We’re still learning about many of the specifics surrounding the horrific Orlando shootings early this morning, but some facts are now clear, and warrant some preliminary thoughts and observations.
First, we now have confirmation from the FBI of a link between killer Omar Mateen and Islamic terrorism. Until a press conference held in Orlando by Florida state and local officials and Bureau agents, the media had been filled with reports – some claiming to be from eyewitnesses – that Mateen had shouted “Allahu Akbar,” a phrase often heard during attacks and on other occasions from ISIS and other Islamic terrorists and extremists. Other connections were mentioned in the press as well.
But these accounts were simply reports – and especially in the immediate aftermath of an event, reports can be completely inaccurate or misleading. Even ISIS’ claim of responsibility for this atrocity isn’t necessarily definitive proof of a radical Islam angle. Such announcements can be made simply for propaganda purposes.
At the press conference, though, at a little after 3:15 in the afternoon local time, FBI agent Ron Hopper stated that during his call to 9-11 before the attack, Mateen made comments that were “general to the Islamic State.”
Second, it’s now a little after 4 PM, EST, and there’s been nothing from President Obama or the White House on this now unmistakable Islamic terrorist connection. Yet just before 2 in the afternoon, Mr. Obama felt comfortable blaming inadequate gun control in part for the shooting. Based on what was known at the time, I don’t blame him for not rushing to judgment on ISIS et al. But in my view, he does deserve blame for seizing on the opportunity to advance a political view that is anything but obviously central to this incident.
He also deserves blame for waiting so long to go back before the nation and discussing the Islam issue – specially Orlando’s implications for his policy of open-arms welcomes for Middle East refugees, and for his determination (expressed most recently last week) to vilify Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s insistence that Islam and its adherents pose special problems for homeland security that require special approaches.
Third, ever since Trump became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, it’s been clear to me that his rise to the presidency could be little more than one major domestic or Europe terrorist attack away. Now we have the attack. It will be fascinating to see what the polls tell us about its effect on his candidacy. (Keeping in mind of course how flawed they remain as measures of public opinion.)
Similarly, his likely Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, has enthusiastically heaped Obama-like scorn on Trump’s emphasis on the extremist Muslim threat to homeland security. Today, she’s already beaten the president to the punch in linking the Orlando attack to “international terror groups.” But her failure to refer to Islam signals her continuing unwillingness to acknowledge its prominence in global terrorism and therefore a homeland security issue – now more than ever at least partly for fear of seeming to vindicate Trump.
Fourth, it’s a tragic fact of history that shocking violence against persecuted groups has often been needed to turn public opinion significantly towards greater tolerance. The Holocaust, for example, greatly weakened (but did not end) anti-Semitism around the world. Violence against black Americans in the Deep South during the 1960s powerfully advanced the cause of civil rights. We can only hope that the Orlando shootings help rid the United States, and the rest of the world, of homophobia. For denying or even downplaying this attack’s nature as an assault on gays and the broader LGBT community is as unacceptable as denying or downplaying the attack as an act of Islamic terrorism. And that goes for Donald Trump, too.