A week full of terror: It’s been a bloody start to 2017

2017 has shocked everyone with a tide of terror attacks in Istanbul, Izmir, Haifa and now in Florida

The whole world was reeling with agonizing and excruciating experiences from 2016, whether it was the loss of legends and heartthrob celebs like David Bowie and George Michael or the loss of human lives from a multitude of terrorist attacks from Orlando to Istanbul. But there were few hopes of prosperity and positive change tied with the arrival of 2017.  Alas, following a horrible commencement of 2017, it appears as though this year won’t be any different from 2016, and might actually be worse in terms of terrorist attacks and human casualties.

The first week of 2017 has startled and disconcerted everyone with a tide of terror attacks and carnages in Istanbul, Izmir, Haifa and now in Florida. It seems as if we have been accustomed to listening about some new mass killing or terrorist attack on a daily basis and such occurrences have become an important part of our daily lives with their wave of trepidation and terror. From the increasing wave of worldwide terrorism, it seems as if all the global counter terrorism security agencies have failed in their tactics and strategies and they themselves are now powerless in the face of terrorism.

It has almost become a routine thing for me to see some new hashtag trending on my Twitter newsfeed condemning some terrorist attack or shooting by a so called “lone attacker”. It has almost become a routine thing to see statuses on Facebook and Twitter with hashtags like #PrayforNice, Berlin, and Istanbul etc. How long will it take to curb the menace of terrorism?

It has become intolerable now at least for a peace-loving individual like me, who is sick of seeing bloodbaths and dead bodies on television screens on daily basis. Carnage at an Istanbul nightclub which devoured 39 lives on Jan 1 wasn’t enough that shortly afterwards, in the same week, the world has witnessed terrorist attacks in Izmir, Haifa and now gun attack in Florida.

On Tuesday, in Israeli city of Haifa, on the same day two shootings took place which, according to Haifa police, is a terror attack possibly aimed at inflicting terror and augmenting tensions amongst the diverse populace of Haifa comprising of both Jews and Arabs. In the shootings a van driver was killed and a senior judge on Haifa Rabbinic court for Conversion was moderately wounded in the first shooting. This week’s dose of terror doesn’t halt here and the next stop of Terror is Western Turkish city of Izmir, where on Thursday a car bombing and gun attack took place outside a courthouse. Along with the 2 attackers, a policeman and a court worker were killed in the terrorist attack in a Turkish secular stronghold – Izmir has always been persistent in its resistance against radical Islam.

Now terror and violence has landed in Florida with its full rage and has aimed at the passengers and airport workers who were completely oblivious to being victims of another sorrowful incident in the book of grim history of humans, which is being written with their blood. Well it wasn’t an attack by some terrorist outfit like ISIS or Al-Qaeda and it was by a lone attacker who was an Iraq war veteran, but the manner in which this attack was carried out triggered initial speculations of it being a terrorist attack.

Twenty-six-year-old Esteban Santiago, the suspected gunman who shot and killed five people at a Florida airport with a weapon collected from his checked baggage was reportedly an Iraq war veteran known to the US authorities and he had also previously alerted the FBI to his disturbing thoughts. He unpacked gun in the baggage claim area and started firing. People around the world were still in shock from the video which went viral on the social media about how 4 black men abused a defenseless, disabled white man in Chicago and they amused themselves from the confusion and pain of the white man. The video confounded the usual media narrative of “racist white people harassing black people”.

Americans were also quite perplexed and bewildered by the alleged Russian involvement through cyber attacks in manipulating the results of US presidential elections 2016, which resulted in victory of Donald Trump who is considered as having an inclination towards having good relations with Russians under Putin.

Americans still weren’t able to move out of the shock which emanated from this abuse video, and the Russian involvement in elections, that they suffered from another blow in the form of a gun attack in Florida airport. Broward county sheriff Scott Israel said that it’s too early to think about possible terror motives behind the gun attack at airport. Different Florida-based media outlets claimed that the suspect had previously visited FBI offices in Anchorage, Alaska, and made disturbing statements. The gunman’s brother told the AP (Associated Press) that Santiago had received psychological treatment while living in Alaska.

 Esteban Santiago was deployed in Iraq in 2010 and 2011, but he was downgraded from specialist to private first-class due to his unpredictable behavior. He was later in 2016 given a general discharge, which is lower than an honorable discharge due to his dissatisfying performance. He was also charged in a domestic violence case in January 2016 when he tried to bash in a bathroom door at his girlfriend’s home.

According to a Broward county commissioner, Santiago flew into the airport from Anchorage to Minneapolis to Fort Lauderdale with a gun in his checked bag. He then picked up his luggage at baggage claim, loaded the gun in a bathroom, and opened fire at people at the airport.

This gun attack has again triggered an outburst of different views on social media about rising levels of gun violence in USA as compared to its developed peers. USA has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times Sweden’s and nearly 16 times Germany’s. According to different research views, more gun ownership leads to more gun violence and gun ownership is more responsible for gun violence than socio-economic problems in USA.

It’s quite ironic and paradoxical to see how US is able to wield its influence globally, and has mounted efforts to deter terrorism on international level – whether it was through its invasion of Afghanistan or that of Iraq – but has been unable to eradicate or at least reduce to a greater extent rising gun violence at home.

According to a 2007 study by Harvard researchers, there is a strong correlation between the statewide firearm homicide victimization rates and household gun ownership in USA. Prevalence of guns has accelerated levels of lethal violence in USA. Tightening existing gun control measures in the US will help address the toll of gun violence. Gun licensing laws in Connecticut and Missouri helped to a greater extent in reducing homicides and suicides in those states. To have a more immediate impact rather than a gradual and a slow impact as seen in Connecticut and Missouri, USA has to find a way to quickly remove the number of guns in circulation.

US lawmakers can also seek inspiration from examples like the success of Australian model of curbing lethal impact of gun culture, where after a 1996 mass-shooting, lawmakers passed new restrictions on guns and imposed a mandatory buyback program that essentially confiscated people’s guns and seized at least 650,000 firearms. After this move by Australian lawmakers, Australia’s firearm homicide rate dropped by about 42 percent and the firearm suicide rate fell by 57 percent.

 I do realize that it’s quite arduous to pass such kind of gun legislation at federal level in USA owing to the powerful lobby, especially the “National Rifle Association” which espouses gun culture and support gun owners, but USA can still seek some inspiration from the success of Australian model. It’s also quite surprising that just 3 days before the gun attack at the Florida airport, the Florida legislature was considering a bill that would allow people to openly carry firearms in airports. I wish the success of some serious legislation at federal level aimed at deterring the negative effects of US gun culture in future without being harmed by pressures mounted by powerful lobby supporting gun culture.

Sarmad Iqbal is a writer, blogger, columnist and a student at FC College Lahore. He can be followed at Twitter @sarmadiqbal7.

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