In Orlando, as in Paris, an attack on Western values

The Orlando terrorist attack appears to offer further proof of how ISIS preys on young Muslims dismayed by Western values such as pluralism and equality.    

Omar Mateen via Myspace/Reuters
An undated photo from a social media account of Omar Mateen, who Orlando police have identified as the suspect in the mass shooting at a gay nighclub in Orlando, Fla.

Exactly seven months after terrorists trained and directed by the Islamic State attacked a rock concert at the Bataclan theater in Paris, the pattern appears to have repeated itself.

Sunday’s nightclub attack in Orlando, Fla., it seems, was inspired by his evident hatred of homosexuals as well as the radical ISIS ideology that preaches war on what the group sees as decadent Western values and the ungodly enemies of Islam.

The Paris attacks also targeted the city’s café life, where men and women and culturally diverse crowds socialize.

The attacks on the West extend an ideology that, in ISIS-controlled territories, has resulted in online videos showing suspected homosexuals being stoned or tossed alive off high rises.

ISIS leaders frequently issue statements declaring holy war on the values that the West, in particular, seeks to impose. The ideals of democracy – recognizing individual freedoms and the rights of all faiths – are incompatible with Islam, they say.

That kind of radical rhetoric can be attractive to individuals who not only doubt those values but also their place in societies that cherish them, experts say.

The violence the group inspires “is not just about Islam, it’s about tearing asunder social and democratic cohesion,” says Michael Weiss, a nonresident terrorism expert at the Atlantic Council and author of “ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror.” “People who are uncomfortable in their societies … are drawn to it.”

In the aftermath of the Orlando attack, some terrorism experts are drawing parallels to the December attack in San Bernardino, Calif., in which one of the terrorists declared her allegiance to ISIS as she fled the crime scene. In addition, the San Bernardino and Orlando killers appear only to have been inspired by ISIS, whereas the Paris attackers were part of a cell that was set up and directed by ISIS.

But while the San Bernardino killers appear to have been largely motivated by workplace grudges, Omar Mateen’s targeting of a gay bar appears to more closely track the motives of the Bataclan attack. 

Moreover, in both the Paris and Orlando cases, the attackers were natives, not immigrants who had failed to adjust to Western culture in France and the US.

Both the Bataclan and Orlando attacks appear to have followed a “playbook” for operations against large-crowd cultural venues in Western countries, which ISIS teaches in training camps, some terrorism experts say.

As of Monday, no evidence has emerged of direct contact between Mr. Mateen and ISIS or even that he frequented ISIS websites.

But law enforcement authorities say Mateen followed a former Marine turned radical imam in Orlando who regularly preaches against the sins of homosexuality and the societal threat posed by homosexuals. Mateen was reportedly enrolled in an online seminar offered by the Islamic seminary of Marcus Dwayne Robertson, known by followers as Abu Taubah.

It is this kind of self-radicalization that poses a growing terrorist threat to the US, some experts say.

“Of the two types of attacks – directed and inspired – the latter, the inspired attack, is by far the most dangerous to the American homeland,” says Michael Vickers, a senior counterterrorism adviser to Presidents Bush and Obama.

To address this threat, it won’t be enough to ferret out radicals who openly hate, Mr. Vickers says. Orlando suggests the effort will involve the more complex task of trying to pinpoint the individuals who might settle growing internal conflicts over the world around them by turning violent.

Indeed, some evidence is emerging that Mateen was familiar with the gay community in Orlando and at least at some point had friends who performed as drag queens in area clubs. That evidence is prompting some experts to speculate that Mateen may have acted not just on hate of a community and its values, but out of self-hate.

“If you look at the 9/11 attackers, some of them were engaged in activities they professed to deplore,” Vickers says. Terrorists who are acting in the name of an ideology and against a set of values very often have been acting in ways “wildly inconsistent with their identity,” he adds – or at least their new identity.

It appears that Mateen “needed a banner, he needed a rallying cry,” says Mr. Weiss. That need was filled by ISIS and its “trafficking in ultra-violence.”

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