Initial impressions, reflections, provisional appraisals, focused more on the aftermath and responses to a terrible event than to the event itself...
Much has been and continues to be reported, written, and speculated about the mass killing in Orlando last weekend. The community targeted, the scale, the presumed jihadist or terrorist link, whether plot or the act of a "self-radicalized lone wolf," and the insecurity and fear generated by the attack drive the media obsession. With extensive coverage comes a measure of vapid and repetitious blather that at first blush seems to contribute little beyond filling the air or the page. There is a microphone, an online publication, a blog. Someone must say something. Maybe even this has its cathartic aspect as a component of ritual through which individuals and communities cope with loss and grief.
Then comes the political jousting. To use or not to use the terms "Radical Islam" and "Islamic terrorism"? Calls to ban firearm sales to known or suspected terrorists. Now I am all for more stringent gun regulation. I find gun fetishism baffling. My reading of the Second Amendment is the old-fashioned one holding that the text speaks to each state's right to maintain a well-regulated militia, not individual gun ownership. However, I am wary of gun and other restrictions targeted at individuals on the basis of suspicion and unproven accusation. We might want to think long and hard about the level to which suspicion must rise, and on what basis and legal process that suspicion is to be grounded, before we sign off on the program.
Hillary Clinton declared stopping "lone wolf" terrorist attacks a national priority. The FBI had Omar Mateen under investigation for ten months before concluding he was all talk, as some people are. How much is to be expended on a single individual, or rather on any number of single, isolated individuals? The budget is not infinite. What does the national security apparatus not do as a consequence of expending finite resources on lone wolves?
There is an element of demagoguery to Clinton's pitch. It plays to fear and insecurity while promoting the illusion that we can somehow make ourselves exempt from these terrible events if only we do the right things. When they do occur, it is put down to the failure of government officials and entities. There will always be something more that could have been done.
I do not want to be overly critical of Clinton. Much that she has said is on the mark. Her rhetoric at its most dubious does not approach the level of Trumpian spew. To be fair, there is not much by way of positive reinforcement for responsible rhetoric. Barack Obama is routinely castigated when he acknowledges limits to American power and when he speaks forthrightly about terrorism, foreign affairs, Muslim Americans, and immigration.
The week has witnessed a heartening share of admirable figures and moments, not least the public outpouring of sympathy and support for victims, their families, friends, and loved ones, and others touched most closely by the tragedy. Among those who acquitted themselves well was Utah Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, whose eloquent and moving words at a vigil in Salt Lake City should be a call to conscience for us all. I take the liberty of quoting extensively from Cox's remarks.
I grew up in a small town and went to a small rural high school. There were some kids in my class that were different. Sometimes I wasn’t kind to them. I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that they were gay. I will forever regret not treating them with the kindness, dignity and respect — the love — that they deserved. For that, I sincerely and humbly apologize. . . . So now we find ourselves at a crossroads. A crossroads of hate and terror. How do we respond? How do you respond? Do we lash out with anger, hate and mistrust. Or do we, as Lincoln begged, appeal to the “better angels of our nature?”
Usually when tragedy occurs, we see our nation come together. I was saddened, yesterday to see far too many retreating to their over-worn policy corners and demagoguery. Let me be clear, there are no simple policy answers to this tragedy. Beware of anyone who tells you that they have the easy solution. It doesn’t exist. And I can assure you this — that calling people idiots, communists, fascists or bigots on Facebook is not going to change any hearts or minds. Today we need fewer Republicans and fewer Democrats. Today we need more Americans.
But just because an easy solution doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The greatest generations in the history of the world were never innately great. They became great because of how they responded in the face of evil. Their humanity is measured by their response to hate and terror.
I truly believe that this is the defining issue of our generation. Can we be brave? Can we be strong? Can we be kind and, perhaps, even happy, in the face of atrocious acts of hate and terrorism? Do we find a way to unite? Or do these atrocities further corrode and divide our torn nation? Can we, the citizens of the great state of Utah, lead the nation with love in the face of adversity? Can WE become a greatest generation? (Rebecca Hersher, WATCH: Utah Lt. Governor Apologizes For Past Attitude Toward Gay People, NPR)
Juan Cole is Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan. For three decades, he has sought to put the relationship of the West and the Muslim world in historical context. Cole commands Arabic, Persian and Urdu and reads some Turkish, knows both Middle Eastern and South Asian Islam. He lived in various parts of the Muslim world for nearly 10 years, and continues to travel widely there. (from Cole's blog Informed Comment)
Cole offers thoughtful commentary on the Middle East, history, religion, and related events of the day. I recommend two recent pieces that provide counterpoint to the torrent of loose talk and outright gibberish that typically accompanies horrific incidents such as the one in Orlando.
... it seems to me a distinction must be drawn between nihilism and terrorism, between the senseless action of a disturbed individual (no matter how he justifies it) and an actual political group to which a suspect actually belongs that deploys terrorism to achieve a deeply political goal.