America is once again mourning its sons and daughters, whose lives were senselessly and brutally ended by a mass shooter armed with a semi-automatic weapon of war in Orlando, Florida on 12 June 2016. During President Barack Obama’s terms in office he has been obliged to address the nation on 18 such occasions, his tone emotionally charged, his demeanour angry.
But on this occasion, he came across as despondent and resigned, perhaps due to his inability to tighten up on gun laws faced with an intransigent Republican-dominated Congress.
For those of us on the outside, the fact that anyone can buy guns online or at gun fairs without background checks is sheer madness and even crazier is the fact that a large minority of Americans believe the answer to reducing such attacks is more guns!
I would like to express my condolences to the victims’ loved ones and to all those battling to survive in trauma wards. I cannot imagine what it must be like to lose a child or a sibling in this way, never having the opportunity to kiss them goodbye.
Just as most Americans are struggling to understand what really happened, so am I. There is a cloud of confusion over this incident and, to be honest, the sum total of what we have learned so far does not sit right in my opinion. There are many unanswered questions.
The gunman Omar Mateen is said to have been partially motivated by his ingrained homophobia, but, according to The Telegraph, he had been seen at the Pulse nightclub on more than a dozen occasions and was a regular user of multiple “gay dating apps” where he posted his photographs.
The Palm Beach Post quotes one of his former classmates revealing his belief that his old school friend was gay, adding that he had approached him “romantically”.
What is really astonishing is that he reportedly worked for G4S, the world’s largest security company, for nine years. A firm that is often subcontracted by the US government. During that time he was investigated and trailed by the FBI over a period of ten months, and Mateen was only psychologically evaluated once – at the start of his employment.
His colleagues alerted authorities after he told them that he had family links to al-Qaeda, was a member of Iran’s proxy in Lebanon Hezbollah and was heard declaring his ambition to kill people. It is highly unusual for someone to support both al-Qaeda and Hezbollah at the same time.
Trump has opportunistically tapped into people’s heightened fears to regurgitate his call for a ban on Muslims for which he seems to be gaining traction with votersKhalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
Daniel Gilroy, a former police officer who worked with him as a security guard, says he complained several times to his superiors that Mateen was dangerous, bigoted and always angry. “I saw this coming,” he said.
The killer succeeded in fobbing off the FBI, arguing that he merely spoke out in anger as a result of being discriminated against because of his faith. The FBI concluded that his co-workers were racist and closed the file.
Two months later his file was reopened when it was discovered that he was an acquaintance of Moner Mohamed Abu Salha, a member of al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, whose claim to fame rests on his being the only American suicide bomber in Syria. Again, the FBI dropped the case determining that the relationship was superficial.
Incredibly, his employer was informed in 2013 that Mateen was under FBI scrutiny yet kept him on in the knowledge that doing so meant he had legal access to firearms and worked in sensitive areas.
‘Racist, abusive and mentally unstable’
The gunman’s father, his ex-wife and the Imam of his local mosque say he showed no sign of having been radicalized, although many who knew him describe him as being racist, abusive and mentally unstable. He was characterized by his former wife as an ordinary fun-loving person at the start of their marriage but who became increasingly short-tempered and disturbed as time went on.
Despite the call he made to 911 declaring his allegiance to ISIS, the group, as far as I believe, has not claimed responsibility for the mass killing but has hailed Mateen as “a soldier of the Caliphate” after the attack. Intelligence experts believe he was a lone wolf inspired by the ISIS’ warped ideology rather than a trained member.
Was he a homophobe or a self-hating homosexual? Had he been radicalized or was he suffering from mental illness? Why were no neon red flags raised by the FBI or his employer in light of witness reports and his association with a notorious al-Qaeda-linked terrorist? Why were his community and/or religious leaders not asked to keep an eye on him?
Adding salt to the wound is a surge in anti-Islamic feeling within the US as the presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald J. Trump piles logs on the flames. “Appreciate congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism” was his initial response. Senator John McCain’s daughter Meghan tweeted back: “You’re congratulating yourself because 50 people are dead this morning in a horrific tragedy?”
Since, Trump has opportunistically tapped into people’s heightened fears to regurgitate his call for a ban on Muslims for which he seems to be gaining traction with voters.
He has also been bending the truth to amplify his point, referring to Mateen as “an Afghan” notwithstanding that he was an American citizen born and educated in New York and thus, should be considered either as a home-grown terrorist or a deranged individual. The Fort Hood and San Bernardino attackers were also Americans. He accused Obama of “failing us” and Hillary Clinton of wishing “to admit the very people who want to slaughter us”.
Ms Clinton’s handling of the affair was circumspect and presidential. Her mood was sombre as she outlined the measures she would take as president to minimize future incidents while warning that the demonization of Muslims would play right into the hands of ISIS and al-Qaeda.
She took the opportunity to encourage Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, among others, to do more to stop their citizens from “funding extremist organizations” and for supporting radical mosques and schools.
Saudi Arabia, in particular, is leading the charge against radicalization. It has produced a blacklist of extremist groups, deports sympathizers and has instituted harsh penalties against recruiters and funders. More Muslims have been targeted by terrorists than anyone else. In this instance, Clinton’s accusations were out of sync with her overall message urging all countries to work together to end this scourge.
American Muslims were among the first to strongly condemn the shooting while being concerned for their families’ safety. Haters have hurled insults outside the mosque where Mateen worshipped and threatening tweets were sent to a mosque in Dearborn. My heart goes out to them too.
This is the time for all people to stand united against terrorism. Innocents all over the world are being targeted almost daily yet, for some reason, condolences from the US government and people are sparse.
We are all in this together and if we are pulled apart by politics or bigotry, the only winners will be the bad guys. It is my fervent hope that once the election rah-rah is done, whoever gets the White House will reach out to the Muslim World instead of erecting destructive ‘them and us’ barriers.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.