Views expressed not necessarily those of the Free Speech and Secular Society
At times like these we must separate the how from the why, and the honest analysis from deceitful
No peaceful Muslim should feel the need to apologise or be obliged to say ‘not in my name’. They didn’t massacre those people, and they had nothing to do with the man that did. Nor do the majority condone the ideology that channelled his hatred of homosexuals into massacring fifty members of the Orlando LGBT community. Killing innocent people for being who they are presumably makes them as sick as it does you or me. Even if some of them happen to share in his view that homosexuality is foul and an insult to God, they still didn’t do this. We must not hold people accountable for the barbarities of others just because they have some of the same worldviews. It is what you do that counts, and they are no more culpable than anyone else.
The above is not just a quick glad handed clearing of the throat. A necessary and cheap bit of virtue signalling to water down an article that might be offensive to some. It is something that we, after despairing at the horror of the attack and sympathising with the affected families, should always keep within our thoughts. It does not mean that we should fear being honest in our attempts to understand why cases like this are becoming more frequent. The dead deserve our best efforts to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. In order to do so we cannot allow our well founded biases against bigotry to cloud our ability to scrutinise as to why and how it did.
If you were instantly convinced that this had nothing to do with religion, because it couldn’t possible have done, then I think you are fooling yourself. If this view stems from a certainty that everything said by anyone from the far Right must be wrong, and so the opposite must always be true, then I do not think you are being serious. It is difficult to overestimate how reductive, not to mention dangerous it is to think in such a simplistic way. We have to be as honest and analytical as possible when dealing with a tragedy such as this, and not be given to knee jerk responses based around the want to reaffirm pre held political beliefs. The following is my own attempt to begin such a process.
The Gun Problem
I can perfectly understand someone wanting to maintain a firearm in the space of their own home. Whatever the values of a functioning police force, you are the first line of defence for your loved ones against those who would do them harm. If such people are more adept at violence than you, then you may feel the only answer is an easy to use deadly weapon. That being said, being able to own an assault rifle capable of delivering seven hundred rounds in less than a minute is as astounding as it is terrifying, and that such weapons can be in the hands of any random citizen genuinely beggars belief. Anyone who argues that my amazement at this is the product of a life outside of a particular cultural context may well be right, and I rightly don’t care. Not all cultures are equal, and any one that valorises the possession of this kind of death machine needs a dose of reform.
Yet better gun control is an answer to the secondary question of how, when the far more important question is why? Why did this man decide to do what he did and what made him do it? To such difficult questions easy access to guns offers no answer at all. Suppose tighter regulations were in place, and assault rifles such as the one used were illegal, would this man still have wanted to kill innocent people? Of course, and he probably would have found a way to do it. Restricting your analysis to guns and guns alone is as fatuous as arguing that if everyone in the club had one then he would have been stopped sooner.
Listening to the attacker’s ex wife wife on CNN, it is clear that this was an imbalanced individual. Violently abusive, quick to fall into bouts rage, issues with drugs. In short, not the kind of person who should be allowed to own a deadly weapon, regardless of whatever amendment within the US constitution gave him the right to do so. However, being a terrible husband and a bad person does not necessarily make one mentally ill. He held down a regular job and was relatively unknown to the authorities. Moreover, there has been nothing gathered thus far which suggests that he was temporarily removed from sanity. No, this was a premeditated attack suggestive of a man who knew exactly what he was doing.
This is not to say that he did not have problems with mental health, or that he was fully in control. But millions suffer from mental health issues, and nobody is in complete control of anything they do. Presenting this as the reason for his actions leaves the jigsaw far from complete.
The Elephant in the Room
Which brings us to the question everyone already knows the answer to, were his motives drawn from or catalysed by his religious beliefs? For all the complexities within the related discourses on this issue, it is a pretty straightforward yes. Sure the primary motivation seems to be a deep rooted and questionably separable homophobia, but whatever prejudices he had were clearly catalysed by his faith and inspired by those barbarous groups that share it. This is not a controversial opinion, it is just plain obvious truth.
How could it not have something to do with his faith? The man called 911 before beginning the massacre and professed his allegiance to the Islamic State! But the Islamic State has nothing to do with religion I hear you say, it is an aberration of the true faith drawing exclusively from reactionary politics and culture. Well the relationship between culture and religion is a symbiotic one. They both come from and are shaped by each other. Only those who believe that their faith stems from divine and not man made authorship can suggest otherwise. As such, any attempts to separate them are academically redundant, because claims resting on faith by definition do not qualify as an objective pursuit of truth.
As for politics, unless a religion consistently and clearly advocates for a separation between itself and the structures of power within a society, then it is decisively and definitively political. Can anyone say with a straight face that Islam does this, or that it concerns itself only to the realms of spirituality and ethics? Can one be serious and suggest that it is exclusively interested in helping along the process of forging a personal relationship with God? Whatever your opinion on the contents of the political messages within Islam may be, we can all at least agree that it contains many a political message? To separate the politics of those who commit such atrocities from their religion is an exercise in futility.
The fact that his and their version of Islam are vastly different from those of other followers doesn’t really mean much. All Abrahamic religions contain as many inconsistencies and possibilities for differences of interpretation as there are stars in the sky. It is entirely possible for two people to be members of the same faith group, use it to justify completely different life choices, and still both present a plausible version of that faith. No one reading is wholly correct, and the only thing we need to know is were his views on homosexuality valid within the context of Islam. All we need do is look at some of the slime invited to speak at Mosques in the Orlando area, as well as the recent polling conducted by ICM, to see that they are.
I am prepared to accept that this barbarian and others like him have only a basic understanding of the faith, and that if they had gone to the right places then religion could have stopped them from murdering innocents simply for being who they are. What this does not change is that they share in an ideology that is current acting like a fly trap to naive and foolish young men. Every unhinged violent homophobe, sexually challenged megalomaniac, and insecure youth hateful of the society they live is at risk of falling prey to its puritanically violent utopianism. What is more, this ideology, no matter how much we would like it not to be true, has something to do with Islam.
Still this barely scratches the surface of the answer to the question why? Suppose he was motivated by an ideology, where did the ideology come from and why is it becoming so popular? What are the driving forces behind it and how can they be stopped?
These are complex questions requiring honest answers. My own opinion is that the certainty that religious belief provides can act as a catalyst for good and bad. What people do with faith is dependent on their own innate morality, how easily it is influenced by outside forces, and the content of what those forces are. If you are a naturally well meaning, tolerant and peaceful person, and you begin to flirt with a faith that teaches you to be charitable, then you are likely use that faith to live a life of helping those who are less fortunate. Likewise if you are inclined to detest homosexuality, and you take up a faith that tells you that the act of love when practiced by homosexuals is a sin punishable by death, then going into a nightclub and murdering people for being gay is not a great stretch of the mind. Tragically for those whose lives were snatched away, their loved ones, and the wider LGBT community, the Islam Omar Mateen subscribed to fit the latter description and not the former.