The Orlando Mass-Shootings: Homophobia or Terrorism

Megan Griffiths

On the morning of the 12th of June, the world woke up to the news of a mass shooting in a LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Another mass shooting. As the death toll in the Orlando shooting has increased to 49 people, debates on homophobia, terrorism and gun control have been stirred up. Mateen’s homophobic and religious motives are not mutually exclusive but entangled, and the events resonate painfully with both recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Ankara and Beirut but also, attacks on gay men and women in New Orleans and London.

In the next few days and weeks, as is the case with every act of violence, messages of solidarity, prayers and love will be sent from all over the world. Yet the range of different controversial issues will no doubt spark debate and will lead to an array of different perceptions of the deeper rooted issues in American society. It’s easy to point the finger towards terrorism, especially considering the inherent American fear of radical Islam. This crime cannot be simply ascribed to being an act of terrorism but as Obama pointed out, also an act of hate. According to Mateen’s father, Mateen became completely enraged when he and his young son saw two men kissing in Miami a few months back, and according to media speculation, it seems his sexuality may be more of a motivation for his actions than his religion. Statistics show that US Muslims are actually more likely to support same sex marriage (42%) than US evangelicals (28%) and are just as likely to support it as general US Christians, suggesting opposition to same sex relationships may not necessarily be a product of any particular religion but of their extremist factions.

T Lt. Governor Dan Patrick tweeted early on Sunday morning a bible verse from Galatians 6:7 ‘Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.’ The very fact that a prominent political figure can take such an anti-gay stance in such a public way illustrates perfectly the depth of homophobia amongst certain Americans, and how, in some ways, it is actually accepted. A pastor from California gave an impassioned sermon on the shootings, lamenting that “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!” He went on to add that “I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a firing wall, put a firing squad in front of them, and blow their brains out.” If a member of the Muslim community used these words, they would likely be used as newspaper headlines to inspire shock amongst people. But due to his supposedly ‘Christian’ faith, the effect is not the same. What is more, Trump’s use of the attack to forward his ideas on banning Muslim immigrants shows the extent of his ignorance on the state of his own country. Mateen was born in America. Whilst he undoubtedly had outside influences on his ideology throughout his life, he was also brought up in an American society where there is often some form of negative stigma on being gay. Politicians such as Trump will use the attack to ignore the flaws in society and place the blame on anyone but straight white Americans.

Of course, America has made real progress in legalising same-sex marriage and equality for homosexual and transgender people, and indeed does not see this as a crime unlike some countries around the world. Still, the fact that this took place in a LGBT club, during the national pride month, needs to be observed and we should reflect on the homophobia and transphobia that evidently still exists. We should not become complacent in how far we have come. An attack directly on LGBT people has shattered the security that many people had come to accept and has revealed the deeper roots of hate, prejudice and insecurity that have evidently been bubbling under the surface of society. Through the juxtaposition and intertwining of terrorism and homophobia in this particular case, it is impossible to extract one from the other.

Indeed, to some, it is easier to simply place the blame for his homophobia on his radicalisation. It is easier to continue our debates on ISIS and terrorism strategies than also consider our attitudes to gays and lesbians, often a slightly taboo subject at the best of times. Owen Jones’ reaction live on air on Sky News shows just how sensitive the situation is and how people’s perceptions of the attack differ. But this totally ignores the fact that Mateen was brought up in America and was therefore exposed to home-grown ignorance and anti-LGBT rhetoric in American society and government which itself leads to marginalisation and violence against the community on a day-to-day basis. He may be Muslim, but is this actually relevant when we consider how anti-LGBT policies are a fundamental mainstream in many parts of America, regardless of faith.

