Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism

Responding to the horrible massacre and wounding of people in Orlando, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, declared, “Unless we are able to discuss and talk about the real nature of the problem . . . radical Islamic terrorism, you’re never going to solve the problem.” (Political rally in Atlanta, MSNBC, June 15, 2016) The first part of Trump’s statement is true: we certainly have to identify “the real nature of the problem” to effectively resolve it. But Trump is wrong about “the real nature of the problem.” It is not “radical Islamic terrorism,” but American imperialism that terrorizes and radicalizes and thus provides much of the motivation for such revengeful blowback violence in Orlando, San Bernardino, Boston, Fort Hood, Texas and elsewhere.

We Americans cannot expect our bipartisan government to commit war crimes in our name and remain unscathed. The American empire’s war crimes: orchestrating UN-Imposed sanctions that contributed to the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children. Enabling the Israeli government’s endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Launching pre-emptive wars of choice against defenseless Afghanistan and Iraq and killing and uprooting millions of people – with Iraq’s large energy reserves now controlled by big U.S. and other Western oil companies. Waging a “global war on terrorism,” with weaponized drones that violate other countries’ national sovereignty, fill their skies with dread, and kill innocent children, women and men in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia — creating countless more enemies than they eliminate. Turning Libya into a failed state. Bombing ISIS-held areas in Syria, resulting in civilian deaths and fleeing refugees.

Torture and abuse of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison. Torture of Afghans in Bagram prison. Extraordinary rendition of suspected “terrorists” to black sites for brutal interrogation. Indefinite imprisonment, torture and lack of due process in Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. A presidential candidate promising to carpet bomb ISIS. Another, the now presumptive Republican nominee, proposing the killing of ISIS family members; and he also would “bring back torture and a hell of a lot more.”

Never mind that ISIS did not exist until the George W. Bush administration invaded non-threatening Iraq, overthrew and marginalized Saddam Hussein’s Sunni government, and installed a puppet Shia government, triggering severe sectarian violence. These war crimes create immeasurable suffering and rage, and the motivation for blowback violence – the latest victims being people enjoying “Latin Night” at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando.

An eyewitness reported that Omar Mateen, the shooter, spoke of his motivation as he was killing 49 patrons and wounding 53 more in the Pulse gay nightclub. Cornered in a bathroom with other patrons, 20-year-old Patience Carter stated the “gunman . . . said he carried out the attack because he wanted ‘Americans to stop bombing his country.’” Carter also “said the gunman asked if there were any black people in the room,” and “when one man said yes, the shooter said, ‘You know I don’t have a problem with black people . . . This is about my country. You guys suffered enough.’” (“Orlando gunman said he carried out attack to get ‘Americans to stop bombing his country,’ witness says,” By Katie Zezima, Mat Zapotosky, Adam Goldman and Mark Berman, The Washington Post, June 14, 2016)

Omar Mateen’s stated motivation for his horrific crime also was found on his Facebook postings. Fox News reported, “In the roughly four hours between his initial rampage and his death, the 29-year-old radicalized Muslim broadcast his twisted message of hate on social media, according to Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wisc.” While he was killing and wounding people, Mateen’s postings on Facebook included, “I pledge my alliance to (ISIS leader) abu bakr al Baghdadi . . . may Allah accept me.” “The real Muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west.” . . . “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes . . . now taste the Islamic state vengeance.” (“Orlando terrorist’s chilling Facebook posts from inside club revealed,” By Malia Zimmerman, Fox News, June 15, 2016)

Omar Mateen’s professed motivation is also reported in more unedited material from his calls to police, reluctantly released by the FBI. In one call, he “took responsibility for the shootings ‘in the name of God the merciful,’ and declared allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” and “he demanded that the United States halt its bombing in Syria and Iraq.” (“Police Defend Actions as Clock Ticked in Florida,” By Richard Perez-Pena, Frances Robles and Eric Lichtblau, The New York Times, June 21, 2016)

The FBI is reported to have edited out the above material “to avoid mentioning the Islamic State and Mr. Baghdadi by name,” in an “effort not to play into the group’s propaganda.” But the agency released the edited material after “ridicule in the news media and from some Republicans, led by Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who suggested the Obama administration was playing down the attacker’s radical Islamic motivation.” (Ibid) Speaker Ryan is also quoted as saying, “Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous. . . . We know the shooter was a radical Islamist terrorist inspired by ISIS.” (“After outcry, FBI releases full transcript of Orlando nightclub shooting call,” By Ralph Ellis and Michael Pearson, CNN.com, June 21, 2016)

Speaker Ryan himself was “selectively editing” reality. ISIS was not created in a vacuum. The crimes of American imperialism created the breeding ground for the rise of the Islamic State – and for home-grown “radical Islamist terrorists” like Omar Mateen. He is merely the latest in in a number of Muslims quoted as being radicalized by American imperialism.

