MASS murderer Omar Mateen, the ‘lone wolf’ gunman responsible for the Orlando nightclub massacre, represents the worst nightmare for the police and security services on both sides of the Atlantic.
Known to the FBI because of his extremist views and links to a suicide bomber, the authorities simply did not have enough evidence and Mateen slipped under the radar until he struck with such deadly consequences.
Their thankless task has echoes with the chilling statement issued by the IRA after it came within a whisker of blowing up Margaret Thatcher in Brighton’s Grand Hotel in 1984: “We only have to be lucky once – you will have to be lucky always.”
Yet this tragedy, which prompted a minute’s silence in the Commons, is also symptomatic of some of the worst elements of modern America. Homophobic hatred is still omnipresent – Mateen struck at a nightclub frequented by the LGBT community. The United States is more vulnerable than ever before to acts of Islamist extremism because of its military intervention in the Middle East. And the right to bear arms – and the ease in which Mateen obtained his firearms – means the Pulse nightclub attack, in which at least 50 revellers were killed, is the 14th massacre of Barack Obama’s presidency alone.
The toxic issues of gun controls, extremism and homophobia, coupled with the most divisive presidential election in history which makes the EU referendum debate look positively statesmanlike in comparison, offer little hope that America’s legislators will get to grips with these issues. On the matter of firearms, President Obama resorted to his default response – what will it take for gun laws to be tightened? Given that he was unable to act after 20 children were shot dead at Sandy Hook school, the impasse represents not only the influence of the US gun lobby and the cravenness of Washington’s political elite, but also the greatest failure of the Obama presidency. As such, it’s little wonder that so many Americans are becoming immune to such savagery.
Healthy debate: NHS and EU future intertwined
AS politicians of all persuasions appear singularly unable to shift public opinion one way or the other over the EU referendum, next Thursday’s knife-edge vote could come down to gut instinct – and what suits the personal circumstances of individual voters.
Take the NHS. It would be remiss of patients not to take into the account the expertise and compassion they receive from those medical and ancillary staff who hail from overseas and whose presence enables hospitals, and care services, to function each day.
It was a point highlighted with characteristic eloquence by Hilary Benn when the Shadow Foreign Secretary spoke movingly about his father’s dying days. “Most of the people who cared for him with such patience and gentleness had brought their care from abroad to this country,” said the Leeds Central MP.
Or Professor Simon Wessely, one of this country’s most respected doctors, who owes his career to his Czechoslovakian-born father fleeing Nazi persecution in 1939 and moving to Yorkshire. In a recent column on these pages, he noted that 11 per cent of NHS staff are from abroad, including one quarter of all doctors, and an ageing society means that hospitals will need more medical staff from overseas in the future.
The sadness is that both sides have allowed the referendum to become so polarised that constructive debate is being overshadowed by the hurling of personal insults, especially by those politicians with scores to settle or who are putting their career prospects first. If only more MPs spoke with Mr Benn’s quiet dignity.
Teaching respect: Archbishop’s invaluable lesson
THE Archbishop of York is better qualified than most talk about society’s need to respect teachers. Dr John Sentamu visited 148 schools during his prayer pilgrimage, a record Nicky Morgan cannot match since becoming Education Secretary in July 2014.
When the Archbishop says there is a problem with morale, the rest of the country should listen. And when his Youth Trust feels the need to launch a ‘Heroes in our Schools” initiative which intends to reward teachers with small gifts such as tea, coffee, biscuits and encouraging messages of gratitude from their pupils, the rest of the country would be minded to follow his example. As Dr Sentamu implores, it is teachers who help to open up “children’s hearts and minds to our world” and they should be cherished rather than derided by Ms Morgan and her ilk.