June 12 marks the second anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Orlando residents will gather to remember those lost to Omar Mateen’s particular brand of hatred. Candles will be lit, bells will be rung, a new mural will be unveiled.
What will not be taking place among these memorials though, is a long overdue and frank conversation about Islamist extremism in Orlando. Few things honor those lost to violence as nobly as the truth being told about what led to their lives being cut short.
This difficult conversation is desperately needed to prevent additional tragedy. The discourse must be not only fearlessly honest, but deeply mindful of not maligning an entire demographic. In the quest for the truth, healing and prevention, discernment must be practiced, while hatred and discrimination rejected.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of conversation around the attack has been focused on firearms. While gun violence should be a topic of ongoing conversation in the United States, the conversation must include other issues central to the specific type of violence in which those firearms are used.
In matters of domestic violence, society does not singularly focus on the weapon a man uses to maim or kill his wife or girlfriend. We rightly tackle the mindset and ideology of the individual who uses violence to exert and maintain power and control in such a relationship. We challenge that thinking and rightly reject the ideas which justify domestic abuse.
But in America, in general, and in Orlando, in particular, we have yet to apply the same moral courage to the discussion about religiously-sanctioned violence. Omar Mateen’s gun did not fire itself, and it wasn’t his gun that called 911 and pledged allegiance to a terror organization. Mateen could have just as easily used another weapon as so many others have.
The 911 hijackers used aircrafts, the Tsarnaev brothers who attacked the Boston Marathon used pressure cookers loaded with nails and ball bearings. Bombs were used in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, in Madrid, at the Brussels airport and to execute a multitude of other attacks — car bombs, truck bombs, shoe bombs, underwear bombs, child suicide bombers, suitcase bombs and wheelchair bombs.
Fast forward and we see the use of trucks and cars to mow down innocent. In Nice, a terrorist drove a truck into 500 people celebrating Bastille Day, leaving 86 people dead and another 434 injured. If a motor vehicle wasn’t owned, no problem. It could be rented as was the case in the Cote d’Azur attack on the Promenade des Anglais and the one on the bike path in Manhattan.
The avoidance of talking about Islamist extremism belies facts which reveal that while a multitude of weapons are used by jihadists, the ideology is the same.
Even without these weapons of destruction, hateful zealotry suffers no lack of imagination. Barring anything else, knives and hatchets have been used. And much of this was done in obeisance to calls from clergy and Muslim scholars— not all of whom are foreign leaders like bin Laden or ISIS’ “caliph.”
Too many advocating these atrocities live among us or welcome “scholars” who teach hate. Orlando is no exception. Atrocities have been openly advocated by clerics both living in and invited to Orlando. But because almost anyone pointing this issue out is called a bigot and slandered as an “Islamophobe,” the ideological roots of the attack at the Pulse nightclub are left largely unexamined and spreading.
The truth is that no one who has been paying attention to this should have been surprised by what Omar Mateen did. Florida, in general, and Central Florida, in particular, has long been a hotbed of extremism. When Omar Mateen carried out his attack, he was not acting as a “lone wolf” operating from his own demented imagination.
He was acting in accordance with a tremendous amount of religious instruction which called for violence to be meted out precisely as it was at Pulse.
While there are many Muslim Americans who reject or ignore pernicious scripture or extremist clerics — some even launching a courageous reform movement — there are others who actively promote or finance terror. Too many of these either reside in or maintain an ongoing presence in Central Florida.
One such man is an individual many refer to as the most dangerous imam in the country. He resides a few short miles from Pulse. Scour the internet and you won’t need to search long for one of his rants, peppered with the sort of homophobic epithets and hatred that ended 49 lives on June 12, 2016.
His name is Abu Taubah, aka Marcus Dwayne Robertson. According to federal prosecutors, Taubah’s resume includes shooting one man in the face, another in the head, taping a pipe bomb to a child hostage’s legs and carrying out a string of violent, armed robberies.