“Radical Islamist terrorist,” or radicalizing American imperialism? In 2013, the Tsarnaev brothers set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three persons and injuring over 260 others. According to prosecutors, the younger brother “scrawled the motive for the attack inside the boat. They say he referred to US wars in Muslim countries and wrote, among other things, ‘Stop killing our innocent people and we will stop.’ ” (“Prosecutors: Boston bombing suspect scrawled motive of attack inside boat,” Associated Press in Boston, the guardian, March 2, 2015)

In 2010, Pakistani-American, Faisal Shahzad, apprehended after putting a bomb in the center of New York City’s Times Square at 6:30 pm on a Saturday night, is quoted as explaining his motivation in a court room. When the judge asked him, “You wanted to injure a lot of people? Including the children?” Shahzad replied, “Well, the drone hits Afghanistan and Iraq. They don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women and children. They kill everybody.” (“A Guilty Plea In Plot to Bomb Times Square,” By Benjamin Weiser, The New York Times, June 22, 2010)

In 2009, Muslim Army psychiatrist, Major Nidal Malik Hasan shot to death 13 soldiers and wounded over 30 more at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. His reported motivation: in “defense of others.” The “others?” He “told a judge that he believed he was defending the lives of the Taliban leadership in Afghanistan from American military personnel.” (“Fort Hood Suspect Says Rampage Was to Defend Afghan Taliban Leaders,” By Manny Fernandez, The New York Times, June 4, 2013)

Imam Anwar al-Awlaki spoke of the radicalization of Major Hasan. Al-Awlaki said, “Major Nidal Hasan was not recruited by al-Qaeda. Nidal Hasan was recruited by American crimes. And this is what America refuses to admit.” The Imam continued, “America refuses to admit that its foreign policies are the reasons behind a man like Nadil Hasan, born and raised in the United States, turning his gun against American soldiers.” And the more crimes America commits,” he said, “the more mujahidin will be recruited to fight against it.” (“Full speech of Imam Anwar al-Awlaki,” www.liveleak.com, Mar. 20, 2010)

In 2013, Imam al-Awlaki, an America citizen, was accused of being a key al Qaeda operative, put on President Obama’s “kill list” and assassinated by a C.I.A. drone strike in Yemen. The Obama administration was not about to give him due process in a court of law, where he would have a platform to talk about America’s war crimes and their radicalizing effect on victims. Two weeks after al-Awlaki was assassinated, his teenage son Abdulrahman and several other teenagers were unlawfully assassinated by a CIA-operated drone, during a barbecue under the moonlight in Yemen.

“Radical Islamic terrorists,” or radicalizing American imperialism? In 2013, Farea Al-muslimi, a Yemeni citizen testified before a Senate subcommittee hearing on the Obama administration’s use of drones, which killed members of his village. He said, “What radicals have previously failed to achieve in my village, one drone strike accomplished in an instant: there is now an intense anger and growing hatred of America. . . . The drones are the face of America to many Yemenis.” (“Voice from Yemen: Obama’s Drones Stir ‘Growing Hatred of America,’“ By Jon Queally, staff writer, Common Dreams, Apr. 24, 2013) A New York Times story reported that “it was a rare public hearing on the use of drones,” at which “the Obama administration did not send anyone to testify.” (“Drone Strikes Turn Villagers Into Ememies, Yemeni Says,” By Charlie Savage, Apr. 24, 2013)

In a Guardian column titled, “The same motive for anti-US terrorism is cited over and over,” journalist Glenn Greenwald writes, “Ignoring the role played by US actions is dangerously self-flattering and self-delusional.” In addition to the Boston Marathon bombers, Greenwald cites “four other serious attempted or successful attacks on US soil by Muslims, and in every case, they empathetically all say the same thing: that they were motivated by the continuous, horrific violence brought by the US and its allies to the Muslim world – violence which routinely kills and oppresses innocent men, women and children.” Greenwald adds, “It should go without saying that the issue here is causation, not justification or even fault. It is inherently unjustifiable to target innocent civilians with violence, no matter the cause (just as it is unjustifiable to recklessly kill civilians with violence). But,” he says, “it is nonetheless vital to understand why there are so many people who want to attack the US as opposed to, say, Peru or South Africa, or Brazil, or Mexico, or Japan, or Portugal.” (Apr. 24, 2013)

But America’s imperialistic road is paved with “dangerously self-flattering and “delusional “denial. US Attorney General Loretta Lunch sought to “counter the narrative of radical extremism” in a visit to Orlando. She “told the Associated Press in an interview that no one yet has ‘found the magic bullet’ to prevent individuals from being inspired to violence by jihadist propaganda they read on the Internet.” (“No ‘magic bullet’ for jihadist recruiting, AG says,” By Eric Tucker and Mike Schneider, Associated Press, The Boston Globe, June 22, 2016)

It is not about a “magic bullet.” It is about national introspection.

