The Orlando terrorist attack was a terrible tragedy. Innocent gay people were slaughtered by a bisexual Muslim male in America’s biggest shooting massacre in history, and now the blame game is well underway, both in the political arena and on social media, with speculations, accusations, and counter accusations flying in all directions. The entire world has taken notice, but few commentators have taken a truly holistic look.
Reactions and dissections have ranged from the absurd (“Why We Need To Accept That Omar Mateen Was Not Just Another Muslim Terrorist” in The Huffington Post) to the sublimely scholarly but somewhat specious (“What Does The Koran Say About Being Gay” in Newsweek). Some of the most delusional commentary, however has come from deniers on the extreme left – like the “scholar, international human rights campaigner, and organizer” / journalist detailed in this article – who want to pin the blame for what Omar Mateen did entirely on American society and culture, claiming that he was not an “Islamic radical terrorist from Afghanistan” but was “as American as apple pie made with homegrown apples and baked in an American oven.”
Such bizarreness aside, some serious soul searching still needs to be done by several groups. While analyzing the narratives on Orlando, three aspects come to the fore.
The “Guns” Angle
While the gun lobby is relieved that the shooter wasn’t a white right wing, gay-hating, fringe extremist, it is relevant that he had licensed weapons, despite being on the FBI’s radar. America must question the ease with which it allows people to access such lethal weapons. Is the right to bear arms still relevant in this day and age of 911 and proactive law enforcement of the kind prevalent in the US? Gun-toting good guys did not materialize and come to the rescue in any one of the recent mass shootings in the US, and this incident further debunks the notion that having more guns in circulation in civilized society ensures better public safety. The Wild West frontier days are over and perhaps it is time for America to get over it and move on towards a more non-violent paradigm. There’s a popular saying in America, “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” However, this is only a partial truth, the complete truth would be: “People kill people, with guns!”
“In the aftermath of Orlando, poll after poll shows the majority of Americans support some kind of gun control,” as per a new news report. However, despite “overwhelming public support,” all four gun safety measures which were proposed immediately after the Orlando attack failed to pass in the Senate. The proposed regulations were voted down by US lawmakers this past Monday. This suggests that evolution in this area, while inevitable, will be painfully slow.
At any rate, this is only a minor angle. Determined terrorists can do much damage without guns too, as the 2014 terrorist attack in China showed (“33 Dead, 130 Injured in China Knife-Wielding Spree”).
The Radical Islam Angle
The radical Islam angle is also very clear, despite the perpetrator’s own seemingly ambivalent relationship with his own homosexuality. Muslim apologists may equate this shooting with many others and say that this guy was a nutcase and not a true Muslim. But a look beneath the surface reveals that he was radicalized and had a psychological connect with ISIS, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and with the Boston brothers – his “homeboys,” as he had referred to them. He was acting out of his allegiances and possibly and arguably even his personal religious beliefs, and not some personal angst, which is the driver for most American mass shooters. This is a major distinguishing feature of this atrocity. “Omar Mateen said he did it for ISIS – that explanation should count for something”, Celina Durgin writes in National Review. According to Durgan,
“The evidence that Mateen committed mass slaughter partly out of allegiance to ISIS is explicit and strong. Attempts to psychologize an additional motive, such as repressed homosexuality, are in this case secondary to the immediate national-security threat posed by the pattern of terrorism committed in the U.S. and inspired by Middle Eastern Islamist terror groups.”
Such incidents are also creating fissures within Western societies. Pamela Geller, in an article in Breitbart titled “Poll Shows ‘Total Rejection’ of Islam in France Across The Political Spectrum,” describes how a dichotomy of perception is accentuating ideological differences in US public discourse:
“Any criticism of Islam is met with accusations of “islamophobia.” Islamic law forbids criticism of Islam, the Qur’an, and Muhammad. If they cannot be criticized in the United States, we are in effect accepting Islamic law as overriding the freedom of speech. This would establish Muslims as a protected class and prevent honest discussion of how Islamic jihadists use the texts and teachings of Islam to justify violence and supremacism.
