The mass shooting in Orlando this week underscores several serious challenges that we as a society must face. The three most important ones in my view are homophobia, radicalism and gun violence. But before I explore these critical issues, let me first address the legions of Islamophobes in America who still accuse Muslims of not condemning terrorism.
I, Muqtedar Khan, a professor who teaches at University of Delaware, President of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs, senior fellow of the Center for Global Policy, an aspiring Sufi and an occasional Khateeb (Islamic sermon giver), unequivocally condemn this act of terrorism, and I also condemn the values that inspire such hateful violence and I reject and condemn those who teach and preach such hate. As is evident from the outpouring of anguish, horror, condemnation, vigils and prayers from many many Muslims in all walks of life, Omer Mateen, does not represent most of American Muslims who abhor such hate and such violence.
Omer Mateen’s terrible act of violence not only killed forty-nine innocent people and wounded fifty-three more; the targeting of the GLBT community during the gay pride week suggests that it was a hate crime. As more details emerge there is evidence that Mateen himself may have been gay, his father often called him gay, he visited gay clubs and used gay dating Apps, and the shooting may be a desperate act of a man who was himself gay and unable to come to terms with this reality. His two pilgrimages to Mecca in 2011 and 2012 suggest that he was also religious.
The facts are still unfolding but there is enough to suggest that Omer Mateen may have acted more out of homophobia than anti-Americanism. The possibility that he might himself have been gay does not mitigate this possibility. It is ironic that it appears that Mateen may have attacked the nightclub either because he hated gays or that he hated the fact that he might be gay. While the latter possibility would make the motivation a case of social and psychological maladjustment, the former possibility brings the limelight back on Islam and how Muslims perceive homosexuality.
According to certain studies nearly 42% of American Muslims have reasonably progressive views towards homosexuality. But the orthodoxy and the mosque centered Muslims by and large have a loathing and deeply rooted distaste for the lifestyle. Search all the major Muslim traditional scholars of Islam’s views on homosexuality on YouTube and you will notice a consistent pattern of rejecting the naturalness of homosexual tendencies and treating them as perverted choice driven by immoral Western culture.
Preacher after preacher condemns homosexuality invoking scripture and traditions to such a point that some Muslims literally despise homosexuals. And when young people who have now been conditioned to dislike the gay lifestyle go to YouTube and listen to foreign Imams, who are unrestrained by the American legal and political culture, they learn that death is the Islamic punishment for homosexuals. This is not really true, there are major dissenting voices and alternate interpretations in the Islamic tradition but they are rarely mentioned. Preachers rarely show nuance in their sermons. We find that there is heady mixture of religion and cultural approbation involved in being Muslim and gay, which may have driven Mateen to take extreme action.
But we must also remember, there are lots of gay Muslims in North America, inside and outside the closet and they all have access to guns but none of them is resorting to such measures. There is more to Mateen than just his discomfort with his sexuality and the accessibility of guns. We have to consider the possibility that he was radicalized and his horrible actions maybe a combination of his sentiments towards alternate lifestyles and his political radicalism.
Mateen has grown up in the shadow of his father’s crazy politics, which are sympathetic to Taliban in Afghanistan. He himself has a record of radical outpourings and he is reported to have claimed that he pledged allegiance to ISIS. It is not clear, whether he was influenced by ISIS and their ideology or not. But once again attention is focused on the issue of radicalism amongst American Muslims.
The year 2015 has been the worst year for terrorist activities by American Muslims. There were two mass shootings, in Tennessee and San Barnardino, over fifty were arrested for trying to join ISIS and many more left to join ISIS (over 250 since 2014). The case of Omer Mateen is going to make the life of American Muslims and of FBI and law enforcement so much more difficult because it is a hodgepodge of motivations and we may never know fully know if this was a hate crime or an act of foreign or domestic terrorism.
The lone wolf has now become a more difficult puzzle to decipher and therefore even more difficult to profile and preempt. We may not be able to identify potential lone wolfs, but can we not at least ensure that they do not have access to deadly weapons.
WEAPONS OF MASS KILLINGS
If Mateen was not a Muslim, this would have been just another mass shooting, albeit the biggest ever. In the year 2016 we have had 180 mass shootings in the US with 287 dead and hundreds injured. Since the shooting in Orlando we have had four more shootings. What does this say about our society?
Guns, specially the assault variety, are clearly weapons of mass killings. I am amazed at the tolerance and appetite we have for gun related violence and gun related deaths. We are allowing the politics of second amendment to make our country the most violent place on earth and mass killings a prominent cultural phenomenon.
What happened in Orlando is more about the accessibility of guns and their devastating power than about Islam or Muslims. What would have happened if Mateen in his moment of rage could not get his hands on a gun?