Shortly after the shocking 9/11 attacks against America, renowned political dissident and commentator Noam Chomsky said the answer to preventing violence against America is right in our mirror: “The only way we can put a permanent end to terrorism is to stop participating in it.” Chomsky’s point: “Terrorism . . . is the driving force of American foreign policy, although the ‘elites’ don’t want to call it that. Here at home,” he explained, “terrorism is seen as what people who are against us do. . . . When America perpetrates violence, ir is renamed counterinsurgency or counterterrorism – terms coined by various US administrations to rationalize its actions.” (“Chomsky criticizes US violence,” By Sarah H. Wright, News Office, MIT News, Oct. 24, 2001)

But mainstream media are not providing an in-depth analysis of what Omar Matten meant when he was quoted as saying, “Stop bombing my country.” “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes.” And “demanded that the United States halt its bombing in Syria and Iraq.” Instead, we have been showered with a detailed analysis of Mateen’s disobedience, fighting and suspensions during his school years, assaults on his wife, and inappropriate workplace behavior. This psychosocial profile of mental unbalance is intended to explain Mateen’s predisposition for violence – and take us away from what he meant by, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes.”

The aim is not to dispute the validity and extent of the Orlando shooter’s emotional problems that contributed to his receptivity to commit such a violent act. But his mental state does not necessarily cancel out his awareness of and empathy for “innocent Muslim women and children” being killed by US “airstrikes” in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. One can be emotionally disturbed and still possess a certain amount of clarity. Unfortunately, the fixation on his psychosocial history distracts attention from his clarity about America’s terror-driven and radicalizing foreign policy.

Nor is the aim to minimize the fact that easy access to military-type assault weapons is an enabling factor in Omar Mateen’s terrible massacre of people in Orlando. There is no need for citizens to possess military-style assault rifles, which are made for killing people, not for hunting season. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes is right: “Guns in America are not protecting us, they are killing us.” He reports, “Every year approximately 30,000 Americans die from guns, two-thirds of them suicides. . . . And by far America has the most gun-related homicides among the world’s most developed nations.” (“MSNBC’s Chris Hayes: ‘Guns in America Are Not Protecting Us, They Are Killing Us,’” www.mediamatters.org, June 21, 2016) Instead of a “global war on terrorism,” our government should be waging a war on gun violence terrorism in America.

A major factor contributing to Omar Mateen’s violent rage in Orlando is the homophobic climate in America created by conservative Christians and their political allies. Mateen obviously targeted a gay nightclub because of his hatred of LGBTQI persons, and he was assisted by Bible-quoting and politically- assisting lawmakers.

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Chase Strangio puts responsibility for the Orlando carnage in the lap of the “Christian Right.” He tweeted that “Christian conservatives are responsible for the mass shooting at the gay bar . . . because they ‘created this anti-queer climate.’” What is “gross” to him: “Your thoughts and prayers and Islamophobia after you created this anti-queer climate.” He also tweeted that he “spend[s his] life fighting Christian homophobia while being loved and supported by [his] Muslim family. ”Strangio then tweeted this reminder: “The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people are blaming Islam for this. . . No.” (“ACLU lawyers blame ‘Christian right,’ GOP for Orlando terrorist attack,” By Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner, June 12, 2016)

Muslims in a number of nations hold strong anti-homosexual beliefs, with LGBTQI persons subjected to severe punishment, and even death. But journalist Glenn Greenwald provides balance here, in citing “a 2015 Pew Research poll,” which “found that U.S. Muslims were more accepting of homosexuality than evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses..” Also, “U.S. Muslims are more likely to support same-sex marriage (42 percent support it) than are U.S. evangelicals (28 percent), historically black Protestants (40 percent), Mormons (26 percent) and Jehovah’s Witnesses (14 percent).” Greenwald also writes, “Over the last several years, Christian zealots in the U.S. have agitated with both activism and money – often successfully – for the implementation of severely repressive anti-LGBT laws in Christian Africa. That includes Uganda,” he said, “where they tried to implement the death penalty for homosexuals.” (“Stop Exploiting LGBT Issues to Demonize Islam and Justify Anti-Muslim Policies,” the intercept.com, June 13, 2016)