‘Islamophobia’: this term amounts to little more than the enforcement of Sharia in the marketplace of ideas. Any criticism of jihad terror that examines its ideological roots in Islam is called Islamophobia. The word is used to intimidate people into thinking there is something wrong with opposing jihad terror.”
It was precisely this dichotomy of opinion that led the US Department of Justice to initially decide that the transcripts of the Orlando 911 calls would be released only after scrubbing all references to Islam, as Fox news reports. Public pressure, however, has forced the DOJ to subsequently release a full, uncensored transcript of Omar Mateen’s 911 call.
For the sake of maintaining good “race relations” at the global level, as well at the local level everywhere, Muslim leadership across the world must unequivocally not just condemn what happened in Orlando, but more importantly initiate some reorientations in their own societies. A thrust on multicultural and a multi-religious education is the only thing that will unshackle the affected sections of their populations from dogma and the literal reading of religious texts. Muslim communities would also do well to introspect and question why an overwhelmingly large majority of such acts worldwide are perpetuated by adherents of the faith, and how this is impacting the rest of the world. Simply repeating that “terror has no religion” will not convince the rest of the folks. Reform and moderation within Muslim countries are essential, if Muslim communities want to overcome the associated negative perceptions, which, unfortunately, are leading to hate crimes against the innocent Muslims even in places like Canada. There needs to be introspection why, for example, America, the most diverse country on the planet, and thus also one of the most politically correct societies, is today a country that despite its tradition of accepting, welcoming, sheltering, and embracing people from all over the world, has so many people who do not hesitate to echo the formula that “Guns and homophobia don’t kill people, Muslim Terrorists do” (read the aforementioned piece for a very unique dissection of jihadi violence in America) and would like to see Donald Trump double down on his vow to ban Muslims from entering America.
The Homophobia Angle
The third aspect is homophobia, a blanket term that can cover a range of attitudes and feelings towards LGBT people. According to the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center’s LGBT Terms and Definitions website, the term homophobia represents,
“A range of negative attitudes and feelings toward homosexuality or people who are identified or perceived as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). It can be expressed as antipathy, contempt, prejudice, aversion, or hatred, may be based on irrational fear, and is sometimes related to religious beliefs.”
The Visual MD website further elaborates that
“Homophobia is observable in critical and hostile behavior such as discrimination and violence on the basis of sexual orientations that are non-heterosexual. Recognized types of homophobia include institutionalized homophobia, e.g. religious homophobia and state-sponsored homophobia, and internalized homophobia, experienced by people who have same-sex attractions, regardless of how they identify.”
Technically thus, differentiation has to be made between the terms homophobia, hate-crime, and terrorism. Homophobia is an attitude which may result in a range of behaviors that would be considered acts of prejudice or violence and hate crimes in certain cultures and societies, and which might be regarded as acceptable treatment of sexual minorities in other cultures, societies, and milieus. And for terrorism, let’s consider what Jeffrey A Tucker writes in Newsweek:
“The horrifying events at the Pulse bar in Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting in American history, illustrate what is often meant by the term terrorism. It is violence designed to shake our sense of security and safety, to instill fear, to remind us how fragile is the very existence of what we call civilization.
One moment, people are dancing and enjoying the music. The next, they are covered with blood amid unspeakable carnage, and wondering when the bullets are going to tear through their own flesh.”
