I have been out of action these past three days at a conference to do with Islam (check out here), which ironically is not altogether unrelated to the story I am about to reflect on, given it is about an act of terrorism by one person who identifies with ISIS. As is often the case, upon returning to the fray, one wonders what has been going on in the big wide world while one has been away! Besides the news of an England draw in the first of its match in the football Euro championship (sadly, along with scenes of violence) the main news story is of yet another gun based massacre of innocent, unprotected victims, having taken place in the USA.
There are many stories available on the web. One newspaper report is preceded by the headline: “Orlando Nightclub Shooting: Mass Casualties After Gunman Opens Fire in Gay Club” and goes on to elaborate: “At least 50 people were killed and more than 50 others were wounded when a gunman opened fire and took hostages at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday morning”. The first thing for any wanting to sensitively reflect on such events to do is express feelings of shock and sorrow followed by wanting to comfort and stand with those affected by the incident. But soon after, questions are asked, as is evidenced by the postings of several of my “Facebook friends”. I don’t want to go through these in detail (although the image below is one that another of my friends has posted, sentiments of which I agree with) but rather pick out two, giving differing, although not altogether contradictory, perspectives and ideas of what could and should happen next.
The first is by Peter Tatchell: “My condolences to the victims of this barbaric, bloody butchery – and to their loved ones. On the basis of police claims that the killer appears to have been Islamist-inspired: There was always a possibility that Islamist extremists would target gay communities in the West, whether as lone attackers or via organised terrorist cells. They have a pathological hatred of LGBT people, and also of Jews and liberal Muslims. This attack is a wake-up call to LGBT organisations and venues in the US, Britain and other Western countries to strengthen their security. There is no room for the complacent and naive belief the Islamist fanatics will confine their killings of gay people to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. We must resist those who want to use this slaughter to demonise and scapegoat the Muslim community, most of whom deplore terrorism as much as everyone else. The condolences expressed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio are sickening hypocrisy. He has repeatedly opposed gay equality, including wanting to repeal same-sex marriage and protection against discrimination for LGBT employees. His anti-gay sentiments have fanned the flames of homophobic hatred.”
The second is by Franklin Graham: “I appreciate President Barack Obama speaking to the nation yesterday in the wake of the Orlando massacre. He was right in saying that this tragic shooting was an act of terror and hate. But why didn’t he say it was an act of radical Islamic terrorism? Mr. President, with all due respect, don’t forget Fort Hood; don’t forget the Boston Marathon; don’t forget San Bernardino; and don’t forget 9/11. What do they all have in common? They were all Islamic terrorists carrying out their treachery in the name of their religion. Mr. President, your administration has cut our military to the bone and some experts say we’re the weakest we have been in modern times. It’s time we were rebuilding our military force worldwide to take on this enemy. It’s time we tighten America’s borders until we can clearly vet those we’re letting into the country. Mr. President, how many more American lives have to be lost before you understand the threat radical Islam is to every freedom-loving person?”
While others have chipped in with profound and pertinent statements, including making further calls to the need for tighter gun control, it is the remarks of these two men I will focus, given they represent two quite different audiences when it comes to considering the prevailing culture. Regarding Peter Tatchell’s remarks, I have no doubt there is a homophobic element behind the attacks although equally there is often a tendency going by evidence in the more recent past to attack any “soft” target and these attacks are usually in-discriminant. It is sadly ironic that gay folk who meet in what they see as a safe haven from a world that often appears hostile should have been so targeted. Even so, as a society we must protect our most vulnerable and gay folk are often just that. While I note there is anger at the recent presidential candidate’s “homophobic” views, it seems churlish to dismiss his expressions of condolences or to blame him in any way for the attacks, who I have no doubt is as horrified as the next person at what has taken place.
As for Franklin Graham, while he does not always get it right, and even a few days ago I took issue with his remarks supporting the Israeli government, he does in my view understand the threat of Islam in way governments often don’t. He was right to take issue with the President for not declaring this was an act of Islamic terrorism rather than mere terrorism, where Islam was an incidental factor. While I agree we must guard against Islamophobia and recognize that the vast majority of Muslims living in the USA are law abiding citizens that would share the same abhorrence as non Muslims, I cannot disagree with Graham’s rebuke that President should recognize Islamic terrorism for what it is. While I might take issue on his tightening borders and increasing military spending ideas (he is even sounding more like Donald Trump, who is already indicating his feelings of vindication for having made the comments he has), I believe unless we can identify what the threat is and what are the root causes we will be unable to stop future occurrences. We need more than righteous indignation rhetoric, illiberal tolerance and ineffectual sledgehammer approaches to prevail. Islamophobia and homophobia are unacceptable, and it is quite right to challenge such views wherever these are propagated, yet trying to stop people holding them nowhere nearly enough addresses the issues facing us.
When it comes to what we need to do next, I do not side with anyone in particular, and all I do is to state the obvious. What is becoming increasingly apparent, is what we are seeing now is not a one off. There have been too many occurrences in western lands of not so dissimilar ilk in recent years to say that. Some of the perpetrators have been “Christian” although most of the perpetrators have been “Muslim”. A sense of proportionality is also needed, as this type of happening is a regular occurrence in many non-western lands, as I learned over the weekend, and most of it goes unreported. A good many people live in daily fear of their lives because of the threat of terrorism by Islamic extremists. It is regrettable we don’t see the same shock and outrage when that happens as we have here. While we need to stand with the victims, especially the most vulnerable, and against the perpetrators of terrorism, we need to be unafraid when it comes to asking the difficult questions, face the fact there is a sizable minority who support terrorism on religious grounds and seek solutions that will go toward protecting people from harm.