The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando has produced a national wave of anguish and righteous anger, especially among LGBTQ and Latina/o communities, at the loss of so many promising young lives. Now the search for answers has begun.
Most politicians blame global terrorism in some fashion, from the explicitly anti-Muslim bigotry of Donald Drumpf to the anti-“radical schools and mosques” rhetoric of Hillary Clinton. Each vies to use the killings as a ladder to power and a stepped-up war on terror.
It’s clear that Omar Mateen was profoundly alienated and deeply disturbed. But it’s still not clear how much he was actually influenced by right-wing jihadists. And, even leaving that aside, how does blaming “terrorism” or “radical Islam” really explain anything?
The other answer commonly given to the question of “why” is “hate,” but that explains even less. “Terrorism” and “hate” are words that pin a label on this terrible crime but reveal little about how we got to this place and what to do about it.
The problem of violence is a problem of the system
It’s hard to accept in the middle of the color and pageantry of LGBTQ Pride Month, but the truth is that we live in a dark and violent world. And it is made dark and violent by many of the same people who are now calling for false solutions like banning all Muslims, or stepping up the war on terrorism, or gun control.
Let’s talk about gun control and anti-terrorism. And let’s start with the Pentagon and the U.S. government as a whole, purveyor of arms to the world, destroyer of countries, and nurturer of torture and terrorism through its wars, occupations and secret CIA operations.
In his first five years in office, Barack Obama’s administration sold weapons worth more than $169 billion to foreign governments. The biggest recipient has been Saudi Arabia, a totalitarian regime where being gay is punishable by death and women and migrant workers are denied basic rights.
Saudi Arabia is not an exception. The majority of U.S. arms go to repressive countries, and there is a certain reciprocity at work. Bill and Hillary’s Clinton Foundation has received millions of dollars over the years from foreign governments whose abuses of human rights include imprisoning, flogging, banishing and executing LGBTQ people.
Imperialist U.S. wars have created a political, economic, and humanitarian disaster of epic proportions in the Middle East, including Afghanistan, homeland of Mateen’s parents, creating an opening for the resurgence of reactionary fundamentalism. More restrictive gun control laws and increased surveillance, militarization of the cops, and other police-state-type measures in the U.S. can’t and won’t solve this problem. Ending the violence that the U.S. rains down every day around the globe, on the other hand, could make all the difference in the world.
What the label “hate crime” hides
Mateen’s killing spree seems almost certainly to have been motivated in large part by homophobia, perhaps intensified by turmoil about his own sexual orientation. This earns it the designation of “hate crime.” But is “hate” the real issue?
It seems only logical and permissible to hate the Ku Klux Klan, to hate the zealots who would condemn women to back-alley abortions, queers to jail cells, and immigrants to the shadows. But what are called “hate crimes” are political acts, conscious or not, that both reflect and support the racism, sexism, heterosexism, anti-Semitism, etc., that an exploitative profit system depends on.
It’s no accident that “hate crimes” are directed against targets like people of color and queers, as was true at Pulse, or against Muslims and other “outsiders,” and not against bankers and CEOs. These acts are an outgrowth of scapegoating with a purpose by politicians, employers, and every one-percenter who benefits from divide-and-conquer, whether they personally are a “hater” or not.
Right-wing religious bigotry serves the cause by providing the divine justification for these essentially political acts. And that is as true for homegrown reactionaries, like the California pastor who said that he wished Mateen had killed even more of the “predators” and “pedophiles,” as it is for ISIS.
Power to the people
Just as more power to the Pentagon and FBI are not the answer to terrorism, increased repressive police power — including more cops at Pride events — is not the answer to scapegoating and violence against LGBTQ people.
Capitalism inescapably generates divisions among people, a culture of worldwide militarization, and daily violence. Its agents and institutions, including the police and electoral system, can’t be expected to end the very things that it produces. It is up to the people who will benefit the most from a new and humane system to change the one that burdens us now by standing up against homegrown bigotry and imperialist war.
LGBTQ Pride celebrates the vision of a world where diversity, mutual respect, and equality reign. Let’s work together to make that world real, starting by defending the most oppressed within the queer community. It’s the best remembrance we could make for those who laughed and danced and sang at Pulse.
Almost half of the Orlando victims were of Puerto Rican descent, part of a large community in the area whose numbers have been swollen by economic crisis on the island. Read about this crisis and the U.S. role in it in these two articles, “How Wall Street and US colonialism created Puerto Rico’s debt crisis” and “In Puerto Rico, colonialism is alive and well.”