On June 12, 2016, 29-year-old Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan descent, randomly shot and killed 49 people and wounded 53 others inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. This was a deadly mass shooting and the deadliest violence against LGBT people in the US. After the attack, attempts were made to understand why this happened: how could someone have gotten away with bringing an AR15-type assault rifle to a nightclub? Some called it an act of terrorism or hate crime. It seemed easy to blame “radical Islam,” since Mateen had sworn allegiance to ISIS during a 9-1-1 call shortly before the attack. Some insinuated self-hatred, since he had used gay dating websites and had publicly displayed his hatred for homosexuality. Others blamed it on a lack of gun control. There were no clear answers.
Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, capitalized on this by re-emphasizing his earlier call for a ban on Muslim migration to the US. “I said this was going to happen — and it is only going to get worse,” he declared in a statement, leaving many to wonder, “Is this for real?”
In the article below, Rana Bose peels off the layers of our social somnambulism to reveal the underlying fault lines responsible for such disasters.
From a liberal democratic perspective (you can sense my shyness about such a label!), and so as not to waste time on the demagogic hysteria of fascist wall-builders and KKKers blending in with Trumpers, let us list a few things that still seem so unsettled in the discussion about what happened in Orlando.
Is it really about highlighting the need to fight Islamophobia?
Is it really all about confronting homophobia?
Is it about self-denial and self-hate?
Is it really about differentiating between an act of terror and an act of hate?
Is it an immigration problem? Is it an issue of mass shootings involving folks who are not “integrated?”
Is it an issue of which guns to release for sport and recreation and which not to?
Is it about the perils of “multiculturalism?”
Is it about mental health, since Mateen was also reported to be bipolar?
Is this about a malfunctioning “security state” apparatus?
Is it about giving the FBI more “preventative” powers?
There are many questions to be asked, but let’s pause here and ponder a bit. There are merits and complexities to all the questions that have been asked. Arriving at a simple denouement would be an easy way out. Let us frame some answers here.
According to Gregory Herek, social psychologist at the University of California:
“There are similarities between the thinking of James and Edward Westermarck (1908), but the latter went beyond instinct-based explanations in his cross-cultural study of morality. He was willing to assert that societal censure of homosexual practices is due to ‘the feeling of aversion or disgust which the idea of homosexual intercourse tends to call forth in normally constituted adult individuals whose sexual instincts have developed under normal conditions.’ But he thought this explanation was inadequate in accounting for the particularly violent reaction against homosexuality displayed by the Jewish, Christian, and Zoroastrian religions. Their strong hostility exists, he said, because homosexual practices were associated historically with idolatry and heresy, and so were condemned by way of laws and customs.”
My point here is that Islam did not invent homophobia. It is institutions fostered by the majority, based on religio-political needs, which started to define morality in terms of the aversion felt toward the homosexual act of intercourse. As if heterosexuals do not get off on anal penetration!
Freud and others who have monopolized the debates on same-sex attraction as emanating from early experiences with same-sex parents, also influenced by societal aversion and repression in dissolving the Oedipal complex, do not have any time for the religio-sociological basis for homosexuality. Patriarchal societies, male domination and male toxicity exist in all religious formations (except matriarchal Aboriginal societies). Homophobia has often been rooted in a love-hate relationship with homo-eroticism. And the most significant contributor to this delicate feel-but-don’t-touch malarkey has been the Christian church itself. So why blame Islam?
Immigration, domestic violence and integration, you say? Really? I think white America has not discovered the contraption invented nearly two hundred years ago by a German chemist named Justus von Liebig. This fellow managed to apply a fine layer of silver on a sheet of plain glass. This contraption, if carefully used by standing in front of it, may throw light on the fact that “Approximately 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the United States.” And less than 1% of them involve Muslims or immigrants.
I am not going to even try and deal with the issue of the sales of guns, the so-called second amendment and all related issues. They have been eloquently handled by others. Ah, yes, there are some cocky and humorous defenses coming up lately. (“Would you blame the diarrhea you had on the meat you consumed or on the cook that made it?”)
The issue at stake is that there is a cancer that lies at the basis of American society and the definition it has of itself: the definition of the Land of Freedom, Land of Opportunity, and the exceptionalist role it must play for World Freedom. That is part of a basic belief system that has long insulated its own population from challenging the pillars of its own society. Therein lies the fault line — an existential tremor waiting to happen.
On a positive note, however, that basic belief system is now under some duress!
Naomi Klein writes in an article entitled “The Best Has Yet to Come:”
“Even writing those words seems crazy. After all, the working assumption for decades has been that genuinely redistributive policies are so unpopular in the U.S. that they could only be smuggled past the American public if they were wrapped in some sort of centrist disguise. ‘Fee and dividend’ instead of a carbon tax. ‘Health care reform’ instead of universal public health care. Only now it turns out that left ideas are popular just as they are, utterly unadorned. Really popular — and in the most pro-capitalist country in the world.”
 From “Beyond ‘Homophobia’: A Social Psychological Perspective on Attitudes Toward Lesbians and Gay Men:” http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/assault/roots/overview.html
 American Bar Association Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence:http://www.americanbar.org/groups/domestic_violence/resources/statistics.html