New York - When I first learned about the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, my first reaction was of sorrow for the victims and their families, but also of fear. I feared the perpetrator would turn out to have an Arab name. I was sure, if that were to be the case, the heinous crime would be labeled an act of “Islamic terrorism” regardless of whether the murderer had any link with a terrorist organization. I was sure the media and officials would immediately find a link between him and ISIS or Al Qaeda.
New York – When I first learned about the mass shooting in a gay nightclub in Orlando, my first reaction was of sorrow for the victims and their families, but also of fear. I feared the perpetrator would turn out to have an Arab name. I was sure, if that were to be the case, the heinous crime would be labeled an act of “Islamic terrorism” regardless of whether the murderer had any link with a terrorist organization. I was sure the media and officials would immediately find a link between him and ISIS or Al Qaeda.
My fears soon materialized. A few hours after the shooting, Orlando authorities disclosed the identity of the shooter as Omar Mateen, a U.S.-born citizen of Afghan descent.
As soon as his name was identified, the media hastened to label the crime as “Islamic terror.” What was troubling is that the FBI claimed, without further investigation, that there were signs indicating the mass killing was related to Islamic terror.
As has been the case following such incidents in recent years, there were those who jumped to conclusions, mostly negative, about Islam and Muslims, and tried to exploit the situation for political gains; there were those who immediately warned against this very ignorant or fear-mongering attitude; and then there were many voices who called on “enlightened Muslims” to come out and condemn “radical Islam” and “Islamic terrorism.”
I, myself, received some private messages from friends asking me why I don’t stand up and apologize on behalf of Islam for what happened.
To these and to the world, I would like to say that, while I condemn this atrocious crime in the strongest terms and feel sorrow and sympathy for the victims and their families, I have no intention to apologize on behalf of Islam.
Contrary to the narrative propagated by a Western media bent on brainwashing people, Islam does not condone the killing of innocent people and there is no such thing as “radical Islam” or Islamic jihadism. Islam, as a religion observed by over 1.6 billion people, is a religion of peace, tolerance and compassion. Any acts of violence committed by individuals who call themselves Muslims are the result of a multitude of factors, are not the result of the religious teachings of Islam, but to the contrary, are often due to isolation from the Muslim religious community.
In fact, killing innocent lives is considered the most condemnable crime in Islam. The Quran says that “whoever kills a human being not in retaliation for murder or to spread mischief in the land, it shall be as if he killed all mankind, and whoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of all mankind.” This verse, and countless other texts, show clearly that Islam forbids the killing of innocent people. This verse applies to the victims of the Orlando shooting regardless of their sexual orientation since they are human beings.
No sane person follows a religion that calls for the killing of innocent people. If we apply the narrative inculcated by unscrupulous politicians and ideologues bent on controlling our lives and the way we should think and perceive things, this would mean any time a person from the over 1.6 billion people throughout the world is involved in a crime, we should link their crime to Islam and label it as terrorism.
This leads us to the dangerous practice we have been witnessing in recent years wherever a Muslim is implicated in a murder or mass killing. While in the past, the terrorism label was limited to organized groups with a clear political agenda who perpetrated targeted acts of terrorism in different places, such as Al Qaeda, in recent years, this “privilege” has been broadened up to include any single Muslim person involved in a killing or mass shooting.
Regardless of whether a Muslim perpetrator belonged to a terrorist organization or was mentally impaired or had psychological problems, he is labeled immediately as a terrorist. The presumption of innocence does not apply when the murderer is Muslim. The fact that he belongs to this religion suffices to make him a terrorist.
What is still more dangerous and shows double standard is that every time a Jew or a Christian is involved in a mass shooting, Western media and officials rush to emphasize that the suspect is “mentally ill.” Think for example of the case of Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine innocent people in a black church in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17, 2015. Following the mass massacre, not a single news outlet or politician labeled him as a terrorist or even as a racist.
The same Senator Marco Rubio who rushed to condemn the Orlando shooting as an “act of terrorism” said he was “saddened by the news from Charleston.” Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina described the Charleston shooting as “one of these whacked-out kids”. For American politicians, Roof was not a terrorist, but merely a mentally deranged “kid”. The term terror had no chance to be used in such case. We can just imagine what their reactions would have been if the perpetrator’s name had been Omar, Mohammed or Ali.
When Roof killed the nine innocent African American people, were other white Americans urged to apologize for the crime? They were not and they had no reason to be. Regardless of his motives, Roof could not represent the whole white American community.
The same should apply to cases where a person with a Muslim sounding name is involved in an act of mass murder. We should call things by their name and place the debate where it should be placed. Why should I as a Muslim apologize on behalf of Islam?
Omar Mateen was born and raised in the US and went to American schools. He acquired weapons in the U.S. Islam has nothing to do with what a lone wolf can do in its name. As a Moroccan Muslim, I have no relation with this person. He was a criminal. He does not represent me and I have nothing to do with him, nor did anybody elect him to represent Islam.
If every Muslim has to apologize or justify themselves every time a lone wolf does something like that, then by the same token every American has to apologize to the carnage George Bush left in Iraq prompted by what he claimed was divine inspiration. More than 1 million of innocent Iraqis were killed by Americans, by American weapons, and more than five million were maimed. A whole country and the cradle of civilization lays in shambles in the name of Bush’s religious beliefs. Have Americans apologized to Iraqis for this? The same applies to American drones that kill innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan every day. Should we ask Americans to apologize for what their country is doing in violation of international law. No, I don’t think so. Similarly, I don’t think all Muslims are responsible for the acts of few Muslims.
To understand the Orlando shooting and more importantly prevent similar attacks in the future, one must understand that it is a gun proliferation problem not a religious problem. Omar Mateen was on the FBI radar for some time, so why was he able to acquire such weapons? There has been more than 1,000 shooting in the US since 2012; should we label those murderers as Christians?
The debate should be where it should be and Americans have to ask the right questions and ask their officials why their government refused to ratify the arms trade treaty signed in the United Nations in March 2013 and why US Congress is impeding any debate or progress in gun control in the country. If weapons were not readily available to anybody willing to acquire them, Omar probably would not have killed 50 innocent people.
To those who call on Muslims to apologize for something over which they have no control, I call on them to apologize to Muslims on behalf of their media and politicians who discriminate against and incite violence against Muslims. The narrative prevailing in the West has locked Muslims in two categories: either moderate or radicals. That means a Muslims does not have the right to be mentally deranged, bipolar. If someone who suffers from this commits a crime, he can only be called a terrorist.
Omar Mateen had a track record for being bipolar and probably a homosexual in denial, and he should be considered as such. A phone call from him to the police to swear allegiance to ISIS sounds as lame proof that will never help America fight the scourge of mass shootings and understand the real motives that push people such as Omar and Roof to take the lives of innocent people.
A shorter version of this article was published on the New Arab
Samir Bennis is the co-founder of and editor-in-chief of Morocco World News. You can follow him on Twitter @SamirBennis