It would be interesting to ask ourselves if the dialogue surrounding the shootings would be different if Mateen was not a seemingly radicalised Muslim, but an anti-gay Christian acting in the name of God. Where does the fact that, completely aside from his faith, he is cited to be a violent and perhaps mentally unstable individual fit in? Would the event have taken on the shape of a less high-profile hate crime? Or merely another mass shooting? By solely labelling it as a ‘terrorist attack’ and linking it to ISIS, it inspires a specific response in us due to recent events attributed to ISIS. The fact that homophobia is not exclusive to a single religion or belief system means that we cannot allow ourselves to simply focus on this as an ISIS inspired terrorist attack. Much focus has been placed on the fact that the attack marks the deadliest domestic terror attack since 9/11 yet it is also the largest targeted attack on the LGBT community since the holocaust.

Increasing acts of terrorism around the globe, coupled with the European refugee crisis, have led to general negative shifts in attitudes towards immigrants and often, islamophobia, ordinary peaceful Muslims are tarred with the same brush as radicalised extremists, leading to ill-conceived fears of Islam itself. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the US and the rise of right wing movements in Europe have led to a general increase in ‘hatemongering’. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein warned that ‘Hate is becoming mainstreamed’. We cannot afford to allow this latest attack to inspire yet more hatred and fear by using Mateen’s Muslim faith as a scapegoat and exploit his faith to forward political agendas on terrorism. To do so blatantly ignores the cracks in tolerance and acceptance within our society and towards the LGBT community. Homophobia, Transphobia and Islamophobia all come together under the same umbrella of hatred and it is not until we have dismantled them all that we can be completely peaceful.

The shows of humanity in Orlando as people go out of their way to help and the messages of solidarity and vigils for the victims and the LGBT community held all over the world show us that love can indeed win. But love will only win if we don’t allow tragedies like this to inspire yet more hatred towards other innocent people. We owe it to the 49 individuals who lost their lives and their families.



Hillary: The Next US President – Why It Is More Likely Than You Might Think


The second term of any re-elected US President has its perks and pitfalls, however a poorly conducted second term can hurt the president’s political party as much as their own individual political career post-Presidency. The Democrats and Republicans tend to kick the ball of Executive control back and forth fairly evenly, Republicans holding more consecutive streaks (the last back to back Republican streak lasting from Reagan to Bush Sr., last triple streak running from Harding to Coolidge to Hoover), and the Independents, well, they last held office in 1845.

So, after two terms of a Democrat as President, what is next for Washington? We are now two years away from the next Presidential ballot. The Republicans have yet to name a contending candidate, and the Democrats are facing criticism that the current Commander in Chief is a second term ‘Lame Duck’. While Obama sets a strong note of change coming into the Oval Office, the prematurely delivered 2009 Nobel Prize (for doing…nothing, sans winning a Presidential race, which does not exactly warrant peaceful behavior) seems to have set a solid standard for his scale of effectiveness-versus-praise.

So who is the only political contender with enough experience, publicity and reputation for tangible results? Hillary Diane Rodham Clinton. Her resume is nothing to scoff at: first female Senator for New York, Secretary of State, Juris Doctor law degree from Yale, and she has served on the board of numerous fostering and child-orientated programs and acts. Her time as First Lady of Arkansas and of the United States wasn’t all smooth sailing as we can recall, but she weathered it better than most and pulled off some daring pantsuits in the process.

But it’s more than her bravado and experience which impacts the public’s opinion of Hillary – no candidate that the Republicans could throw against her would have the amount of social media presence, Oval Office familiarity, and sheer volume of media-presence, dating all the way back into the 1980s, to draw upon. The American public is an extremely diverse landscape of race, culture, language and politics – however, the unifying feature of all successful Presidential nominees has been their media wherewithal; and Hillary has a formidable lead against any other candidate – from any party.

Her policies and stances on the Iraq war should be noted, as military know-how is a pivotal factor in America’s choice of President, particularly as Middle-Eastern disputes are not going away anytime soon. After the September 11th attacks against the US, Hillary supported (as Senator,) the initial military intervention in Afghanistan and the Iraq War Resolution (the 2003 Iraq Invasion); however, she was very open about her discontent with the Bush Administration’s conduct within Iraq and the domestic policies that blatantly broke US citizen’s Constitutional Rights.

