The murder of 50 people in Orlando by Omar Mateen, who law enforcement and media have identified as a terrorist, is the worst terror attack on US soil since 9/11.
US President described the attack as an act of terror and hate.
Mateen targeted a nightclub named Pulse that was popular with the gay community. The suspect’s apartment in Fort Pierce, about an hour and a half south of Orlando, was searched by police Sunday afternoon.
As we continue to learn information about this heinous attack it brings to mind other recent mass terror attacks in France, Belgium and most recently in Tel Aviv. The photos of Mateen shown by media show a smiling man trying to look tough and cool for a selfie, reminiscent of Mohammed Merah flashing his fingers in the air while driving a sports car.
Mateen, age 29, is not dissimilar than so many other young men drawn to acts of hate and violence. His exact motivations are still unclear. CNN has confirmed that he was known to the FBI, “one of hundreds” with ISIS sympathies they were watching in the US. He was a private security guard. He had “radical leanings.”
We have learned that he allegedly called 911 to pledge allegiance to ISIS before carrying out the attack.
These style attacks are becoming more familiar to us, even as countries that are victims of them seem unable to grapple with stopping sudden radicalization by people who are not member of complex terror networks, but rather working on their own or with a self-radicalizing cell.
The Boston bombing and the San Bernadino attacks were similar, as was the Fort Hood massacre in 2009 carried out by Major Nidal Hassan. Hassan, like Mateen, was known to the FBI, and yet despite following his contacts to the extremist Anwar Awlaki, no one stepped into put a stop to his actions.
After he murdered 13 people his attack was classified not as terror but as workplace violence. The killings in Orlando also should be a lesson to all law enforcement and anti-terror units that eliminating suspects must be done quickly and immediately.
At the Bataclan theatre in Paris on November 13, 2015 the suspect entered the theater around 9:40pm intent on mass murder. Three hours later when he was finally killed, 90 people were dead. Evidence points to the fact that Mateen, armed with two weapons and a “device”, was out to kill as many as possible. Yet it appears that it took until 5 a.m for authorities to break into the nightclub, apparently using an ‘armored vehicle.”
Americans have learned that school shootings must be confronted not as a hostage situation, but a situation where speed is of the essence to save lives. Questions will have to be answered about the time it took to take down Mateen. But this process of learning about confronting lone-wolf attacks or even attacks of two or three individuals (like Boston and San Bernadino), means all countries affected by terror should learn that speed in ending the attack means saving lives.
American and foreign media is already interpreting Orlando as a “mass shooting”.
BBC has an entire list of “worst US shootings” in the last 25 years. To simplify these kinds of hate-crime and terror attacks as simply “another mass shooting” is as facile as comparing the racist murder of James Byrd with other times vehicles were involved in manslaughter.
It is to turn a crime motivated by hate, and terrorism is a type of hate crime, into a crime and to move focus onto the weapon used, rather than the motive. It’s like pretending the main problem with mafia killings involving cement, is that cement was used.
But the main problem is the motive. Of course people should debate gun control, but when it comes to terror there is no evidence gun control reduces it. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist, had numerous weapons, as did the France and Belgian terrorists, and yet, Europe has stringent gun laws.
Yet every Islamist in Molenbeek seems to have access to firearms. There is an attempt to politicize the Orlando attack already. We are going to hear numerous stories about how it is a “senseless act of violence” and “thoughts and prayers”. There will be numerous statements about not stigmatizing the Muslim community in the US.
The important thing is to focus on how language manipulates the nature of these kinds of attacks. After the Tel Aviv attack last week, victims were said to have been “random” and the attack “indiscriminate” and the death of one victim described as “meaningless.”
After the Paris terrorists attacked a kosher deli, US President Barack Obama described the killings as “random.” But the attack is not random, not in Paris, Orlando or Tel Aviv. It is not “indiscriminate.” These are discriminate attacks in which the perpetrators discriminate based on their hatred, whether it is hatred of “infidels” or “Jews” or “gay men.”
The father of Mateen reportedly told NBC that his son was not a terrorist and didn’t commit his crime due to religion but was angered after seeing men kissing in Miami. It is important not to let political debates distract from the visceral need to give these attacks meaning, and not let them become watered down. Europe and the US tend to know how to confront white supremacist hate crimes. But when it comes to Islamist-inspired murders, there is an inability to confront the hatred.
The comparison is made with San Bernadino that when Dylan Roof killed 9 at an African-American church that not all white people or Christians are blamed for Roof’s racist actions.
But instead society reacts with revulsion to the confederate flag and to white racism. With similar clarity society should react with revulsion to the ISIS and other Islamist flags and should not be afraid to condemn the extremist, chauvinist, homophobic and hate speech associated with Islamist extremism.
It should be viewed as no different than other forms of right wing extremism.
Most countries in the world are now targeted by this kind of Islamist extremism, whether Kenya, Iraq, Nigeria, India, or Bangladesh.