Friends and family members embrace outside the Orlando Police Headquarters during the investigation of a shooting at the Pulse night club, where as many as 20 people have been injured after a gunman opened fire, in Orlando, Florida, US June 12, 2016..
(photo credit: STEVE NESIUS/REUTERS)
Last October as the wave of Palestinian stabbing attacks was cresting, I went on assignment to a Jerusalem gun store and shooting range packed with customers looking to buy personal firearms.
Within 15 minutes of being there, I heard the store clerk tell three of them they were unlikely to get a gun license and would have to be satisfied with pepper spray.
The image of Israel as a gun-toter’s paradise, fueled by images of army-age teens carrying their weapons off-duty in the streets, couldn’t be more wrong. Outside of military duty, only about 4 percent of Israelis are licensed to own guns.
Purchasing a legal firearm in this country is very difficult unless you work in security or other high risk professions, served as a senior army officer, or live in an area deemed dangerous, such as the West Bank.
Even then, background checks are rigorous, and target-practice exercises and medical examinations are mandated.
The reason is obvious: Guns have a nasty habit of being lost, stolen or sold into the wrong hands, including Palestinian terrorists.
Fortunately, the two men who carried out the attack at the Sarona Market in Tel Aviv on June 8 had to make do with the crude, makeshift “Carlo” machine pistols favored by Palestinian militants. Security footage shows that shortly after they began shooting, the bullet clip from one gun drops out, and the second one appears to jam.
If they had been armed with more efficient weapons – say, the SIG Sauer MCX rifle, which was used in the Orlando club shooting – there’s no doubt the body count would have been closer to that incident’s 49, instead of Tel Aviv’s four.
The Orlando attack, following similar incidents in San Bernadino, California, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, is proof enough that the US now faces a real threat from radical Islamic terrorism. By any logic that should be a spur to tightening restrictions on gun sales, at least for the type of quickfire weapons that make mass shootings more likely.
Yet while many right-wingers in the US are calling for greater restrictions and surveillance on the country’s Muslim population, the one thing they seem unwilling to limit is their right to buy whichever guns they want, whenever they want. Ideology, or political expediency, is trumping common sense, and common decency, with the only winner being the next radicalized Islamic terrorists in the US who go shopping at their local gun store or exhibition to prepare for an attack.
YET SUCH cognitive dissonance in the wake of the Orlando massacre is not limited to the Right. The reluctance of many on the Left to forthrightly identify this incident as an act of radical Islamic terrorism is another example of political prejudice obscuring the clarity badly needed to cope with this danger.
Of course, whenever an individual turns to terrorism, there’s always an element of personal psychology, and that was surely the case with Omar Mateen as well. Yet inchoate feelings of frustration, anger and hate that often simmer in troubled individuals and usually end up with them harming only themselves and those in their immediate circle, can be channeled by radical political or religious ideologies into a manifesto of terrorism directed at far wider targets.
This is a strategy utilized by ISIS and its unholy brethren on the violent fringes of Islam, and correctly identifying it as such is crucial to containing and ultimately crushing this phenomenon. Doing just that in a voice loud and clear does not stigmatize the world’s 1.5-billion Muslim population – though it just may help prod a greater number of the faith’s mainstream adherents to more forcefully condemn and ostracize those co-religionists whose prejudice and intolerance, even when stopping short of actual calls to violence, help fuel the phenomenon of Islamist terrorism.
It is clear now there were numerous instances when Mateen’s words and deeds should have alerted US authorities that he posed the kind of threat that justified deeper and continued surveillance of his activities and utterances. And if there were no grounds to arrest him, at the very least he should have been prevented from buying the kinds of weapons that made it easy for him to commit mass murder.
But doing so first requires acknowledgment from those on the Right in the US that greater control of guns is needed to counter such attacks, and from those on the Left that a clear, unequivocal diagnosis of the problem posed by radical Islam is required.
Something is clearly amiss, even during an election season, when politicians and pundits seem more interested in arguing either of these points among themselves, rather than in taking the immediate steps needed to counter the threat.
The results of this failure to act will not be limited to more such attacks on US soil.
There is no substitute for American leadership in the global battle against radical Islamic terrorism, no other country with the comparable material or geopolitical means to counter this danger. First, though, the world’s one superpower and leading democracy will have to tone down its partisan bickering and rediscover its vital political center. The victims of Orlando, and those of the attacks to come, deserve no less.Calev Ben-David is the political/diplomatic correspondent for IBA English TV News.