It is a popular destination and place of entertainment. Indeed, Disney World is nearby, attracting holiday-makers worldwide. Yet on the weekend of June 11-12, 2016, Orlando, Florida USA went from being a place of fun to a place of terror.
On June 11th, Christina Grimmie, a 22 year old American songwriter, singer, and contestant on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ was gunned down in Orlando by 27 year old Kevin James Loibl, while signing autographs for her fans. She was a committed Christian who ‘loved Jesus’ and ‘the Bible.’ Her brother Marcus, who tackled the gunman before he shot himself, may have saved more lives.
Then at 2:00 A.M. on Sunday morning, 12 June, Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, a 29 year old twice-married, New York born US citizen of Afghani descent, went into The Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. A former security guard who legally purchased weapons in the previous fortnight, Mateen was well-armed and well-prepared for what he was about to do. Despite having a shooting exchange with police, Mateen single-handedly was able to take hostages and go on a killing spree for three hours. By the time the police SWAT team stormed the nightclub and killed Mateen, 50 people were dead and another 50 plus wounded. Many of the victims were Latinos.
Mateen’s crime was the worse mass shooting in US history and the biggest terrorist attack since September 11th. Before that, the 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech by Seung-Hui Cho was the worse shooting crime. Thirty-two people were killed. Adam Lanza killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, of which 20 were 6 and 7 year old. Also George Hennard in 1991 rammed his car through a cafe wall in Killeen Texas and killed 23 people. As you can see, these last three crimes had nothing to do with religious extremism.
The Orlando shootings have received worldwide attention, condemnation, and sympathy. US President Barack Obama denounced it as a ‘hate crime,’ extended special condolences to the LGBTQ community, and ordered US flags at Federal Buildings to be lowered to half mast until Thursday evening. The Vatican, Indian Prime Minister Moti, Chinese President Xi Jinxing, and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, where quick to offer condemnations and sympathy. Muslim leaders also condemned Mateen’s actions, including Afghani President Muhammad Ashraf Ghani and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. America’ s prime Islamic lobby group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), issued a stinging denunciation of their own. Executive Director Nihad Awad ‘You do not speak for us. You do not represent us. You are an aberration.’
What are we to make of the sensational but senseless killings in Orlando?
1. Note the nature of our world: We are in a fallen world. Sin and death have been waging a reign of terror throughout human history. A fallen world is devoid of true justice, true peace, and true harmony. Bad things can happen to good people and good things can happen to evil people. The Bible takes all this into account, promises the coming of a ‘new heaven and new earth,’ but it also offers God’s higher way for those who are willing to pay the price.
2. Note the nature of our times: As I have been saying for some time, we need to recognise that we are in the last days (I John 2:18; Hebrews 9:26ff; I Peter 1:5). According to II Timothy 3:1 says ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.’ These points are not meant to scare people, but to offer an early warning service so they can prepare ahead. Proverbs 22:3 and 27:12 says the prudent man foresees the evil, and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.
3. Polarised nation: For several years now, America’s domestic scene has become more and more polarised. Just look at the outcome of the US Presidential primaries! The half-century old cultural civil war between the ‘progressives’ and ‘social conservatives,’ far from running out of puff, has become more strident and shrill.
4. The role of religion: The Orlando massacre was considered a ‘hate crime’ and ‘terrorist attack.’ But did it have anything to do with religion? Mateen’s father Seddique said his son was not particularly religious and that religion had nothing to do with attack in Orlando. Others in the government and media are quick to say the same thing. However, remember that Mateen called 9-1-1 just before or even during the attack, pledging allegiance to the jihadist group ‘Islamic State’ (IS). In addition, Amaq News, part of the Islamic State’s media outlet, took claim for the attack and normally their claims are correct. IS has a particular distain for homosexuals, and has even been recorded pushing them off high buildings to their death. Mateen reportedly expressed disgust upon seeing two men kissing in Miami. IS is condemned by many Muslim groups and their so-caliphate rejected, yet they continually claim to be the true Muslims who are living in obedience to the sacred texts. The 2015 shootings in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people were religiously motivated; Mrs. Tashfeen Malik pledged allegiance to the Islamic State just before. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people and injured 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 cried Allah u Akbar before he went on a killing spree. If radical Islam is to blame for the Orlando shooting - and the evidence points in that direction - our leaders need to say so. We do no favours to the victims, their families, our Muslim neighbours or the world by living in denial. In addition, the Orlando attack happened during Ramadhan, the Muslim month of fasting. Religious passions can be stirred during this time. This does not mean the 1.5 billion member Muslim community goes violently berserk during the fasting month, but a few can. Just in the first week of Ramadan 2016, there have been 60 attacks worldwide with 472 people killed. Some may say this is a coincidence, but is it really?
5. War on Terror? Since September 11th, there have been over 300 jihadist attacks in the United States alone, and 28,570 worldwide. A low-level intra-Muslim world war has been occurring from Nigeria to Pakistan, with jihadis attacking fellows Muslims and non-Muslims. The fact is that Muslims are suffering from jihad even more than the West.