Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflecting on Pulse and Omar

The nut case who slaughtered 50+ people in Orlando was out of control in his hatred of gay folks.

Donald Trump is very controlled in his ugly efforts to make political capital out of the tragedy. 

Omar Mateen shot up a LGBT night club. He apparently also “pledged allegiance to ISIS.” Tragic and wrong? Of course! Directed by ISIS? Almost certainly not. 

ISIS will try to aggrandize itself by claiming responsibility. ISIS claims to be the grand Caliphate, and seeks the loyalty of all Muslims. ISIS wants people to see the world as a war between Muslims and the rest of us, even though ISIS has killed many more Muslims than non-Muslims. Trump, screaming for President Obama to call out “radical Islam,” can only help ISIS.

We are not at war with Muslims. We wouldn't declare war on fundamentalist Christians because one massacred people at a women's health clinic and others have killed doctors who perform abortions. If this had been a Christian fundamentalist, mortified by LGBT joy, we wouldn't shoot up a church or ban foreign Christians. Or engage in false rhetoric that could encourage others to do so.

In today's world some number of people go crazy, or are too filled with hatred and anger to continue living a “normal” life. In this country, these folks have far easier access to automatic weapons than elsewhere, and we should correct that, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM. Right now, Many of these nut cases are Muslim, but THAT IS NOT THE PROBLEM.

These people are encouraged by, or get ideas from, others full of hatred and prejudice who shout that the infidels or the heretics or the Christians or the Muslims or the blacks or the Jews or the LGBT community are the Enemy. 

Most Muslims do not consider ISIS's ravings or sadistic conduct to represent Islam. 

Should we help eradicate ISIS as a violent, destructive force in the world? Yes. ISIS harms many in the Middle East, and would harm us if it could. 

Should a person be able to buy an AR-15 when the fancy strikes? No. When a lone nut-case, whatever his religion or nationality, goes wacko, we'd be better off if he didn't have an automatic weapon. 

To fight ISIS, we should understand it. ISIS collects troubled youths who feel unimportant. They join for the same reason city kids join gangs. Does that suggest more promising tactics than accepting ISIS's claim we're warring on Muslims? 

Political “leaders” shouldn't encourage fear for political advantage. Almost all American Muslims are appalled by this tragedy. Many are more appalled than their Christian or Jewish or atheistic neighbors because their own religion was abused by this nut-case and because many of their children will face hostility in school.

ISIS would kill Muslims who do not kneel to the Caliphate at least as readily as it would kill Christians. If we are under attack, we are ALL under attack. We must not let fear make us throw under the bus our democratic traditions and our pride in being a nation of immigrants. 

Interestingly, Mateen didn't just wander into that club. He drank there for years; and a former classmate says Mateen hung out in gay clubs ten years ago. 

We should all look inward. Not only Trump (who brags about the size of his penis and has used women as showpieces since his teens) but all of us. What do fathers like Mateen's, loathing gays, do to their sons? Did others' judgments of Mateen help create a monster? And could our hateful rhetoric inspire another?
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 19 June, and will appear presently on the KRWG-TV website I welcome comments and criticism here or there Below, I elaborate on two points: why Trump's comments are wrong-headed and dangerous; and Omar Mateen's apparent mind-set.]

