Yes, I’m still thinking about Orlando. As long as the unceasing parade of bad arguments posited about Omar Mateen continue, so will I continue to seethe about them.
That he was mentally ill. That he was an American, therefore Islam had nothing to do with it. That his reasons had entirely to do with his allegedly being closeted. That he couldn’t have been Muslim because he drank alcohol. That Islam is absolved because that one is theologically against LGBTQ people doesn’t mean one condones violence done against them.
Thankfully, others are speaking out as well: about the realities of mental illness, about the homophobic environment in which Omar Mateen was raised, about the homophobia revealed among Muslims by the attack, and about the responsibility of Muslims for combating that homophobia.
I am using Yasir Qadhi’s statements as an example since many apologists for Muslims, never-Muslims and believers of Islam alike, have been uncritically sharing his irresponsible post (though not his mealy-mouthed half-retraction). He is hardly the only one, though, as the popularity of his words can attest.
Bad Argument: “Omar Mateen Was Mentally Ill.”
Fact: Mentally Ill People Are More Vulnerable to Violence.
Yes, as in they are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetuate them. Given the astounding levels of poverty among people with mental health issues and other disabilities, how is this at all surprising? The issue here is anger. Though it certainly can be a symptom of certain forms of mental illness, anger itself is not a stand-alone mental illness. Barring a diagnosis, calling someone “mentally ill” for being angry and acting on that anger is misguided and false.
Colloquially, people use terms like “mentally ill”, “crazy”, “insane”, and so on to describe actions that they cannot comprehend. In doing so, they other the person responsible for the acts (as though they aren’t part of a society that reinforces hateful mindsets) while simultaneously stigmatizing the mentally ill. As someone who speaks up against religiously-motivated oppression and violence, I hear the “he’s not religious, he’s just nuts in the head!” argument all too frequently, most recently when I did the Unsafe Space podcast. Rarely do these people, who are more invested in excusing religion from the conversation than in actually decoding and solving the underlying issues, have any kind of medical expertise in mental health or even bother to halfheartedly suggest a course of diagnosis and treatment. They instead flail about looking for something to blame other than what the perpetrators of violence outright and openly claim to be their motivation. Their flailing does real harm to those with mental illness.
Bad Argument: “Omar Mateen’s American Birth Means That Islam Had Nothing to Do with It.”
Fact: He Was Raised By a Homophobe in a Homophobic Religious Community & Overall Society.
As someone whose background is not wholly dissimilar to Mateen’s, I think it’s safe for me to say that for people like us, our families, religious and other communities, and overall society all play a role in shaping our mindsets.
An example I can give personally is that of my adolescent anti-Semitism. The main source of my anti-Semitism was certain relatives of mine who were out-and-out Holocaust deniers. While most of my family and Muslim community didn’t take it that far, they did two things that led me to feel that being an anti-Semite was fine by them. First, they allowed my more virulent relatives to rant on unchallenged both publicly and privately. Secondly, they said more “mildly” (relatively speaking) anti-Semitic things, often quotes from the Quran. In other words, it didn’t take an entire community and family of anti-Semites to make me one, it only took a few unchallenged ones along with more subtle reinforcement to accomplish the task.
What broke that particular bigotry of mine? The fact that other communities to which I belonged as well as overall society frowned upon my stances. Community-wise, I grew up in a city with a not-insignificant Jewish population, meaning that my classmates who had to worry along with me about the lard in Oreos and how to participate in Green Eggs & Ham Day in school were Jewish. We had more than one Jewish family in our neighborhood, one of which was close to ours. In terms of society, I had field trips to places like the Museum of Tolerance as well as explicitly positive references to Jewish Americans to tell me that overall society was not OK with my anti-Semitism.
Omar Mateen was raised by a father who supports the Taliban and condemned homosexuality when asked about what happened at Pulse. He existed in a Muslim community that isn’t, as a general rule, tolerant or accepting of anyone that isn’t cis and/or straight. Overall society in the United States, while moving in the right direction on assimilationist goals like same-sex marriage, is hardly close to there when it comes to fully recognizing the humanity of those of us who fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Islam and US society and his family are all complicit.