She continued her involvement with military disputes as Secretary of State and openly (and quickly in political terms,) took responsibility for the Benghazi Attack on an American Diplomatic Compound in Libya, which (while a physical and political cluster-muck,) was a sound move for her office and the US’s disposition in the region at the time. She is the most-traveled Secretary of State in US history, and was one of the first female politicians in Washington to employ social media outlets to engage with her constituency and beyond.

While anyone of enough caliber and clout to run for President must have a solid resume, political ties and experience and preferably a decent bill-fold (which Hillary has, for better or worse, thanks to her engagements with Wall Street), the fact that Hillary Clinton, a Democratic politician, has been in the public forefront for so long could be the make-or-break of her 2016 Presidential race. Even if the Republican Party can rally a candidate that has a fraction of her Capitol Hill experience, the fact is the Republican Party is currently a very wounded and fractured entity.

It would not be surprising if the party faced a very prolonged and indecisive candidate selection process, and if factions of the party split during the nominee process, no experienced political analyst would think twice.

It is not that Hillary will not have some competition from a Republican Candidate, however, the American public, as heavily-media-influenced as it is, will, more likely than not, mirror each candidate’s media presence (both contemporary and retrospectively) in the voting booths. Hillary is so disproportionately represented in the media that some might say, this race is already over.

Devon Mitchell Simons is a PhD student at Aberystwyth University. Her main research interests include terrorism policy after 2001 and during the Iraq War and the media-to-government relationship.

What is International Law Anyway?

Russian Leader Welcomes US President at G-20 Summit, St. Petersburg

Thousands dead, millions displaced and not much ground gained for either side. You could be forgiven for thinking I am describing the battle of the Somme, but this is in fact the reality of Syria. Like a tragic saga unfolding, the Americans and the Russians have been thrust into the starring roles, but seem to have two separate scripts to the play.

On August 21st the chemical attack launched in Syrian towns, killed at least 1,000 people and was almost immediately blamed on the Assad government by the US and the UK. However after the attack, the Syrian Army strenuously denied responsibility, blaming it on the opposition rebel forces, with the backing of western powers. Parliament was recalled and we seemed to be hurtling headlong into a weekend of bombing without any regard for Security Council sanctions or International law.

The United Nations is often accused of being inept and useless at preventing or solving conflict in present times. And Syria is the latest glowing example of just why this is. I don’t sit on the fence, my mentality tells me to question how military strikes against Assad could do anything other than adding more chaos to an already anarchic situation.  Breathing a sigh of relief when Parliament voted against military intervention alongside the US, I couldn’t help but also feel frustrated by military action being the ‘politics by other means’ of our generation.

The world is war weary just as they were in the post WWI climate, and the vast majority of people have clearly indicated that they do not want, nor see how strikes can help the already reeling country of Syria.  Barack Obama is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner who stated that the US could strike Syria even before the UN weapons report came in. Then following the defeat in parliament of David Cameron, Obama agreed to take it to Congress but admitted again that, strikes would still not be ruled out even if Congress said no! Luckily John Kerry suggested a solution  involving Syria’s chemical weapons being handed over to the International community, and although he dismissed it as an option that ‘would not happen’ – the Russians saw a potential beacon of light in this dark situation. When Obama addressed the nation on Syria, he spoke of American exceptionalism as a good thing, it’s “what makes Americans different, it’s what makes us exceptional”, he declared. With this thought in mind, it can be mentioned that when polls were taken in Egypt, in 2010, a staggering 80 percent of the population believed the US and Israel to be the biggest threats they face. Is the US actually becoming increasingly aggressive rather than exceptional?

Did a sleeping giant wake with the Iraq and Afghanistan interventions, does America now see itself as self-designated policeman of the international community? Take Iraq and the mythical weapons of Mass Destruction that were never found. Or Afghanistan, presumed likely to slide into civil war when international forces leave. At the time of writing, the Taliban has just claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on the US consulate in the country. Is it the mess which is Libya that shows the failing of the UN so well? The Russians believe they were sold out and are determined to not make the same mistake with Syria, with the main objective of the offensive becoming regime change. And who can blame them, it’s happened before. I share in Vladimir Putin’s worry that, “military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States”.

