Terrorism is about Ideology, not guns

In denying the role of Islamic radicalism, Mr. Obama seems more concerned about shielding extremists from critical scrutiny than protecting U.S. citizens from terrorism.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

OpEds Tel Aviv vigil in solidarity with victims of Orlando shooting massacre
Tel Aviv vigil in solidarity with victims of Orlando shooting massacre

After the recent mass shooting in Orlando, President Obama predictably refused to blame radical Islam, although in a break from his usual practice he at least identified it as an act of terrorism.  But in addressing the nation shortly afterward, he displayed more anger at Republicans who chided him for refusing to identify the enemy. 

Mr. Obama petulantly mocked his critics, asserting that using the term “radical Islam” would not make ISIS less radical.  He seemed oblivious to the fact that jihad today is being waged by a variety of organizations and regimes besides ISIS – including Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Islamic Republic of Iran – and that it is indeed motivated by religion.  He concluded by polemicizing about gun control, which has absolutely no causal connection to Islamist terrorism, instead of extremist religious doctrine, which does. 

And many in the American Jewish establishment followed his lead, treating the massacre as a hate crime fueled by lax gun laws.    

The mainstream media had a field day speculating whether the shooter, Omar Mateen, was secretly gay and whether his murder of forty-nine and wounding of fifty-three was an act of self-hatred.  Ignored in such glib analysis was the fact that Mateen seems to have had a history of radicalization –travelling to Saudi Arabia twice before the attack, openly pledging allegiance to ISIS, and bragging to coworkers about supposed connections to Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. 

Investigators believe Mateen communicated with his wife and another person during the attack, suggesting collaborative planning rather than emotional action compelled by self-loathing.  At no time during the assault did Mateen shout anti-gay slurs; nor did he articulate any as he posted comments on twitter and Facebook during his rampage.  This is significant because, while he certainly targeted a gay nightclub, he did so because it was a symbol of what Islamists reject and seek to eradicate.  He could just as easily have assaulted a church, public school, or Jewish community center as “infidel” institutions, and in fact authorities believe he had considered attacking Disney World.

In a familiar pattern, the president attempted to obscure the role of radical Islam – aided by Attorney General Loretta Lynch, whose Department of Justice initially redacted all references to ISIS and Islam from transcripts of Mateen’s telephone calls and social media posts.  Lynch publicly claimed transparency even as she was attempting to keep critical information from the public.  The DOJ changed course and released uncensored transcripts within a few days, but only after an uproar from Congressional Republicans. 

However, Lynch still seemed intent on minimizing any connection to radical Islam.  “I cannot tell you definitively that we will ever narrow it down to one motivation,” she said in one interview, adding, “People often act out of more than one motivation.”  Would she have been so circumspect if it were a fundamentalist Christian assaulting an abortion clinic?

Regardless of the narrative spin, the Orlando attack was not an anti-gay hate crime as the president intimated.  Rather, it was an act of terrorism against a lifestyle that Islam considers a symbol of western decadence.  In denying the role of Islamic radicalism, Mr. Obama seems more concerned about shielding extremists from critical scrutiny than protecting U.S. citizens from terrorism.


There have been many Islamist attacks in the U.S. over the last eight years besides the Orlando massacre, including: the San Bernardino shooting earlier this year; the Oklahoma beheading in 2014; the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013; multiple beheadings of Coptic Christians in New Jersey and shootings of Christian converts in Texas in 2012; the partial beheadings of three Jewish men in Waltham, Massachusetts in 2011; the murder of a soldier in Arkansas and massacre of thirteen at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009; and honor killings of Muslim women in multiple states.  Despite compelling evidence of religious impetus, Mr. Obama has downplayed the role of radical Islam, and some establishment Jewish organizations have done the same. 

A press release issued by the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly (“RA”) after the Orlando massacre ignored Mateen’s doctrinal motivations, focusing instead on gun control and sexual-identity politics.  It stated in relevant part the following:

[P]rayer alone will not resolve the circumstances that made this tragedy possible and so we also issue a strong call for action.

