It is too early to be writing a piece on this, yet here I am tuning the keys. Others have not refrained from passing judgment on the Orlando shootings and at present there is a disequilibrium, a very unequal tug-of-war, over what this shooting actually is and who should be talking about it in the first place. The liberal consensus is that the shooting was nothing more than a homophobic hate crime and there is great anger that people, unidentifiable people it seems to me, are denying that it was a homophobic hate crime. Of course this was a homophobic hate crime, but we must not stop our line of inquiry here. Instead of cutting the rope short we must pull on it and discover the true length of this conversation. Let’s try and really talk about what just happened. And let’s start with the basics.
Yesterday, Omar Mateen went into Pulse Nightclub with an assault weapon. Now, forty-nine people are dead and fifty-three people are injured. It is wrenching to read the victims’ last text messages. The LGBT community has been attacked, in an attack like nothing since Sandy Hook.
Why did this happen? The question is premature, but one in need of an answer. ISIS have claimed responsibility for the killings, and the killer pledged allegiance to them. Unfortunately, lone thugs usually do find religious justification for committing acts of terror. By now this is just historical fact – and I have no time for anyone claiming otherwise. The 2012 Aurora shooting is becoming more and more of an exception. The religious element in hate crime is pervasive, and is traceable across the faiths. Yesterday, Pastor Steven Anderson said that the people shot were disgusting perverts, but stopped short of saying that he would have personally killed them himself. This is impossible to ignore. While he is only a single extremist, he is an example of the varying degrees to which individuals commit themselves to ideology. If the pastor was living in a pre-reformation era, if he had read only the Old Testament, if the anti-gay mantra in Leviticus was repeated more frequently (underlined, italicised, emboldened); in any of these scenarios one would expect it more likely, in strict terms of probability, that this baptist preacher might be holding the gun himself. Whereas, with atheists and the majority of people of faith – believers that do not treat their scripture with dogmatism – it is almost impossible to imagine such people committing such actions. When there is no textual basis homophobia rarely translates into mass killings. If it was so, then the most plausible explanation would seem to be that of lunacy.
If Omar Mateen was inspired by islamic doctrine, then religious reformation might have decreased the probability of his actions. But Islamic reform is much less likely to come about as long as people refuse to recognise these attacks for what they are. This man was an American citizen. He had not been the subject of drone attacks, and so no one can say we created his problem ourselves. My secret suspicion is that this is one of the reasons Owen Jones snapped on Sky News last night, and why people were so quick to post in his defense. He was understandably emotional, but because he had no explanation for the attack he could say little other than to call the man a “dreg of humanity”. This, of course, needs to be said, but it is only a description and one that doesn’t address the root cause. For if he is not a lunatic we must wonder from where he got his bigotry? Bigot from birth?
I don’t expect to win any friends by critiquing Owen Jones. Here we go. He released his anger on the media, who he claimed haven’t represented ‘LGBT’ voices. He said: “I will not have people appropriating. These people that never speak about gay rights unless they think a Muslim is involved and then they’ll jump on the bandwagon.” The LBGT community still suffers from discrimination and persecution, but it is not as if there are other recent cases targeted mass-killings in the western world that are underreported. And to suggest that anybody outside the LGBT community cannot sincerely comment – “jumping on the bandwagon” – is like saying that only hard rock fans can speak on the Bataclan massacre in Paris. I’m sure that Owen Jones is right that there are people who are just homophobes, but there can’t be many of them that reach shooting-spree extreme. Maybe Islam is in this case only a shallow justification for this extreme, but that might be all that was needed.
Omar Mateen’s father has said in an apology video that his son’s actions had nothing to do with religion. The video starts with “In the name of God’. The video ends with “may God guide all young people towards the pure faith of Islam”. Make of this what you will, and calcutate from that the likelihood of an irreligious son. During his statement, Omar Mateen’s father also said that the issue of homosexuality was up to god alone, and not in the hands of human beings. In relation to the atrocity, some might wrongly praise this statement. Fortunately, there is no reason to think that any god will judge homosexuality; but unfortunately his son very much did take it into his hands. And this, according to the father, was a son who as “a very good and educated boy”. This, the son that beat his ex-wife?
Whoever or whatever Omar Mateen turns out to be, one thing is clear. Religion must always be considered as a possible factor. In this world, the good will do good, the bad will do bad, but the bad will do much worse when religion is involved. And given an islamist ideological underpinning, the target could just as easily have been women or the disabled. We must learn to talk about the limits of ideology and the degrees of doctrine, because to do so is to help the integrated and wonderful queer muslim community in America. For while they are coming together in unity after atrocity, there is also another loner out there who tends to his gun with his nose in his book.