The League of Nations failed because national interests were stronger than a desire for true world peace and equality. It lacked any real credibility especially when the US did not become a signatory. The UN is in real danger of falling down the same wayside. One thing that does seem apparent is the need to modify and strengthen it as a tool of international law. If it can be bypassed and sidestepped at will, to suit the powerful, we have indeed, already lost it. The words peace and equality seem as moribund as ever, diplomacy is another relative limping sadly behind the big guns of our modern times. That there was a chemical attack is not in dispute, but what happens next, is in my view just as important as the choices of whether to bomb or not to bomb Iraq ten years ago…

Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue and diplomacy to be the only way forward on Syria. Speaking with the echo of many countries, citizens and even the Pope behind their statement, they categorically state that they ‘do not protect the Syrian government, but international law’. Anything other than self-defence or a decision taken by the Security Council is not in accordance with international law, and is seen as an ‘act of aggression’. We could break the mould; renew the lack of trust in Western policy towards the Middle East. I guess we have to ask ourselves, what kind of world do we want to live in, and how do we want to achieve peace in these turbulent times?

Terrorist ideologies – Like it now on Facebook!

Discussion on Cyber Security Held at UN in Geneva

The power of persuasion is sometimes a terrifying attribute facing governments all over the world. The internet, with its freedom of global information, is making it easier to do so. Increasingly, studies have been taking place monitoring the caliber of Facebook, Twitter and other web pages springing up with terrorist content during our technological revolution. This varies in degree from nationalist pages with racist content such as the English Defence League (EDL) to hardcore al-Qaeda recruitment and training. Is this, however, a necessary basis for governments to advocate internet surveillance that the US National Security Agency (NSA) has recently been called out upon? Is it that common or lethal a threat to justify such actions when there are serious legal and human rights implications?

“The internet is a prime example of how terrorists can behave in a truly transnational way; in response, states need to think and function in an equally transnational manner.”

Ban Ki-Moon has highlighted the fundamental rhetoric coming from the UN about the use of the internet for terrorist purposes. This reflects the 2012 document produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The major worry about this issue is that groups can more easily communicate across all global boarders. The Executive Director of the UNODC has advised a ‘proactive and coordinated response’ to this ‘rapidly growing phenomenon’. The document advocates a strategy of global intelligence gathering to firstly collect as much evidence as possible for the prosecution of acts, disrupt the process of radicalisation and to build a broader understanding of aspects that underpin radicalisation in the hope of tackling those issues. This will all be pursued following the rule of law and with respect to human rights.

However, the 2012 document is generally seen as a suggestion booklet due to its failure to promote a clear international strategy. The suggestions made are more suited to domestic strategy such as encouraging internet cafes, internet service providers and places with wifi hotspots to register their users. This is a minor impact that cannot be put to use transnationally. Purely the sharing of information can achieve this and states are in charge of the information they share. They may be apprehensive to share under the pretense of other states misusing their information.

Speaking of misuse of information, domestically, the police and public prosecutors are finding the internet a very effective insight into criminal activity. Although effective, this use of surveillance is often irrelevant and inappropriate. As with all internet monitoring it lacks concern about public privacy and free speech.


So can we justify these clear breaches of human rights in the name of national security?


The United Kingdom is one of the leaders in pioneering legislation and research into criminal cyber activity; it has recognized the core methods of using the web for terrorist purposes.

Firstly for propaganda: content that implicates recruitment, radicalization and incitement to terrorism are the most common forms found on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Any pages or streams relative to these characteristics are increasingly being reviewed, suspended or removed by companies. It is speculated that the US is putting pressure on social media sites to act responsibly and efficiently to such content.

