Orlando Shooter is a Terrorist, but not because he’s Muslim

Islam DOES NOT EQUAL terrorism. To repeat: Islam DOES NOT EQUAL terrorism.

Omar Mateen, the shooter who murdered 49 people in Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, is a terrorist. Whether or not he had ties to ISIS, he is a terrorist. But being Muslim has nothing to do with his act of homophobia and violence.

Mateen is a terrorist because he willfully planned to walk into a gay club and murder queer people during Pride month. Specifically, he planned this on Latino night, when Pulse would be filled with queer people of color. His intention was to spread fear so that queer people and queer people of color across the country and the world would feel threatened. If this is not terrorism, I don’t know what is.

If CNN wants to make this a conversation about terrorism, fine. It is terrorism. But this is not a conversation about ISIS or FBI watch lists.  To give ISIS credit is to dismiss our own complicity in this attack. Mateen was an American citizen, fed on our values of homophobia and xenophobia. And the longer we derail the conversation to be about ISIS and the same gun control speeches that get us nowhere, we become even further mired in the problem.

Mateen is us. He is every homophobic slur we hear on the street, every homophobic law being passed, every racist comment from Trump and on the news against the Latinx community. He is the product of an American culture which prays to stop gun violence, but in every conceivable way each day says the lives of queer people and queer people of color don’t matter. And now, we are making the situation worse by buying into the belief that this attack was motivated by Islam. We are showing ourselves to be Islamophobic, as well as homophobic and xenophobic.

This attack cannot become an excuse to commit further violence against Muslims. We cannot dismiss Mateen as an Islamic terrorist whose motivations are worlds away from American values. Neither can we cannot dismiss Mateen as “mentally unstable” or diagnose him with bipolar or other mental health disorders, and claim his actions were caused by being mentally ill. We cannot let this attack divide us. 

Please, understand the following facts:

  1. Mateen is a terrorist because he planned to use large scale violence to inspire fear among queer people and queer people of color.
  2. 49 people are dead, most of them queer people of color.
  3. Derailing the conversation to erase the sexuality and race of the victims, or blame Islam will only strengthen America’s homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic culture.

 

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It’s not Mental Illness. It’s not Gun Control. It’s White Supremacy.

A 21 year-old white man shoots up The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, killing 9 innocent people and the country’s response falls into 3 categories.

  1. We say Dylann Roof is crazy and we need to place him and those like him in mental institutions.
  2. We argue about had better gun laws.
  3. We pick apart Roof’s background to uncover what could have ever brought this normal sweet kid to commit such an act.

Rarely do we see people attribute this domestic terrorist attack to racism. Dylann Roof is a white supremacist. He ran a website called lastrhodesian.com, a reference to the white-minority ruled African country of Rhodesia in the 1960s and 1970s (now Zimbabwe). His license plate is the Confederate flag. According to Kara Bolonik, in her article Dylann Roof Is a Racist and a Terrorist. That’s All You Need to Know About Him  for Dame Magazine, before firing his gun, Roof said:

“I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country and you have to go.”

It’s easy and ableist to say Roof is mentally ill. To do so is to say he is not like us. We would never do something like that. He is unstable, if he were neurotypical he would never have committed such an act. In one fell swoop we discount the evidence above and place Roof into a neat package that is easily digestable and separate from ourselves. By this logic, nine black people are dead because Roof is mentally ill.

No. Nine black people are dead because Roof is a white supremacist. Tell it like it is.

CNN’s coverage in the online article Shooting Suspect in Custody After Charleston Church Massacre makes references to a past arrest warrant in February and a possibility that Roof was addicted to opium or other drugs. This is another derailment tactic to keep us away from the issue at hand. Whether or not Roof was on drugs, had done drugs, or never touched drugs in his life is irrelevant. He purposefully shot 9 black people, with the express wish to cause terror.

The same CNN article diverts word space to whether Roof’s father bought him a gun for his 21st birthday, or whether Roof bought the gun himself with birthday money. Although our country needs stronger gun control laws, this is not a case about gun violence. Gun laws are not the issue.

We should be asking what culture he lives in and we contribute to where a young man can have a Confederate flag on his license plate and where the streets in his state are named after Confederate generals and where black men and women die every day at the hands of police brutality. We need to ask how we contribute to a world which supports white supremacy and masks our racism under ableism and issues of gun control.

And as we spend hours and days analyzing Roof, we cannot forget that he murdered 9 people and these people have have names and lives. Join me in mourning:

Cynthia Hurd, 54 years old
Suzy Jackson, 87 years old
Ethel Lee Lance, 70 years old
Rev. De’Payne Middleton-Doctor, 49 years old
Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41 years old
Tywanza Sanders, 26 years old
Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, 74 years old
Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45 years old
Myra Thompson, 59 years old

What we can do now is mourn the dead and change our behavior to create a country that is not dominated by white supremacy.

Gun Culture and the NRA

I’m from Connecticut, but was out of state in college when the Newtown shooting happened. When I thought about starting this post, I was concerned that the moment had somehow passed and that there was a taboo on bringing up the shooting months later because it is officially a thing “of the past.” Really, I was just afraid to comment on the gun culture of America.

I never paid attention to the NRA. I knew the organization was a lobbyist, but I knew it in the vague sense of knowing, the way you know you’d get arrested if you yelled”fire!” in a movie theatre. You don’t want to test out the theory precisely because you believe it’s true.

But even knowing the NRA is a major lobbyist, I never made the connection between the NRA, racism and gun control. I don’t claim to be an expert on any of the recent shootings, but I do see a pattern. The media focus after the attacks are never directly addressing the issue of gun violence. Everything else is blamed and questioned, but not the reason for why the American people are so adamant about owning guns.

The media blames video game violence, bad parenting, moral degeneracy (as a by-product of the previous two causes), and anything as crazy as Marilyn Manson. But what interests me the most is the analysis of mental illness as a factor. Mental illness only comes up when the shooter is white. There is a push to somehow justify the shooter’s actions, to bolster the white race and show “white America” that the shooter is an outlier. It is a defense mechanism to protect the idea of a peaceful America made up entirely of white suburbs. In addition to the racism this projects, there is no thought about the ableism it harbors either and how this theory further serves to elevate the ideal of a white and perfect race.

When the shooter is a person of color, it is expected that the person of color is morally degenerate already. There is no image to save, but a racial stereotype to reinforce. Why would the media waste time talking about mental illness as a cause of the violence, when people are ready to believe the violence is a natural by-product of race?

The NRA comes into play because they love the racial stereotyping and the media’s back and forth over useless “causes” of the shootings. The NRA knows that everyone will ask “How does someone with a mental disability get a hold of a gun?” No one will bother to uncover the deeper question: “Why is anyone, mentally handicapped or otherwise, able to purchase assault weapons?” And if the shooter is a person of color, there won’t be as many questions asked at all. Instead, white suburban Americans will go out and buy more guns to protect themselves against an imagined racial threat.

And while people argue over Republican and Democrat ideas of gun control, the NRA controls both parties. Liberal and conservative, both parties are bought and sold so the NRA and other lobbyists can feed off America’s fear and paranoia over racial strife. The greater the racial tension, the more guns fearful Americans buy and the more guns there are, the chances increase for another Columbine, another Aurora or another Newtown.

The time has not passed to discuss gun control. If anything, the time is now because we need to speak out before Newtown becomes a thing of the past.  It is too easy to relegate the shooting to a half-hearted discussion where no one has a solution and no believes it is relevant. It is relevant. Not just to discuss, but to discuss all aspects: the NRA, the racism, and the overall question:

“Why are Americans adamant about owning guns?”