Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

When horror strikes

Sunday’s heinous massacre in Orlando will set the tone of what remains of the US presidential campaign, and also the priorities of the next US administration come January, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

People were getting ready to go home after an evening filled with joy and happiness on Sunday, 12 June, in a bar in Orlando, Florida. Most probably, this bar was their favourite hangout on weekends, and maybe they promised to come back again next weekend.

Fifty of them will never make it because one insane man called Omar Mateen called 911, paid allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation, and started mowing down these innocent people who had gone out to have fun.

It was the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States and left not only America, but also the whole world, in a state of utter shock and disbelief. When such tragedies happen, people start asking why.

This particular question in this tragic incident gains special significance because the shooter, who was killed by the police on the scene of this horrible crime, was born and reared in the United States. Ironically, the FBI interviewed him three times, twice in 2013, and once in 2014 on suspicion of religious extremism.

They had determined back in 2014 that the “contact” did not “constitute a threat” at that time. Records show that he purchased the arms that killed so many innocent people and injured more just a couple of days before he committed his heinous crime. The FBI will surely be called to task.

President Barack Obama made a statement in which he described the mass shooting in Orlando as an “act of terror “ and an “act of hate”. He said it was too early to speak about motives.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the Republican Paul Ryan from Wisconsin made a statement in which he said, “As we heal, we need to be clear-eyed about who did this.” He went on to say that the United States is a “nation at war with Islamist terrorists. Theirs is a repressive, hateful ideology that respects no borders. It is a threat to our people at home and abroad. Our security depends on our refusal to back down in the face of terror.”

This year is an election year in the United States. Americans will go to the polls to elect a new president in November. They will also cast their votes in congressional elections. This fact will surely politicise this cowardly terrorist act. As far as the presidential elections are concerned, it will be front and centre throughout the official campaign after both national conventions — of the Democratic and Republican parties — take place this summer.

Hillary Clinton is the presumptive Democratic candidate. Donald Trump will most likely be the Republican candidate. Trump has already called for a temporary ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States. He put out a statement after the Orlando tragedy in which he pledged to protect all Americans of all backgrounds and all beliefs against what he termed “radical Islam”.

He added further that this kind of Islam has no place in an open and tolerant society. He assured his supporters that he is going to be a president for all Americans, meaning Muslim Americans included. Such an assertion on his part could allay their fears as to the policy he would adopt towards Muslims if he gets elected in the fall.

Trump took aim at the Democrats. Speaking of the reaction of President Obama, he said that he “disgracefully refused to even say the words radical Islam. For that reason alone, he should step down.”

As for Clinton, Trump pointed out that if “after this attack, [she] still cannot say the two words radical Islam, she should get out of this race for the presidency.”

It is safe to say that the presidential campaign of 2016 in the United States will be dominated by how to protect and defend the United States and the American people against terrorism. It has been a main topic in the primaries. However, the Orlando massacre will completely transform the political landscape in the United States.

Foreign policy will become the most important question that the two leading presidential candidates will have to deal with. It will also be the main theme in the future televised debates between Clinton and Trump, once they are picked by their respective national conventions and become official candidates.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the mass shooting. A couple of days ago, its spokesman called on Muslims to target beaches in the West and all places where people gather to celebrate or relax. Unfortunately, the tragic events that have unfolded in Florida on this sad Sunday, 12 June, will not be the last.

All eyes are riveted on France, the host of the European soccer championships, from 10 June to 10 July. The West will be on high alert during this summer. IS has mounted a counter attack in the West, and particularly in the leading countries of the international coalition to defeat IS, such as the United States and France, after the heavy military setbacks it suffered lately on the battlefield in both Syria and Iraq.

The Orlando massacre has decided the priorities of the next American president. His or her administration will not be isolationist in foreign policy. It remains to be seen how engaged it will become in the Middle East and across the Muslim world in fighting religiously inspired terrorism.

This massacre is a minor 11 September in terms of its impact on American foreign policy. Let us hope that cool heads prevail in the new White House in January.

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