Unfortunately, there are many more sinister uses of the web. Websites can aid the training of new recruits in ideology and action. It is easier to plan and execute isolated and simultaneous events. Germany’s anti-terror official Hans-Georg Maassen has stipulated that terrorism now goes beyond social media and may have embarked upon programming online calls against infrastructure via its control systems. This has terrifying implications to public safety and disruption.

It is clear that the threat of the use of the internet for terrorist purposes is a valid one. Although the internet is a fantastic tool in modern society for education and culture, it can be abused not only by its users but also in its monitoring. It is very difficult to create a legal strategy on this issue but it will continually be developed and hopefully used responsibly to prevent future acts of terrorism.


Jamie-Lee Cole



The Use of the Internet for Terrorist Purposes, United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, 2012.




Can the Genie be put back in the bottle? Nuclear disarmament, an eternal struggle

Nuclear disarmament is a live issue at the present time with the recent anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Such man-made devastation in a single moment is only possible via these most powerful and terrible weapons. It is for this reason that the campaign for nuclear disarmament is and must always be an integral part of the United Nations mission. As Ban Ki-moon recently stated “We must eliminate all nuclear weapons in order to eliminate the grave risk they pose to our world”. This risk is not only from their use. It is also from the threat of their use and the fear, uncertainty and instability this invokes in the international community. However, the science that created this threat can never be undiscovered, the engineering and technical expertise may be vital for our future, and the industrial capacity to build a nuclear weapon is likely only to be lost as the result of mass nuclear war (or some other global catastrophe). What then can be done? The only part of the puzzle left open to our influence and able to prevent a repeat of what was seen in Japan 68 years ago is ourselves. We must peruse the goal that American Presidents have desired since their first use, the total elimination of nuclear weapons. This is easier said than done.


America has an extensive arsenal of nuclear weapons that it could choose to decommission, vastly decreasing overall global numbers. Together with Russia they hold 95% of all nuclear weapons. However, Obama talks only of decreasing their numbers, retaining 1’000 and only if Russia would reciprocate. Britain for its part is seemingly determined to retain its place as a nuclear power with David Cameron referring to it as an “insurance policy”. And here lies the problem. Nuclear weapons are still seen as serving the national interest. Those who have them keep them and those who do not, try to obtain them precisely because they are seen to serve a purpose. They are believed to insure a countries security and insure one will not suffer the fate of those annihilated Japanese cities. However, as Ban Ki-moon asserts, “we must educate the world on the benefits of disarmament” and dispel the myth that “security is achieved through the pursuit of military dominance and threats of mutual annihilation”.


Obama rejects “the nuclear weaponisation that North Korea and Iran may be seeking”. However, it is inevitable that countries so often threatened by the foremost nuclear power (and the only country to have deployed them) are themselves going to seek their own nuclear deterrent. It is unclear how we can argue against this logic. As the major nuclear powers, America and Russia must create the political climate and international conditions that would eliminate the perceived threat and consequently perceived need for such weapons by any country, including their own. International cooperation is the only way to peace and security.


The many treaties concerning nuclear weapons must be given their proper place in international law. They must be observed by all those currently possessing nuclear weapons. The “New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty” (START) is a welcomed step. It engages the two states that control the vast majority of weapons, America and Russia. This is a major victory for the disarmament movement as it successfully gained the support of the US political system. The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) however, long after its ratification is no closer to one of its goals, the disarmament of the five permanent Security Council members. Indeed, many more states have since become the bearers of the nuclear menace with more likely to follow. This is in direct conflict with the aim of the “Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty” (CTBT) which is meant to prevent new countries from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This treaty should be a vital part of international law and as such give a firm code to abide by and enforce. However, it is still awaiting ratification by some key countries including America, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, preventing it coming into force. While 159 states have already ratified this treaty (including Russia) the lack of America is a real blow. It undermines the international efforts of the United Nations and relevant international bodies to prevent the proliferation of these weapons. It also undermines the US position towards Iran and North Korea, opening the US to the charge of hypocrisy.