Bad Argument: Omar Mateen Did It Because He Was Secretly Gay.
Fact: Homophobia Kills.
Now that the dust has finally settled, there is an answer to the question of Mateen’s sexual orientation: All credible evidence points to straight.
Even if he had been gay or bisexual, however, being gay or bisexual does not motivate people to murder their own. In cases of homophobic violence, homophobia is the motive whether someone is straight or not. Homophobia is so rampant and rife in society that it often manifests in internalized fashion in those of us who aren’t straight. Being part of an oppressed group doesn’t mean you are immune to bigotry against that same group. It’s the same reason why women become chill girls or otherwise misogynistic in the way of the latest witch that is dead.
Once again, with feeling: That someone is oppressed isn’t the reason they lash out at fellow members of that oppressed group, it’s the fact that the oppression exists in the first place.
Bad Argument: He Was Not Muslim Because He Drank.
Fact: Most Muslims Don’t Fully Follow Their Religion.
It seems that, after a Muslim commits an atrocity, everyone is suddenly an expert arbiter of who is or isn’t a Muslim . Muslims and never-Muslims alike clamor to strike the name of the violent person from the invisible rolls of those who are within the fold of Islam. As someone who used to be a very devout Muslim, all I can do is roll my eyes at that ridiculous “Who Is a True Muslim?” game. It was one I never played because as a believer with some theological grounding, I knew that only Allah could decide who was a Muslim and who wasn’t.
Do you know what it takes to be considered a Muslim if you were born into the faith? Be born to Muslim parents and never publicly renounce your faith. Do you know what it takes to be considered a Muslim if you weren’t born into the faith? Recite an incantation once in front of enough credible witnesses and never publicly renounce that incantation. That’s all there is to it. Even though Islam has endless amounts of rules and regulations for living one’s life, becoming a Muslim is as easy as being born or making a declaration, and staying within the fold is as simple as never saying that you have left. It’s how you get loose, non-practicing Muslims who still claim to be followers of Islam.
The post-violence rush to decide who is Muslim enough reminds me of how most Muslims treat ex-Muslims. To them, ex-Muslims need to achieve a certain level of religiosity and knowledge in order to leave Islam, but that same metric is hardly applied to those who choose to stay Muslim. Such double-standards are patently convenient to those who apply them and transparently disingenuous on their part. If we’re going to use Omar Mateen’s reported levels of religiosity and theological knowledge as the standard by which to measure Muslims, most people considered Muslims would be forced to leave the ummah.
Double-standards aside, non-practicing Muslims are often the most defensive about their faith. While I am not a fan of the ways in which devout Muslims approach me about my apostasy, loose Muslims can be so much worse. Their simultaneous insistence that it is important to be a Muslim and that being a Muslim can mean anything at all and therefore nothing leads to cognitive dissonance, a discomfort they will unleash upon apostates when they can. Given how many seething men like Omar Mateen I have known in my short life, I am honestly surprised that the urge to quell religious guilt with dramatic action hasn’t led to more acts of violence by his kind.
Bad Argument: Being Against LGBT People Doesn’t Mean You Want to Kill Them.
Fact: A Majority of Muslims Are Complicit in Homophobia.
No matter how much Leftist never-Muslims and their apologist Muslim friends may want to do so, we cannot continue to dismiss and ignore the connection between Islam and anti-gay bigotry. A glance at the Arab-language Internet will attest to the connection. Declaring Islam to be a religion of peace and sweeping the built-in homophobia in Islam harms LGBTQ+ people unfortunate enough to have been born into Muslim households.
Note: I, along with most of my then-department, was suddenly laid off the day after the Orlando shootings. The frantic hunt for employment occupied my mind not to the point where I ignored or wasn’t thinking about what happened at Pulse, but made it so that I felt I couldn’t articulate my criticisms of what was being said as well as I could without the stress of “JOB JOB MONEY MONEY HEALTHCARE” weighing so much on my mind.