Sunday, June 26, 2016

Post-Orlando Question #1:Was Omar Mateen Created By The Conservative Religious Right?

What happened in Orlando was a horrific and contemptible act of violence against people who bear God’s image. As a Christian, I believe that all people are infused with intrinsic value and worth; we should mourn the loss of precious human life, pray for healing for the survivors as well as the family and friends of the victims, and dedicate ourselves to finding a solution in which the leading of an individual’s moral compasses and the constraints of effective public policies will put an end to this kind of tragedy. 

I want to make sure I clearly say that before I explore some topics that have surfaced since this incident. I’ve been observing the online conversation about the “climate” or “mood” that exists in America, and I would like to respond to three particular questions in this series of posts.

  •  Is it fair to attribute the actions of Omar Mateen to a climate of hate created by the Conservative Religious Right?
  • Is there a way to make a proper distinction between what is inherent in or necessarily follows from the beliefs and actions of a group vs. what particular individuals or sects do?
  • When it comes to the creation of a ‘moral climate,’ is there a proper distinction to be made between disagreeing, criticizing, discriminating, oppressing, dehumanizing, and violently attacking, or do these all simply occupy different places on the same continuum of hate?

I will be answering these questions in a series of three separate posts. I will provide links as they are posted. I offer these observations as a starting point in a conversation (if you so desire). I welcome any thoughts you have that help to constructively pursue truth.

* * * * * * * * * * *

1. Is it fair to attribute the actions of Omar Mateen to a climate of hate created by the heterosexual religious right?

There is an important discussion to be had about what kind of social climate conservatives, Christians and Republicans in America create (and I separate those three terms because they do not necessarily overlap).[1] However, the questions about how these groups impacted Omar Mateen are badly misdirected.

The climate created by conservative, Christian Republicans is irrelevant to what happened in Orlando. Why? Because Omar Mateen did not care what any of those groups thought. As far as we know, he was neither born into nor formed by any of them. He was born into the Muslim community, he was a registered Democrat, and he was was apparently gay or bisexual (news reports are somewhat conflicted on this point). 

For the sake of staying focused, I will focus on only one of the 'communities' with which he was affiliated, specifically that of the religion which he claims formed him. If we are going to ask about the influence that religion had in his life, shouldn’t we be focusing on the Muslim community? There seems to be a collective reluctance to ask the group with which he claims affiliation to offer a response. I'm not sure why. After all, the current global reality of violence done in the name of Islam must be considered.

Did Mateen's faith influence him to attack LGBT people? It's a fair question to ask. The Washington Post has a map showing the countries where homosexuality is punishable by death. Under Sharia law, Omar’s desire to kill homosexuals would be a legally affirmed act in ten Muslim countries. This is not some fringe teaching by ISIS. This is legally sanctioned in places such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. A writer for wrote about the Middle East’s reaction to what happened in Orlando. He noted: 

As a bilingual Arabic and English speaker from the Middle East, I took the liberty of browsing through Arabic news pages on Facebook earlier today; namely Al Jazeera, Al-Arabiya, BBC Arabic and a number of Egyptian news outlets to gauge how the Arab world was responding to the Orlando shooting. The results were disappointing, alarming, and depressing to say the least. Each page’s comment section was inundated with comments showing sympathy towards the attacker, praising him for his actions and wishing death upon members of the international LGBT community. Comments ranged from jokes about the incident and how “the gays had it coming,” to long du’as (religious supplications), wishing death upon gays and lesbians, as well as asking God to grant the killer “the highest place in paradise... 
Members of the left who claim such terrorism has nothing to do with Islam need to become aware of the issue at hand that is Islamism, and understand the ramifications of evading discussions on it…Reform must come from within Muslim communities – I can’t stress this enough. An open and frank discussion on the current understanding and interpretation of Islam is much needed. Yes, it’s great to see Muslims in the west condemning the attack and voicing solidarity with the victims and their families, but there still remains a long way to go. The Muslim world, particularly the Middle East and North Africa, has become rife with followers of either Arab nationalist anti-west ideologies, or Islamism and Wahhabism, both of which are cesspools for hate.  
When the standard response from a lot of liberals is “Christians can be homophobic too” and “this has nothing to do with Islam” right after a terrorist attack where 49 people were killed because of religious fundamentalism, then a frank discussion is desperately needed. No favors are done by denying the presence of homophobia in Muslim communities and repeating far right Islamist rhetoric and propaganda. This only worsens an already bad situation, and the profundity of the consequences this attitude engenders towards Islamic fundamentalism must be recognized.”

