Terrorism and the Violence of Otherness: Response to the Orlando Pulse Massacre

TW: Orlando Massacre, violence

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In the early hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016, just after last call, a gunman entered the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The rest, now, is history. Media coverage of this massacre has been unrelenting and unreliable, treading often in intellectual territory that made the Pulse massacre possible in the first place. This was the act of one man, but discourse of violence against the Other propagated all over our society is just as much to blame.

The racism, sexism, classism, religious bias, and queerphobia of American society is well-documented and has been inextricably linked Her history and fabric. The same news outlets that only last week covered the multi-state battle on restroom usage for the transgender community with vitriol while fondly remembering unapologetic Muslim Mohammed Ali, diverted all of their energy and hatred toward American Muslims, another marginalized group, supposedly on behalf of queer people.

There are so many intersecting issues in the Orlando massacre that the vast majority of people are going to take pieces of analysis that fit their pre-established narratives. Many people only mock the concept of intersectionality, or that there is more than one major social influence affecting a particular person or event. This case is as intersectional as anything can be. To ignore even one element of the issue is to create a false narrative.

The shooter was born in New Hyde Park, New York, a municipality on the border between Northeastern Queens and Northwestern Nassau County, Long Island. He lived in Queens and Nassau most of his life. He was an American citizen. His parents were Afghani immigrants. The media would have you believe that the single best way to understand this tragedy is only to understand that the shooter was of foreign origins, that the shooter was brown, and that the shooter was Muslim. This is a gross oversimplification.

The shooter was unstable and violent. His ex-wife accused him of domestic violence, and described a scenario in which her family had to literally pull her from his arms as he was choking her. She describes him as having bipolar with bouts of psychotic rage. She described his as extremely secular.

He was fascinated to the point of obsession with both guns and the profession of law enforcement. The guns he used to carry out this grievous attack were purchased legally.

Many were quick to brand this attack “radical Islamist terrorism,” as if Islamist terrorism is somehow indicative of Islam as a total faith. Minimal research into the faith would yield their incompatibility, especially now during the Holy Month of Ramadan, during which it is forbidden to commit acts of violence. The shooter’s family has apologized on behalf of the family and the faith—a burden we do not require for members of other faiths.

It has been reported that the shooter pledged allegiance to Daesh in his 911 call. Another report claimed that he told one of the victims that he was committing the crime in retaliation for the U.S.’s ongoing drone war in Afghanistan. Do I believe this information was fabricated by the media to add to the easy, Muslim-as-terrorist narrative? No. He probably did do either or both of these things, but our common media narrative about the motives of those who join these groups is fundamentally flawed. The shooter, like most 18-39 year old men from Western cultures who join Islamist terror groups do not join for religious purity. They join for power, a sense of belonging, and egotistically narcissism that comes from believing to be on the brutish “moral high ground” over a world superpower. They join because they feel invisible and hypervisible at the same time in the West. They feel powerless and use the Western modality to create their own power: easy biases like racism, misogyny, and homophobia. These ideologies, as well as the promise of “real” power, both in this world and the next is what brings them there.

There is speculation that the primary motive of this atrocity was actually homophobia. The shooter’s father said that his son became enraged seeing two men kiss when the family visited Miami. He grew up in the New York City region, are we to believe that he had never seen two men kiss prior to this incident? That hardly seems feasible. There are many theories swirling about this.

It has been reported that the shooter visited his target location many times and maintained a profile on the gay hookup app, Grindr. One theory about the motivation behind this crime is that the shooter was closeted. This is among the most controversial of theories. Many see it as media narrative-building to make the attack even more one of the Other attacking the Other, as a way to absolve the media and the larger heterosexual community of any contributing homophobia. Many see the shooter’s behavior as little more than scoping out a target of violence.

If the shooter truly was closeted, the motivation may be more complex than just homophobia. Miami is a city with a very large Latinx community. The shooter deliberately chose Latin Night at the Pulse Nightclub as his target. In many minority communities in the West, there is a common theory that homosexuality is a “white” thing. It could be possible that the shooter was jealous of the Latinx LGBT folks for being so free while he was so repressed.

In the end, however, it serves no real purpose understanding why this tragedy happened. Nothing will bring back the forty-nine people he murdered in cold blood during Pride month. They are the newest victims in an ongoing war against queerness. Trans women of color are murdered at an exponentially higher rate in proportion to the rest of society. Hate crimes still occur in the most liberal of cities, including my own. This war was started long before the shooter purchased an AR-15 and created terror in Orlando. This war will continue beyond him, no matter how much our elected officials posture and claim to support the LGBT community. We are still considered Other. The Other is always a threat to the status quo. That is the American way. That has been the American way for centuries.

My fellow queer people: protect yourselves at all costs. If it is not safe for you to come out, don’t. Get self-defense training. If you are able, shout your queerness from the rooftops. If you are able, join groups like Black Lives Matter. Create coalitions with other marginalized groups. There are more of us than there are of them. We can keep ourselves safe if we protect each other.

Do not allow the nastiness of American culture to taint us. We are not bound by the biases of our nation. We will not play into the hand of Islamophobia. We will stand against homophobia, which is, of course, far bigger than one religion.

My thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and their friends.