Let’s face it. We, that would be all of us who proudly claim the title of American, must do more to forestall the situations and grievances and opportunities that can lead to any kind of slaughter remotely resembling the Orlando tragedy of June 12, 2016. 6/12, a new code for 21st century inhumanity, even if it doesn’t supersede 9/11.
By all means – for heaven’s sake – let us enact more prudent rules regarding the availability of firearms.
Let us acknowledge and celebrate the fact that religious pluralism has been a cornerstone of this republic since the days of its founding.
And let us not surrender to a politically expedient demonization of people – including millions of loyal and peace-loving Americans – whose faith has been hijacked by a rogue contingent of brutalizers and killers.
None of this is to say that we can afford to be naïve or complacent about the threats and risks we face amid a troubled world. But our protective measures must be not only strong. They also must be smart, in that they avoid making matters even worse.
They must be rooted in values that are fundamental to the American experience – a prime case in point being the inclusivity that allowed the United States to flourish as a nation largely peopled by immigrants.
The death toll from a self-avowed Muslim’s post-midnight rampage at an Orlando nightclub popular among gays and lesbians at this writing stood at 49, with some of the wounded still in danger. But what in any case became the worst such mass shooting in our history has thrown the intertwined issues of national security and immigration into mercilessly sharp relief.
It’s hardly a surprise that the man who has sewn up the Republican presidential nomination on the strength of fear-mongering, reality TV-style crassness and anti-immigrant bluster would have seized on the tragedy to stoke the fires of xenophobia in service of his campaign.
Yet Donald Trump’s response, as a test of the kind of leadership a president must offer, may represent his biggest failure yet.
There seems little doubt that homicidal Omar Mateen was to some degree under the spell of the radical Islamic extremism that drives the terror group ISIS, which sees itself at war with America and its allies.
He may have chosen the Pulse nightclub’s patrons as his targets in keeping with the group’s fanatical hatred of gays. Or he may have thought the declaration of allegiance to ISIS that he made, incredibly, by cell phone in the midst of the slaughter would help disguise other motives.
Trump, however, leapt from what has to be a valid concern about ISIS-inspired terrorism erupting within U.S. borders to a colossal exercise in anti-Muslim bigotry.
Muslims infected by radical extremism are pouring across our borders, he claims. Once here, he would have us believe, they’re being sheltered by other Muslims who realize the threat they pose but won’t turn them in. It’s a paranoid fantasy, wrong on the facts in terms of the scale of immigration – modest and carefully controlled – and slanderously unfair to America’s Muslim community at large.
It may be easy in hindsight to conclude that someone in Mateen’s family or other Muslim acquaintances must have known he was a time bomb about to blow. Of course that is a valid question for authorities to investigate, and if there was any such collaboration, those who remained silent or perhaps even helped execute the atrocity should be held to account.
But there are no grounds to indict, with one broad brush, this country’s millions of law-abiding and peaceful Muslim citizens as potential or actual aiders and abettors of terror. When Trump does that, he virtually writes them out of the national civic compact – people whom he encourages the rest of us to distrust, to shun and, yes, to hate. No would-be president should stoop in that fashion to poisoning the well of America’s multicultural democracy.
Blame for immigrants
In the massacre’s wake, Trump has reiterated his call to stop any more Muslims from entering this country, at least temporarily. And he further wants to exclude anyone from “areas of the world where there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we fully understand how to end these threats.”
Surely, anyone who wants to come here should have to pass rigorous anti-terrorism screening. But a blanket exclusion – applying, for example, even to the minimal number of refugees from the horrific civil war in Syria that the U.S. government now accepts after careful review – would send precisely the wrong message to Muslims who still look to America as a place where religious freedom is honored and where persecuted minorities can find sanctuary so long as they obey our laws.
In other words, Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration policy would be profoundly counterproductive in terms of America’s relations with the adherents of a global faith who number in the billions.
It would create an even more noxious breeding ground for the death-dealing perversion of Islam that now festers under the ISIS banner. It may play well among the kind of voters who have propelled Trump to the verge of nomination, but those of us who recoil at the idea of religious tests for patriotism find his approach repugnant.
That approach doesn’t even face up to the fact that Omar Mateen was not an immigrant. He was an American citizen, son of parents who themselves had been in this country for 30 years since coming over from Afghanistan.
Should the FBI, which had him under close surveillance because of troubling reports about his conduct before closing his case, have decided that he did in fact pose a threat? The question must be thoroughly aired. Perhaps standards and protocols need to be tightened. But Trump, galloping off in search of votes from the fearful and the gullible, shows little interest in that sort of conversation.
The candidate also could have begun to take a more positive role if he would acknowledge what most sensible Americans understand – that the Orlando tragedy was still another instance, and the most glaring yet, when someone was able to wreak bloody havoc with firearms that were all too easy to obtain.
No doubt with murderous plans in mind, Mateen bought the assault-style rifle that he carried with a handgun into Pulse just days before the attack, and the sale appears to have been perfectly legal. What’s wrong with that picture? Trump could help point that out. Sadly, he’s not the only American politician so far unwilling to speak the truth about this country’s failure to adequately regulate access to guns.
Surely a case could be made that Mateen, having been on the FBI’s radar for months as a potential terrorist even if he finally and unfortunately was cleared, should not have been allowed to buy that rifle. Or he should have had to pass extra-stringent checks. Or he should have had to wait for a lengthy period before taking it home.
Maybe none of those measures would have made a difference. But to give him the same gun-purchase privileges as, say, someone who’d never collected so much as a speeding ticket defies common sense.
For that matter, the whole notion that the 2nd Amendment’s right to bear arms must extend to military-style firearms with rapid-fire capability and large ammo magazines is nothing but a craven surrender to the firearms lobby’s most doctrinaire and self-serving hogwash. A well-meaning presidential candidate would follow the lead of our actual president in trying to pull this country back from the gun-violence abyss.
Precepts for healing
So the Orlando tragedy challenges people of good will on several levels. We must be clear-eyed about the nature and scope of the terrorism threats we face. We must be prepared to counter those threats both via well-conceived policies abroad and within the parameters of this country’s respect for civil rights and personal liberty.
At the same time, we must not apply a double, lesser standard when it comes to the rights afforded our fellow citizens who are followers of Islam – even if the faith they share now has given rise to a cancer whose ravages are being felt in many parts of the world. We should as well respect those citizens’ beliefs by not automatically assuming the worst of Muslims elsewhere.
We must be ready to stand against the absurd anti-regulation arguments from firearms zealots — both those in business and those individuals, even some law-abiding sportsmen, who construe the 2nd Amendment to serve their own ultimately selfish wants.
And we must with one thunderous voice reject the wicked notion held by some that when gays and lesbians are targeted and shot down in murderous mayhem, they are merely getting the kind of punishment they deserve.