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Orlando massacre: The shooter was an American

As shocking as they are, mass shootings have become as 'American as apple pie'. Rather than looking for external reasons behind Florida shooter's behaviour, the country needs to do some deep soul-searching, writes Mohammed Fairouz.  

A woman cries in front of a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando. Credit: Andres Kudacki/AP/ A woman cries in front of a makeshift memorial to remember the victims of a mass shooting in Orlando. Credit: Andres Kudacki/AP/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.In the early hours of Sunday morning, a young aquaintance through my inner circle of friends was shot and killed in Orlando. He was 32 years old. I saw his mother crying on TV.

I am incandescent with rage and overcome with grief. 

I have never held a gun in my life and I probably never will. I do not feel as though I'm missing out on anything. No civilian needs an assault rifle. Period.

The shooter was not a ‘US citizen of Afghan descent’ as the press describes him. It’s a passable description on a technical level, but it is not a fundamentally true one. He was a Floridian and an American. The town in which he was born, New York City, is as American as apple pie. The Florida town in which he was raised is as American as apple pie. The assault weapon that he used to kill those people is as American as apple pie.

We have to acknowledge this. We have to look in the mirror and admit that we have a problem and we have to fix our problem. 

The men who drafted the US Constitution understood that, like all functioning constitutions in the world, it would need to be a dynamic document. The founders were also men who, naturally, made mistakes with that document; mistakes like enshrining slavery into the original version. It took a bloody civil war to fix that mistake. But laws are made by us: flawed, mortal, human beings. And that is why they are in need of constant study, revision and change.

The men who advocated the right to bear arms in 1791 could not possibly have imagined the weapons that are available to us in 2016. They simply didn't have to weigh the moral possibility of one man walking into a room and being able to massacre 49 others and injure scores more. The Second Amendment has evolved into a national suicide note. It needs to be re-examined and repealed.

The Republicans are no longer a political party. They have grown into a cancer that infects the body-politic of this nation. 

I am sad because I know that this won't happen. 

If ever I expected our problem to be fixed, it was in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, when a young man killed 20 six and seven-year olds and six adults. But even the senseless slaughter of those people did not deter most members of one of our major political parties, the Republicans, and a good number in the other – the Democrats – from continuing to indiscriminately advocate the availability of weapons of war to the general population. 

The Republicans are no longer a political party. They have grown into a cancer that infects the body-politic of this nation. They have failed at the most basic task of governance – which is to protect their citizens. Instead they have invested in creating an environment that is the result of an unholy combination of guns and hate.

Former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio called the shooter an “animal”. This is the same junior senator who has voted consistently against every gun safety measure, meaning the shooter was able to walk into Walmart and buy a semi-automatic weapon. The presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, also has no right to condemn this attack or say anything about it after committing time and again to actively undo any progress that gay people in this country have made towards equality, like attacking same-sex marriage.

One of the most confusing statements came from Orlando’s Mayor Buddy Dyer: “Today we’re dealing with something that we never imagined and is unimaginable”. There is hardly a phenomenon in the United States of America that is as tragically predictable. Senator Chris Murphy, who represents the community of Newtown, Connecticut where the Sandy Hook shooting took place recently attacked lawmakers’ inaction on gun control and referred to the “phenomenon of near constant mass shootings” in America. It has become a part of daily life.

 People push them around, bully them and hurt them – even kill them.

The sad thing is that, in all statistical likelihood, this will happen again tomorrow. 

I know from my experiences in north Florida that the environment that the people at Pulse nightclub lived in. They grew up in one of the most parochial and often bigoted parts of the United States. People push them around, bully them and hurt them – even kill them. Then they go to the one big space in Orlando where they are supposed to feel safe and free to express themselves. And this happens. Their sense of security is violated.

Maybe the gun laws won't change. Maybe they can't. But I have one plea: don't let the politicians who have been preaching against the gay community hijack this for their political gain. They are part of the problem. 

