Kourosh Ziabari – Fair Observer: In June, a mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando claimed 49 lives and left 53 wounded. America was left in shock as the deadliest shooting spree in the modern history of the country took place.
The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was himself killed in a shootout with police almost three hours after instigating the rampage at the Pulse nightclub. As soon as details about his identity went public, US media outlets were flooded with accusations that he was an “Islamic terrorist” who carried out the attack on behalf of the self-called Islamic State (Daesh).
Mateen, a US citizen, was born and raised in New York. However, the media doggedly highlighted his paternal origins and insisted that he was born to Afghan parents, implying that he was not sufficiently American.
It was after this tragic incident that the debate on “Islamic terrorism” resurfaced in the US. Despite efforts by some progressive public figures to ward off undue attacks on the American Muslim community, a latent smear campaign against Muslims was revitalized. The assertion that Muslims are homophobic and resent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) community was ballyhooed to make it seem that the “Muslim terrorist” who shot up a gay nightclub had a personal vendetta to engage in this wild attack: his abhorrence of homosexuals.
It’s true that Islam outlaws homosexuality, but this does not mean that as a faith it calls on its adherents to direct violence against homosexuals. Islam prohibits its followers from inflicting harm on others or reciprocating harm, based on the principle of: “Do not inflict injury nor repay one injury with another.” This Islamic tenet lays the basis for the interaction of Muslims with each other, with people of other faiths and those who have no faith.
So, when Muslims are prevented from even imposing harm on others, how could they be permitted to enter a nightclub and murder 49 people with a semi-automatic rifle? Could a criminal who breaches the most fundamental precepts of Islam be considered a genuine Muslim whose criminal action amounts to “Islamic terrorism”?
In May, I conducted an interview with Professor Jeffrey Haynes, an expert on religion and conflict. Haynes said that terms such as “Islamic terrorism” are misleading as there is no such thing as Islamic, Christian or Buddhist terrorism. Religions do not tout violence and we cannot attribute the behavior of individuals to the standards of a specific religion practiced universally. It is true that some members of a religious group might commit acts of violence, but it does not mean that all the adherents of that faith should be held accountable simply because one of them has committed a crime.
Media coverage of the Orlando shooting and its aftermath was somewhat slanted and impartial. It was unanimously affirmed that Mateen was a terrorist and what he did on June 12 was characterized as some sort of international or domestic terrorism.
According to the US Code of Federal Regulations, terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
With this definition, it is questionable as to why Mateen’s crime was classified by politicians, media and pundits as terrorism, while several similar incidents of comparable magnitude in recent years in the US have been downplayed as “mass murder” or “acts of violence,” and the perpetrators mildly branded as “loners” suffering from some mental illness.
In June 2015, a 22-year-old gunman named Dylann Roof opened fire at a prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and killed nine African Americans.
Roof had reportedly posted photos on the internet posing with a handgun, a Confederate battle flag and the Nazi code numbers 88 and 1488 written in sand. There was even one picture showing him setting fire to a flag of the US. He had also published a 2,444-word manifesto shortly before triggering the attack at the Charleston church, explaining what had motivated him: “I chose Charleston because it is most historic city in my state, and at one time had the highest ratio of blacks to Whites in the country. We have no skinheads, no real KKK [Ku Klux Klan], no one doing anything but talking on the internet. Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
In his manifesto, Roof called blacks “the group that is the biggest problem for Americans.”
“Niggers are stupid and violent. At the same time they have the capacity to be very slick,” he wrote.
Talking about Jim Crow laws, he claimed that “Segregation was not a bad thing. It was a defensive measure. Segregation did not exist to hold back negroes. It existed to protect us from them.”
If such a spiteful ideology is not viewed as criminal, and if the assortment of such callous words in a manifesto does not qualify as hate speech, then it’s easy to understand why the mass killing explaining such a mentality was not dubbed as “terrorism.”
And let’s not forget that we have not yet consigned to oblivion the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of December 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, by the 20-year-old, white, non-Muslim Adam Lanza, who was never referred to as a terrorist. Lanza brutally killed 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old in a shooting rampage, as well as six adult members of staff and his mother before committing suicide.
Similarly, Seung-Hui Cho, a South Korean-born student who massacred 32 people at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007 was treated no worse than a mass shooter.
It seems like it’s becoming an accepted convention to classify every incident of killing and murder by a non-white criminal (especially with some Muslim or Arabic background) as terrorism. With the Orlando shooting, few people cared if the perpetrator was really a walking encyclopedia of Islam with a deep knowledge of every Islamic tradition and prescription, and if he really practiced the faith at all—Mateen was reported to have physically abused his ex-wife and he was not a devout Muslim. But the fact that he was born to Afghan parents and had an Arabic name was sufficient for xenophobes and opportunists in the media industry to once again impeach 1.6 billion Muslims.
This is precisely the profiling that Donald Trump says is needed to be done against Muslims.
What would have happened if the killer of British parliamentarian Jo Cox, who was shot and stabbed to death in June, was a Muslim? Now that the suspect, Thomas Mair, is known to be a Scottish-born, non-Muslim, nobody raises the title of “terrorist” to disparage him. Had a Muslim perpetrated the murder, mainstream media would have teamed up to debate the exigency of countering “Islamic terrorism” forcefully.
The media and public reactions to the heartrending murder of Jo Cox, the painful Orlando shooting and the contemporary history of terrorist attacks in the US give the impression that the designation of “terrorist” is exclusively reserved for Muslim or Muslim-born wrongdoers who, regardless of their belief or disbelief in Islam, are treated as the face of the entire Muslim world.
Nobody rules out that Omar Mateen had pledged allegiance to Daesh shortly before promoting that carnage, but the question that must be asked again is whether the so-called Islamic State is representative of Muslims globally. Do any real Muslims endorse the atrocities of this death cult?
In the end, 1.6 billion people often pay the price for the criminality of an individual who might not even have read the Quran once to realize that, according to Islam, the killing of one innocent person is such a grave sin that it is equated with killing all of humanity.