Since the attack in Orlando, the deadliest mass shooting in US history, the process of making America more foreign and hostile for Americans and the world has continued apace.
The Islamic State (ISIS) claimed — gladly, greedily — that the US-born-and-bred shooter Omar Mateen was one of theirs. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump declared that Mateen, who like Trump was born in New York, was not. He was born “an Afghan”, Trump said, “of Afghan parents”. Trump went on to say that “the only reason the killer was in America in the first place was because we allowed his family to come here”.
The ISIS claim of kinship with Mateen and Trump’s disclaiming of it are perfectly in sync. Both are mortally wounding for the United States more than any mass shooting. For they seek to unmake America by rendering Americans fearful of their fellow citizens, hysterical and broken at the thought of impending death and bloodshed, and full of hate towards Muslims, immigrants and all foreign-looking people.
These are profoundly un- American ideas and they seek to psychologically “obliterate America”, to use the words of Osama bin Laden. It was 20 years ago that al-Qaeda’s leader sketched out his grand strategy to defeat the United States. “We can,” he told his young son Omar, “destroy America from within.”
He meant destroy its economy and obliterate its sense of self and self-knowledge. Send it to the dark ages of doubt, fear and rage, render it uncertain of whom to believe, what to trust, where to seek relief and how.
It is profoundly demoralising when a brutal terrorist group eagerly co-opts an American-born free-lance killer like Mateen. It is even more devastating when an American politician seeking high office cynically trumpets extreme hate-filled ideas that amplify his people’s anxieties.
This, despite an undeniable truth: The United States offers easy access to guns. Mass shootings have sadly become a very American news story. An Orlando-style massacre could happen anywhere in the United States and the shooter could be Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Hindu or atheist, motivated by intolerance, religious zealotry, mental illness, homophobia or blind rage.
More than ISIS, it is Trump who is frightening Americans, encouraging paranoia by trying to divide them from each other and seeking to wall them off from the world. Consider his three main pronouncements after Orlando:
He returned to his old US President Barack Obama-as- Muslim-traitor conspiracy theory, smearing the US president for supposedly being sympathetic to the radical jihadist agenda.
He claimed that “thousands” of America’s 3.3 million Muslims, protected and hidden by their co-religionists, were prepared to commit greater carnage than Mateen because they are “sick with hate” for the United States.
He revived his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, this time cunningly seizing on a legally viable fig leaf of geographical rather than religious exclusion. If elected president, said Trump, he would use sweeping executive powers to “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies until we fully understand how to end these threats”.
Presumably that means the Middle East, the Maghreb, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and pretty much all of the 57 members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Where does this loose talk leave America and the world?
Trump is doing the jihadists’ job better than they could themselves, making it easier to recruit young people angry with America’s perceived Islamophobia.
As David Rothkopf, editor of Foreign Policy, lamented: “Donald Trump is the presidential candidate Osama bin Laden made… what a great victory that is for Osama bin Laden. What a victory it is for all extremists. It weakens the most powerful nation in the world in the only way it can really be done — from within. That was bin Laden’s greatest insight, of course. He knew no terror group or foreign power could defeat the United States; it could only be done by us to ourselves.”
Sometimes it is social media that provide the right response to a public event marked by blood, sorrow and fear. So it was within hours of Orlando. The tweet read as follows: “What do the vast majority of mass shootings in the US have in common? Not Islam. Angry men with easy access to guns.”
Despite Mateen’s confused, last-minute pledging of allegiance to ISIS while he was shooting up the nightclub, his reported clubbing, alcohol and use of gay chat apps suggest he neither lived like ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nor aspired to do so.
That may be the reality of the Orlando massacre: Both the fearful and the fearmonger are flourishing.