When I looked at pictures of the shooter he looked like something out of reality TV show Jersey Shore. A selfie-taking homophobic bully who seemed as insecure, thin-skinned and immature as so many young angry Americans are today. He may have been infatuated by ‘romantic’ notions of some terrorist group abroad. But he was an American. He was ‘one of us’: a symptom of our problem. Watering this down doesn't work. Many publications have been referring to him as an ‘American terrorist’. The rest should follow suit and our politicians also need to call it like it is. Pretending that Omar Mateen was not an American is not going to help us solve the problem, nor insist that all criminals like him are held as accountable to American laws as the rest of the country. The rhetoric of denial about the idea of a homegrown American terrorist reminds me of President Reagan’s statement: “I didn't have cancer. I had something inside me that had cancer and it was removed”. Denial doesn't help. It just makes the disease harder to recognize and more difficult to cure.

My friend and colleague David Ignatius recently wrote of Donald Trump: “He rightly said Monday that Muslims need to work with law enforcement to report dangerous people. But he doesn't seem to understand that his many months of Muslim-bashing comments have made that cooperation harder. He has been tossing matches into a pool of gasoline. Good law enforcement and, yes, cooperation from Muslims have helped prevent more attacks like those in San Bernardino and Orlando.

It's breathtaking that a serious presidential candidate would call on a sitting president to resign following a terrorist attack, because ‘He doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands.’ What's that supposed to mean, if not a slur against Obama's loyalty?

You don't have to look far in the United States to find law-abiding American Muslims

Trump displays a level of irresponsibility that should worry Americans, not just because his statements are immoral and unconstitutional, but because they put the country at greater risk.”

There is much wisdom to David’s analysis but you don't have to look far in the United States to find law-abiding American Muslims. You will find them in communities throughout America, working for the nation on Capitol Hill, fighting and dying for their country in the US Armed Forces and leading American culture, commerce and diplomacy. And if you had looked you would have found what remained of countless innocent American Muslims in the rubble of the Twin Towers where they perished on 9/11 together with their fellow Americans on a fateful day that they, like all the other innocent victims, thought was just going to be a regular workday at the office.

So no, it is not only American Muslims that have to cooperate with law enforcement. All Americans are obliged to live by the law of the land. Even Donald Trump has to abide by the law and show some respect for the Constitution from time to time. And with all due respect to my colleague, Trump understands what he is doing when he incites divisiveness in a nation that is as diverse as the United States of America. He is not stupid. From Chicago, Illinois to Birmingham, Alabama he has deliberately incited violence and proven that he is calculating rather than stupid. That is much, much worse.

I know that introspection and challenging this country's own ‘party of hate’ is harder than looking for external reasons for the shooter’s behavior. But it's important that we do this. I believe that America is strong enough to withstand deep soul-searching and come out stronger. But I do not believe that any mother should ever be expected to withstand the loss of her son to such senseless violence.

I send healing to the families of the victims today. I've cried but not as much as they have and will. But I also fully realise that my prayers and tears and Senate’s ‘moments of silence’ will not stitch the life back into the mother who wants her little boy back: the mother who in tearful confusion pleaded on TV for the return of her son during those long early hours when he was still unaccounted for. In those hours, my friends and I wondered if he was still alive. We made calls in the dark night holding onto hope for a faint distant light. And when the inevitable confirmation came, it hit us like a sledgehammer despite the fact that we all knew deep inside it was coming. I hope that we one day reach a point in this country where parents will never have to hand presidential candidates pictures of their children who have been shot and killed in the most senseless, incomprehensible and insurmountably tragic way possible. 

About the author

Mohammed Fairouz, born in 1985, is one of the most frequently performed, commissioned, and recorded composers of his generation. His large-scale symphonies, operas and oratorios all engage major geopolitical and philosophical themes. He lives in New York City and tweets at @MohammedFairouz.

 


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