Despite the significant progress made in most of the advanced countries, there is still ample prejudice towards gays in Western mainstream society. This prejudice, however, pales in comparison with the nature of the institutionalized homophobia and the volume and degree of the persecution and violence against homosexuals in Islamic cultures and societies, as Pamela Constable’s article “How Afghanistan’s mixed messages on homosexuality play into the Orlando shooting debate” in The Washington Post and Karen Leigh and Asa Fitch’s article “Islam’s Punitive Line on Homosexuality” in The Wall Street Journal document, certain exceptions in time and space notwithstanding. The articles “‘God will punish those involved in homosexuality’: Orlando killer’s pro-Taliban dad” published in the Toronto Sun and “Orlando Gunman’s Father Says God – Not His Son – Should Punish Gay People” published on Vice News also reveal, how patriarchy, religiosity, and homophobia are intertwined in this matter. Omar Mateen’s homophobia was not of the American kind, it came from elsewhere – an important fact to consider if one wants to give more weight to the homophobia hypothesis.
Conclusion: What could change after Orlando?
Prima facie, the Orlando combustion is an outcome of the unholy intersection of three highly flammable ideologies, one domestic and two imported, namely America’s obsession with guns, radical Islam (the name that Obama doth not dare take!), and Islamist homophobia. These three combined in Orlando with devastating results.
The long-term aftermath could be quite surprising. A post in a Pakistani online discussion forum is very telling and shows great prescience:
“A single Muslim in Orlando doomed all the efforts of USA citizens, and have practically ensured Trump to be the next president – the most anti-Muslim politician ever produced. He just finished his harangue on the TV. His presentation was to be on Clintons. Instead it became all about Islam and terrorism. The rhetoric has suddenly shifted from Trump’s bigotry to bigotry of Islam. Every time this happens, Islam’s claim to be peaceful becomes a laughing stock of the world.
This act also doomed any chance of the few Syrian refugees, who were to be admitted to USA. And the sad thing is this violent individual did what the Right wishes in its heart-their hatred for Gay community, and secret wish to eliminate them. And the irony is that Gay community is possibly the strongest bulwark against bigotry and a friend of Islam in USA. And it was a Latin night at the club, and most of the killed were Hispanics – the strongest opponents of Trump’s bid for presidency. The focus was on Trump’s anti-Hispanic propaganda. That has been pushed to the background, and Islam becomes the main target.
The fact remains that Mullah is the bane of Islamic world. He has slowly insinuated himself into every sphere of Muslim life, and Muslims are allowing him the space. One can change and get rid of Governments and political parties, but it won’t be easy (if not impossible) to dislodge Mullah from his reign.”
Someone commented half-seriously and half-jokingly that if a similar incident were to take place in India, the first reaction of many would be a call to ban nightclubs. Fortunately, the West is well past that point of idiocy in its evolution and people will be looking at more substantive and meaningful ways to resolve this latest challenge. For many in America, it is clear some things will have to change. The incident may very well be a pivotal moment in US history. Either gun laws will change – which seems more and more unlikely in the short term with the Senate voting down gun control measures this past Monday, or there will likely be more curbs on immigrants in general and Muslims in particular, in the long term. How it pans out ultimately will depend on which voices are the loudest and who becomes the next President.
- Religion is not important here, but facts are. The Snopes website reports that “A popular meme incorrectly states that former U.S. Marine and heroic Pulse bouncer Imran Yousuf is Muslim.” Imran Yousef saved around 60-70 on that fateful night. According to news reports, “Yousuf’s parents migrated from India to Guyana some four generations ago (which is sometime in the 19thcentury). His paternal grandfather is a Muslim, his grandmother a Hindu. His mother, Norma, is a Hindu. His aunt, Christina, and uncle, Rafi, told India West that he is a practicing Hindu.” As per NDTV, “CBS News identified Yousuf as a Hindu and his name caused some confusion. California-based newspaper India West, which interviewed his uncle, clarified that his mother and paternal grandmother are Hindus and he identifies with their religion. His family emigrated from Guyana, where his ancestors had gone from India.”
- Historically, Hindus and Sikhs are the communities that have endured the ideology behind ISIS the most extensively and intensively, a fact not much known to the outside world. A tweet going viral captures the essence:
https://mobile.twitter.com/CestMoiz/status/576196893593722880 (embed and show image)
With input contributed by Amit Nangia.