This shooting rampage targeted the LGBT community in the midst of Pride month, a time where the LGBT community comes together to publicly acknowledge and celebrate their identities, their common history, and their struggle for social recognition and equality.

The RA has passed multiple resolutions calling on the community to 'work for full and equal civil rights for gays and lesbians in our national life, deplore violence against gays and lesbians, encourage inclusion of gay and lesbian Jews in our congregations, and increase our awareness of issues facing gay and lesbian Jews.' We know that we stand with people of good will of all faiths in continuing this work.

Everyone can agree that Mateen should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.  But that’s a different issue from the administration’s implication that terrorism is caused by access to firearms. 
We urge the United States Congress and the President of the United States to take meaningful steps toward ending this horrifying violence in our communities by passing common-sense gun legislation. As recently as our May 2016 convention, the Rabbinical Assembly issued a resolution encouraging our members to lobby local, state and federal lawmakers to support required background checks on all public and private gun sales, bans on military style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and legislation making gun trafficking a federal crime with severe penalties.

This statement seems to conflate Mateen’s actions with inadequate gun control and bias crime, but ignores the role of radical Islam.  However, the failure to mention Islamist extremism when purporting to address “the circumstances that made this tragedy possible” is to ignore the most essential circumstance of all. 

Compare this statement to that issued by the Orthodox Union:

The Orthodox Union strongly condemns the violent attack perpetrated this past weekend in Orlando, Florida. While all the facts surrounding the terrible crime are yet to be revealed, it is clear that those people who were murdered and grievously injured were targeted because of their identification with the LGBT community. All people of good will must condemn such violence. No American should be assailed due to his or her personal identity. All acts of terrorism against any group must be vigorously defended against and thwarted.

The Orthodox Union expresses its sincere condolences to the families of those who perished and prays for the full recovery of those injured. We support the work of law enforcement to fully investigate this terrible incident and bring to justice anyone who supported the perpetrator.

The OU’s statement clearly identified the role of terrorism and focused on the victims as victims, not martyrs to a partisan cause.  The RA’s release, on the other hand, promoted an essentially secular, political agenda and imbued it with religiosity.

Unfortunately, Mateen purchased a gun despite having been on the “no-fly” list, and this should never have been allowed to happen.  But security lapses have become all too common since the Obama administration began restraining intelligence practices, hampering law enforcement, and stifling public discourse through institutionalized political correctness. 

The hand of political correctness was clearly evident when the FBI purged its anti-terrorism training manuals of material deemed offensive to Muslims, when the military failed to discipline Nidal Hasan for communicating with known Islamists before his attack at Fort Hood, and when Attorney General Lynch threatened to prosecute people for criticizing Islam after San Bernardino. 

Everyone can agree that Mateen should not have been allowed to purchase a gun.  But that’s a different issue from the administration’s implication that terrorism is caused by access to firearms.  Considering that most domestic and international terrorist attacks involve illegal weapons, explosives and knives, it is misguided and irresponsible to link Islamist terror to gun control, especially by an administration that ignores the ideological motivation for most of today’s terrorism or cynically misrepresents it as generic criminality. 

None of this appears to concern many in the liberal Jewish establishment, who after nearly eight years of a virulently anti-Israel administration and a dramatic rise in global anti-Semitism, seem more concerned about advancing the progressive agenda.  In the process, many have allied themselves with anti-Semites who despise Israel and promote Jew-hatred. 

Jews are free to follow their consciences in supporting or opposing gun control legislation – or any other hot button political issue.  However, it is disingenuous to invoke Jewish values to sanctify a partisan platform absent a mandate from traditional rabbinic sources or normative halakha.  This is particularly so when Jewish imprimatur is bestowed by secular Jews unfamiliar with (or contemptuous of) Jewish law, or by nontraditional movements that modify the law in conformity with popular culture or do not feel bound by it at all.          

People of good will should be allowed to disagree on matters of policy without being vilified by the progressive establishment, particularly when dissent flows from traditional values and observance.  It is disingenuous to give Jewish moral sanction to issues on which halakha is silent or opposed, and irresponsible for Jewish leadership to ignore existential threats for the sake of politics.