Out of the horror of the Orlando massacre has come a great outpouring of speculation, interpretation, controversy, and blame. Was the massacre primarily a homophobic attack? Was it toxic masculinity, mental illness, gun culture? Was the white supremacist patriarchy to blame? Are we all complicit in the tragedy, as participants in Western culture? Or was it exactly what the shooter publicly proclaimed, both before and during the attack: an act of terror in support of the Islamic State?
Myself, I’ll take the shooter’s word for it. And whatever his primary motive—whether he was a true believer and committed jihadist, a sad and conflicted nutter, or a jumper on the ISIS bandwagon—the effect was a gift for the Islamic State. It does not matter that they didn’t know he existed until he started shooting people; it does not matter that he proclaimed allegiance to both ISIS and its rival, Hezbollah. He served their purpose by sowing more seeds of terror and dissension in the West, and distracting us from the fact that the Islamic State is steadily going down the tubes militarily. None of which seems to have factored much into the cloud of rhetoric surrounding the atrocity in Orlando.
Predictably, most of the arguments have been framed to serve some agenda or other, the progressives, the regressives, the radfems, the Black Lives Matter movement, the gun lobby, the anti-gun lobby, and so on. But it is notable how much of the debate pushes the shooter’s radicalized religious affiliation into the background, as if it were irrelevant, as if the shooter would have rampaged through Pulse with guns blazing whether he was a Muslim, a Presbyterian, or a Pastafarian. And in a limited way, that is true. Juan Cole cut right to the heart of the matter:
Unbalanced, disturbed young Christian Americans who want to act out power fantasies that end in murder-suicide tend to claim a KKK, neo-Nazi, Christian fundamentalist or other white-nationalist identity in a desperate bid to make their loser lives and loser behavior seem cosmically important. And, Jewish young men with mass murder on their minds tend to do so in the name of some flavor of radical Zionism … Muslim American young men with similar power fantasies and violent impulses inflate their egos with reference to al-Qaeda, ISIL, whatever the far right fringe Muslim boogey man of the day is.
Now, I do not believe most Muslims are liable to run amok with a machine gun, any more than my sainted parents were liable to blow up an abortion clinic. I do not think the targeting of a gay bar reflects a widespread cultural homophobia—if anything, the reverse. I think that Omar Mateen is Anders Breivik, is Baruch Goldstein, is John Allen Mohammed, is Robert Dear, is Abbas al-Baqir Abbas, is Mark Essex, is Nidal Hasan, is Dylann Roof, is Tashfeen Malik and her husband, is Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his brother. The common thread is pernicious radical ideology, whether based on race, ethnos, religion, or sexual orientation.
What can we do about it? Buggered if I know. But an ideologically motivated refusal to face plain facts is a very bad start.