The Debate

Orlando Shooting Has Nothing to Do With Afghanistan and Islam

Omar Mateen’s hate crime cannot be explained by his ethno-religious background.

Orlando Shooting Has Nothing to Do With Afghanistan and Islam

A New York City vigil for the victims of the Orlando shooting.

Credit: Image via a katz /

Like the rest of the world and the American people, Afghans have been shocked by the heinous crime committed by U.S. citizen Omar Mateen against his fellow Americans this past Sunday. He brutally killed 49 innocent civilians and wounded another 53 in Orlando, Florida. Afghanistan has joined nations around the world in condemning, in the strongest terms possible, this inhumane crime.

In directly speaking to the American people via an interview with CNN on Monday, President Ashraf Ghani said that Afghanistan shared America’s grief and that “our reaction is one of total shock and revulsion.” The president told CNN that there was a very tenuous linkage with Afghanistan, which didn’t warrant any communication between Afghan and U.S. law enforcement agencies about Omar Mateen.

Even if the shooter is remotely linked to Afghanistan because of his parents, however, Ghani argued that “an individual cannot represent a culture or a civilization.” He added that “the greatest number of casualties of terrorism are in the Muslim majority countries.” That is why Islam as a civilization shouldn’t be reduced to pronouncements by political entrepreneurs amid America’s electoral season.

Ghani called the United States “our closest ally, a friend in need and a friend in deed.” And he expressed the gratitude of the Afghan people for America’s continued support: “We pay tribute to those American men and women in uniform and out, who have paid the ultimate price to help us carve a future for ourselves.”

While Mateen’s parents immigrated to the United States during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, he was born and raised in the United States. He has never visited Afghanistan since his birth in 1986, nor was he religious, according to his ex-wife, who also told media that Mateen was mentally disturbed and used to beat her. This led to their estrangement and subsequent divorce in 2011, after a few months of marriage. Despite these facts, clearly establishing the hate crime committed by Mateen, some political entrepreneurs and media outlets in the West link Mateen’s criminal motives to his ethno-religious background, even though that is completely irrelevant.

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As Ghani discussed on CNN, the Afghan people have been subjected to more than 15 years of a deadly terror campaign. This year alone, 1,708 terrorist attacks across Afghanistan have killed 5,000 innocent men, women, children, and the elderly. As the primary victims of regional and global terrorism, Afghans have no sympathy whatsoever with any terrorists, and have always been first to “condemn in categorical terms” any terrorist attacks that have targeted harmless civilians in any part of the world.

As far as Mateen’s father, Siddique Mateen, and his incoherent statements are concerned, a quick review of some of his wildly exaggerated YouTube and Facebook videos prove he is not to be taken seriously. For example, through his frequent social media videos and statements, the elder Mateen has proclaimed himself as the transitional and revolutionary president of Afghanistan in exile. Online he appoints and fires his cabinet ministers. One day, he appears in military fatigue ready to declare war in defense of Afghanistan and, another day, he appears in a loose suit or Afghan attire standing by an Afghan flag in his apartment kitchen to make an announcement. In Afghanistan and throughout the Afghan immigrant communities, he has become a subject of ridicule on social media pages. But some U.S. media outlets have gone so far as to take his strange statements out of context and use them to justify his son’s hate crime.

All said, the United States has a well-recorded history of mass shootings. On the same day as the Orlando shooting took place, media reported that James Wesley Howell, a 20-year-old Indiana man, was arrested in California, while planning to attend the Los Angeles Pride festival. He is said to have been in possession of an arsenal of weapons, including three assault rifles, high capacity magazines, ammunition and a 5-gallon bucket with chemicals that could be used to create an explosive device. Had he not been arrested, Howell would have most likely used his guns to attack those attending the festival.

And last Friday in Orlando not too far from the Pulse nightclub, young American singer Christina Grimmie was shot three times by 27-year-old Kevin James Loibl while she was signing autographs following a performance. The Orlando Police Department reported that Loibl did not appear to know Grimmie personally. Loibl had traveled to Orlando “apparently to commit this crime,” and had brought with him two handguns, two extra magazines full of ammunition, and a hunting knife.

But America’s most tragic mass shooting took place in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 12, 2014. Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza forced his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and shot and killed 20 first graders and six adults. Lanza killed himself at the scene. He had also killed his mother at the home they shared prior to his shooting rampage. In emotional remarks from the White House, President Barack Obama wiped away tears. “Our hearts are broken today,” the president said.

With the highest number of casualties, the Orlando shooting is certainly reminding Americans of these past tragedies—multiplying the pain and grief they are going through as a nation. As President Ghani said on CNN, Afghans profoundly feel and share Americans’ sorrow over the loss of their loved ones. Afghans will always stand shoulder to shoulder with the American people during their hour of national mourning, as they unforgettably appreciate America’s continued support, helping Afghanistan defend itself against terrorism.

M. Ashraf Haidari is the Director-General of Policy & Strategy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan, and formerly served as the country’s Deputy Chief of Mission to India. Prior to this, he was Afghanistan’s Deputy Assistant National Security Advisor, as well as Afghan Chargé d’Affaires to the United States. He tweets @MAshrafHaidari.