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June 15, 2016
The mass murder of nearly 50 people in an Orlando gay nightclub by Omar Mateen, an American who allegedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, has been widely condemned throughout the Middle East. Many commentators in the region have raised questions about the motivation behind the crime. These writers contest the narrative of the massacre being a terrorist attack by an Islamist militant, preferring to address it as a hate crime committed by a homophobic young man with a checkered past who should have never been allowed to purchase firearms. Others focus on the spread of international jihadi ideology, delving deeper into the root causes of radicalization. Finally, there is no doubt that the tragedy will once again draw attention to the efforts of the Muslim community in the United States and elsewhere to combat extremism and radicalization. One writer underscores the need for "religious leaders of all faiths" to "tak[e] an unequivocal stand against violence in the name of religion."
The Jordan Times editorial draws attention to the perpetrator's target, arguing that religiosity is secondary to homophobia as motive, as shown by more than one and a half billion peaceful Muslims around the world: "But despite the declared religion of the perpetrator, it should not be used as ammunition against Muslims, for electoral or other purposes or agendas. It was a horrible act of terror that the Muslim community in the U.S. condemned in the strongest terms, along with the governments of many Muslim countries around the world, including Jordan....Muslims, who number around 1.7 billion, constitute almost a quarter of the world's population, and the acts of a small minority do not represent them, just like the acts of Adolph Hitler and the KKK racist group do not represent the teachings of Christianity. The vast majority of Muslims live in peace in their societies, whether in the Muslim world or outside it, contributing to the progress and prosperity of their societies. They should be treated as such by the media, politicians and their communities."
Al Arabiya's Faisal Abbas expresses solidarity with the victims' families and Americans in general, urging, meanwhile, caution against singling out the attacker's faith for having provided the inspiration for the attacks: "....Indeed, all one could say on such a sad occasion is that there can be no justification for acts of madmen. Whether he turns out to have been directed by the likes of ISIS, Hezbollah or not, Omar Mateen, the shooter identified in Florida attack - certainly displayed early signs of being unstable and had been interviewed by the U.S. authorities (Which raises questions as to how he was able to buy a gun)....As such, Mateen is certainly no different (perhaps except in color and religious beliefs) than other terrorists, such the 1995 Oklahoma bombing's Timothy McVeigh or the 1996 Olympic Park bombing's Eric Rudolph who was convicted for anti-gay and anti-abortion attacks in the U.S.....If anything we – as aspirers of stability, peace and prosperity – should now stand together, perhaps more united than ever!"
Hamid Dabashi, makes a similar argument in a recent op-ed on Al Jazeera, where he once again emphasizes that the "most compelling fact about this crime is that it was perpetrated by a Muslim homophobe. Muslims around the world are rightly mobilised to disown this mass murderer and distance their faith from such acts of malicious cruelty. Their collective condemnation of this mass murderer is correct and timely but their task to confront Muslim homophobia will have just begun....There are homophobic Jews, homophobic Christians, homophobic Hindus, homophobic atheists, and plenty of homophobic Muslims too. Their common denominator is not their communal membership in any religion but their identical homophobia....The law enforcement officials have now habitually gone off on a tangent to the goose-chase of Mateen's bogus links to the ISIL (also known as ISIS). That is a dead-end decoy and will lead to nothing but more confusion and chaos in dealing with the root cause of such crimes."
As this Arab News editorial attests to, the Saudis, who have been targeted in the Western press in recent weeks with allegations of complicity in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, have been the first to condemn the attack and to provide information on the attacker: "Saudi Arabia strongly condemned on Monday a mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, which claimed the lives of 50 people a day earlier and left scores injured. Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. Prince Abdullah Al-Saud said in a statement: 'The Kingdom condemns in the strongest terms the attack on innocent people in Orlando, Florida, and sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of the U.S.'...Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Mansour Turki, Interior Ministry spokesman, said the attacker, Omar Mateen, 29, traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012. He said Mateen performed Umrah for 10 days in March 2011, and eight days the following March. A US official said his travel records indicate that he apparently also visited the UAE."
Meanwhile, the Gulf News editorial maintains that the attacks constitute a hate crime, further suggesting that relaxed gun laws are the real culprit and where the focus should be: "The patrons at the nightclub belonged to the local gay community. As such, they were the victims of a hate crime, not a politically-motivated act to further a cause or goal. Mateen deliberately chose his target because of its patronage, and set out with murder in his mind, opening fire on innocent victims purely because of intolerance. Sadly, given the events in the United States over the past decade, intolerance and hatred have been allowed to fester....Given the level of political discourse, divisiveness and the use of religion, ethnicity and race as electoral weapons, it's easy to see how intolerance and hatred thrive in the U.S....Meanwhile, the families of those who died on Sunday are free to mourn their loved ones. And many others have done and will do until Americans divorce their love of arms. That's the real tragedy."
However, Hurriyet Daily News' Murat Yetkin focuses on the ideology of jihad as a primary motive, using the opportunity to discuss the factors that led to the rise of ISIS: "If one looks at the roots of ISIL a bit closer, it is possible to detect the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a key turning point, as well as a radical and abusive interpretation of Islam, which disturbs the majority of observant Muslims. ISIL was originally established in 2004 as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), in line with Al-Qaeda's radically Sunni line on the pretext of fighting against both the U.S.-led invasion and Shiite Islamic groups that formed a majority of the Iraqi population....It also abused the power vacuum created by the sudden disintegration of the Muslim Brotherhood…. ISIL represents a new kind of terrorism, upgrading the terror of Al-Qaeda in a border-defying manner. Countering it demands more international cooperation, which is made ever clearer, in the most painful way, with each attack."
The Jerusalem Post editorial also focused on religion, calling on religious leaders to stand up to extremism: "What is clear even from a cursory look around the world, however, is that too much death and suffering are caused by those who claim to be acting in the name of Islam. And while Islamic belief clearly does not make all Muslims violent, Muslim leaders have a special obligation to confront problematic aspects of Islamic texts and theology that seem to promote violence....From Syria and Iraq to Nigeria, Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan, a great number of fatalities in armed conflicts around the world are in wars involving Muslims. The most numerous victims of Muslim violence – including executions and lynchings – are Muslim....Islam cannot exclusively be blamed for the horrific act of pointless violence perpetrated in Orlando, just as any other religion cannot be blamed for the acts of violence and terrorism its constituents carry out against innocent people. But this doesn't exempt religious leaders of all faiths from taking an unequivocal stand against violence in the name of religion. In a world of growing danger and threat, that stand needs to be taken now."
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.