Orlando massacre in propaganda wars

Here we go again. Omar Mateen, named as the shooter in the Orlando massacre of at least 50 at a gay nightclub, is said to have made a 911 call before the attack, in which he pledged allegiance to ISIS and invoked the Boston Marathon bombers. (CNN) Amaq News Agency, the ISIS media arm, issued a statement saying the attack "was carried out by an Islamic State fighter." (Heavy) The ISIS statement is doubtless mere opportunism, simply claiming Mateen because he had declared for them, thereby becoming a one-man franchise. But there's more. A bizarre Washington Post story tells us that Mateen's father is a vocal supporter of the Taliban and "appears to be portraying himself as the president of Afghanistan"…

Seddique Mateen, who has been referred to as Mir Seddique in early news reports, hosted the "Durand Jirga Show" on a channel called Payam-e-Afghan, which broadcasts from California. In it, the elder Mateen speaks in the Dari language on a variety of political subjects. He doesn't always make much sense. Dozens of videos are posted on a channel under Seddique Mateen's name on YouTube. A phone number and post office box that are displayed on the show were traced back to the Mateen home in Florida. Mateen also owns a nonprofit organization under the name Durand Jirga…

In one video, Mateen expresses gratitude toward the Afghan Taliban, while denouncing the Pakistani government.

"Our brothers in Waziristan, our warrior brothers in [the] Taliban movement and national Afghan Taliban are rising up," he said. "Inshallah the Durand Line issue will be solved soon."

The Durand Line is the demarcation established in 1893, in the aftermath of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which now forms the Afghan-Pakistan border and bisects the Pashtun homeland. The Post says it is not clear whether the Mateens are Pashtun, but notes that most of the Taliban's followers are. (The younger Mateen, at least, was born in the US.)

Just hours before the Orlando shooting, Seddique Mateen posted a video on a Facebook page called Provisional Government of Afghanistan — Seddique Mateen. In it, he seems to be pretending to be Afghanistan's president, and orders the arrest of an array of Afghan political figures.

"I order national army, national police and intelligence department to immediately imprison Karzai, Ashraf Ghani, Zalmay Khalilzad, Atmar, and Sayyaf. They are against our countrymen, and against our homeland," he says, while dressed in army fatigues.

That is pretty fringe stuff. With perverse irony, this same senior Mateen is now giving us the not-about-Islam line. From Reuters: "Mateen's father, Mir Seddique, told NBC News the massacre was not related to religion. He said his son turned angry when he saw two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago." This from the guy who supports the movement that stones gays to death in the name of Islam.

As with last year's San Bernardino massacre, the propaganda vultures are already descending on Orlando. Another WaPo story, "After Orlando, the right points to radical Islam, while the left points to guns, hate," depressingly states: "Those on the right were quick to blame radical Islamist terrorism. Meanwhile, those on the left were more apt to a frame this as a hate crime against gay people or to talk about Orlando in the context of mass shootings more broadly…" As if reactionary Islam and homophic hate were mutually exclusive theses.

A Fox News headline predictably reads: "50 killed in shooting at Florida nightclub in possible act of Islamic terror." This will (rightly) win protests from Muslims, who will charge that terror is not Islamic. But a commentary on the UK's lefty Independent warns of "The senselessness of blaming Islam for the LGBT shooting in Orlando." It states: "A lone gunman happened to be Muslim—but that does not mean an entire religion is to blame." No, the entire religion is not to blame. But nor is it merely coincidental that the gunman "happened to be Muslim." He was clearly motivated by his reactionary understanding of Islam. By all evidence, he was not a mere psychopath but a religious fanatic. The massacre was not "Islamic," but it was certainly Islamist. In denying this, the left is making the proverbial noose for its own neck. If we can't talk about Islamist terrorism, then we can't talk about Christian terrorism either.

In the face of this horror, it will be grimly amusing to watch both left and right scramble. The lefties will (rightly) blame homophobia, while (dishonestly) avoiding the ideological context for this particular homophobia: political Islam. The right, meanwhile, will blame Islam in sweeping terms—while going to great contortions to avoid any mention of homophobia.

