Zain Ali: Killer not a true portrayal of a genuine Afghan

People gather on Old Compton Street, London, during a vigil for the victims of Sunday's Orlando shootings at a Gay nightclub in Florida. Photo / AP
People gather on Old Compton Street, London, during a vigil for the victims of Sunday's Orlando shootings at a Gay nightclub in Florida. Photo / AP

The latest act of terror in Florida has once again raised questions about the malicious influence of radical Islam. American Muslims and Muslims around the world have condemned the killings and have drawn a line between themselves and the unholy perversion that is Isis. The perpetrator, Omar Mateen, was a second generation Muslim who was born in New York. A number of commentators have noted that recent Isis inspired attacks in the US have been carried out by second generation Muslims - Muslims who were born in the US to immigrant parents.

There are difficult questions that now need to be considered: why would someone hate the country of their birth, why would someone kill innocent people in cold blood, why are these alienated youth finding inspiration in groups such as Isis? These questions are not easy to answer, we could speculate that groups like Isis provide a brotherhood, an ideology and a cause, and individuals like Omar Mateen are only too willing to embrace the cause in order to vent their hate and rage.

I don't think the likes of Mateen are representative of most second generation Muslims. Mateen was of Afghan descent, and as it happens I've had the good fortune of having Afghans as close friends and family. Afghan hospitality is hard to beat. My Afghan friends also did very well academically, most becoming engineers and doctors. Those who did not do so well academically did really well in business.

None of my friends ever spoke of hating New Zealand, quite the opposite they loved this country, especially the All Blacks. It was one of my close Afghan friends who dragged me to a pub just so we could watch an All Blacks test. The pub visits became a regular fixture, and at one point 10 to 15 of us, mostly Afghans, would congregate just to watch the All Blacks. The pub owners must have looked on in exasperation - we never bought any alcohol, but we chugged down the free Coca-Cola by the litre (it was meant for designated drivers).

Among my friends we were aware of those who had not done so well. Sometimes it was younger brothers, or relatives who had run foul of the law. It wasn't only Afghans who experienced trouble, we knew of Indians, Somalis, Arabs who had gotten themselves into strife. But the majority were fine, the main struggle was trying to fulfil parental expectations.

This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photo / AP
This undated image shows Omar Mateen, who authorities say killed dozens of people inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Photo / AP

The one thing that I most loved about my Afghan friends was that we could get into deep conversations and argue about things that really mattered to us - were the Taliban good or bad, was al Qaeda doing any good for anybody, was there ever a good reason to use violence, was Islam bad toward women. We never got violent towards each other, just impassioned - then we'd head off to watch the All Blacks teach the Aussies a lesson in civility.

Omar Mateen represents the very opposite of what I know about Afghans and about young Muslims. He was abusive toward his wife, angry at the world, and full of hate towards his fellow countrymen. There is no sign of him being engaged with the community, although he did love his young son. It's a tragedy that his hate and rage, blinded him to the fact that those he killed in cold blood were also sons and daughters - young folk who were beloved by their families.

I would like to close with some words from Rahman Baba, a beloved Afghan poet who lived about 300 years ago:

Sow flowers to make a garden bloom around you,

The thorns you sow will prick your own feet,

Arrows shot at others will return to hit you as they fall,

You will come to teeter on the lip of a well dug to undermine another,

Though you look at others with contempt,

It's you whose body will be reduced to dust,

Humanity is all one body,

To torture another is simply to wound yourself.

Dr Zain Ali is head of the Islamic studies research unit at the University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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