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.


The Rise of Unreason

Many of us have been lucky enough to live our lives in an age and geographical region where reason has dominated human affairs. Since the end of the Second World War life in Europe has become more prosperous, democratic and tolerant (and yes, the EU has helped to make it so). Minorities of many kinds, whether defined by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual identity have felt increasingly free and safe. And they have seemed ever less threatening to the majority, too, to the extent, for example, that same-sex marriage is seen by most as a strengthening, rather than a weakening, of the institution of marriage and a multi-ethnic society has come to seem culturally vibrant, flexible, creative and resilient.

There have, of course, been appalling lapses into hatred and violence on the margins of Europe, such as in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but most of us take it for granted that reasonableness and peace will prevail, and that the checks and balances of democracy will prevent unreason and its allies, ignorance and stupidity, from ever wielding power.

But even in prosperous, tolerant societies there will be unbalanced people, who for fathomable, or unfathomable, pathological, reasons, are intent on harming others. There will always be hate crime (and sex crime and greed crime), and those who hate can usually find an ideological or religious justification for what they do (and encouragement from faraway places now that the internet allows ideologists and religious extremists to reach across the world).

Saturday night’s appalling crime in Orlando was probably a hate crime rather than terrorism (though the distinction is largely irrelevant). The facts that so-called Islamic State applauded its ‘fighter’, and that Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State in a 911 call, are surely matters of opportunism on the one hand, and an attempt at self-justification on the other. But who knows? In due course we may learn more about how he came to hate the gay community, or we may never come to understand what made him kill. Sometimes explanation fails.

But what is mind-boggling is that a man as unstable as he was could obtain appallingly dangerous weapons so easily. Without an assault rifle he might never have set out to massacre so many, or he might have killed far fewer. Violent unreason will never be eliminated from society, but that it can arm itself so easily is astonishing. Tinkering with controls, even staffing gun shops with psychologists, will never work. The right to bear arms should be annulled.

But the unreason I fear even more is the unreason that has political power – for example, the unreason, demonstrated graphically over the last twenty-four hours, of Trump and the National Rifle Association.



Consider the claim (repeated yesterday) that if more people armed themselves then crimes such as this one in Orlando would happen less frequently. The NRA says that the US needs more guns in people’s hands, not fewer. This is surely insane. Do they imagine that gay men and women should step out for a night at a club armed with handguns or assault rifles, that they’d wear them on the dance floor, ready to crouch and fire if threatened by a lone looney with another gun? Perhaps they imagine a world of trained, responsible, capable, trigger-ready citizens, all at ease with guns. The reality would surely be a world of incompetent, intoxicated, untrained, trigger-happy, nervous/aggressive citizens often ill at ease with their weapons and daily shootouts or accidents. The slaughter would be terrible. I would rather see guns only in the hands of a small minority of highly trained, responsible, police officers. Keep them away from citizens.

And consider Trump’s claim that Omar Mateen is the product of Radical Islam. This is unlikely. Radical Islam was probably a late, convenient justification for hate, rather than its underlying cause (did he perhaps hate the homosexuality in himself?). And Trump’s self-congratulation (‘I told you so.’) was utterly disgusting. Contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s message of sympathy.

It is the unreason of the NRA and men like Trump that I fear the most. Whatever the circumstances, such as inequality, or political alienation, that have made unreason appealing to so many over the last few years, perhaps even electable, they must be addressed urgently. Hate, fed by poverty and humiliation, became appealing in the 1930s. It must be marginalised now.