Orlando and terrorism
[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]
But as the saying goes, "facts are stubborn things" and I have been somewhat encouraged by the fact that over the past day, that is, as I do this on Wednesday, the storyline is slowly, reluctantly, but clearly being dragged toward describing the heinous event as a hate crime rather than one of terrorism, particularly Islamic terrorism.
The difference matters in more than legal technicalities of what defines either hate crime or terrorism. It matters in understanding what happened and what is means for our society.
Calling something terrorism suggests that it was intended to affect more than the immediate target - that, in this case, it was intended to terrorize the entire LGBTQ community with thoughts of similar fates.
But frankly, I wonder, based on my reading of Omar Mateen, if such terrorizing was part of his motivation. Maybe it was, in which case this reasonably could be called terrorism, but I wonder if it wasn't more strictly, as I described it earlier, an explosion of self-loathing turned outward. An act of pure, unrestrained, blind, hatred.
There is also more than a hint here of what is called "suicide by cop," which refers to situations where someone acts in a way where they appear to be deliberately provoking police to shoot them, to carry out the death sentence they feel unable to impose on themselves.
If Omar Mateen had wished solely to carry out an act of terrorism, particularly one in support of some religious fundamentalism or another, he could easily have fled the scene, as the attackers in Paris, for example, or the Boston Marathon bombers, did. He had more than enough opportunity. But he didn't. Instead he stayed, he holed up, he announced via that 911 call that he was an ISIS terrorist, in subsequent conversations with cops he claimed things like he was going to strap bombs to various people and place them around the building, he did pretty much everything short of saying "Come get me, coppers!"
Until finally, perhaps to his ultimate relief, they did.
So why it is important that we see this more as a hate crime than terrorism? Because as long as we maintain the "terrorism" narrative, we can continue to tell ourselves that it is primarily a case of the "other," the "alien," not by citizenship but by nature, the "alien" in our midst, that it is not about us in any way other than as victims.
But if we face the fact, as we should, that this was not an act of terrorism by any but the most general meaning of the word, that this was an act of hatred based in homophobia, then we have to recognize that for all the strides that have been made over the past couple of decades, for all the celebrations we have been able to have over gains of rights, for all the gains in acceptance we have been able to watch, still, as Phil Ochs sang in a different context but still it fits, "beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hate."
Orlando was a bursting forth of the hurricane of hate which our LBGTQ brothers and sisters still face, a hurricane of hate perfectly illustrated by a Baptist pastor from Sacramento, California named Roger Jimenez who just hours after the massacre preached to his congregation "Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? I think that's great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida's a little safer tonight."
A hurricane of hate of which Orlando is but one gale. A hurricane of hate that despite the gains has yet to blow itself out.
And that is what should be the lesson of Orlando - that, and that we have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.
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