Nearly three decades ago I knew a man who used to amuse me and many of his other friends by saying he hated to see two men shopping together. There was something about it, he said, that made his flesh crawl. His feelings surprised us, because he was gay himself, and on the whole openly, though never happily so. He never formed a relationship with another man, and so never shopped at a supermarket with another man as a couple, and, sadly, he eventually drank himself to death at the age of only 50. What he hated in the same-sex shoppers, of course, was himself.
When I heard, just a few hours after the terrible killings in Orlando, that, according to his father, the killer had been incandescently angry when he’d seen two men kissing in a restaurant, I thought of my friend. Cold disapproval is one thing, but that the kissing of two men should have such an intense emotional impact on Omar Mateen suggests something much more complex than intellectually held religious or moral beliefs.
President Obama was careful to talk of the crime in the early hours as a crime of hate and of terror. Donald Trump, of course, was quick to talk of ‘Radical Islam’. It may well turn out that Omar Mateen knew something about Islam and had been attracted by radical sites intent on fomenting hate and inciting violence, but it seems Mateen didn’t know his Shia terrorist from his Sunni terrorist, and was unaware that they were as intent on killing each other as on killing unbelievers and gays in the USA. My guess is that he was looking for justification for what he was already intent on doing.
And now we hear that Omar Mateen might have been a regular at the gay club, and was often seen on gay dating Apps. Who amongst us can imagine that this was simply ‘research’? It seems entirely possible to me that what he was really fighting was the homosexuality in himself, and that he loathed what he craved and what he couldn’t allow himself to be. If there was a ‘Radical Islamic’ element to all this, it would only be that Islam in most (all?) interpretations is intolerant of homosexuality. Certainly, the Afghan culture from which he came (and this is true of Christian cultures of the Middle East too) would have been intolerant of it.
I saw a gay Muslim and a kindly imam, both British, talking about the issue on BBC News this morning. They arrived at no common understanding of what the Koran says on the issue (there are a few brave gay Muslims who claim that the Koran rails against lust but not against love) but the imam refrained from personal insult (indeed, he was respectful) and, like the Pope, said, ‘Who am I to judge?’. In his view, it is a matter for Allah not for man (or woman). But one thing the gay Muslim said sounded very plausible to me. The Orlando killer, he said, felt that the only way he could ‘purify’ himself in the eyes of Islamic society and of Allah, and gain respect (albeit in the eyes of ISIS and other despicable groups) was by killing and being killed.
It is often said that suicide bombers in the Middle East are most easily recruited from the ranks of lonely, self-loathing gay men who can ‘purify’ themselves in their own eyes, their families’ eyes and Allah’s eyes through what they do – and end their own misery. Who knows if this is true, but I find some psychological plausibility in the idea.
So, yes, it may have something to do with Islam, but the terrible events of Saturday night were probably primarily a hate crime, a crime of hatred stemming from the hatred of the killer for himself. Sadly, it was all too easy for this angry, hateful man to obtain weapons of mass destruction and to use them.