Wendy Luxenburg was called "retarded," "too stupid to live," fat, ugly and other vulgarities. Those missiles were aimed at her over Facebook last week because the Iowa City native who lives in Chicago had posted about Mollie Tibbetts' death: "This is about male violence against women — not immigration."
Yet for all those hateful reactions and threats, it was Luxenburg who got ordered to take what she calls "a 72-hour timeout" from Facebook. The site wouldn't allow her to post anything, or so much as "like" another's post because she had responded negatively to one writer. Not that any name-calling is acceptable, but let's be proportional here.
It is hard to tell which current runs deeper in this particular enraged segment of the American public: outrage over illegal immigration, or outrage that anyone would put the onus for the abduction and killing of a young female jogger on male entitlement. That doesn't mean most men are prone to violence, but that statistically, America's women are far more likely to be hurt by American-born men than by foreign-born ones. And men and women are far more likely to be hurt by men than by women.
Just compare the statistics on violent crimes: 89 percent of murder and manslaughter charges are against men, as are 99 percent of violent sexual assault charges. Does one need to bring up the murder of Shanann Watts, a pregnant Colorado mother of two daughters, for which her white American husband is charged?
But when some of us call attention to such facts, we are rebuked by a barrage of angry responses, including threats of violence. For my column on this topic, I was called a "disgrace," a "disease," a "filthy misandrous" among other unprintable names.
"People like you should have never been allowed into this country," e-mailed one man. "You will do anything to keep the borders open so murderous savages can inflict us," wrote another. And one tweeted: "It is you and your ilk that need to be purged."
I'm not sure what the writers expect me to conclude from these. That I was wrong to think men may harbor violent thoughts and sexist attitudes toward women? Or that I just have no business saying it?
One man patiently explained that women are the weaker sex and need male protection. "My wife married me for that very reason," he wrote. But protection from what? Male aggressors? Why not make that the issue?
One writer even offered this personal advice about me: "Her seeming attitude towards men is not something she'd advertise on a 'dating app.'" (Um, thanks, but I'm good.)
A former colleague used to talk of how crises, like wars, drew Americans together and brought about a common sense of purpose as a nation. Crises don't seem to do that anymore. Instead, we line up on our respective sides of the political battlefield, each looking for quick ammunition in tragedies.
What if, instead, these tragedies forced us to sit down and have thoughtful conversations about the broader issues involved? If we're going to call out illegal immigration, can we at least talk about the part of Iowa's agricultural economy that depends on it? Can we resolve to press for meaningful immigration reforms that give those workers legal status? And if we're going to seriously tackle violence against women, can we start by turning a critical eye on our own communities?
I understand that not all members of Mollie Tibbetts' family may share this sentiment, but several members are helping to lead the way on this. Wrote a relative, Sandi Tibbetts Murphy, in a moving Facebook post, "He could have been a citizen, born in this country; he could have been an older, white man from anywhere; he could have been a man from Mollie's world."
She continues, outlining her beliefs about the suspect: "He is a man whose path in life crossed that of Mollie's life with tragic results. He is a man who felt entitled to impose himself on Mollie's life, without consequence. He is a man who, because of his sense of male entitlement, refused to allow Mollie the right to reject his advances."
In his eulogy, Mollie's father, Rob Tibbetts, thanked local Latinos for their support during the search for her. "The Hispanic community are Iowans. They have the same values as Iowans," he said, with an emphasis on family.
Later, in a Sunday Opinion piece in the Register, he forcefully urged people not to exploit Mollie's death to advance their prejudiced views.
If he can show that kind of grace, surely so can everyone else.
Rekha Basu is a columnist for the Des Moines Register. Readers may send her email at email@example.com.