  1. Orlando shooter “lied” about being a jihadi?

    It seems absurd, but that's Juan Cole's thesis, noting reports that Omar Mateen had himself frequented the Pulse nightclub that he later shot up, and had used a gay dating app. He also notes claims that Mateen boasted to co-workers of being a member of Hezbollah—which is obviously bitterly opposed to ISIS on sectarian grounds. 

    OK, we don't dismiss that the guy was likely deeply confused and that there was an element of self-hatred in his acts. The Orlando attack, like San Bernardino, does seem to be a sort of hybrid between a good ol' American lone-nut shoot-up and a jihadist attack. But the jihadist element is there.

    Whether Mateen was a self-loathing closet case himself, it remains a fact that he declared for ISIS, and ISIS (if opportunistically) claimed him as a "fighter." ISIS is meanwhile burning women alive for refusing to submit to rape. I do not think this context is irrelevant. And I think that denying it is counter-productive to any effective resistance to an anti-Muslim backlash in this country.

  2. Neither/nor position on Orlando

    Essential listening to make sense of Orlando‬, and why both the left and right responses are dangerously off-base, is provided by Pakistani-Canadian blogger Eiynah and her very ironically named Polite Conversations podcast. Refreshing and vindicating.

    Thank you, Eiynah!

  3. Orlando shooter worked for human rights abusers

    The increasingly problematic Phyllis Bennis makes the best case we've yet seen for the Orlando shooter's indoctrination by factors other than political Islam. In Foreign Policy in Focus, she points out that he used to work as a guard for G4S Security, whch (as we noted here and here) is heavily involved in private prisons. Bennis points out that it has done similar work for the Israeli state, as well as helping the US government police the Mexican border. Perhaps not coincidentally, June 12, the night of the massacre, happened to be Latin Night at the Pulse nightclub—which is why most of the dead were Latino. More likely to be coinicdence is that June 12 is the anniversary of the 1963 Mississippi assassination of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.

    So this likely left an imprint on Mateen—testosterone-driven, racist, xenophobic, all-American gun-nuttery. But for our foremost lefty Middle East commentator to write something up on Orlando that doesn't even mention political Islam or ISIS is a perversity.

    After all, he claimed the attack in the name of ISIS, not G4S.

  4. FBI tried to ‘lure’ Orlando shooter

    Lefty and conspiranoid websites (TeleSur, Above Top Secret) are jumping on claims in the local Florida press that an FBI infiltrator tried to "lure" the Orlando shooter into a terror plot a few years back. It seems from an account on TC Palm (for Treasure Coast and Palm Beach) that Mateen was working as a guard at the St. Lucie County Courthouse in the employ of G4S when he got into a confrontation with a deputy in which he "made a comment that he could have al-Qaida kill my employee and his family," according to Sheriff Ken Mascara. Then…

    The FBI launched an investigation into Mateen after Sheriff's Office officials reported the incident to the agency. As part of its investigation, the FBI examined Mateen's travel history, phone records, acquaintances and even planted a confidential informant in the courthouse to "lure Omar into some kind of act and Omar did not bite," Mascara said. The FBI concluded Mateen was not a threat after that, Mascara said.

    Hate to rain on the conspiranoid parade, but this does not even rise to the level of specious terrorism cases in which plot originated from an FBI infiltrator. The FBI may have sought to thusly groom Mateen, but evidently failed to—and he then acted on his own.

    It would be nice to get some corroboration from the FBI about this. But meanwhile, jumping on this claim from a local sheriff with "gotcha" glee is rather disingenuous.

    Meanwhile, the Philly Inquirer reports that Orlando massacre survivor Patience Carter is now being harassed by conspiracy theorists who accuse her of being a "character actor." We got the same shit from the conspiranoids after the Newtown massacre, of course. And after the Boston bombing. Vulturecrap of the lowest order.