Who or what is to blame for the massacre at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida (June 12, 2016)? Muslims? Religious people in general? Islam? Religion in general? Or just the twisted mindset of a troubled individual?
Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American Muslim of Afghan descent leaves 49 people dead and 53 injured after opening fire at Pulse, the gay night club he allegedly visited himself on a regular basis. He was eventually shot by the police. Being a regular visitor of the club, as well as his use of gay dating sites, suggest Mateen was gay himself. His ex-wife also made the claim that he was gay. So maybe it was ressentiment that drove him (for similar examples, click here)?
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that religion often advocates intolerance and hatred against LGBT people. Religious leaders past and present have discriminated against LGBT people. For instance, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Christian evangelicals Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed gays and lesbians, among other people, for the attacks (which they interpreted as “the wrath of God”). Jerry Falwell stated (for more on this, click here):
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
In other words, some religious people hold LGBT people themselves responsible for the oppression and violence they have to endure, allegedly “because they don’t respect God and His laws”. Seen from the perspective of René Girard’s mimetic theory, this is a form of scapegoating: instead of taking responsibility for their own intolerant and sometimes violent attitude, the perpetrators of hate crimes blame the victims and even God for their own terrorist behavior.
The aversion to LGBT people and their sexuality by certain religious people is sometimes mirrored by an aversion to religion by certain “anti-theists”. In the words of Girard, this makes the latter doubles of their theist counterparts. Because religion is seen as one of the main causes of evil, hatred and violence in the world, certain people would rather eradicate religion, blaming religious people for fostering one of the main breeding grounds for evil, and thus start scapegoating themselves. Bill Maher, for example, in the mockumentary Religulous:
This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. […] If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a Mafia wife, with the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of a religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was: That we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.
Well, seen from Bill Maher’s perspective, you’re in big trouble if you are gay and Muslim. You shouldn’t be surprised that you experience violence because being a Muslim, being religious is, in the words of Bill Maher, being “an enabler of homophobia and violence”. Once again the (potential) victim, in this case the gay Muslim, is held responsible, this time by so-called anti-religionists, for the violence the victim might have to endure.
In short, some people scapegoat people for being gay, others scapegoat people for being religious. Being gay and muslim means running the risk of being twice the scapegoat.
From a spiritual perspective we are challenged to criticize ourselves by listening to the Voice of our (potential) Victim, by listening to the voice of the scapegoat, in order to become “the change we want to see”. Maybe “true Islam” is not a religion of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and violence. Maybe “true Islam” is the religion of a “radical minority” that testifies to the Love of “the Merciful One”.
In the words of a gay Muslim man from the documentary I am Gay and Muslim:
No one has the right to tell me whether I’m a good Muslim or not.
To put things in perspective, an overview of mass shootings in the US of the last decades shows that most of the murderers didn’t need religion to get them to kill people. Some even hated religion. All they needed was easy access to guns and all too human characteristics played out in the wrong circumstances:
July 18, 1984: unemployed security guard James Oliver Huberty kills 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. He is killed himself by a police sniper.
October 16, 1991: George Jo Hennard crashes his pickup into a Luby’s cafetaria and begins firing, killing 22 people before taking his own life.
April 20, 1999: Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people before taking their own lives.
April 16, 2007: student Seung-hui Cho kills 32 people on Virginia Tech campus and eventually commits suicide.
April 3, 2009: Jiverly Voong kills 13 people when attacking Binghampton immigration center in New York state.
November 5, 2009: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, attacks Fort Hood in Texas and kills 13 people.
July 20, 2012: James Holmes kills 12 people in what became known as the Colorado cinema shooting, during the screening of the new Batman movie.
December 14, 2012: Adam Lanza kills 27 people, including himself, during an attack on Newtown school in Connecticut.
September 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, kills 12 people at Washington Navy Yard.
June 18, 2015: Dylann Roof kills 9 people at Charleston prayer meeting.
December 2, 2015: Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people at a community centre in San Bernardino. They die in police shootout.
June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen kills 49 people and injures another 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.