The Orlando Massacre for Moderates
So it’s come to this: the founder-editor of The New Moderate is politicizing the ghastliest mass-shooting in American history. Don’t those fifty dead and fifty-three wounded souls deserve better, you ask? Don’t we need to recognize their humanity, their innocence, their senseless victimization by a crazed fanatic, the plunging of their families into unimaginable grief? Yes, of course… all in good time.
I can’t help but notice, though, that the stalwarts of the left and right immediately pounced on the news with their airtight and predictable political narratives.
“It had nothing to do with Islam,” the progressive apologists were quick to tell us. “It’s a combination of virulent anti-LGBT bigotry, lax gun control, mental health issues and toxic masculinity.” No matter that 29-year-old mass-shooter Omar Mateen, an American of Afghan parentage, affirmed his allegiance to ISIS and his solidarity with the Boston Marathon bombers during his call to 911 from a bathroom at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. Maybe he was just affirming his Muslim street cred before the authorities closed in.
“It had nothing to do with guns,” the right-wing NRA crowd was just as quick to inform us. “Ban our assault rifles, and the guy could just as easily have used a bomb. We need to ban Muslims instead.” No matter that a mentally unstable civilian was able to purchase a weapon capable of dispatching a hundred human beings in as many seconds. Or that he was able to buy it almost as easily as he might pick up a six-pack at the local beer joint.
Once again, America’s battling tribes have lined up on opposite sides of the field, ready for a skirmish. And once again, the truth behind the news is a little more complicated than either side is willing to admit. In fact, the Orlando massacre represents a convergence of so many hot-button issues that we probably need to examine the parts before we can understand the whole.
Gun control. We don’t allow individual citizens to own tanks, bazookas or other military-grade weapons. The only purpose of semi-automatic rifles and pistols is to mow down as many victims as possible in as short a time as possible. In other words, these are weapons designed for warfare.
Second Amendment diehards will insist that citizens need such weapons in case the government turns tyrannical. Well, good luck using your Glocks and AR-15’s against state-of-the-art U.S. military hardware, folks. And think about this: the incidence of mass shootings has skyrocketed in America since semi-automatic guns became the weapon of choice for psychopaths. (Even with the federal ban on selected assault weapons in place from 1994 to 2004, most gun nuts simply sidestepped it by using legal weapons with high-capacity magazines.) With tens of millions of semi-automatic guns already in circulation, it makes more sense to ban the high-capacity clips that feed such weapons and inflict mass bloodshed.
Yes, a psychopath intent on killing prodigious numbers of his fellow humans could detonate a homemade bomb. But, as things stand, it’s so much easier to buy an assault weapon at the local gun show.
A ban on high-capacity gun clips would pose no threat to the right of Americans to own simple handguns and hunting rifles. (The Founding Fathers were thinking more in terms of muskets.) They’re free to defend their homes or venture off into the woods to murder Bambi and his friends. If they’re any good, they won’t need to fire a hundred shots in succession.
Radical Islamic terrorism. The phrase that our president dares not utter is a phrase we ignore at our own peril. Islamic jihad is real, it’s an urgent worldwide menace, and it won’t go away by itself. With a few exceptions, the bloodiest terrorist attacks of our time have been perpetrated by Muslims with a radical interpretation of Islam.
Do we blame all Muslims? Of course not. Do we blame Islam itself? That’s a little trickier. The Quran, like the Bible, is a mixed bag of wisdom, history and legend. Like the Bible, it’s full of disturbing contradictions: parts of it espouse peace and brotherhood; other verses call for intolerance and bloody vengeance against the infidels. Millions of Muslims worldwide favor the latter course.
One of those Muslims, apparently, was Omar Mateen. He worshiped at his local mosque several times a week, beat his wife and had no love for the West. He resented (understandably) the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But he also expressed support for ISIS and its bloody agenda. In fact, those may have been among his last words. He was a radical Muslim, and he shot a hundred innocent people in one explosive outburst. Was he a terrorist? Most likely, but there are other factors to complicate the story.
Mental health. Omar Mateen was, from his wife’s description, an unstable man with a violent temper. She suspected he was bipolar, and he was given to frequent rages against her. Yes, most Muslim men expect submission from their wives, but Mateen went above and beyond — especially for an American-born Muslim.
According to Mateen’s father, Omar bristled when he saw two gay men kissing in public — reportedly in front of his young son. But there’s more. Reports have emerged that Mateen actually frequented the gay nightclub he ultimately terrorized. Several witnesses reported that he’d approach men at the bar, and probably not with the intention of denouncing them in the name of Islam. He was also said to have been a presence on a gay hook-up website.
A violent, radicalized Muslim male with imperfectly repressed homosexual tendencies — we’re not looking at a good mix here. This man had to be a walking powder keg. And yet he was able to pick up an assault rifle and a semi-automatic handgun at the local shop, no questions asked.
