Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Questions after Orlando

After the Orlando shootings, MERIP (Middle East Research and Information Project) asked a number of thoughtful observers for their thoughts about the shootings and the reactions to them in the mainstream media. (  These commentators seem to me to raise a number of difficult questions that all of us should think about.

Who is the Terrorist? Omar Mateen killed 49 persons at an Orlando nightclub. The US government stands accused of killing hundreds of civilians, including children, in drone strikes in Pakistan in the last few years. Similar accusations are raised in connection with drone strikes in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia. These allegations are difficult to confirm beyond any doubt. The US government identifies all killed as ‘terrorists’ but there seems legitimate doubt as to the reliability of these identifications. 

These killings are not well known. They do not attract attention from media or the public. Should we not be much more vocal in condemning the killing of civilians abroad by our own government?

The victims of the Orlando shooting are being mourned in many vigils all around the country.
Do we not owe vigils to the victims of our drones in the Middle East?

How to identify Omar Mateen. The newspaper calls him the “Islamic terrorist.” But some of the comments in MERIP remind us no one one refers to Dylan Roof who killed 9 worshipers at a Charleston, SC church as a “Christian terrorist.” A terrorist who is a Christian is not a Christian terrorist. His terrorist acts are not to be connected with, let alone be blamed on his Christian religion. Did Omar Mateen kill in Orlando because he was a Muslim?

The question reminds us that “Muslim” has become more than a name for the follower of one of the world’s great religion, it has become the name of a derogative stereotype. It has become almost an insult much like the word “Jew” that does not only refer to the member of a religion but a stereotype of people who are said to be exclusively interested in making money. We must be very careful in using the term “muslim.” It serves too often as a racist stereotype.

Who was Omar Mateen ? He was born in New York City where he was an especially challenging student who was frequently suspended in the public schools. His parents, immigrants from Afghanistan, are represented as difficult persons. The question has been raised whether his troubled career in school was connected to serious conflict in his home. 

At any rate, he was an American, like Dylan Root, or the shooters at Newtowne School or Columbine and many other places. 

I am not aware of any case where the immigrant parents of any of the other American mass murderers played a role in the media accounts. Why is that different if the parents are immigrants from Afghanistan?

Why a gay nightclub? Some observers drew attention to the fact that many media stories contained references to the supposed opposition to homosexuals in Islam. Those comments were not accompanied by asides that reminded readers of passionate opposition to homosexuality on the part of many Christian denominations.

What is more, no one recognized the implications of there being gay nightclubs. What does that tell us about toleration of homosexuality in US society? Why is it more comfortable for gays to drink and dance among each other? Why are they less at ease in straight venue?

The narratives we encounter about this terrible event, shows that our media, the stories we consume and pass on to others, are everywhere infected with unthinking prejudices, derogatory stereotypes against people primarily from the Middle East whose countries and people we have ravaged mercilessly for twenty-five years and more.

Perhaps these questions will make us think about our role in the Middle East and the crude ways in which we defame its people who have been the victims of our terrorism.