June 14, 2016
Orlando now will be added to the haunting list — Newtown, Conn., Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Calif., Charleston, S.C., Aurora, Colo. and more. USA Today provides a graphic of 310 mass killings since 2006 (with four or more dead), the dots tracking across the nation. Mass killings still shock us. Somehow we’ve grown accustomed to the daily terror — in Chicago, nearly five times as many people have been shot and killed since the beginning of the year than the 49 that died in Orlando.
Orlando was, as President Obama said, “an act of terror and an act of hate.” The grisly toll was also a product of the easy access to guns, particularly guns made for the military at war. The killer called 911 in the midst of his rampage to announce his allegiance to the Islamic State, but this came as a surprise to his friends and former wife. His father said that his son was outraged by the sight of gay men kissing on the street, that he didn’t think that religion “had anything to do with it.” An act of terror and an act of hate.
The human reaction is to want to strike back. Escalate attacks on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Redouble surveillance and crack down on Muslims at home. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, went, characteristically, to the most extreme, calling on the president to resign and Hillary Clinton to withdraw because they didn’t use the words “radical Islam,” as if that were a magical chant that would set everything right. He raised alarms about “thousands” of radical Muslims in the United States, and reiterated his call for banning any Muslim immigration. Hillary Clinton was more tempered, while arguing that we had the capacity to eliminate lone wolf terrorists at home and the Islamic State abroad.
Dr. Martin Luther King taught us a different lesson. Faced with the violence and terror unleashed against African-Americans in this country, he called on us to reach out, to love and not to hate. “Darkness,” he wrote, “cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”
This wisdom should not be forgotten now. We would do better to reach out to Muslims in this nation and respect their religion and their rights, rather than to hunt them, to isolate them or to denigrate them. Muslim organizations across the country have issued statements condemning this act of terror. We should embrace them as part of the American community, engage them in the effort to identify the violent extremists, not treat all Muslims like a threatening stranger.
We would do better to reassess our strategy in the Middle East rather than double down on violence. We have displaced the Taliban in Afghanistan and killed Bin Laden; we’ve overthrown Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya; we’ve decimated al-Qaida; our allies have carpet bombed Yemen; our drones bomb in seven countries. Yet the terror spreads, the violence spreads, the chaos spreads. More violence generates more terrorists. Redoubling our efforts can wipe out the Islamic State, but it will surely add to the terrorist ranks at the same time.
Most mass shootings are not political; the victims most often are relatives or friends. Most casualties do not come from “radical Islamic terrorists.” More Americans have been killed by homegrown terrorists motivated by racial or anti-government or anti-gay hatreds than have been killed by those motivated by Islamic extremism.
Gun control cannot end terror, neither the mass shootings like Orlando nor the daily horror as in Chicago. Omar Mateen, the killer in Orlando, was a security guard, apparently with a record clean enough that he was able to buy guns legally. But surely it is inconceivable that military assault weapons like the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle that he used (and that was also used in Aurora and Newtown and San Bernardino) should be so easily purchased. Reviving the ban on assault weapons that lapsed under President Bush is not a full remedy, but it is simple common sense.