Omar Mateen, American of Afghan origin, was armed when he entered a club in Orlando and murdered, coldly and cowardly, 49 people. The slaughter could have been worse had the police not intervened and shot Mateen. Two facts immediately stood out: the oath of allegiance to the Islamic State group made by Mateen and the choice of his victims, who frequently attended that LGBT nightclub. In the heat of the moment, the information was enough for politicians, opportunists and part of the public to have an innocuous and useless argument on the reasons behind the shooting. Was it an act of Islamic terrorism or of homophobia? The clear answer is both, for one does not exclude the other.
If the shooter had entered a synagogue, it would have been anti-Semitic terrorism. If he had shot black people at a gospel church, it would have been racist terrorism. Frequenter of clubs, user of gay dating apps and, according to his first wife, repressed homosexual, Mateen’s choice of victims was not random, nor was his oath to the Islamic State group’s jihadists occasional. His attack against the Pulse club was an act of homophobic terrorism. Islam’s extremist interpretation allowed for Mateen to justify his hatred toward homosexuals. It served as an ideological crutch to support his irrational hatred. The Islamic State group greeted the attack and proclaimed Omar Mateen a “caliphate soldier.” The rush of the terrorist group to disseminate their link to the attack – not yet proven by the U.S. – resulted in irony: Omar Mateen is the first gay martyr recognized by the Islamic State group, which persecutes and murders homosexuals.
In fact, prejudice and intolerance are not exclusive to Islamic jihadists. Moments after the attack, Westboro Baptist Church, in Kansas, infamous and persistent in its rhetoric against gays in the U.S., posted on Twitter: “God sent the shooter to Pulse in Orlando.” It would be difficult to expect anything different from a church whose website is godhatesfags.com. In Sacramento, the capital of California, Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church said in his speech: “Well, aren’t you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No, I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think that Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight.”
In the light of history and facts, the persecution of homosexuals is a constant part of all totalitarian ideology. Nazism killed gays in concentration camps; communism killed homosexuals in Russia, China, Cuba, and in other countries where it was implanted. The three major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – have little to be proud of and all of them have persecuted or still persecute homosexuals. When it is not religion itself that condemns homosexuality, men and governments are the ones who use the “divine word” to disseminate and justify their acts. “The danger of religious faith is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruits of madness and consider them holy,” writes the biologist and essayist Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion.”
Stakeholders interested in reaping their own dividends from the tragedy have gotten into puerile arguments, and intentionally naïve platitudes. The shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, was one of the first to move away from the religious component of the attack and to state that it had been a homophobic act. A former local TV-host, where he defended the Taliban, and a political figure with a certain amount of influence amongst Afghans living in the U.S., Seddique crowned his 15 minutes of fame with a disastrous statement: “It’s up to God to punish homosexuals.”
At the other extreme of the intentional blindness, and closing his eyes to the homophobic nature of the attack, the presumptive Republican candidate to the presidency, Donald Trump, was quick to try and use the tragedy to benefit his campaign. The magnate got it right when he classified the slaughter as terrorism, but he got it wrong in all his statements about it, which have omitted the homophobic profile of the terrorist on purpose in order to capitalize on one of the mottos for his campaign: the ruthless fight against the Islamic State group.
The attack in Orlando is not just a story of an unbalanced man that had access to weapons of war and shot frequenters of an LBGT club. It is the story of a man who nurtured his hatred toward homosexuals due to a radical and violent reading of Islam. This makes the understanding of the fact much more complex. Any interpretation that denies one side of the story is naive or bad faith.