This week, a shooting happened in the American city of Orlando, a Muslim American man of Afghani descent targeted an LGBT club and killed more than 50 people. It is, of course, a devastating attack, and my heart goes out to all people who were affected by it.
Thoughts and prayers don’t work. Neither do shifting the blame. Yes, it’s about Islam. Yes, it’s about the Muslim community. Yes, it’s about the undercurrent homophobia and transphobia of the American culture. Yes, it’s even about the recent advances of LGBT made recently, and the reaction of a committed homophobe to the events. Yes, it’s about guns. Yes, it’s about the global dominance of Islamic terrorism, which might inspire radical Islamists to carry out such attacks. Yes, it’s about toxic masculinity. Yes, it’s also about Islamophobia, and putting the Muslim minority of the West in a besieged position. It’s about all of these things.
Such events are not caused by a single cause. If we really want to reform the society and reduce atrocities like these, we need to realize that these problems are the extreme manifestation of much more prevalent social ills, and we need to address all those ills. Sadly, it seems that most people engaged in the debates aroused in the aftermath of the atrocity are eager to make people not discuss one of these causes, and that is not helpful.
While some conservatives are usually adamant to say that the guns or homophobia and transphobia play no role, some liberals are eager to claim that Islam and the general culture of the Muslim communities around the globe are blameless. I disagree with both of these assertions. But today I’m not here to argue that, better people than me have argued those things already.
I’m here to argue about one specific case: We know that Omar Mateen was not very knowledgeable about Islamic terror groups: he had pledged allegiance to IS, Hezbollah, Taliban, and Al-Nusra, which are all enemy groups at war with each other (one is even Shia), we know he had multiple accounts on different gay apps, we know he had visited the Pulse Club multiple times before (although, he might have been looking for victims instead of lovers from the beginning), we knew he drank a lot of alcohol.
Many people, including some Muslim apologists such as Yasir Qadhi on his Facebook page, have used these facts to claim that he was not a “real” Muslim, therefore you can’t blame his actions on his ideology. But to me that is a simplification of the complexity of human characteristics, and a profound misunderstanding of how radical Muslims work. Being hypocritical does not make your beliefs any less genuine, or your extremism any less extreme.
I have known my fair share of basijis (para-military Islamists who help Islamic Republic enforce the Islamic law and to crush protesters and reformists). They confiscate playing cards (haram in Islam) and play them themselves. They drink the alcohol they confiscate. They lust after women whom they harass for not abiding to the strict dress code. And many of them are closeted gays.
Being hypocritical does not make them any less Islamist. It doesn’t make their beliefs any less sincere. In fact, all ideologies like this REQUIRE their most ardent believers to think of themselves as corrupt and sinful. If martyrdom washes all your sins, then it helps to need some washing, you know.
Call this ideology whatever you want. Islamism. Conservative Islam. Traditional Islam. Whatever. But the most horrific thing about it is this: it oppresses the executioner and the victim alike. It crushes its enemies, and its soldiers.
Maybe if Omar Mateen was born into a more open culture, into a family whose father was not a Taliban sympathizer, he might have been less conflicted. If he was LGBT (not conclusively proved at this moment), maybe he could have lived with himself, not driven into self-hatred and others-hatred. Omar Mateen may or may not have been gay or bisexual — but I have known self-hating gay Islamist extremists, known enough of them to know that their Islamism and their faith is more than real. It defines them. It makes them resentful.
And the heterosexuals too. They’re angry at the likes of you and me because they see us partaking in things they find sinful and hateful, and they partake in them too, and they hate themselves too. This, to me, is the psychology of the typical religious extremist.
Some time ago I touched on this, as I wrote an article called Loose Muslims Vs. Moderate Muslims and in that I pointed out how people often mistake being loose with being a moderate.
Apologists look with glee at the sins of the extremists, thinking their sins absolves their own religions of the sins of its toxic ideas. But that is not so — the sins of the executioner only reveal the toxicity of the ideas more clearly.
Image credit: Ludovic Bertron via Flickr