Almost immediately after Omar Mir Seddique Mateen’s identity was revealed the media’s focus turned to his religion, Islam, and the country of his parents’ birth, Afghanistan.
His US citizenship, (Mateen was born in New York and lived in Florida) was essentially wiped away. He is one of the few mass shooters to be labeled a “domestic terrorist.”
Yes, there were reports that Mateen had pledged “allegiance” to Daesh in a phone call to 911 during the shooting itself and his father went on awkward political rants on Afghan-American TV and YouTube, that included pro-Taliban rhetoric, but it wasn’t Daesh or the Taliban that put the AR-15 assault rifle in his hand. It was the state of Florida.
As much as the media may want to orientalize this story by focusing on a country Mateen had never been to and a religiosity that is debatable that he adhered to, the truth is, the Orlando shooting only comes down to two things: gun control and homophobia.
Rather than focusing on the country his parents come from and the religion they subscribe to, the media should be asking how Mateen managed to enter a nightclub with the same weapon of mass destruction that was used in the 2012 Aurora movie theatre shooting. All obtained legally.
According to the Mass Shooting Tracker there were 371 mass shootings in the United States in 2015 alone. Those shootings resulted in more than 400 deaths and nearly 2,000 injuries. This year if including the Orlando shooting, there have been 176 mass shootings. There have been more mass shootings than the number of days in 2016, so far.
Yet, no one is asking us to write about Mateen’s connection to and internalization of US gun culture. No, the problem must begin in the “backwards” war-riddled land of his parents.
In 2013 and 2014 Mateen was under FBI investigation after making comments to colleagues that alleged ties to “terrorist” groups, but the FBI later dropped the investigation saying there was no evidence tying him to any group. The truth is, many Afghan-Americans have made such comments before.
Most are in jest and some are serious but few, if any, of these people have any legitimate ties to any group.
California congressman, Adam Shiff working on the investigation, said as much when he verified that there is no evidence to prove that Mateen — a 29-year-old father living in Florida — had ever made any direct contact with Daesh
More than the mindset of Daesh — which he allegedly identified with — and the Taliban — whom his father seemingly supports — Mateen was influenced by the culture of the nation he was born and raised in.
A nation home to more than 300 million guns and a history of homophobic attacks.
Adam Goldenberg, a Canadian lawyer, put it quite simply: “This didn’t happen because the shooter was Muslim. It happened because the victims were gay. And because the shooter had an assault rifle.”
According to Omar’s father, Seddique, the younger Mateen was incensed after seeing two men kissing within site of his family in Miami.
With more than 28 percent of hate crimes reported to the FBI in 2013 being based on sexual orientation — of those 61 percent were targeted towards gay men and many of those men of colour — Mateen’s own homophobia could have easily been established and nurtured in the United States.
The United States — where after losing the battle for the Defense of Marriage Act and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, politicians and pundits are now debating bathroom privileges for transgender people — has a long history of homophobic violence.
In 1973, an arsonist set fire to a gay bar in New Orleans, killing 32 people. No one was prosecuted for the crime.
Even the Olympic Park Bomber, Eric Robert Rudolph, had previously bombed a Lesbian lounge in Atlanta in 1997. Of the attack, Rudolph said homosexuality was an “assault upon the integrity” of US society.
That was followed by a 2000 incident where Ronald Gay opened fire at a gay club in Virginia. He killed one man and left six others injured. Angry that his last name could be used as a synonym for homosexuality, Gay took out his frustrations on seven unsuspecting strangers. Gay, who described himself as a “Christian Soldier,” said he wished he could have killed more “fags.”
The list doesn’t end there.
Have we forgotten Matthew Shepard, or Gwen Araujo — who were murdered in the city I grew up in by people I went to high school with — or Deja Jones who was shot to death in Miami. Her shooter is still at large.
There is no indication that the known attackers in these cases were Muslim, but they were American.
And of course, there were people who decided to show their support for the massacre online.
“This was God’s hand. and he will pluck them away one by one,” said a Facebook user identified only by her first name, Karen.
Another Facebook user, Ray, had this to say: “To me they should filled all gays blow em away.”
Then there was Donald Trump, who decided to use a homophobic attack to backup his Islamophobia.
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” tweeted the presumed Republican nominee for the US presidency.
But it’s not just Trump. Marco Rubio, who has a terrible track record when it comes to issues of marriage equality, LGBT rights law and adoption by same-sex couples, appeared on CNN to condemn the attack and call it “the new face of the war on terror.”
The most egregious act of homophobia is that at least one blood bank in Orlando is still turning away LGBT blood donors trying to aid their own community after a tragedy of unprecedented proportions.
Though LGBT donors were turned away, hundreds of Muslims did turn out during Ramadan to donate blood.
The fact of the matter is we can try to search for clues in a nation thousands of miles and nearly three decades removed from Mateen or from unsubstantiated boasts about ties to “terrorist” groups, or we could face the reality that with its gun culture and homophobia, the United States served as just a perfect breeding ground for Mateen’s actions as the media wants to believe Afghanistan would.
Until guns and ammunition – as California’s Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom is proposing — are more difficult to obtain and until the nation’s homophobia — everything from the Westboro Baptist Church staging anti-gay protests at military funerals to using “gay” to mean bad or uncool — is checked, these kinds of attacks will sadly not end.
The United States must take a hard look at its own prejudices — both the Islamophobia that wants to focus on the nation of his parents’ birth and the rampant homophobia that only further strengthened Mateen’s own hatred.
They must admit that the support politicians, the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association offer — whether direct or indirect – allows for the violence wrought by guns to carry on. According to the Chicago Tribune, 69 people were shot in Chicago over the Memorial Day weekend.
The roots of this attack are not an ocean away on the Asian continent, but firmly rooted in the firmament of the United States, the country Omar Mateen was born, raised and became a violent gun-toting homophobe in.
As one Twitter user, Ali Shafiq, put it: “At the end the guy was born in the US, got radicalised there, got weapons there. The west should also Introspect.”
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Ali M Latifi is a Kabul-born, California-raised journalist. He has traveled to 10 Afghan provinces and reported on migrants in Greece and Turkey. He has also appeared on radio and TV in Washington, Doha, London and Cape Town. Find him on twitter @alibomaye
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