Police were calling it a scene of mass casualties in Florida when the thought crossed my mind for the first time: “What if this lone shooter turns out to be a Muslim?”
Hours later, when it was confirmed he had killed 50 people before being shot dead in an operation, the attacker’s identity was revealed as Omar Mateen — born to Afghan immigrants in the United States.
“The shooter has won Donald Trump the presidency,” I said to a friend as I read bits and pieces of his profile.
Trump has made no qualms about it. Radical Islamism is the problem, he asserts, and has very clearly mapped out a solution for his voters — which is not only easy to understand but also speaks to Americans.
Also read: If Donald Trump was a Muslim in Pakistan...
His 'solution' of enforcing a blanket ban on US entry for Muslims who hail from areas with “proven history of terrorism, until we figure out how to deal with this threat [of radical Islamism]” has perhaps begun to strike a chord with many Americans.
Hillary Clinton has so far been the sane man’s favourite — both inside and outside the US. Up until the Orlando massacre, she had actively refrained from referring to radical Islam as the problem, and with good reason too.
Because once you pin the blame on radical Islamism, the next logical step would be to find the line between radical Islamism and non-radical Islamism — and then to differentiate between a radicalised and a non-radicalised Muslim — which can be problematic because these definitions are subjective; they mean different things to different people.
Clinton has continuously warned against demonising American Muslims. Yet, she may have ended up doing exactly that when she said: “We can call it [the Orlando shooting] radical Islamism.”
Not only did the shooting force Hillary to take a U-turn of sorts, this concession came just a day after Trump said: “If Hillary Clinton, after this attack, still cannot say the two words ‘Radical Islam’ she should get out of this race for the presidency.”
She obliged the next day. Perhaps not having done so would have made her look bad, which is an indication of public sentiment that becomes increasingly critical in the run-up to voting day. This, after she had refused to use these words to describe the California shooting.
Remember Bush vs Kerry?
When George Bush succeeded in retaining his presidency in 2004, defeating John Kerry, many Americans and outside observers were left distraught.
How could that have happened?
Bush was caught red-handed when it was confirmed that a major justification for his invasion of Iraq turned out to be a blatant lie.
The final report of the chief US weapons inspector for Iraq, Charles A. Duelfer, submitted to Congress a month before presidential elections, revealed that Saddam did not pose a serious threat to the US, and that he did not possess or have plans to develop weapons of mass destruction.
It was no wonder then that a considerable section of the American population was in shock over the election result.
A man who pushed the US into two directionless wars — one of which was initiated on a completely false pretext had managed to become president for another four years, despite the world knowing the truth.
Only one thing could explain it: 9/11 had changed how many Americans perceived national security and Bush continued to play on that — successfully might I add.
2016 — Back to the future
With two major successive ‘Islamist’ shootings — California and now Orlando — coming in the space of months, the fierceness of Trump’s national security rhetoric, no matter how irrational it may be, could take him over the line.
What will happen if, God forbid, in the seven months left before the US election, another ‘Islamist’ shooting strikes America?
If the 2004 election result taught us anything, it was that national security is a key motivator for the American voter.
Research backs this assertion, with most political scientists who study how terrorism impacts voters, suggesting there’s more reason to believe Trump would benefit greater than Clinton in case of a major terrorist attack on American soil.
And if this is what it boils down to, may I jitteringly say that Trump may be one up in the eyes of the voters because Hillary’s solutions have thus far not borne fruit.
Increased air strikes in IS areas and IS censorship on the Internet does not seem to have neutralised the “radical Islamist terror” threat in the US. Neither does she explain how American Muslims like Omar and Farook are radicalised into carrying out such heinous acts on their own — without any kind of organisational support.
That Mateen may have been a disturbed, closeted homosexual himself, and that he was a wife beater, certainly has no relation to Islam or radical Islam — whatever the difference between the two terms may be — facts which Trump has completely ignored in his narrative.
The real questions then, it seems to me, are how the US can successfully tackle homegrown radicalisation and why has it failed thus far?
While these questions remain unanswered, Clinton has definitely done her rival a favour by using the words radical Islam.
But, let us not be disappointed. This world has survived countless absurdities in the name of national security.