Additionally, Taubah shot three police officers and attacked another injured by an IED. He was also named as a source for bomb detonators in wiretaps revealed when federal agencies listened in on Clement Rodney Hampton El, who conspired with the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Hampton El died in prison serving a 35-year sentence for the part he played in several terror plots, but Taubah continues to reside in Orlando, as he has since 2009. Federal agencies saw fit to make a sweetheart deal with Taubah, which freed him to live and “teach” among the good people of Orlando.
In addition to Central Florida’s full-time resident extremists, there is a veritable parade of jihadist clerics invited to Central Florida Islamic centers as guest speakers.
(Central Florida has not been immune to other kinds of extremism as well. It has been a stop for groups like the hateful Westboro Baptist Church. But what gives pause — or should give pause– is that when Westboro brings their appalling screed to town, they come uninvited by anyone, let alone a faith group and are loudly and repeatedly shunned and demonstrated against by Christians in the area. This is not so with the jihadist clerics who time and again come to Orlando as celebrated guests and honored clergy.)
Such was the case a few short weeks before the attack at Pulse when the Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford, Florida invited Khomeinist cleric Farooq Sekalesfar to give a lecture on homosexuality. His similarly-themed talks include him stating, “Death is the sentence; there’s nothing to be embarassed about this,” and “Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”
In stark contrast to the days and weeks in the immediate aftermath of the Pulse attack, when courageous American Muslim luminaries like Asra Nomani penned articles and pleas calling for reform and an end to Islam’s “Scarlet Letter” laws, in Orlando, Islamist-infested groups welcomed speaker after speaker with terror ties and a stomach-turning history of sanctioning violence against homosexuals, apostates and Jews.
Even as Omar Mateen’s victims remained in the hospital, Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) operatives like Rasha Mubarak donned elegant attire and rolled out the red carpet for guest speakers like sharia-apologist Linda Sarsour and Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who has been quoted as saying, “If only Muslims were clever politically, they could take over the United States and replace its constitutional government with a caliphate.”
Wahhaj was named as a possible co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center Bombings. He acted as a character witness for the “Blind Sheik,” Omar Abdel-Rahman, who was convicted in the bombings.
Ms. Mubarak’s slick public persona was also called into question when her attendance at an Al Quds Rally awash with Hezbollah flags was caught on video. There she was filmed saying, “Uncle, don’t talk with them… they’re Jews.”
The ongoing march into Orlando of extremist clerics and scholars with no respect or regard to those slain, injured or traumatized at Pulse continues unabated. The Ibn Seena Academy, for example, has repeatedly hosted Kemal el Mekki, a cleric banned in Denmark for his extremism.
Sadly, in Orlando, it isn’t only the lunatic fringe that harbors these views. One of the most respected and high profile imams has also hosted Islamists and extremists in the 13 centers under his purview. His name is Imam Musri and over many years, an increasingly disturbing chasm between his public and private conduct has come to light.
Musri’s soft sotto voice found the cameras in the aftermath of Pulse where he routinely condemned the attack. But a more careful review of Mr. Musri reveals a long history of troubling affiliations. One of the mosques under his purview welcomed Rateb al Nabulsi.
Imam Musri’s mixed messages date back to 2009 with his role at the Al Rahman Mosque which raised money for terrorist organization HAMAS with rabid anti-Semite George Galloway. These many affiliations on the part of Imam Musri paint a confusing picture of a man whose inexplicable behavior can seen as either profoundly negligent, downright duplicitous or both.
And so the pattern continues. Next month, the Muslim Congress will come to Orlando. There, another array of clerics and scholars who preach death to gays, Jews and apostates will gather a few short miles away from Pulse. As Orlando remembers and lights candles, as parents, partners and friends grieve and try to hold on through yet another anniversary marking the day their loved ones were brutally slain, the roots of extremism that killed them run ever deeper and wider.
Today Orlando is a city that is still asleep –largely either incapable of or uninterested in doing the gut-wrenching work involved in vanquishing the ideology that took 49 lives and shattered so many others.