During the early hours of Sunday morning, when most are either sleeping, partying, or recovering, I was at work. In the I. T. world, changes and elevates most often occur during the wee hours, in order to minimize disruption. At around 3:00am, my phone started beeping with alerts, as the news began to trickle, then flood with reports of a shooting at an Orlando nightclub. At first there were reports of injuries, then deaths, then more deaths. Then the perpetrator was identified as Omar Mateen – a New York native (born in Queens, as was my mother) – the child of Afghan immigrants.
Like most Americans, like most right-thinking people across the world, I felt a sense of horror and outrage at the news of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
I cannot truthfully say, however, that I was shocked. Over the last 20 years, with events like Columbine, Newtown, and San Bernardino, I have lost my capacity for shock. It has been replaced with weariness, disgust, a simmering despair.
In the aftermath of the attack, the talking heads were quick to offer their own two cents. And Donald Trump was quick to offer self-congratulations and even imply that President Obama was somehow responsible for the carnage in Orlando. What a loathsome creature Donald Trump is. He is a reflection of the worst of America, a walking mass of rage, stupidity, and insatiable Id.
I’ve seen three explanations for this attack. Some are calling the attack Islamic terrorism. Some are claiming it was the work of a lone wolf with easy access to an automatic weapon. Some are claiming the killer was a self-loathing homosexual.
It’s likely that all three claims are correct, to an extent. By any measure, Omar Mateen was a seriously warped individual. Mateen’s first wife described him as someone who beat her regularly. People who knew Mateen as a teenager remembered that he cheered when the towers fell on 9/11. Co-workers knew him to express both Islamic extremist and virulently homophobic viewpoints – at one point causing him to be reported to the FBI. Doubtless he learned some of these viewpoints from his father, who posted videos in which he voiced his support of the Taliban and hatred of LGBT people. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree. When Omar Mateen remarried, it was to a woman who was so submissive she wouldn’t even report his activities to the authorities - even as she was trying to dissuade him from the atrocity. Obviously, Noor Mateen has blood on her hands and should be charged as an accessory.
Omar Mateen apparently carried a deep hatred of homosexuals. As is common for those who are referred to as “homophobic”, his hatred was rooted in religion – in this case, a fundamentalist brand of Islam he learned from his father. It is also becoming increasingly apparent that Mateen’s homophobia was not merely on religious grounds, but was internalized – again, this is all too common. He was a semi-regular at Pulse, according to patrons and staff. Indeed, on at least one occasion, he was tossed out of the nightclub after he became belligerently drunk – alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam. He was also using gay dating apps.
It’s easy for reactionaries to shout “Islamo-fascism.” Contrary to claims by some, including Trump, it appears that Mateen was not in direct contact with ISIL or with other Islamic terror organizations. He could best be described as a fellow traveler. But let us not forget that religious extremism comes in all stripes and colors, as evidenced here and here.
Religious extremists can be found in every nation of the world. Homophobia, both internalized and non, can be found in every nation of the world. But why is the United States unique, among the first world nations, in terms of the scale of the carnage from these kinds of events? Contrast the United States with the United Kingdom, for example. The worst terror attack in recent British memory was the 7/7 attack, which required the coordinated efforts of no less than four suicide bombers. 52 people were killed – so this event had about the same fatalities as Orlando. But while mass shootings are nearly a weekly occurrence in the United States, they are exceedingly rare in the UK. The most recent attack in London was not a shooting but the December 2015 knife attack, in which there were no fatalities.
The difference between London and Orlando, or course, lies in the easy access to firearms in the United States. Not merely handguns, which are deadly enough, but automatic weapons such as the AR-15, which caused the bulk of deaths in Orlando – and which can be tied to numerous other incidents. Imagine what would have happened at the Leytonstone tube station if Muhaydin Mire had had a gun. It’s also worth mentioning that London has a far greater percentage of Muslims than any city in the United States, except possibly for Dearborn, Michigan. So, to explain away Orlando as Islamic terrorism and nothing else seems glib, at best.
I’ll never forget the time my father told me, in all earnest, “You know who’s gonna save this country when the Russians invade? 20 million NRA members.” Nor will I ever fathom how a man whose own brother died in a gun accident could become so obsessed with guns in later life. Gun nuts are fixated with a twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment – which they claim grants them unfettered access to any weapon, any time. But I doubt that America’s Founding Fathers, when they drafted the Amendment, intended it as a gateway for psychopaths to gain access to automatic weapons - provided they could have even conceived of such weapons.
It’s time for common sense regulations on the purchase of these kinds of weapons. True, gun restrictions won’t eliminate violence, enabled by guns or other weapons, in our society. But they will increase the likelihood that someone seeking such weapons will be caught before an attack such as that in Orlando could take place.