Ultimately the answer lies in political will and the continued pressure being applied by the United Nations and the many NGO’s dedicated to this issue. The global citizenry must also pressurize and call for their respective governments to carry through their commitments regarding this most pressing issue. The Secretary-General’s “five point proposal on nuclear disarmament” is just such a call, asking for the CTBT to be brought into law. If headed, this is a step we would all welcome. Even so, creating a climate of trust, peace and stability, in which possessing nuclear weapons is no longer seen as in the national interest will ultimately be needed to finally deal with the scourge of nuclear weapons. Although, it may be a threat that now found will never be lost, just forever controlled. However, we must always strive for a world devoid of the desire for such destructive power.


Michael Stagg



America and China now on board! Climate change and a new hope for action.

kivalina coast

It has taken some time for the United States to make a move on CO2 emissions and climate change. Recently Barack Obama has made a significant move towards aiding a comprehensive international action plan. Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres has “applauded” the move by Obama to implement a climate change plan within America and believes this marks a change in the international landscape. The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC admits that there is a “worrying shortfall in action” at the present time. However, it is hoped this move by Obama will help to improve political trust and business momentum while driving forward new low and non-carbon technologies.  As Christiana Figueres asserts the US plan may well galvanise the international community and comes in the midst of UN-led negotiations on a new universal climate change treaty. As Ban Ki-moon has stated “no country, no community is immune” to the effects of climate change. It is this international dimension that makes the United Nations the only organisation capable of coordinating the agreements needed to deal with this global threat.

The plan presented by Obama talks of cutting carbon emissions (17% cut of 2005 levels by the end of the decade) engaging with the international community (music to the ears of many) and preparing for the impacts of climate change. This last assertion is a vital piece of the puzzle. There will be consequences that cannot be prevented by any future agreements over CO2 cuts. Such consequences are already being felt within the United States itself. The Inuit community of Kivalina (Alaska) recently failed in their final attempt to seek compensation for the impact of global warming from the company they saw as responsible. However, Obama’s move to prepare for the impacts should and must mean that those affected by climate change will not have to personally fight against powerful companies. Instead they must be supported and protected by their governments and the international community. Indeed the court ruling stated that “the solution to Kivalina’s dire circumstances must rest in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of our [United States] government, not the federal common law”. This is not to say that those companies that are adding to the CO2 problem are off the hook. Obama states that it is not right that “Power plants can still dump limitless carbon pollution into the air for free”. Let us hope, for the sake of the Kivalina community and many more communities throughout the world that the United States new plan is more than rhetoric. With such acts of Presidential power as this bypassing of a deadlocked Congress over new rules for greenhouse gas emissions, there are signs that this is no PR stunt.

This move by the US is a vital one. However the US is no longer the number one CO2 emitter in the world. China has taken this unwelcome honour and has recently acknowledged this responsibility by announcing plans to set a CO2 emissions cap by 2016. This is a start and if followed through is a significant moment for the fight against climate change championed by the UN and NGO’s and a great boost to the on-going negotiations. As the US and China make up 37% of global CO2 emissions the statements by both these countries must be cause for hope and encouragement for us all.

Attempts to protect communities such as Kivalina from the now inevitable impacts of climate change are an important part of the necessary response to climate change. However, potential climate change refugees can only be handled on the small scale that Kivalina and other such communities represent. 20 million were displaced in 2010 in Pakistan’s “mega floods”, a frightening number. However, it has been estimated by Refugees International that by 2050 there could be 200 million people displaced by natural disasters and climate change, with the poorest and most vulnerable countries hit hardest. This may be unavoidable, however we must persevere. Therefore, the statements by the US and China, the continued dedication of the United Nations officials and countless committed NGO devotees must give increasing hope that the plight of the Kivalina inhabitants and those in Pakistan shall not befall increasing and possible overwhelming numbers in the future.


Michael Stagg



Thomas, A. & Rendon, R. (2010). Confronting Climate Displacement: Learning from Pakistan’s Floods. Refugee International