent someone from shooting people in the Sorbonne," said Pierre Chiquet, a 77-year-old retired aerospace engineer, referring to a Paris university. "But violence is more imbued in American society than in ours. The most dramatic aspect is that they even transport their violence to the rest of the world."

"Massacre in the Paradise of Weapons," declared the headline in the Buenos Aires daily newspaper Pagina/12. In an accompanying article, Dario Kosovsky of the Argentine Network for Disarmament said he believes students who commit mass murder are following the example of the U.S. government, which advocates "the use of violence to achieve liberty."

"This is a tragedy and we express our condolences," Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, told journalists. Referring to a recent U.S. State Department report criticizing the Kremlin, he added, "The situation where a country dictates rules of behavior to other countries, but cannot keep its own people in order, does raise questions."

Some countries -- Britain, Germany, Canada and Australia among them -- have experienced events of mass gun murder in recent years. The Virginia killings generally seemed not to reignite debate over those killings, which in many instances resulted in tougher gun-control laws, an issue raised by several foreign officials Tuesday.

International leaders, meanwhile, rushed to offer condolences.

"The government expresses indescribable surprise and shock over this shooting incident," said South Korean Foreign Ministry official Cho Byung Jae. The attacker, who shot himself at the end of the rampage, has been identified as a 23-year-old South Korean who grew up in Fairfax County, Va.

Pope Benedict XVI sent a message to Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo of Richmond, saying he was "deeply saddened by news of the shooting," and offered prayers for the victims and their families.

French President Jacques Chirac expressed "horror and consternation" over the attack, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he felt "profound sadness" at the "terrible loss of innocent lives." But Blair refused to be drawn into the debate over whether the United States should enact more stringent gun-control laws, such as the nearly total ban on handguns passed in Britain after a man armed with handguns killed 16 children and a teacher at a school in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a close U.S. ally, showed no such reticence. He said the shootings indicated that America's "gun culture" was a negative force in society and cited his own country's imposition of tough gun laws after a similar massacre in which 35 people died at a tourist resort 11 years ago.

Nowhere, perhaps, were foreign reactions to the Virginia shooting more impassioned than in Iraq, where many residents blame the United States for the daily killings in their schools, streets and markets.

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