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Reflections on the Orlando mass shooting

Jun 18,2016 - Last updated at Jun 21,2016

On June 14, I was watching the CNN coverage of the atrocious mass shooting that left 49 Americans dead and more than 50 injured.

As part of that coverage, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, was hosting Rudy Giuliani, the mayor of New York City at the time of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

In response to Cuomo’s questions, Giuliani provided vague answers while at the same time placing — in the clearest terms possible — the mass shooting within a constellation of terrorist attacks such as the September 11 and the Boston bombing. 

Using his “expertise”, Giuliani claimed that the attacker, Omar Mateen, was inspired by Daesh.

He substantiated his claim by suggesting that the shooter was a devout Muslim.

The proof: Mateen used to “attend the mosque three times a week”.

The conclusion: He was an “informed” Muslim.

Giuliani assertively added that the perpetrator and people like him are “barbarians” and belong to a “different level of civilisation”. He even said that “ours” is a “superior civilisation”.

By so doing, Giuliani exemplified the American — or Western, for that matter — exceptionalist ethos.

His words were also an example of the responses of somebody who is actually ill informed of the world and its cultures.

For any person who knows the basics of Islam, Giuliani’s words are preposterous, to say the least.

As a matter of fact, Muslims pray five times a day. And if they choose to pray at the mosque, they go there 35 times a week.

The claim that Mateen was a devout or informed Muslim is even more preposterous, for Giuliani did not know that Mateen had pledged allegiance to diametrically opposed groups: Hizbollah, Al Nusra Friend and Daesh.

Despite Giuliani’s being ill informed and imprecise, Cuomo concluded the conversation by telling him: “We need your voice right now.”

The question that arises is why would anybody need such a divisive voice?

What is it about his voice that makes it desired? 

It is exactly fear-mongering voices like Giuliani’s that are the least needed in such times.

Giuliani’s voice is in agreement with those of a phalanx of right-leaning or establishment “experts” who keep associating Islam with terrorism and think that the rest of the world is inferior, undeveloped, irrational and subhuman.

Such people are, of course, manipulating the public for the sake of elections and for other profiteering purposes.

Indeed, the facts defy such maligning of the religion.

What are the facts or clues? 

The criminal was described by acquaintances as being “unhinged” and “unstable”. 

His former wife accused him of physically abusing her.

He constantly made racist comments. 

He worked for G4S (a multinational security company notorious for its brutality in Palestine, Abu Ghraib, and other prisons the world over).

AR15 — a semi-automatic assault weapon — is easily available to ordinary Americans.

An Arizona pastor and a few others in the American society itself wished that more had been killed.

The list goes on for what those “experts” turned a blind eye to.

They refused to entertain the possibility that Mateen was a disturbed individual, emphasising the idea that he “knew exactly what he did”, to use the words of Senator Marco Rubio.

The message and pattern are all too familiar to miss: it is Islam as a religion that is amiss, and so all Muslims are to blame.

If the perpetrator is racially and ideologically different, the whole discussion dramatically shifts: it centres on gun control and the sanity of the perpetrator of that terrible act.

For instance, very few remember or have even heard about the fact that a Christian vigilante killed three Jewish Americans two years ago.

In contrast, once the media gets wind of the fact that the perpetrator is a Muslim, much more attention is paid and the answers are already known.

The shooting is automatically subsumed in the rubric of terrorism. There is no need to reflect on the facts, and the verdict is ready.

Media outlets do not wait for the results of a full investigation, and some news agencies sometimes bombard their viewers or readers with fake stories, often even giving legitimacy to claims by Daesh, an amorphous entity.

When the San Bernardino massacre took place, Fox News immediately circulated the news story that the shooter posted terror-related messages on Facebook; the Federal Bureau of Investigation later announced that the perpetrator had not done that.

Another more pervasive example is the classification of the Orlando shooting as the worst ever in American history; massacres of Native Americans and African Americans do not bear that assumption out.

Thus, those answers are complete with hyperboles.

What those strategies indicate is that there is a consistent attempt at depriving people of the ability to think in such crises, making them refrain from asking deep and urgent questions, and eventually rendering the fight against terrorism all the more elusive.

Apart from regulations that control manufacturing and purchasing of guns, there is need for more brain work.

That brain work will enhance our knowledge of the root causes of such mass shootings and the ulterior motives of their perpetrators, extremely useful knowledge that cannot be attained without a careful investigation of the causes, not the symptoms

That brain work can pay off only if the truth is told, helping our reach greater awareness and understanding of what needs to be done. 

The result would be that more lives would be saved.



The writer, a Fulbright scholar, contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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