We may never know the crucial determining factor or combination of factors responsible for Omar Mateen’s ghastly slaughter of 49 people and the wounding of 53 others at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Mainstream media pundits quickly cited LGBT bigotry, lax gun laws, failed FBI background checks, an infatuation with violence, deeply closeted homosexuality, and “self-radicalization.”
But as more evidence accumulates, it’s plausible that Mateen’s unspeakable act was yet another grotesque version of the chickens coming home to roost. While the time and location of future attacks remain uncertain, there’s no doubt that more jihadist-type chickens are en route to the henhouse. This raises the question that has remained outside polite conversation since September 11, 2001: What might lead someone like Mateen to carry out these hideous assaults on innocent U.S. citizens? Critical inquiry is not about making excuses for terrorism. Refusing to look at the causes of terrorism is inexcusable.
Years ago, Mateen spoke about becoming a martyr, and watched Islamic State terrorism and propaganda videos. Classmates recall that when the second jumbo jet slammed into the Trade Center’s south tower, the 14-year-old Mateen “started jumping-up-and-down, cheering on the terrorists.”
During one of his 911 calls from Pulse, he referred to the Tsarnaev brothers, the Boston Marathon bombers, as his “homeboys.” In another, he claimed to be “acting in the name of God” and pledged his allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Bagdadi. And just prior to being killed by police, Mateen posted a Facebook message stating, “You kill innocent women and children by doing [U.S.] airstrikes. . . now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”
Patience Carter, one of the hostages, heard Mateen say his attack was “to get America to stop bombing his country,” a reference to his parents being from Afghanistan. In another conversation with a 911 operator, he demanded that the U.S. stop attacking Iraq and Syria and said, “That’s why I’m out here right now.”
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Terrorism is only one consequence (the refugee crisis is another) that continues to reverberate in the wake of U.S. imperialist interventions, occupation, and unabated drone strike killings in Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, and the Horn of Africa, and Washington’s one-sided support for Israel’s apartheid-like suppression of Palestinians.
As peace activist and author David Swanson notes, there is an immediate step the U.S. could take: “Stop bombing people around the world.” Of course, this is the last thing that ISIS wants, because the more bombs that fall, the “easier to motivate more killers.” U.S. violence inevitably begets more violence and more sanctuaries for terrorists in the Middle East and South Asia.
To date, the U.S. has left citizens of these countries with four futile choices: (1) Remain in failed states destroyed by U.S. bombs. (2) Live under U.S. sponsored brutal dictatorships with no prospects for change. (3) Become refugees. (4) Support or join ISIS-type organizations.
Because U.S. allies like Turkey, Pakistan, the Gulf monarchies, and, especially, Saudi Arabia are directly and indirectly in league with the terrorists, the decision has been made that this deplorable situation is preferable for U.S. “national security.” The dominant interests in this country need to keep fear alive to justify any and all means of safeguarding their empire.
The Islamic State would not exist but for prior U.S. policy, including fateful decisions by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. ISIS is a death cult, and negotiating with them is impossible. Muslims must see an alternative to the dismal options listed above, an alternative that addresses their justifiable grievances. Recall Islamist Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected as president of Egypt in 2011, only to be overthrown and imprisoned by the U.S.-backed military. Only by supporting efforts to join Islam and democracy, currently exemplified by Tunisia and Indonesia, will this be possible. At this late date, it may not succeed, but there’s no other sane alternative.