We should be asking questions. Do we deny gun ownership to anyone who has been treated for mental illness, past or present? Do prospective gun owners need to pass an emotional fitness test? Are we intruding too much? What if they’re sane when they purchase a gun but eventually slip off the deep end? Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. We just have to conclude that guns and mental illness don’t mix.
The LGBT movement. It’s probably no accident that the Orlando massacre happened at a gay nightclub during LGBT Pride Month. (Yes, June was given that official designation.) Gay marriage, transgender bathroom rights, fifty different gender designations on Facebook — the pace of change has been breathtaking over just the past decade. I can’t blame LGBT people for wanting to celebrate.
And yet (and you probably knew there would be an “and yet”), this moderate has to wonder if the LGBT movement has gone too public, too in-your-face. Why can’t everyone just live and let live, without parading our preferences or dissing those who differ from us? Why do LGBT people need their own month, or even their own “community”? (We’re all Americans, aren’t we?) Why is it bigotry to assert that biological males shouldn’t be allowed to strip down in women’s locker rooms? Social progressives should realize that it can be difficult — especially for older people and religious people — to do a complete “180” on traditional social beliefs formed decades ago (or prescribed a few millennia ago). You can engineer legal change, but you can’t engineer attitudes. Those take time.
That said, the Orlando massacre was not only a terrorist incident but a deplorable hate crime, perpetrated by a man who likely loathed his own homosexual tendencies. Gay pride rhetoric undoubtedly helps many confused people feel more comfortable with their orientation. In Omar Mateen’s case, it might have had the opposite effect. The result was brutal, premature death for mostly young, mostly Hispanic members of a historically marginalized and still-vulnerable group. I wonder how many cumulative years of potential life were lost that night. Fifty casualties with an average of fifty years left on the clock — you do the math.
The selective tolerance of today’s progressives. They welcome a diverse, multi-hued rainbow of humanity into their communal embrace. But let’s face it: they embrace some representatives of humanity more than others. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, atheists, Muslims, Democrats, LGBT people, feminists, and progressive white men who wear sandals all get a resounding YES. Texans, fundamentalist Christians, rednecks, working-class white ethnics, Republicans and Dead White European Males — not so much.
The progressives’ soft spot for Islam is a baffling one, at least to a slightly dense moderate like me. Here’s a religion/legal system/ideology that, when obeyed to the letter, stands firmly against nearly everything traditional liberals hold sacred: women’s rights, gay rights, religious tolerance, wine, pacifism and personal freedom. (Talk about strange bedfellows.)
I suspect that the progressives who refuse to see the Orlando massacre as an Islamic terror incident — who defend Islam against the likes of Donald Trump and his minions — are operating on the “enemy of my enemy” principle. They haven’t exactly forged an alliance with Islam, but they face a common enemy: the angry white Christian xenophobes who, to them, represent the messy and primitive rear-guard of society. The progressives will tolerate patriarchy and intolerance as long as it has its origins in impoverished countries, preferably those inhabited by non-Europeans. As violent and barbaric as the radical Islamists can be, the Crusaders were even worse — right?
We have to bear in mind, too, that today’s progressives aren’t necessarily liberal. Notice their current penchant for inhibiting free speech, censoring satirical treatment of sacred cows, prosecuting microaggressions against the accepted order. They seem to like rules and unanimity, and they tend to consort only with fellow believers. Maybe (is it possible?) they have more in common with Islamists than we would like to believe.
But enough about politics. In the end, the Orlando massacre has yielded a devastating human toll. Not only for the fifty souls who perished in a bloody and terrifying rampage, or the wounded victims who will carry their scars for life, or their grieving families. Once again, the entire nation has been shocked by the increasingly common spectacle of mass murder in a public place. You’d think we’d have numbed ourselves to the atrocities by now, but if we’re still human, we should never learn to accept them as the “new normal.”
That the shooter was an emotionally unstable, homophobic Muslim equipped with semi-automatic weapons is relevant to our story. But it’s not the whole story. The larger issue is how to restore some semblance of brotherhood to our brilliant but bumbling species.
We can enact legislation to curb gun violence. It won’t eliminate the problem, but it’s a start. We can search for ways to undermine the factionalism and fanaticism so prevalent in so much of the world — including our own country. (That’s what The New Moderate is for, although I can’t brag about the extent of our influence.) We can try to build bridges. But these are only vague notions. I really have no solutions, and it’s plain to see that we need solutions to keep the world’s premium breed of primate from self-destructing.
For me, one ray of hope comes from the transformation of the late Muhammad Ali. As an angry young champ, he bought the black separatist rhetoric and anti-white venom of the radical Nation of Islam. He even repudiated his friend Malcom X for leaving the fold. Then, somehow, he found enlightenment. He parted company with the Nation of Islam and eventually aligned himself with the more tolerant and philosophical Sufi sect of Islam. He became a citizen of the world and a force for unity.
The extremists among us could do worse than to follow his example.
Rick Bayan is founder-editor of The New Moderate.