[Let's Not Do ISIL's Recruiting for It:
Just after sending this column in, I listened to a five-minute video of President Obama making one point more clearly and eloquently than I could.
He addressed directly the criticism that he hasn't use the phrase "radical Islam" -- calling it a "red herring," a "distraction," and "a political talking point."  He called the ISIL's views "a twisted interpretation of one of the world's great religions," and mocked the "Why don't you shout 'radical Islam'?" line as "a political talking point," adding it had "No military value" and that no military advisers were telling him "If we could only use that phrase we could really turn this thing around.
The central point is that "groups like ISIL want to make this a war between Islam and the U.S.  They claim to be the true leaders of millions who reject their crazy notions.  The claim that they speak for Islam.  That's their propaganda, that's how they recruit.  If we fall into their trap and somehow imply we're at war against all Muslims, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them."
This morning [Sunday] a New York Times news story illustrates the point.  Brigadier-General Hadi Razaij was the highest-ranking Sunni police officer in the recent offensive that took back some territory in Falluja from ISIL.  His brother is in a cell, accused of being part of ISIL -- and probably was, because he was arrested at a checkpoint with a car full of explosives.  The writers interviewed an Iraqi farmer who said of his brother had gotten involved with ISIL: "The Sunni youth, among them my brother, were caught up in the swirl of sectarian tensions." The farmer added that at the time the movement felt like a tribal revolution against oppression, but then it was quickly subsumed by the Islamic State.
This brother-against-brother battling underlines the fact that (as I try to articulate in the column) youth join ISIL for a variety of reasons, often because they are jobless and overlooked but also because, where Sunnis and Shias share a "country" with artificial borders drawn for the convenience of the British, there are tensions, and misconduct by each side, that could make it hard to know what to do.  Further, we invaded Iraq.  Whether our government's motive was oil or deposing a dictator or enriching Halliburton and Dick Cheney, we looked like invaders to a lot of people.  Invaders renewing a centuries-old Christian-versus-Muslim battle.  Why should we deepen the misunderstanding, and drive everyday Muslims into the arms of groups like ISIL?   
These are the kinds of subtleties Trump ignores, at least in his public pronouncements.

Trump's comments have aroused anger, even among Republicans.  See, for example:Bill O'Reilly advocates some sensible gun restrictions; A brief video in which prominent Republicans comment on Trump's comments; and This story lists several Republicans appalled by Trump's comments
Then Thursday Trump told Republican Congressional leaders to shut up.  “Our leaders have to get a lot tougher, and be quiet. Just please be quiet,” Trump said. “Don’t talk. Please, be quiet. Just be quiet, . . . we have to have our Republicans either stick together or let me just do it by myself.” Reportedly during Ryan’s Thursday press briefing, the House Speaker was asked if he would ever rescind his endorsement of Trump. Ryan noticeably did not rule out the possibility.  He said only, “That’s not my plan. I don’t have a plan to do that.”  A far cry from "Hell, no!"]
[Trying to See Omar Mateen:
Since I sent in this column, His wife's comments  and other stories have tended to support the view that this guy acted out of a very personal anger, spawned by confusion and embarrassment over his own sexuality, and dressed it up as ideology by pledging allegiance to ISIS.  Die as a hero rather than as a pathetic and uncertain young man.  His apparent inability to distinguish ISIS from its enemies adds a little support to that view -- but that view can also be a stereotype.
Thursday I spoke with a friend who happens to be both Muslim and gay, a rare combination.  We were meeting about something else, but as we parted I asked him his thoughts on Mateen.  He noted Mateen's autocratic and strongly Muslim father, and said Mateen "was almost certainly angry at those people, because it was so much easier for them to come out than it was for him.  He had to hide who he was from his family." 
"Is that what you did?" I asked.
"Absolutely.  That's all I did.  Hide who I was.  And when you repress those kinds of raw emotions, they're going to explode eventually, somehow."
We'll never know the truth; but the rush to see this massacre as ordered by ISIL or even motivated primarily by Muslim faith or anti-U.S. political views seems an oversimplification -- perhaps typical of the way propaganda and war fever affect us.] 

[One further thought, or caution: I don't mean to dismiss the likelihood that political or religious fever was prominent in the swirling emotions that led Mateen to do what he did.  He was undoubtedly on the FBI watch list for a reason.  A friend had gone to join a group (not ISIL, but a rival) and I think died as a suicide bomber.  But it sure looks as if he had other and deeper concerns.  He didn't measure up to his family's expectations, or to his friend's "heroism," and was a short-tempered, often violent fellow to begin with.]


  1. A well-written commentary. I generally agree with most of your points and wish the those in the national media would write this well. But two technical issues I want to bring up. You refer to people buying AR-15's. Though you never specifically said that is what the shooter used, just for the record, the media is reporting he used a SIG MCX. The other is that you twice refer to the ease of obtaining automatic weapons. The weapons in question were semi-automatic weapons, not automatic. Otherwise, I think your column hit the issues quite well.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate both corrections. I did read after sending in the column that the gun was a Sig Sauer; and I did know the weapon in question was semi-automatic (still in my view too deadly to be made quite as easily available as these are) and should have noted that. again, thanks!