Orlando and beyond: Islamophobia cannot obscure a lethal shame

Orlando and beyond: Islamophobia cannot obscure a lethal shame
Comment: Between the grief and the blame, Americans have nothing to fear from thorough research into ending the epidemic of gun massacres, writes Andrew Leber and Nicholas Morley.
5 min read
The Orlando shooting was the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history [Getty]

There is so much to mourn. The shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in the early hours of June 12, now the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history, is a confluence of distinctly American wounds.

It was a public attack on the American LGBTQ community, already at high risk of violent hate crimes.

The shooter's weapons were legally bought, an AR-15 assault rifle and a pistol. In a last-minute 911 call, the shooter allegedly claimed to be inspired in part by the Islamic State group's faraway regime of radical hate.

Most disturbingly, the shooting appears to have been motivated, at least in part, by simmering hatred for public displays of affection.

Each new mass shooting in America is uniquely tragic, yet together they form a grim chain of senseless violence.

Why does it seem that only in the United States does such carnage break out with such regularity, with little regard for people or place?

Rural or suburban or urban, East or West or South, schools, offices, nightclubs, bars, theatres, malls, places of worship, rich, poor, young, old: all have met America's most lethal shame.

Even as we protest against letting ourselves grow numb to such violence, the sad cycle moves on unabated. The news fills to the brim with shock. We take to social media for reflection, horror, solidarity, and bickering polemic. Politicians offer thoughts and prayers. President Obama appears on television to channel the nation's grief. Surely this time something will change? Deep down, many Americans are resigned to the answer: No.

In the case of Orlando, as with San Bernardino last year, the media and other commentators have struggled with how to talk about the attack - start the cycle of mourning yet more gun violence, or play up the spectre of "Islamic terror"?

Why does it seem that only in the United States does such carnage break out with such regularity, with little regard for people or place?

The second option is all too tempting, given the xenophobia alive and well in this election season and shooter Omar Mateen's Muslim-American roots - not to mention an IS broadcast claiming him as one of their own.

More than one figure, Donald Trump among them, has already painted the attack as another incidence of "radical Islam". They attempt to simplify a complex hate crime into a boneheaded us-versus-them fight.

In doing so they abdicate responsibility for the society that molded Mateen and enabled his slaughter. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton have called for stepping up attacks on IS strongholds in Syria and Iraq as a way to ward off such shootings in the future, despite the fact Mateen was American-born and -raised, just like his homophobia, just like his hatred, and just like his legal access to an assault rifle.

This kind of policy response is little better than pointing fingers while the country eats itself alive. IS is a scourge upon the world, yes, but to claim it had any sort of direct hand in the attack is deluded.

Homophobia, Islamophobia, the lack of so many social, medical, and psychological supports - these intricate problems rest in America's court.

At the same time, no other rich Western country comes close to the levels of gun violence America inflicts on its own citizens.

This state of affairs is indefensible.

Mateen was American-born and -raised, just like his homophobia, just like his hatred, and just like his legal access to an assault rifle

There is no excuse for America's continued inaction on gun control. Though the legacy of firearms in America precludes the sort of unilateral action taken by nations such as Japan and Australia against gun ownership, there are still essential steps our country can take to heal.

The most reasonable and bipartisan step to prevent further bloodshed is to fund comprehensive research into gun violence in America, immediately and for the long term. This would undo decades of lobbyist-instilled silence on the topic both in Congress and the Centers for Disease Control - the United States' principal national public health institute.

Unless America's politics have wholly surrendered to money-backed dogma, knowledge is nothing to fear, and if solutions to gun violence are what America wants, knowledge must be vigorously sought.

Congress' 1996 ban on CDC studies on firearms made research on the topic so difficult that it became near-impossible for any researchers, private or public, to look into it. According to The Washington Post, "young academics were warned that joining the field was a good way to kill their careers".

Though Obama repealed the outright ban by Executive Order in 2012 following the massacre at Sandy Hook, his additional request for $10 million in funding for gun research from Congress was brought forward by Democratic representatives twice, and rejected twice by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

Ignorance is no help to anyone, except to these representatives' campaign coffers. To continue to reject gun research is to accept these near-daily slaughters - which now account for more dead Americans than all of Washington's wars since 1968 - as the price for the freedom to bear arms.

Only knowledge can cut this appalling Gordian knot.

Even if the results of this research are not what either side of the gun control debate expect, America needs evidence to act on before it can act at all. Even if only slightly, evidence can break the cycle of gun-enabled violence America finds itself in.

Even if yet again no legal change occurs, no new controls are devised or implemented, and shootings continue, perhaps for once America's political machine can say that it did something productive for its citizens in response to a mass shooting.

Andrew Leber and Nicholas Morley are researchers, with Andrew a PhD student at Harvard's School of Government, and Nicholas a graduate of Brown University.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.