Middle East expert talks ‘ISIS crisis’ and Orlando massacre
June 14, 2016
Steamboat Springs — An expert on the Middle East visited Steamboat Springs on Tuesday to tackle issues related to the "ISIS crisis" and its connection to Sunday morning's mass shooting in Orlando, Florida.
Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver and an author, cautioned listeners at Library Hall not to make generalizations about the Islam religion based on the radical actions of someone such as Omar Mateen.
Mateen was identified Sunday as the gunman who killed 49 people and wounded dozens more during a mass shooting at a Florida gay bar.
Mateen reportedly pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — ISIL — during a 911 call and prior to being killed in a shootout with authorities.
"We are going through a very difficult and challenging moment today, and all of the nation's attention — in fact the world's attention — is on what happened in Orlando," Hashemi said. "What happened in Orlando, unfortunately, is not going to be the last mass shooting of this nature that our country will be facing."
The majority of ISIS-related attacks in the United States are carried out by people who are converts from Christianity or other religions, not Islam, Hashemi said.
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"The 1,400-year-old Islamic faith in itself has little to do with the modern jihadist movement," he said. "Religious scripture by itself is not what motivated most of these fanatics."
Hashemi reviewed what has been learned about Mateen since the shooting, including that he regularly attended a mosque, consumed a large amount of ISIS propaganda in the days and weeks leading up to the shooting and that he first raised the suspicion of authorities after claiming to know the men responsible for the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon.
Mateen also claimed to support both al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, two rival groups.
"It suggests a lot of confusion on the mind of this individual," Hashemi said.
Hashemi said Mateen and many people responsible for mass acts of radical violence, share many similar qualities, namely mental health issues.
"(Mateen) was a deeply, mentally ill individual — a ticking time bomb that was ready to explode,” Hashemi said. “That ticking time bomb exploded . . . taking 49 innocent lives with him."
Hashemi explained that one puritanical, politically-charged interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism, can be used by radicals to justify their acts.
"I think we will learn a lot more as the investigation unfolds," Hashemi said. "This question of ISIS, its influence, its impact on radicalizing young people — it's not going to go away anytime soon."