It has been more than a week since 29-year-old Omar Mateen entered the Orlando gay nightclub Pulse and gun downed 49 people. During the attack, the American-born Mateen called 9/11 and pledged his allegiance to ISIS. The June 12, 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting marks the deadliest mass shooting in America and the nation’s worst terror attack since 9/11.
The Orlando shooting has justifiably dominated the news cycle for the last week. However, as with all things, this horrific incident will soon take a back seat to some other story. Orlando will continue to be in the background and if a new piece of the story emerges such as new evidence about the wife of Mateen, Orlando will be front and center again for a day or so to highlight that specific component of the story. However, for the most part, the wall to wall coverage of the Orlando shooting will stop. And there is a reason for this.
It is not that the story has been fully told. There are still new pieces of information surfacing and there are also different lenses through which the “Orlando shooting” story can be viewed. And it certainly is not that the American public does not care. No, quite the contrary, the American people have proven themselves over and over again to be extremely emphatic. The reason for the pivot away from Orlando is cyclical. Human beings can only take so much tragedy. After a while, they back away from it because it is too painful to absorb. Everyone has to return to a routine. This cycle is equally true for national tragedies and personal tragedies. That’s why we have funeral services, we need to move on. But because we don’t want to forget, we have grave sites, mausoleums and online memorial pages.
As our nation starts to turn its attention away from Orlando, we will take away some sound bites. Here are mine:
1. Words Matter
Since the news of the Orlando shooting broke, President Barack Obama has come under a lot of criticism for his failure to utter the words “radical Islamic terrorism” to describe Orlando and for also shifting the dialogue to gun control. The same criticism has been levied against President Obama for many other incidents including the December 2015 San Bernardino incident, the November 2015 Paris attacks etc. On Tuesday June 14, the President responded to this criticism by saying, “Calling a threat by a different name does not make it go away…There’s no magic to the phrase of radical Islam,” Obama commented. “It’s a political talking point.”
I beg to differ. The President’s refusal to describe the threat by its proper name just exasperates the situation. For unless you can identify the enemy, you cannot eradicate it. This week The Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council issued a report that recommends that the department allocate up to $100 million in new funding which would be used to hire experts and deploy social media programs and technology to “influence young people not to join terror groups”. While deploying resources to keep young people from falling prey to terror groups, is a worthwhile endeavor, $100 million sounds excessive.
Furthermore, the report recommends that the terminology used to describe Islam be whitewashed. “Government agencies should employ “American English instead of religious, legal and cultural terms like ‘jihad,’ ‘sharia,’ ‘takfir’ or ‘umma’”, states the June 2016 report by the Council’s countering violent extremism subcommittee.” The DHS’s rationale for the elimination of this aforementioned terminology is that these words create “us vs. them” situations.
Once again, I beg to differ. These words “matter” because of their meanings. “Jihad is the Islamic concept of holy war that is the primary call to arms for Islamic terrorist groups around the world, including the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Sharia law is the anti-democratic Islamic supremacist legal code that critics say has prevented U.S. Muslims from assimilating into American society. Takfir is the Arabic term for apostasy, and umma is the word used to describe the entire Muslim community.” If we eradicate these words from our description of radical Islamic terrorism, we dilute its definition at our peril. If we change the terminology to get rid of “offensive words”, we still don’t eliminate the offensive acts. While some will realize that that these are terms which have been stripped of their true severity, the lion’s share of the population will not recognize a dangerous euphemism.
2. Failure to Connect the Dots
I have repeatedly heard the words “failure to connect the dots” in conjunction with the Orlando case. In some cases, the term was used to make a general statement about government agency and local law enforcement communication breakdowns. More specifically, the term has been used to describe the FBI’s investigation. Mateen attended the same Fort Pierce Florida mosque as the first American to execute a suicide attack in Syria, Moner Mohammad Abu-Salha. The mosque has been described by local law enforcement as a “breeding ground” for terrorists. In 2014, the FBI investigated a possible link between Mateen and the suicide bomber. The results of the investigation were inconclusive as was the FBI’s investigation that they conducted of Mateen in 2013 which came from terrorist threats he had reportedly made at work. “The FBI closed that investigation after 10 months because they concluded that Mateen was simply responding to what he felt was Islamophobia being displayed by his co-workers. His 2011 and 2012 trips to Saudi Arabia, which is home to the virulent Wahhabi strain of Islam in which al Qaeda and ISIS have their ideological roots, apparently raised no eyebrows at the FBI”
Once again, this analysis reveals that the FBI was in possession of information about Mateen and potential terrorism ties for several years, but was unable for whatever reason to put it all together. This failure to integrate links of actions into a chain of behavior needs to be overcome sooner rather than later. Didn’t we learn our lessons in 9/11 about the failure of agencies to effectively cross reference data points and share intelligence?
3. See Something Say Something:
Once again this alliterative directive rears its head because of the many people who observed something bizarre about Mateen’s behavior who failed to speak up. For example, didn’t anyone think it was strange that he transferred ownership of his Port Lucie home to his brother in law and sister for only $10 two months prior to the Orlando shootings? Or what about his co-worker, a former police officer who described Mateen as “unhinged and unstable”? While those words may sound strong, we have to remember that Mateen was working in a security capacity. If he was truly exhibiting unstable behavior, someone should have said something. And if one co-worker noticed it, others did as well.
4. Never Forget
Of course the famous phrase “Never Forget”’ has been reiterated repeatedly this week as well it should be. Just as we should never forget September 11, 2011, we should never forget the Orlando Pulse night club shooting. And most importantly, we should never forget the innocent victims.
However, we need to do more than just remember tragic events like Orlando, we need to learn from them so that we can prevent them from happening.
Image: Screen Shot: http://jp.reuters.com/video/2016/06/16/memorials-for-orlando-shooting-victims?videoId=368938563&feedType=VideoRSS&feedName=JPTopNews&videoChannel=200