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.
"It is a little incident if we compare it with the disasters that have happened in Iraq," said Ranya Riyad, 19, a college student in Baghdad. "We are dying every day."
"They are always saying that the Arabs and Muslims are behind the terrorism and the killing," said Hussein Kadhum, 26, a traffic policeman in the heavily Shiite city of Najaf, south of Baghdad. "But America has terrorism and they are exporting it to us. We did not have this violence in the Saddam era because the law was so tough on guns."
Husam Kareem al-Iqabi, a Baghdad teacher, expressed more sympathy, while condemning the shooter. "It is a big crime because it is a terrorist act and he is a terrorist," Iqabi said. "But there are thousands like him in Iraq, and I wish we would see this international interest in the killing of 33 students in America for all the martyrs that fell at the gates of universities, on the bridges and in the markets in Iraq."
Much of the foreign reaction centered on the proliferation of guns in the United States.
In an editorial, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal drew parallels between the Virginia Tech killings and a wave of violence that claimed 25 lives on the same day in Mexico. "In our case, the majority of the instruments of death come from the north, the United States," it said, referring to guns used in crime.
"The United States is a violent country," Arik Bachar, a veteran reporter and columnist, wrote in an analysis in the Israeli newspaper Maariv, calling Monday's crime a chapter in "a sick story between the United States and its arms."
Germany's Der Spiegel said the United States "should be looking at why these kinds of horrible crimes happen so often" there. But in November, an 18-year-old man carrying three guns and homemade pipe bombs opened fire at his former high school in the western German town of Emsdetten, wounding five people before killing himself. And in April 2002, a 19-year-old man killed 16 people at his former high school in the German city of Erfurt before killing himself.
Today in Britain, even Olympic pistol shooters are subject to the handgun ban and are required to train abroad.
"We do not start at the basic position that you have the right to bear arms," said Tim Bonner of Countryside Alliance, a group that represents sport shooters. "There's always been a presumption that you have to prove that you are a decent, responsible person to own guns. We are protected by legislation that prevents nutters from getting guns."
Correspondents Edward Cody in Seoul, Peter Finn in Moscow, Monte Reel in Buenos Aires, Manuel Roig-Franzia in Mexico City, Doug Struck in Toronto, Kevin Sullivan in London, Craig Timberg in Kano, Nigeria, Craig Whitlock in Berlin and Scott Wilson in Jerusalem, and special correspondents Salih Dehema, Naseer Mehdawi and Naseer Nouri in Baghdad, Saad Sarhan in Najaf and Corinne Gavard in Paris contributed to this report.