Muslim Americans were having a good week last week. As Americans watched the nationally televised funeral for Muhammad Ali on June 9, they learned a new word: janaza (Muslim funeral). June 10 was even better. The world watched as America paid tributes to “a man of peace.” America and the world heard recitations from the Holy Qur'an on live television during the month of Ramadan. Respecting Muhammad Ali's wishes, all faith traditions – Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Native American – offered invocations. Then, as Muslims woke up for sehri (early morning meal) in preparation for Sunday's fast, the Orlando massacre happened and changed everything!
A 29-year old ISIS-inspired Muslim terrorist walked into an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida around 2am local time, and gunned down 49 innocent human beings, and injured 53 others. As of writing, 27 remain in the hospital, six in critical condition. Most of the victims were Hispanic. There are reports that the gunman, Omar Mateen, who was born in New York of Afghan immigrant parents, had visited the club several times before. It is not clear whether he was a patron or was simply scoping his target. Mateen's first wife implied that he may have been bisexual.
Donald Trump quickly exploited the tragedy. Convinced that talking about Muslim terrorism plays to his strengths (“is probably why I'm number one in the polls”), he released a torrent of tweets after the massacre, congratulating himself for his own perspicacity in gauging the 'true nature' of the terror threat to America. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump tweeted, though he modestly added that “I don't want congrats.” Trump also tweeted, “I called it,” and reiterated his support for a ban on Muslims, adding that Muslim Americans “must face the consequences for” the Orlando massacre. Trump called on Obama to “resign in disgrace” because he won't use the words “radical Islamic terrorism,” insinuating that Obama secretly supports the terrorists. Trump's self-aggrandizement, especially his failure to offer condolences to victims' families, drew sharp rebuke from Republicans and Democrats alike. (“Trump's 'yapping' about Islam helps ISIS,” Obama retorted.) President Obama and Hillary Clinton's responses were appropriately dignified and sombre. This was the 14th time President Obama had to console the families of victims of gun violence.
There is so much blame to go around for the worst incident of gun violence in America's history. First, the perpetrator Omar Mateen. By all accounts, he was violent and a man filled with hate. He hated everything and everybody. America nurtured him in tranquility, away from the violence of his native Afghanistan, gave him a good education, a good job and a good life; yet, he hated America. He hated his first wife, beat her regularly and forced her to leave him. Himself a minority, he hated all minorities, and although the LGBT community had done him no harm, he hated them with all his heart and soul. The world was not good enough for Mateen. He wanted to leave this world in a blaze of glory, taking as many innocent lives with him as possible. Little did Mateen realise that the blaze of glory that he was seeking is hellfire!
Mateen's parents also bear responsibility. Mateen was disciplined 31 times in elementary school, and was suspended from high school for 48 days. He was abusive in language and violent in intent to the extent of praising 9/11. Yet, Mateen's father called him “normal.” Since Mateen was mentally unstable, they should have sought medical help. They knew that Mateen had violent proclivities, abused his wife and was a hater, especially of the LGBT community; yet, they did nothing. Their inaction resulted in the murder of 49 innocent Americans and the maiming of 53 others, making them indirectly culpable.
Mateen was on the FBI's radar, and was questioned three times by the FBI since 2013. In those interviews, Mateen reportedly expressed sympathy for Al Qaeda and Hezbollah (ISIS did not exist before 2014). It is intriguing why America's premier intelligence agency would interview a potential terrorist three times and still conclude that he posed no threat! Shouldn't the FBI have barred Mateen from owning firearms?
American gun lobby is so powerful that even those under FBI surveillance can purchase not only hand guns, but also assault weapons (semi-automatic firearms) legally. The gun lobby is also opposed to the FBI learning that someone on their watch list has purchased firearms. Although guns have killed millions of Americans over the years, the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun lobbies hide behind the Second Amendment of the US Constitution that stipulates: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
The gun lobby's mantra is: “Guns Don't Kill People; People Do.” Another right-winger, former Australian Prime Minister (1996-2007) John Howard, disagrees. He said: "There's no good pretending these issues (gun violence and extremism) don't relate." Following the Port Arthur shootings in Tasmania in 1996 in which 35 people died, Howard introduced strict gun control laws in Australia, which reduced the nation's gun-related deaths dramatically. “The decision to enforce total prohibition on automatic and semi-automatic weapons back then drastically reduced the number of mass shootings and the likelihood of them occurring in the future,” Howard added.
There are thousands of disaffected youth, belonging to all races and religions in America. They don't exact vengeance on the society by killing innocent Americans. As the San Bernardino couple last December and Mateen last week demonstrated, some Muslim youths do. In both cases, ISIS was their inspiration or excuse.
Even average Americans now understand that ISIS does not represent mainstream Islam. ISIS is a bunch of terrorist murderers, misogynistic rapists, brutal masochists who have only one solution to every problem: kill! It is unfathomable why anyone with an iota of intelligence would fall for their vacuous propaganda. But many Muslim youths – both boys and girls in the West and the East - do. The youths project their own failings on ISIS propaganda, making for an explosive mix. The only way for the world to rid itself of this scourge is to crush and obliterate ISIS from the face of the earth.
The writer is a Rhodes Scholar.