Friday, June 17, 2016

Reflections on the Pulse nightclub shooting

A makeshift memorial to remember the victims of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, outside the Stonewall Inn in New York City. | Reuters
America is engaged in a war on terror, it is said. Under such circumstances, terrorists are designated as rogue actors who carry out an act of violence against a foreign entity, usually associated with Western societies. But what is absent in this denotation, one that has been reproduced and legitimated in the mainstream, is how the United States has appropriated discourses on terrorism toward exercising its power and influence over everyday life. “Terror,” as situated in the neoliberal era, cannot be defined and articulated in individualistic or atomistic terms. It must be understood for what it is: a manifestation of state violence against the backdrop of a long-standing history of colonialism and imperialism.

The Pulse nightclub massacre illustrates how the past can be rewritten and whitewashed, so as to normalize practices of state terrorism against marginalized and oppressed groups in the present. It was decried as the “worst mass shooting in United States history,”[1] at odds with a colonial legacy of genocide and slavery directed toward indigenous and black peoples over generations.[2] It was then distilled as an episode of terrorism motivated by religious extremism and mental illness, in isolation from the volatilities of global capitalism and its attendant ideology of market fundamentalism. Politicians of various stripes, including the self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders, have exploited the incident to generate support for increased military action vis-a-vis the Islamic State,[3] in spite of the fact that the assailant was an American citizen, not known to have any connections to the organization.[4] Accordingly, Islam is implicated as the cause of the carnage that took place during the Latin-themed night, as part of a strategy to divide and pit communities of color against one another. The penchant for binary modes of thinking, “the West versus the Rest,” is indulged by constructing a dehumanized image of the “other,” solidifying a racial caste system that encourages infighting at the expense of finite resources.

Meanwhile, liberal pundits such as Rachel Maddow exclaim how the gay community has been “forged in fire,”[5] when the attack is more accurately a product of a hierarchical order that has for centuries abused, harassed and stigmatized queer people of color. Restricting the lexicon to words such as “terrorism” is convenient, in part because it obviates the need to reflect on the state’s domestic and foreign policies that, in their attempt to build consensus, criminalize difference and dissent. It masks how cultural and educational apparatuses like the media, in addition to state institutions such as the courts and the police, are complicit in the oppression and subjugation of queer and colored bodies in private and public spaces. More crucially, it is dismissive of the aggressive and hypermasculinized practices of policing, surveillance and torture, alongside the gendered and racialized norms imposed by white patriarchy.

The priests and prophets of the neoliberal clergy, largely responsible for misery and suffering on a planetary scale, profess that such injustices are self-deserved. The puritan motives of the messianic right become all too apparent when it is asserted that the targets of mass murder had in fact “reaped what they sowed.”[6] In this manner, the Pulse shooting massacre can be viewed as another incidence of violence inflicted by the state, which deflects and denies accountability for its destructive actions. Faithful to the shock doctrine is an instrumentalist politics that had produced the man-made disaster of Hurricane Katrina, the criminalization of poverty in Ferguson and the uranium contamination of Navajo lands, primarily at the risk of communities that have been dispossessed of their rights and are considered disposable.[7]

At the other end of the spectrum, moral superiority when it comes to defending minorities is proclaimed under a banner of progressivism. In neoliberal America, historical memory is erased as the notion of time is lost in a stream of fragmented knowledge. The welfare state is retrenched, urban areas are gentrified and public spheres are privatized, developments of which are most devastating to socially and economically marginalized populations. The language of identity politics is misappropriated, as the constructs of race, gender and sexuality are essentialized, depoliticized and commercialized.[8] The shibboleths of the left are increasingly absorbed by market values, limited to an elite class that thrives on the wealth accrued through capitalist and imperialist modes of domination. Across Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Northern Africa, black and brown bodies are bombed, displaced and relegated to 
“collateral damage,” subject to a certain necropolitics that remains unapologetic to the cynical calculus of state-sponsored assassination and drone warfare.

s war on terror gradually transforms into one that makes a mockery of civil liberties and the democratic process, mimicking the activities it purports to deter. The Pulse nightclub massacre must be framed in this larger context of homophobia, misogyny and imperialism, in which people of invisible caste are categorized as both victims and perpetrators in order to reinforce the status quo. Such tragedies are symptomatic of a capitalist society engulfed in bigotry, fear and racism that foments anti-black and anti-gay attitudes, mobilizes ressentiment into militancy and assents to state-sanctioned cults of violence. It propels the militarization of every facet of life, allowing those in power to obscure the real dangers of empire by reducing them to constituent matters of gun control, hate crime and police brutality.[9] The internal logics of the judicial system then operate as a mechanism to persecute and incarcerate dissidents and politically inconvenient figures, disproportionately people of color and non-normative gender and sexual expressions, tightening the nexus between state terrorism and the prison-industrial complex.[10]

In the broadest view, the discourse of war and terrorism informs a self-conception that manifests in the realms of international and interpersonal relations. State violence undertakes a normalizing and depoliticizing role, as it obfuscates the oppressive forces that incapacitate human agency, engendering the conditions under which atrocities like the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub come into existence. One cannot be deceived by the neoliberal state grounded in the ritual speech of mantra, that it is not possible to connect individual problems with systemic issues. Unless the triplets of racism, capitalism and militarism are confronted, and the linkages between individual and collective struggles are made, it is difficult to imagine how the submerged identities within colored and queer communities can be liberated from the structures aimed at silencing and rendering them invisible.

[1] Lizette Alvarez and Richard Pérez-Peña, Orlando Gunman Attacks Gay Nightclub, Leaving 50 Dead (The New York Times, June 12, 2016), Access:
[2] Carla Blank,
Purging History: Was Orlando Really the Worst Massacre in US History? (CounterPunch, June 17, 2016), Access:
[3] Sanders: “ISIS must be destroyed” (Reuters, June 12, 2016), Access:
[4] Spencer Ackerman,
CIA has not found any link between Orlando killer and Isis, says agency chief (The Guardian, June 16, 2016), Access:
[5] Maddow: Gay community in US ‘forged in fire’ (MSNBC, June 13, 2016), Access:
[6] Patrick Svitek, 
Dan Patrick Takes Heat for Posts After Orlando Shooting (The Texas Tribune, June 12, 2016), Access:
[7] Leslie Thatcher, Henry Giroux on State Terrorism and the Ideological Weapons of Neoliberalism (Truthout, February 28, 2016), Access:
[8] Aviva Chomsky, Tomgram: Will the Millenial Movement Rebuild the Ivory Tower or Be Crushed by It? (TomDispatch, May 22, 2016), Access:
[9] Yasmin Nair, A Look at How Liberals Led America Into Having the Highest Prison Rate in The World (AlterNet, October 4, 2014), Access:
[10] Mark Karlin, Michelle Alexander on the Irrational Race Bias of the Criminal Justice and Prison Systems (Truthout, August 1, 2012), Access:

Further reading
Nico Lang, Call the Orlando massacre a hate crime: This was an attack on the LGBT community—and that matters (Salon, June 13, 2016), Access:
FBI Told Orlando Shooter’s Wife Not to Tell US Media He Was Gay (TeleSUR, June 16, 2016), Access:
Michelle Chen, Targeting Queer People of Color in the Name of ‘National Security’ (The Nation, June 16, 2016), Access:
FBI Tried to Lure Orlando Shooter into a Terror Plot in 2013 (TeleSUR, June 19, 2016), Access: