A deranged mind and easy accessibility to guns form a lethal combination. What has religion got to do with mass killings such as last Sunday’s Orlando massacre? Terrorists or killers have no religion. Killing innocent people is not religion.
Several questions are being raised following last Saturday night’s horrendous massacre at the Pulse night club frequented by the LGBT community in Orlando: Does Islam tell its followers to kill gays; was the massacre an act of terrorism or a hate crime? Should gun laws be tightened?
Islam does not command Muslims to kill gays, though the Quran, just as the Old Testament does, citing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, describes homosexuality as ‘fahishah’ or an abomination and urges Muslims to shun it. But there is accommodation in Islam and even special status as far as the transgender community—mukhannathun -- is concerned.
Mass shooting takes place almost on a daily basis in the United States where gun violence has killed 288 people in 182 incidents so far this year and had killed 475 people in 372 incidents last year. But when a gun crime is committed by a Muslim, its news value rises and it is given a political twist by the corporate media. This is not so much in view of the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim stunts, but more on account of the United States’ half-hearted war on terror. It should be noted here that Timothy McVeigh who killed 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995, Anders Behring Brevic who killed 77 youths in Norway in 2011 and US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who gunned down 16 civilians including nine children in Afghanistan were not associated with a religion.
Orlando mass murderer Omar Mateen’s declaration of allegiance to the terror group Islamic State (ISIS), which he is said to have made during a phone call while he was killing people, raises many questions but provides no answer to why he did what he did. Details that are emerging of the killer appear to be contradictory. He was an Islamist and gay; religious and a drunkard; anti-gay and not so religious. He was questioned twice for suspected terrorist links but he raised no alarms when he bought the AR-15 type rifle and a handgun some ten days before the horror. The security lapse had a chilling resemblance to the 2013 Boston bombing. The Boston bomber was regularly interviewed by FBI agents, but still he managed to set off two pressure cooker bombs, killing three people in April 2013.
There is a lot of ammunition for conspiracy theorists to fire with in the Orlando massacre.
Already Trump has seized on the opportunity to accuse President Obama of hiding something. Trump told Fox TV: “Look, we’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind. And the something else in mind—you know, people can’t believe it. People cannot, they cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ There’s something going on. It’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
For Trump, radical Islam is the reason why Mateen, an American-born Muslim, killed 49 people in a carnage described as the worst gun violence in US history. Trying to make political capital out of the Orlando carnage, the anti-Muslim hate monger ripped President Obama and Democratic Party presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton for avoiding the term “radical Islam” in their condemnation of the bloodbath.
But the issue is not the Obama-Trump clash. It is about terrorism, gun violence, the Middle Eastern crisis and the bizarre intelligence failure.
Radical Islam, some may say is different and dangerous. But violence and radical Islam form a different combination which cannot be understood in isolation as it is steeped in geopolitics, socio-economic injustices, oppression and aggression. The people of the Middle East see the United States and Israel as the cause of the misery, mayhem and millions of deaths in the region. The failure of any Arab ruler to emerge as a leader worthy of being followed has enabled extremists like Osama bin Laden and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to turn Islam upside down and mislead tens thousands of youths. It is to their ideology that Trump refers to as radical Islam.
The term radical Islam is a misnomer. Being a radical is a virtue, for one has to be a radical to change the world for the better. Being a radical does not mean being violent. Socrates was a radical for he stirred the people and urged them to question the corrupt moral order.
Linking terrorism with Islam is a distraction from the main issues. Islam has existed for the past 1,400 years, but the words radical Islam and Islamic terrorism are of recent origin. The Islamists who fought the West’s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s were not called terrorists or radical Islamists. Demonising Islam began with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War in 1991 brought about a new situation where the US found it had no enemy to justify its global domination. It was at this juncture, the new bogey – the so-called Islamic terrorism – surfaced, giving the United States the much-needed excuse to expand its military presence not only in the Middle East, but also in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
But the war against the enemy does not appear to be a determined one. The ground reality indicates there are wheels within wheels. For instance, in Syria, the ISIS is both a friend and a foe – friend when ISIS fights Bashar al-Assad, foe when it carries out terrorist attacks in the West. Not to mention the alleged links Washington’s Middle Eastern allies maintain with ISIS in the hope that it is the only group capable of defeating Assad. The so-called global war against terrorism smacks of multi-level deception of George Orwell’s 1984 proportions.
As a result of the never-ending US military campaigns around the world, homeland security has become a major issue. But the bigger worry should not be homegrown terrorists but the fact that the people are becoming increasingly desensitised to violence and human suffering. There is little condemnation in the US of civilian deaths in drone attacks, of extrajudicial killings or of a secretary of state who justified the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a price worth paying. Adding to this dehumanisation process is Hollywood. Statistics show almost 90 percent of Hollywood movies had at least one gun fight. “The gun is the leading character in the blockbuster Hollywood film,” says filmmaker Abigail Disney, whose new documentary “The Armor of Light” depicts an evangelical minister’s journey to preaching against gun violence. “The Gun brings in more in box office than George Clooney, Chris Prattle or Quentin Tarantino could ever hope to generate.”
The Orlando massacre has once again kindled the debate on tight gun laws. So did the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre in 2012. But no sooner the memorials for the victims are over than the issue is put back into the holster.