LAST week, Stephen Paddock killed 58 people at a country music festival and then shot himself dead in Las Vegas, the gambling capital in the United States. Since he was a 64-year-old white American retiree who lived in a retirement community in Mesquite, Nevada, many Americans are highly perturbed by the mere fact that one of their own — apparently of the Christian faith — could do such a monstrous crime, the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. They ask: how could Paddock, a former postal worker and tax auditor who had become rich through wise real estate investments in downtown Los Angeles and who liked to gamble in casinos, could do such an evil, maximising casualty?
The media reports suggest that he lived an intensely private, unsocial life that exploded into public view on Sunday, October 1, when he killed and injured so many music lovers. He has become a mystery to them. A nationwide scrutiny on his life has begun that is trying to understand this mysterious mass murderer.
To me, all such scrutiny is to belittle his inexcusable crime.
The Las Vegas police said that Paddock had no criminal record. The gunman had killed himself before the police entered the hotel room from where he was firing, Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told reporters. ‘We have no idea what his belief system was’, Lombardo said.
When did one’s belief system become the litmus test to define a murderer and his crime?
No one in the media including the Twitter-savvy POTUS uttered the T word — terrorism. It was all part of a post-9/11 formula formulated by the government agencies here to define terrorism and terrorists.
‘My fellow Americans, we are joined together today in sadness, shock and grief’, the president said in televised remarks from the White House’s diplomatic room last Monday. ‘Last night, a gunman opened fire on a large crowd at a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. He brutally murdered more than 50 people and wounded hundreds more. It was an act of pure evil.’
After meeting with some of the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern American history, president Trump said Wednesday that the shooter was a ‘very demented person.’ ‘It’s a very sick man. He was a very demented person’, Trump told reporters as he left the University Medical Centre, which has cared for dozens of shooting victims.
It was an act of terrorism. But president Trump who has been all agog to condemning terrorist acts by mentally disturbed or radicalised Muslims did not use the term — terrorism — to qualify Paddock’s mass murder. What a double standard by the leader of the free world!
The barrage of gunfire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel into a crowd of 22,000 people came in extended bursts that lasted several minutes, sparking panic as throngs of music fans desperately cowered on the open ground, hemmed in by fellow concert-goers, while others at the edge tried to flee.
More than 525 people were injured — some by gunfire or shrapnel, some being trampled — in the pandemonium adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip as the police scrambled to locate the assailant. As of Saturday, October 7, 88 injured people are still in the hospital, 31 of whom are in the critical condition.
Federal officials said there was no evidence to link Paddock to militant organisations.
Clark County Sheriff Lombardo said there were 16 firearms in the room where Paddock killed himself, some with scopes and some that appeared to have been modified to convert them to fully automatic weapons. Lombardo said the gunman apparently used a ‘device similar to a hammer’ to smash the windows from which he fired.
The police found at least 18 additional firearms, some explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition at Paddock’s home in Mesquite, about 145km northeast of Las Vegas, along with ‘some electronic devices that we are evaluating at this time’, Lombardo told reporters.
The Las Vegas police believe Paddock may have had a secret life. He had been buying guns since 1982. But something seemed to change last October. He went on a shopping spree, adding to his arsenal until late last month. One of his purchases, a shotgun, came from Dixie Gunworx in St George, Utah. Chris Michel, the owner, said Paddock visited the store three times in January and February, making the 40-minute drive from Mesquite, Nevada.
Bottom line: since the shooter was not a Muslim, terrorism is not suspected in America’s deadliest shooting. That is how I see it. If Paddock had been a Muslim or had any link whatsoever with Islam, or ISIS or any Muslim sounding terrorist or militant group, even the murder of a single person would have sealed his identity as a terrorist. Thanks to 9/11, this is the world of double-standards that we live in these days!
In his book, Islamophobia: Understanding Anti-Muslim Racism Through the Experience of Muslim Youth, Naved Bakali notes that a Muslim terrorist dialectic has emerged, reinforcing a narrative that Muslim men are dangerous, violent, and prone to acts of terrorism. This most often occurs when radicalised Muslim individuals engage in random acts of violence, in which civilians are murdered and/or injured. ‘When these acts of violence occur in North America and Europe’, Bakali writes, ‘there’s a concerted effort in the media to portray such random “lone wolf” acts of violence as being linked to some global Muslim terrorist infrastructure, and in doing so asserting that Islam is the root cause for these actions. However, deep and detailed analysis, of the possible psychological, emotional, or social states of the perpetrators to help understand these actions, beyond terrorism inspired by Islam, is completely absent.’
It is no accident that the psychological state of mentally troubled psychiatrist (Major) Nidal Hasan who fatally shot 13 people in Fort Hood on November 5, 2009 is not discussed at length in the media. He was a socially isolated person who was stressed by his work with soldiers, and upset about their accounts of warfare. Two days before the shooting, which occurred less than a month before he was due to deploy to Afghanistan against his will.
Interestingly, in April of 2014, when US army Spc Ivan Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 in a shooting rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, at the same sprawling Texas Army outpost, despite the strikingly parallel narratives, the media coverage of Lopez and Hasan has been markedly different. Specifically, Lopez, like many other non-Muslims who have used firearms to kill, has been classified as ‘mentally ill’, while only Hasan has had the label of ‘terrorism” ‘ttached to his story.
Lopez felt that some in his unit had not treated him appropriately and Hasan felt similarly alienated and discriminated against. Both also held deep grievances against the US army. Lopez was upset about a denied leave request and Hasan did not want to deploy to Iraq despite orders to do so on November 28, 2009.
Both also sought mental health treatment: Lopez for post-traumatic stress disorder after serving four months in Iraq in 2011, and Hasan for his distress as an army psychiatrist listening to others’ accounts of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Consider also the case of 29-year-old Omar Mateen, the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooter, who murdered 49 and injured 58 men at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Immediately, this was labelled as an act of terrorism. However, mainstream media outlets engaged in very little analysis of why Mateen committed this crime. Mateen was a closeted gay man, who according to friends and family, was ashamed and struggling with his homosexuality. The perception of Mateen being a self-hating, psychologically damaged individual was elusive in media portrayals of the story.
Bakali comments, ‘Such a narrative, would be essential in trying probe the motivations for his actions. Similarly, in Europe hundreds of young men and women have joined terrorist organisations, and a handful have committed acts of violence and terrorism locally. These events are given widespread media attention and have become instrumental in shaping the political narratives in a number of European nations. There is no shortage of discussions describing what is happening when it comes to Muslims and terrorism, however there is a lack of explanation as to why it is happening. Muslims in a number of these countries are less educated, face higher rates of unemployment, and have been socially and economically marginalised through discrimination and identity politics. However, these issues are rarely discussed when trying to understand the motives of these criminals.’
We must recognise that people who commit acts of violence are complex actors who have a multiplicity of motivations and reasons for committing such acts. Religion may play a role, however, their views cannot be conflated with those of mainstream believers, as their beliefs represent a radical divergence from traditional teachings and beliefs.
As I see it, there are serious double standards in our world with acts of terrorism. Thus, when Paddock commits a mass murder, he is just a ‘deranged sick’ guy, but when Mateen commits a similar — albeit a lesser crime — he is an evil terrorist whose acts of terrorism are said to be inspired by Islam. What a logical fallacy!
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.
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