Headline: Another senseless mass killing in (add city). Some (add number) people lose their lives and (add another number) are wounded by a crazed, unstable killer, (insert name), driven by hatred and radicalized from afar to become an Islamist extremist.
If only, some say, we could limit who can enter the country legally. If only we could limit easy access to deadly weapons. If only we could prevent such a tragedy from recurring.
Cut. Paste. Insert. Add thoughts and prayers and a desire to unite behind the victims and first responders. Then cue the usual debate over guns and immigration to fill the airwaves.
We’re again on the terrorist attack loop, dredging up the same arguments and questions after Orlando as we did after London, Fort Hood, Paris, San Bernardino, et al. The threads are largely the same, even if some incidents involve domestic madmen driven by general hatred as opposed to Islamists recruited by foreign cabals. A few details may change — the Orlando incident occurred in a gay nightclub, adding the potential hate crime element — but the reaction to each is predictable.
It’s not that debates over immigration or gun control aren’t worth having. But both focus on knee-jerk approaches that don’t get to the root of the issue and are merely designed to rally political support from their respective amen choruses.
While these repetitive arguments rage on, one wonders how our enemies view them. Seeing the nation so divided while under attack may embolden terrorists to believe they are winning and encourage them to ramp up their violent agenda. They see the West as weak and disunited, and we do little to contradict that view. And this being an election year, the political rhetoric gets turned up full blast.
The obstacle to uniting under a common goal and identifying the enemy properly is that on this issue, like others, political leaders reflect the emotional state of Americans rather than adopt a calm, strategic approach. It’s understandable to be angered by a senseless slaughter of innocent lives by deranged zealots, but unbridled fury solves nothing. Channeling our collective rage into inflamed diatribes only plays into the terrorists’ hands; they want us to lash out wildly so they can paint our society as the anti-Muslim hotbed of sinfulness they claim it to be.
Instead that anger needs to be forged into steely determination to eradicate the terrorists methodically and effectively. That includes blending intelligence, law enforcement and armed forces agencies into a fine-pointed spear aimed at the heart of groups recruiting suicidal killers.
Last week, President Barack Obama took Republicans, particularly presidential candidate Donald Trump, to task for anti-Muslim comments, saying that harsh tone helps terrorists define the conflict as a religious and cultural war and boosts their recruiting efforts. He’s right to a point, but his reluctance to call Islamic terrorism what it is leads many to wonder if he truly recognizes the source of the problem.
It’s clear even to most Republican hawks that the war against Islamic extremism can only be won with Muslim support from within the U.S. and from allied Middle Eastern nations willing to join the fight. As long as the word “extremist” follows “Islamic” in our words and intent, the battle will be aimed at those who have hijacked the faith to justify their violent acts, not the millions more who practice it peacefully. Parsing words to deny the source of such violence is pointless.
Yet Trump’s call to ban Muslims from entering the country is similarly foolish. Even sensible immigration reform wouldn’t help in the Orlando case, or in San Bernardino and others, where the perpetrators are U.S-born citizens. A call to crack down on Muslims entering the U.S. would have no effect on ongoing efforts by the Islamic State to draft new members from within the country. And you can’t put a border wall around the internet.
But efforts to limit weapon sales likely would do little but make some people feel better. Both parties in Congress are considering a handful of laws to deny weapons sales to individuals on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, as was the Orlando shooter. Background checks failed in this case and others, including the gunman who murdered nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church a year ago. That doesn’t inspire confidence that any new restrictions would be more effective, knowing government’s inability to keep people from having things they want, be it drugs, booze or killing machines.
Anyway, a radicalized extremist bent on violence can always find weapons through other channels. Whether one is acquired legally or otherwise, it’s just as deadly. Keeping firearms out of the hands of maniacal lunatics is a futile endeavor.
The problem isn’t just about Muslims, and it isn’t about weapons. It’s about an ideology of hatred spawned by groups that oppose the freedom and open society of the West. Yet even if we can effectively dismantle them and their ability to lure sympathizers, lone killers are hard to spot and harder to stop. This is a long, hard fight that won’t be won quickly or easily, certainly not with reactive government policies that treat the symptoms, not the source.
The best approach to oppose that mindset is work harder to create a pluralistic society that embraces all ideals and cultures openly. We should live as free Americans and not let the occasional threat keep us from traveling, gathering, worshiping and celebrating our way of life as we practice tolerance of others to do the same.
If we somehow could get our political leaders to join that effort and quit attacking each other with unrealistic solutions designed to inflame emotions and earn votes, we might be on the right path toward ending this vicious cycle of bloodshed.
To send a letter to the editor, use this form or send to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes Publisher Charlotte Atkins, General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas.