I was horrified to learn that on Sunday, June 12, 2016, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside a crowded gay bar and dance club in Orlando, Florida, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. This sickening event is being called the deadliest mass shooting in the history of United States.
President Obama, once again commenting on a mass shooting, said it was “an act of terror and an act of hate.” So that begs the question: Was the Orlando massacre an act of terrorism or was it a hate crime? Dictionary.com defines a hate crime as a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Vocabulary.com defines an act of terrorism as the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature. Now if we consider the two definitions, the answer to the question would be it is both an act of terror and a hate crime. Violence in the form of gun shooting was carried out against civilians, specifically the LGBT community, and was motivated or at least inspired by the terrorist group known as ISIS so it is an act of terror. Even more, it was a hate crime. It was a hate crime clearly directed towards the LGBT community. Omar Mateen, a man previously investigated by the FBI, was allegedly motivated when he witnessed two men kissing. Seeing the two men together apparently angered him enough to commit this horrendous act.
To me, this is much more a hate crime as opposed to an act of terrorism. There is no evidence that ISIS or any other terrorist organization directed Mateen to act. I was moved by the words of Tom Walters from Canada’s CTV news station. On the night of the shooting, Tom Walters closed the newscast with these words. I wish I could say these are my words because Mr. Walters captures the essence of the problem so brilliantly.
“In simple terms, the motive for the Orlando massacre is not mystery, it was hate. And finding out what kind will explain little because every reason to hate a stranger is just as senseless. Colour, religion, sexual orientation, these are mere fragments of a human being, not the summation of who a person is or the basis to judge what a person is worth. Consigning people to categories denies them their individuality and robs them of their humanity. This is what makes hate possible…only a handful [of individuals] could do this. Now in the aftermath, some would still put individuals into categories and ask us to fear and reject whole groups. Society will never be perfectly safe from the deranged few, but when they are fed the rhetoric of hate and have access to the tools of murder, common sense would say we are less safe. Now facing the monstrous evil of terrorism, a future with less hate may seem distant…and if hate itself is the poison, that future is out of reach until people everywhere reject the ideas that diminish the individual and enable hate. That could include any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not…but in a world of individuals we can each make a choice to reject those ideas that would add another drop of poison to the common cup.”
As Tom Walters says, “consigning people to categories denies them their individuality…and makes hate possible”. The Orlando mass shooting is clearly an act of hate directed towards the LGBT community; a community who just want to be treated as equals and live their lives happily.
The mass shooting in Orlando is but a familiar story in the United States. It was the third mass shooting in 2016 that left at least three victims dead, following shootings in Hesston, Kansas. and Kalamazoo, Michigan in February. Six months earlier 14 people were killed in a rage in San Bernardino, California. Time magazine has complied a list of mass shooting since 1984. (see 34 years of mass shootings). Wikipedia lists the United States’ firearm-related death rate as 10.44 per 100,000 people per year. Canada’s firearm-related death rate is 1.97 per 100,000 people per year. That is a significant difference. The article Gun violence by the numbers by Global News lists the USA as having 90 firearms per 100 people whereas Canada’s rate is 30 firearms per 100 people. The American Medical Association called gun violence a “public health crisis” on June 14th and urged Congress to fund research into the problem.The association pleaded that a long-standing ban on federal government research into gun violence must be lifted to better understand and tackle the problem. It astounds me that researching the gun problem is forbidden. Does that make sense?
Now this information raises a second question: Why haven’t Americans realized that there is a connection between mass shootings and the amount of guns. Canada has always had tighter controls on guns. I am convinced that is why Canada’s firearm-related death rate is much lower than USA’s. The Global News article sited earlier says you’re more likely to be shot to death in the United States than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. It seems obvious to me that the more guns a society has the more gun related deaths there will be. Americans always cite the second amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, as a defence to owning guns. This amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms. An amendment is a change or addition to a legal or statutory document so if Americans wanted to change their relationship with guns they could change (amend) their Constitution.
Donald Trump, GOP presidential nominee tweeted on the night of the shooting, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” He later tweeted, “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.” In other words, his view is that radical Islamic terrorists are to blame and so his answer is to ban all Muslims from entering the USA. Now that leads to a third question: Should we fear all Muslims because they might be terrorists? My answer to that is a resounding NO. To use the words of Tom Walters, what Mr. Trump is doing is putting “individuals into categories and ask[ing] us to fear and reject” Muslims.
Slate, an online magazine, has an article called, The Truth About Islam. The article says Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world. It goes on to say,
The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.
The Christian and Jewish religions have had their share of “darkened periods of violent bloodletting”. In 1095 the Christian crusades began. This was when armies responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. The inquisition was the Catholic churches attempt to remove heresy. Both were filled with bloodletting. Judaism has a history of radical Zionism, a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation. Zionism promoted aggressive war justified with biblical texts.
To categorize all Muslims as terrorists is stereotyping and that makes it wrong. There are many peaceful Muslims just as there are Christians and Jews. The Islamic Society of Wichita condemned the attack, as did many Islamic leaders. The group issued the following statement Sunday.
“Along with our fellow Americans, the Islamic Society of Wichita condemns the hateful act of violence in Orlando, Florida. In this holy month of Ramadan, we will be offering special prayers for the victims and their families. As people of faith, we stand unified against acts of terrorism and violence and will continue our work to defend all people against hatred and brutality. We urge local Muslims…to donate blood for the victims of this heinous act.”
I would like to reiterate Tom Walters’ words to reject “any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not.” Mr. Trump is saying that Muslims do not belong in America because they are potential terrorists. Trump is stereotyping. That is why he is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. “Consigning people to categories” such as all Muslims are potential terrorists, “is what makes hate possible”. It is time to stop the labelling of groups because it “makes hate possible”. Not all Muslims are radical Islamic terrorists! The lifestyle of the LGBT community is not sinful! Is a heterosexual’s love for another more valid than homosexual’s love? Who are we to judge? Guns kill when they fall into the hands of people who stereotype and hate. America, it’s time to decrease gun availability so they don’t fall into the hands of those who hate. After all, authorities tell us that the Orlando killer purchased guns a few days before he went on his rampage. So long as a person doesn’t have a criminal record or has no history of mental illness they can purchase a gun. Guns were created for one purpose only and that is to kill. Guns are just too plentiful and much too easy to obtain in the USA.