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The Florida massacre: implications for Mindanao

FILIPINOS have been following developments in the recent mass killing in Orlando, Florida, United States. Anytime so many are massacred in one place at one time anywhere in the world, it is news, whether it be in Paris, Kenya, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, or Ukraine. Filipinos are specially drawn to reports of a massacre in the United States because millions of Filipinos live there today and some of them may turn out to be involved.

The Florida carnage last June 12 was the latest in a series of similar attacks in the US in recent years – a lone gunman killing 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, a US Army officer killing 13 at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, one man targeting a US congresswoman killing six in Tuczon, Arizona, in 2011, a man killing 26 schoolchildren and school staff members in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, a man firing at the audience and killing 12 in a moviehouse in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012, a gunman killing nine in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

The recent Orlando killing was at a nightclub for gay people. It seems Omar Mateen, a son of Afghan immigrants, had been offended by the sight of two gay men kissing in public. He decided to assault a club known to be popular with members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.

The fact that the gunman was a Muslim caused investigators to link the Orlando killing to the terror attacks in Paris only last December. But there was no evidence that the killing had been coordinated from abroad, only that the killer seems to have been radicalized by Islamic State propaganda on the Internet. It was similar to the killing of 14 people at a county center in San Bernardino, California, by a radicalized American-born citizen of Pakistani descent only last December.

The Orlando killing has renewed the clamor for stricter gun control in the US, with President Barack Obama deploring that his administration has been blocked in this regard by the Republican Party-controlled Congress. The Orlando killer, he said, was able to kill so many as he carried not just a pistol but also an AR-15 assault rifle, a weapon of war, that can be purchased at a gun show in Florida without a background check on the buyer.

Filipinos do not relate too much with the LGBT angle in the Orlando killing; they cannot understand why anyone should hate gay people so much as to shoot up a gay nightclub, as the LGBT community in the Philippines is well accepted, even highly regarded in the entertainment industry. As for gun control, we have stringent regulations, made even more stringent with new requirements for licensed gun holders such as drug and psychological tests.

Perhaps our greatest concern in relation to the Orlando incident is the Islamic State angle. There have been reports of armed men in Mindanao claiming to be inspired by the Islamic State, even adopting its use of beheading captives to inspire terror. The Orlando killing may not have been directly ordered or coordinated from abroad, but it is worrisome that the Islamic State inspired people like Omar Mateen in Florida.

We should look deeper into this angle as we review our own troubled situation in Mindanao today.