We should not be surprised that religious extremism which condemns gays to death has led to a massacre
by ROBERT BECKHUSEN
My work means regular exposure to horror stories and violent images. But I’ve spent a lot of nights in clubs like Pulse, and watching Christine Leinonen — who resembles my mother — in shock because she couldn’t find her son was deeply upsetting. I spent the rest of the day trying to distract myself from the despair at what I saw.
That an Islamic extremist targeted a gay nightclub is not surprising, as gay clubs have long been targets for political and religious radicals. The shooter, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people at the club before police shot him to death.
He reserved his greatest ire for gays, blacks, women and Jews, but he acted out his hatred in far bloodier terms than Eric Rudolph and David Copeland. Mateen pledged loyalty to the Islamic State, which is far more organized than Rudolph and Copeland were on their own.
The killing of gays is, for the Islamic State, standard practice. But the lack of alarmist messages from the gay community, compared to the popular media and politicians, may be a reflection of the familiarity gay people have with people who want do you harm. The scale, however, is shocking — the worst attack on LGBT people in U.S. history.
My despair, however, is my own. It’s yours, as well, and don’t give room to anyone who wants to exploit it. We can expect, as is custom on the Internet after traumatic events, for there to be plenty of people who will try. But this kind of media and political pressure doesn’t help, and if anything, makes the situation worse.
Here’s the situation: We’re seeing a blurring of mass shootings — where a killer radicalizes into a cause largely on their own — with a loosely-knit terrorist organization that encourages sympathizers to stage attacks without assistance from the larger group. The Islamic State then takes credit and waits for other sympathizers to follow the example.
This kind of “hybrid” terrorism is not unprecedented in the history of terrorist violence, but has become increasingly common. The husband-and-wife terror team Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik “self-radicalized” before gunning down 14 people in San Bernardino, California in December. The brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev did the same before bombing the Boston Marathon in April 2013.
Mateen, who referenced the Boston bombings in a phone call to police during the siege in Orlando, appears to fit this model. The FBI, for its part, has not established a direct operational link between Mateen and the Islamic State.
This is an extremely difficult strategy to counter as long as there are recruits willing to kill — and die — for a cause, and there are propagandists eager to prod them along. In the late 19th century, anarchists unleashed a decades-long campaign of bombings and assassinations which relied on a similar strategy known as “propaganda of the deed.”
Anarchists would become the most significant security threat for the U.S. government by the turn of the 20th century. Despite intense state surveillance and mass deportations targeting European Catholic immigrants, it wasn’t until the spread of ideological competitors, such as Marxism-Leninism, that anarchist violence declined.
This isn’t an argument to surrender to fate. It’s to point out that a terrorist movement can persist for decades even with severe measures by governments to stop it … and then decline for unexpected reasons beyond our control. Popular opinion in the United States has, suffice to say, not faced up to this grim possibility.
We’re told to tighten gun laws or halt Muslim immigration. But opponents of the former are quick to point out that strict gun laws in France and Belgium did not prevent the Paris attacks, and relaxed border controls which aid refugees fleeing Syria have helped smugglers move firearms from the Balkans into Western Europe.
These twin phenomena are hard for open-borders advocates to reconcile.
In Florida, Mateen had a gun because he worked as a security guard at a youth-detention facility.
But for the closed-borders crowd, few people are aware of the extent to which Islamic State-inspired attacks in the West are committed not by migrants fleeing for their lives, but native-born American children of immigrants decades after their parents arrived in the country.
Mateen was born in 1986 in New York to immigrant parents from Afghanistan. This suggests deeper problems of identity and meaning for too many young Muslim men in the 21st century. The pattern of lone individuals, siblings and couples radicalizing is also distinct from the larger terrorist networks appearing in Europe, which resemble politicized street gangs.
Further helping fuel resentment and mistrust is the U.S. government’s reluctance to criticize its own allies — particularly Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Gulf States. The United States underwrites the region’s armies, and depends on Riyadh’s weapons and money, funneled by the CIA, to arm rebels fighting in Syria.
But there is little open protest from our diplomats that the despotic monarchy of Saudi Arabia permits the death penalty for homosexuality, assures imprisonment for it, and is on track for a record number of beheadings this year, while our government rightfully condemns the Islamic State for doing the same.
Privately, U.S. officials insist they do raise protests with the Saudis … quietly. The Saudis prefer it that way. Privately, Pres. Barack Obama questions why Pakistan — a state sponsor of terrorism — is a U.S. ally. But the logic is that it’s better for U.S. national security interests to work alongside these governments than have them work against you.
That may be so. But it’s a hard argument to take. Saudi Arabia, for example, is a lucrative source of private donations for Sunni extremist groups, according to the U.S. State Department, and Riyadh has spent perhaps $100 billion over four decades exporting Wahhabism, a puritanical and virulently homophobic version of Sunni Islam.
Americans should not be shocked to learn this has had a pernicious effect — which Muslim progressives are warning us about — on communities around the world.
The ideology has helped spawn the Islamic State, which draws its lineage from Wahhabism, despite the terror group wanting to overthrow the Saudi monarchy. And Americans, and our political leaders, should not be shocked that messages that God will punish gays eventually lead to mass murder.