Working towards peace and sustainability

Orlando, Digging Deeper

Pretty much everyone agrees that the violent murder of 49 human beings and shooting dozens more is a heinous crime. Beyond this, however, the Orlando tragedy is regarded differently, depending upon one’s perspective. It raises issues of LGBT rights and repression, of gun violence and how to best prevent it, of immigration and security, and of Islamophobia and its political implications.

For starters, we, at Peaceworks, mourn the loss of life and limb as well as the psychological trauma that comes with such a horrific crime. We support human rights for all and have long stood in solidarity with the LGBT community. This horrific and senseless violence appears to be a hate crime committed by a mentally unstable individual.

We also join with millions of Americans who are questioning why a mentally unstable individual who was known to the authorities and had been on a terror watch list was able to legally procure firearms? And, is this is not another clear indication of how foolhardy it is to allow anyone to purchase semi-automatic weapons like the one used in Orlando, when their only purpose is the rapid-fire killing of large numbers of people.
The AR-15 seems to be the weapon of choice for mass shootings. Readily available it has been used in Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino and now Orlando, among other locations.

We, at Peaceworks, share these concerns. We also are deeply concerned about war and peace and the implications of this event in terms of the so-called War on Terror.

Regarding the issue of “terrorism,” a to-the-root analysis is required. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was a native born American of Muslim heritage, whose family is from Afghanistan.  The media has reported that in 911 calls he swore his allegiance to the so-called Islamic State. More recent reports, not as widely circulated, indicate that he also declared his allegiance to a number of other groups, including Hezbollah, which is at war with the IS.

It seems highly unlikely that he was a member of, or that his actions were orchestrated or directed by any of these groups, but it may well be the case that he resents the United States and our country’s foreign policy. It has also been reported that he told the 911 operator that “the reason why he was doing this is because he wanted America to stop bombing his country.”

Of course, the likely response of many politicians, and some citizens, is to think that we need to “get tough on terrorists,” fighting and killing more of them, or that we should seal off our borders and not let Muslims into the country, as some have proposed.

This us-versus-them thinking is exactly the wrong approach. It fuels a cycle of violence that began with Western, that is European and later American, interventions into the Middle East and other predominantly Muslim parts of the world. The history of colonization, interventions—overt and covert, invasions, installation of puppet regimes, bombing campaigns and more have created a reservoir of ill will that will certainly not be eliminated by drone attacks or military assaults. In fact, these only aid in the recruitment of more people to the ranks of groups like IS or al Qaeda. 
Victims of an illegal U.S. drone strike in Pakistan. They honor their dead just as we in the U.S. do ours.

If we are to have any hope for a peaceful future, we must end the endless war—the so-called War on Terror—and make a fundamental change in foreign policy. The attempt by our government and others to geopolitically dominate the Persian Gulf region, North Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and adjacent areas, all many thousands of miles from our shores, must be left in the past.

What’s needed instead is a set of policies that supports sustainable development, economic empowerment and self-determination. Our government must stop aiding feudal autocratic regimes that have little or no popular support. Likewise anti-democratic “strongman” regimes should not be propped up or supported.

It is in our self-interest as well as consistent with our ostensible values to make such a change, but this will take first convincing our fellow citizens and then our elected officials, as today, among most politicians, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus to “fight terrorism,” rather than rethink what has brought some people to embrace such barbaric behavior. We need to look in the mirror and regard our own barbarism, which has led directly to the deaths of millions and suffering beyond our imaginations.