Orlando gunman's attack leaves many hard questions for America

Colonel R Hariharan
Colonel R HariharanJun 13, 2016 | 15:16

Orlando gunman's attack leaves many hard questions for America

The tragic death of 50 people and wounding of 53 others by a lone American-born gunman who went on a shooting spree in a gay night club in Orlando, USA deserves universal condemnation.

The carnage carried out by Omar Mir Siddique Mateen, 29 years old security guard of Afghan origin born in the US will no doubt be analysed threadbare in the land of the free that has some of the most draconian laws and revels in stories of violence.

This shows that it is not enough to have the FBI.

The worst act of terror and hate, second only to the al Qaeda's 9/11 attack, raises many questions on fighting jihadi terrorism, organising national security against terrorism, tightening gun control laws and recognising terrorism for what it is and not allowing political or religious concerns to cloud society's response to terrorism.

All of them are relevant to India as well, as it has been figuring consistently among the top ten countries affected by terrorism.

The most disturbing aspect of Orlando killing is that the FBI had earlier investigated the killer three times for suspected connection with the IS - the two-alphabet brand for the Islamic State, world's number one jihadi terrorist group. Inspite of that American laws allowed him to hold a licensed firearm and even buy a semi-automatic rifle a few days before he went on his shooting spree.

This shows that it is not enough to have the FBI, touted as the world's best security agency, armed with enormous powers to eavesdrop and invade into anyone's private space.

Fighting terrorist violence is a never ending process. Despite Orlando shooting, FBI remains the most effective instrument of state because security agencies discourage the terrorist from having a free run and at best prevent most of the acts of terrorism but not all.


Individual terrorist acts are the most difficult to prevent and that's why jihadi terrorists are increasingly using it to destabilise societies in many parts of the world - from France to Afghanistan, Pakistan and disturbingly more now in Bangladesh.

We have porous borders through which lakhs of Bangladeshis are living illegally in our midst already not only in Assam but even in Delhi.

Most of them are no different from many of us: poor, hardworking and generally law abiding because so few of them have been involved in extremist acts here. But there is a resurgence of jihadi terrorism in Bangladesh now with a few extremists regularly killing innocent people because they are Hindus, Christians or those who denounce religious terrorists.

The state there is yet to get its act though more than 3,000 people have been rounded up sending further tremors in the polarised society. Are we ready to face it's social and political fallout here if it spills over here?

How are we going to tackle it in our own society with all its wrinkles of hates - caste, religion,  class and political origin - is going to be the biggest challenge for us in the coming months.


And the signs are not encouraging if we go by the state's response to the massive armed confrontation in Mathura recently; the government had  all the instruments for success: adequate advance intelligence, enough legal authority and sufficient armed policemen and yet it botched up because its mind was clouded by other considerations.

I am not confident other states would do any better if they face Mathura-like situation because political considerations seem to be governing our counterterrorism discourse.

Sordid details coming out now in the media on how we tried to use the worst ever jihadi terrorist act - the 26/11 Lashkar attack in Mumbai - to settle political score is most disturbing to the people who aspire nothing more than survival in some comfort.

The other disturbing phenomenon in our midst is sloth in whatever we do. And it's a national ailment that cannot be wished away.

So we wait for someone to reform policing though I am told as many as 13 police commissions' recommendations are maturing for years in the pickle jars of home ministry.

Our attitude to fighting terrorism needs to undergo a thorough makeover. Whenever suspected acts of extremism are reported scoop artists no doubt aided by netas look for reasons to disprove them.

As a result we saw the sad story of police being asked to prosecute one of the top guns of the Intelligence Bureau in Gujarat became someone high in the power train decided to rewrite the action plan. But we have to recognise results achieved also despite these shackles.

It gives us hope to see the much-maligned police recently hauling up 17 suspected jihadi extremists before the court of law.

The biggest learning for the US from Orlando is it has to clean up the glorification of violence in the social environment. Otherwise, it cannot cut down repetition of mindless acts like the Orlando massacre.

Though, to say so does not help the victims who would consider it a pompous statement, the question is why such gruesome acts of violence do not happen in Canada, another land of immigrants just across the US border to the north?

In fact, Canada has one of the lowest rates of gun-related violence unlike the US which has the dubious distinction at the other end of the highest violence of similar kind.

This has an Indian context as well because our enforcement of arms act is suspect and illegal gun making a cottage industry.

I remember when my point on this was disputed in a civil-military conference at the chief secretary's level in Kolkata,

I sent my man to buy from the bazaar a pipe gun that fired a single shot for Rs 65 and produced it before my session ended.

I hope things have improved now and not merely the price of an illegal weapon in Kolkata because it is becoming a hotspot for acts of violence.

Last updated: June 13, 2016 | 17:01
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