Horror, as I’ve learned, is like an elastic band. The more you use it, the more worn out it becomes; the harder it becomes to deliver a sting. When I woke up yesterday morning, opened my twitter feed, and saw that fifty people had died in Orlando, I felt that sting. But I can’t help but wonder if it would have been more intense if this didn’t happen so frequently.
Stalin once said, “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” Gun violence has become a statistic; in the 165 days of 2016, 133 mass shootings have occurred. In 2015 in the United States, almost 13,000 people were killed by a gun. People have been arguing for years for more common-sense gun control, and yet it hasn’t happened, and the dead keep on piling up.
Fifty people died yesterday. That’s a statistic. But there were fifty tragedies today, fifty families who are now in mourning, and fifty-three more who are going to have to stand beside the beside the bed of a loved one in the hospital tonight. When you begin to humanize the horror of a situation, it becomes harder and harder to comprehend why someone could do this in the first place, let alone why we as a society could allow this to happen. And yes, we did enable this to happen. If not with our laxness about guns, then with our homophobia.
What Orlando should remind us is that the issues we debate every day in our homes and in our legislatures are not separate from each other. They exist in the same world, and as such, often blend into each other in a way which is neither clear-cut or easy to dissect. This shooting involves terrorism, homophobia, and gun violence, and yet, the majority of the responses that I’ve seen to the shooting can only concern themselves with a maximum of two of those things. I’m looking at you, conservatives, who seem to be convinced that this is a direct terrorist attack on America, not an event which was fueled by the same homophobia which they help to foster. This shooting was an attack on America, but in our analysis of the shooting, we cannot divorce the fact that it took place in a gay club.
The reason why it is so important to talk about homophobia here is because LGBTQ people are so much more likely to face some kind of violence than their straight/cisgendered peers. In 2007 alone, 1,265 LGBTQ hate crimes were reported to the FBI. That’s 3 to 4 violent crimes each day, and it is estimated that hate crimes like these are underreported. Gender/sexual orientation is the third most common cause for hate crimes in the United States (the first two being race and religion). LGBTQ youth are more likely to experience sexual assault. The life expectancy of a transgender woman is 35 years, and to put that in context, that’s 11 years lower than the life expectancy life expectancy of people in Sierra Leone, which has the lowest life expectancy of a country on Earth, and just higher than the life expectancy of a Western European during the Dark Ages (between 25 and 35 years, depending on who you cite).
Rick Scott, the governor of Florida who opposes both gun control and gay rights, has refused to even acknowledge that the victims of this massacre were part of the LGBTQ community. Instead, he calls this, and I’m quoting his tweet, “an attack on all of us”. No. No. You do not get to claim these people who you actively oppressed. You do not get to separate them from their identities so that you can use them as a tool. You do not get to pretend to be sad, when Omar Mateen bought his gun legally in Florida.
This shooting should remind us that everyone is impacted by terrorism, and that everyone is human. It should remind us of the virulent homophobia that still exists in our society, and its impact. But when you use these people’s deaths selectively, ignoring parts of their identity, all so that you can use them to further your own hateful agenda, it feels fundamentally wrong to me.
Islamic terrorism is a growing issue, and it is one that we should all be concerned about, given the power of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. As of now, it looks like the shooting was a terrorist attack. Omar Mateen, the shooter, pledged his allegiance to ISIS before the shooting. As usual, in light of the shooting, people all around America are calling for all Muslims to be ejected from the United States, and, honestly, I think they are out of their minds.
It will never cease to confuse me how someone could argue so passionately for eliminating a religion of 1.6 billion people, the majority of whom are obviously not terrorists or we’d all be dead, and love guns so much. Then, again, it was always about the people, wasn’t it? Not the guns? Some people, apparently, are just evil. You can’t stop them, because if they have murder on their minds, they’ll do it with a gun or not. Right? Well, forgive me, but I can’t picture this same tragedy happening with a kitchen knife instead of a gun.
When Dylan Roof killed nine people in a black church, the response was overwhelmingly that of deep, deep, sadness. However, even though Roof was a white supremacist, very few people had anything to say about the systemic racism in our country that allowed a maggot like him to emerge. I am not saying that we shouldn’t have conversations about terrorism, in fact, I think we should. But I do think they should be more nuanced. Above all, I think that the attitude that allows one to blame all Muslims for this crime while ignoring Florida’s lax gun laws, and to selectively omit the prejudice involved in the situation, is the same one which allows this to continually happen.
So, here’s the thing. I could write an entire separate essay on why I think ISIS is attracting so many, mostly young, people abroad. I could probably take you through a history of Western imperialism and the violent reactions against industrialization in the Middle East. I might inform you that “Islamic” terrorism as we know it today didn’t even start out as explicitly religious at all, and that the vast majority of the people who have been and continue to be impacted by Islamic terrorism are Muslim. I might even talk about the Sunni-Shia conflict that everyone likes to gloss over in favor of treating all Muslims as if they’re some homogenous population. But I’m not going to, if not because it would be too long, then because I think it would be unnecessary.
We cannot ignore the role of terrorism in this incident- it was, after all, the catalyst. However, we also cannot ignore that how we react to terrorism, and to Islam as a whole, really has an impact on ISIS. The reality is a bit more nuanced and different for each person, but as a whole, ISIS seems to be recruiting based off of the belief that the West hates Islam, and really, it’s hard to dissuade them when we are actively reinforcing this belief. It reminds me of a case a couple months ago in which a Muslim immigrant to Sweden leftfor Syria with his Swedish girlfriend to join ISIS because of “damn racists”.
In all likelihood, we will forget about Orlando in a matter of months, as we always do. Life will go on, and nothing will be done. Gun violence will continue, Islamophobia will continue, homophobia will continue. And yet, I can’t help but hope that this time, something will be different. Maybe Republicans who love their second amendment so much will realize that the lack of regulation on guns in Florida actually allowed Omar Mateen, who had been investigated by the FBI twice, to buy a gun. Or maybe we’ll start talking about this in the context of all the prejudice and anger that we have tolerated for far too long. Probably wishful thinking, but it shouldn’t be.