Chase Strangio was joined by Eunice Rho, another ACLU attorney, who specializes in religious liberty issues. She “scolded Republican lawmakers who tweeted out their condolences,” reminding them, “Remember when you co-sponsored extreme anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act?” (“ACLU lawyers blame ‘Christian right,’ GOP for Orlando terrorist attack,” Ibid)

A similar criticism of political and religious leaders was leveled by writer and stand-up comedian Kristen Becker, who calls the Orlando massacre “the trickle-down hate effect.” She writes in The Advocate:

Many of this country’s lawmakers have spent the last year spending our tax dollars to push anti-LGBT legislation . . . through their representative state governments. One after another, laws aimed to de-humanize the LGBTQ community were brought forth under the guise of ‘religious freedom.’ There will be many right wing Christians who will jump to the front and say, ‘The shooter was Muslim!’” The man who pulled the trigger might have identified as Muslim, and a perversion of Islam even so, but Christian rhetoric really killed 50 people on Sunday – the fruit of the last two years of conservative vitriol lays on an Orlando dance floor this morning, covered in innocent blood.

We have spent decades attempting to let religious homophobes and transphobes evolve, but they’re taking too long and we’re losing too much. I’m sure this will be hard for you to hear, but our existence doesn’t need to be sanctioned by you. (“Orlando Is an Extension of the Marriage Battle, Bathroom Wars, June 13, 2016)

The horrible killing and wounding of people at Pulse gay nightclub is leading certain religious leaders to engage in needed soul-searching. Los Angeles Area Resident United Methodist Bishop, Minerva G. Carcano wrote, “I have been struck by a concern that has penetrated my heart. Is it possible that we United Methodists with such a negative attitude and position against LGBTQI persons contribute to such a crime?” She then stated The United Methodist Church’s long-standing immoral discriminatory position: “When we say that those who are of a homosexual gender identity are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching, that they are not to be included in our ordained leadership, and that they are not important enough to us to invest resources of the Church in advocating for their well-being, in essence when we say that our LGBTQI brothers and sisters are not worthy of the fullness of life that Christ offers us all, are we not contributing to the kind of thinking that promotes doing harm to these brothers and sisters, our children, the sacred children of God?” (“Response to the Attack in Orlando, FL,” California-Pacific Conference, The United Methodist Church, www.calpacumc.org, June 12, 2016)

At its Quadrennial General Conference last month, The United Methodist Church delegates did not change the denomination’s four-decades-long position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Once again the General Conference formed a commission to study its Book of Discipline’s discriminatory policies, and propose “a way forward.” More and more Annual Conferences are already providing the way forward, by saying No! to The Book of Discipline’s exclusionary policies and Yes! to the full inclusion of LGBTQI persons into the life of The Church.

Soul-searching liberates us people of faith from fears and biases that prevent us from experiencing the humanness of others and advocating for their rights. Florida Catholic Bishop Robert Lynch helps show the way in his response to the hatred that erupted in Orlando. “Sadly,” he writes, “it is religion, including my own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people.” He continues, “Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that.” (‘ORLANDO, ORLANDO WE LOVE YOU,’ bishopsblog,dosp.org)

Bishop Lynch also has a word for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, and certain Republican lawmakers, about their response to the Orlando shootings. “Responding by barring people of Muslim only faith from entering the country solely on the basis of their stated faith until they can be checked out is un-American,” he states, “even in those most challenging of times and situations.” And the Bishop has a word for everyone: “There are as many good, peace loving and God fearing Muslims to be found as Catholics or Methodists or Mormons or Seventh Day Adventists.” (Ibid)

The horrible violence perpetrated by Omar Mateen led several hundred Imams to issue ‘A JOINT STATEMENT ON THE CARNAGE IN ORLANDO.’ The opening paragraph of their statement expresses the borderless reach of empathetic moral caring:

On behalf of the American Muslim community, we, the undersigned want to extend our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the barbaric assault that occurred early yesterday morning at Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We unequivocally say that such an act of hate-fueled violence has no place in any faith, including Islam. As people of faith, we believe that all human beings have the right to safety and security and that each and every human life is inviolable. (risconvention.com/orlando, June 13, 2016)

Killing “radical Islamic extremists” will not keep America safe. But stopping radicalizing American imperialism will. It is important for people of faith to honor the victims of blowback violence in Florida and grieve with their loved ones – and to soul-search. It is equally important for people of faith to demand that our government end its violent, radicalizing imperialistic foreign policy.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.