Almost fifty civilians in a gay nightclub gunned down by a man of Afghan descent – this has become the easy recipe for Republican candidate Donald Trump to reboot his hate politics against the Muslim community in the US.
With the support and blessing of the National Rifle Association, Trump has insulated the tragedy in America’s vintage ‘terror’ narrative – which has hurt Muslim Americans ever since 9/11. The Republicans have irresponsibly glossed over how a monster can easily acquire an assault rifle and end human life at will, and have instead chosen to argue that arming more and more American citizens is key to preventing such tragedies.
The narrative is bolstered by three basic arguments. One, Omar Mateen was of Afghan descent – even though he was born and brought up in the US. Two, the massacre was an intelligence failure where he was on the FBI watch list and an open investigation was closed against him. And three – and the most ridiculous argument from Fox News – a ban on assault weapons would not work as Mateen could have used a ‘crock pot’ to carry out the massacre.
First of all, no one’s race makes him or her a mass murderer. Mateen was an American citizen and had no ties to Afghanistan. He never travelled to the Middle East for there to be a suggestion of any links with terror groups. Only the colour of his skin and his name allowed him to fit into a ‘terror’ profile. The same formula ignores cases where the shooter is a white ‘Christian’ like Dylann Roof who carried out the Charleston church massacre killing nine people in June 2015 and Adam Lanza who carried out the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in December 2012, killing 28 people including 20 children. These other shooters are seen as psychopaths, poster boys of a broken community – but Mateen is a terrorist.
Orlando was not even an intelligence failure. Omar Mateen did not drop off the FBI watch list because of snoozing agents – there was no evidence against him. The file on Mateen was closed as he had not joined any terrorist organisation, hadn’t attended a terror training camp, or communicated with terror operatives about any plots. Suspects cannot be held for crimes they have not committed, and even a perfect law and order system cannot prevent crime. This is the trade-off we make for liberty.
The argument of the American gun lobby oscillates between absurd extremes. Any form of regulation is equivalent to totalitarian government control; and it is argued that gun regulation never works. It is baffling how that case withstands scrutiny. By the same logic, drug laws should be suspended as they continue to be freely available, and immigration rules should be scrapped as people continue to enter the US illegally.
The rhetoric becomes dangerous when presidential candidates like Trump say that the Paris attack could have been averted if the victims were armed. As a ludicrous safety measure, he has even advocated that people be allowed to carry concealed weapons in clubs. On the other side of the debate, Hillary Clinton has promised stronger gun control if elected president. She has emphasised that terror should never shake a nation’s faith in plurality, adding that greater unity and acceptance is key to prevent the marginalisation that fuels the terror ideology.
This message is now being taken forward by Muslim Democrats in Florida, who have teamed up with gay rights activists to counter the vitriol of the Republican camp. The 2016 elections is the first time the Florida Democratic Party has officially recognised the American Muslim Democratic Caucus. In the wake of the Orlando massacre, the group is championing a unique political pitch to galvanise an alliance with the gay community, finding common ground in opposing Trump’s ascension to the White House.
The American Muslim Democratic Caucus aims to rally the 700,000 member Muslim community in Florida against the Republican candidate, where only 200,000 are currently registered to vote. Opponents have dubbed the Democratic Party’s support to the Muslim caucus in Florida as its inability to address ‘radical Islam’, but the group’s political push is the need of the hour in American politics. It is a necessary force to bolster Hillary Clinton’s narrative for stronger gun regulation against the venomous and divisive language of the Republicans and the NRA who have used the Orlando tragedy to spread fear and fan communal hatred.
It is potent for this kind of ideological counter to emanate from the state where the terror attack took place, and rally Muslim voters in Florida under the Democratic banner to send out a powerful message against Donald Trump’s politicking. The political bloc can also boost the Democrats in a state that has regularly seen close presidential elections.
The Orlando tragedy has revealed the bare bones of the two presidential campaigns and the character of their leaders. As both sides lock horns, Hillary Clinton will continue to look more like a stateswoman, a pan-American and unifying leader fit to occupy the White House.
Trump, meanwhile, will slowly be exposed as a foolhardy cowboy whose narrative of a divided US has done nothing more than erode the credibility of the Republicans, making social pariahs of party leaders and voters alike.
The writer is senior news editor at CNN-News18.