National tragedies such as Sunday’s terrorist attack in Orlando should unite Americans. But reflecting a deeply divided country, an incomplete and unproductive analysis of the event has seemed to predictably split along ideological lines.
A better approach would be to acknowledge essential truths, however discordant from entrenched partisan positions. Among them:
The U.S. has a gun problem of epic proportions. Singular among peer countries, an America awash in firearms — some extraordinary lethal — will continue to experience mass, random killings, regardless of whether the inspiration is alienation (Sandy Hook), racism (Charleston, S.C.) or Islamic extremism (San Bernardino, Calif., and now, sadly, Orlando).
The latter motivation should be labeled for what it is, and President Obama’s rhetorical reticence is a counterproductive distraction. Donald Trump (and, as of Monday, Hillary Clinton) are among many who rightly identify the metastasizing threat that leaves few portions of the globe untouched. Ask Africans combating Boko Haram, Al-Shabab or other terrorist organizations. Or Europeans reeling from multiple attacks and a Mediterranean migration crisis sparked in part by refugees fleeing Islamic extremism. Or Asians brutalized by the Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant (ISIL), Al-Qaida, the Taliban, or other offshoots or homegrown weeds of terrorism in the name of — but not truly reflective of — one of the world’s great religions.
Islam is not only not to blame, but its adherents are far more often victims than perpetrators. In this country, Muslims are an essential and growing part of the American mosaic and cannot be held responsible for the heinous actions of the very few who have hijacked their faith. And yet U.S. Muslims can and must help thwart those inspired to kill here or to leave for terrorist strongholds in Somalia, Syria and elsewhere.
Some Minnesota Muslims have become radicalized, and the recent trial resulting in the convictions of three would-be terrorists is a testament to how the justice system working with local communities can keep America and the world safer.
But so much more needs to be done to prevent radicalization. Failure to invest the relatively paltry sums requested to proactively engage disaffected young people is foolish even for a Congress not known for its wisdom. Beyond Congress, Obama needs to lead an even more vigorous counterterrorism effort in his remaining months in office. The president will reprieve his sadly familiar role as mourner-in-chief this week, but he should quickly return to commander-in-chief and review — and redouble, if necessary — every government counterterrorism effort to prevent another attack.
That seemed to be the prescription for presumptive Democratic nominee Clinton, whose wealth of experience showed Monday when she listed a litany of counterterrorism policies she would emphasize as commander-in-chief. Republican nominee Trump, conversely, reverted to his simplistic, counterproductive and unconstitutional call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. That strategy would further flame anti-American sentiment at home and abroad. It also would not have prevented the Orlando mayhem, because the assailant was American-born and -bred. Trump’s call for Obama to resign, and his thinly veiled questioning of the president’s loyalties, were similarly outrageous.
The FBI, the Justice Department, the Pentagon and other entities play key roles in fighting terrorism. But victory will not be attainable unless jihadism is replaced with a better vision of the world. That’s why the U.S. must not retreat from its fundamental values, as it sometimes did in the more immediate post-9/11 era.
Chief among those national values is equality. And, unfortunately, despite historic gains in America and other enlightened nations, members of the global lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community often face heightened hostility in other parts of the world, especially in ISIL-held areas. Solidarity with and protection for LGBT people is imperative in Orlando’s aftermath, and well beyond these dreadful days.
America is so much stronger when it is united. We are reminded of that as lawn signs sprout like summer flowers in the yards of people of many faiths wishing Minnesota Muslims a blessed Ramadan. And mere hours before the Orlando mass murder, Americans from all backgrounds congregated in Louisville, Ky., to celebrate the life of a man — and a Muslim — who championed all: Muhammad Ali.
There would be no better tribute to Ali than to realize that in confronting hard truths and appealing to timeless values, no man or movement — including a problem as seemingly intractable as terrorism — is insurmountable.