Terrorism and the execution of homosexuals are not affirmed by the entire Muslim community, of course, and terrorism is not limited to Muslims. That’s obviously true, though groups claiming allegiance to Islam currently lead the way in global acts of terrorism. If the research I have seen is correct, approximately 70% of Muslims worldwide do not participate in or condone the use of violence (though different polls show some variation). 

However, that is somewhat peripheral to my point. When the instigator in a particular violent situation is known to be deeply influenced by Islam, the Muslim community - not the Christian one - should be answering the tough questions about moral climates. To ask otherwise is absurd.

This would be consistent with how we respond when someone claiming an affiliation with Christianity does something heinous. When Robert Dear killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in 2015, the Christian community came under fire because Dear regularly read his Bible and was associated with the Army of God, a violent extremist group claiming to be Christian.[2] No matter the integrity of his claim (more on that in the next post), Christians were the right ones to challenge. They were asked some version of the following questions:

  • Were his actions consistent with what you teach?
  •  Is this the result for which you were hoping?
  • Do you affirm or denounce what just happened?
  • What will or can you do to make sure this does not happen again?

These were all valid questions. Christian leaders needed to clarify if Dear embodied the teachings of Christianity; Christians needed to applaud or condemn his mindset and actions; Christians needed to do their best to ensure no one else in their group thought this was morally acceptable. In this case, Christians across the board once again pointed to the life and teachings of Jesus, both of which make abundantly clear that what Dear did is the antitheses of imitating Christ.[3]

So why does this not happen when someone claiming an affiliation with the Muslim community does something like what happened in Orlando?  Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, claimed this happened because of a “preacher on Sunday morning in church.” That’s not true at all. Mateen claimed Islam; let Islam and imams in mosques give an answer. Their leaders need to clarify if Mateen embodied the teachings of Islam; they need to applaud or condemn his mindset and actions; they need to do their best to ensure no other Muslim does something like this again. Let the 70% of Muslims who are not proponents of violence respond to the rise of radicalization within their community.

The fact that Mateen claimed an affiliation with Islam does not automatically mean that what he did was a true expression of Islam, of course. Some claim that what he did is a terrible distortion of Islamic teaching; others think it is the logical fulfillment of it.  It's why we ask the hard questions, right? And it's why we ask the hard questions to people with whom terrorists claim affiliation. If we want to follow the evidence where it leads, we need to first make sure we are looking in the right places for the evidence. To do otherwise is illogical, unfair and unjust, and it will never lead us to truth.

[1] I will address specifically the Christian role in cultural climate creation in questions #2 and #3 of this series.
[2] He also claimed to be pro-life on the issue of abortion. Add that next to “Christian” as you read my comments if you like. The same principles apply.
[3] Westboro Baptist, the Army of God and other fringe groups were exceptions. The rest of the Christian community – which is 99 % - believes these groups are “taking the name of God in vain” – that is, claiming to represent Christ when their lives, words, and actions so blatantly distort or rebel against the life and teaching of Jesus. More on this in post #2.

1 comment:

  1. The gun smoke had not cleared and it seemed that many in the media had begun there denunciation of Christians & Christianity. A little introspection in the Muslim community is in order. Good points made here Anthony!