Wednesday, June 15, 2016

War of Words

In the wake of the latest mass murder perpetrated in our gun-crazy country, a predictable word of words has exploded as various factions go to their separate corners with their exclusivist interpretations. For some, the attack was all about homophobia. For others it was all about "radical Islam." For some of that latter faction, it just won't do to blame homophobia at all. For some of the others, it is similarly unacceptable to ascribe any blame at all to Islam.  (Thus one Planned Parent group inanely tweeted: “#Islam doesn’t foment the violence alleged gunman Omar Mateen enacted, toxic masculinity & a global culture of imperialist homophobia does.") And then there are those who, for whatever reason, just blame it all on "hate."

Of course, in the real world - rather than the world of such ideologically preset certitudes - one factor doesn't necessarily exclude any of  the others. Homophobia, "radical islam", and generic "hate" could all easily have been components of this criminal's mindset and contributors to his crime. A complete investigation may in time sort out which, if any ,was the dominant influence in his thinking. but the inconvenient fact is that human beings are incredibly complex creatures, capable of having multiple (and even contradictory) ideas at the same time and being motivated by multiple (and even contradictory) hostilities and allegiances. 

So far, it seems reasonably safe to say that the crime was motivated by both homophobia (possibly of the self-hating variety) and at least some religiously influenced radicalization. (How else to explain the site of the crime and the chosen targets, on the one hand, and the bizarre invocation of ISIS in the 911 call?)

Meanwhile, people go to their separate corners and shout slogans. The most bizarre is the assertion by Donald Trump (but not just by him) that what this country needs is to keep shouting the slogan "radical Islamic terrorism."  But no war has ever been won by sloganeering. It is unlikely that any terrorist will lay down his arms, or any criminal terrorist act will be more easily prevented by our shouting slogans into the air.

But we do at least know who the victims were. Even if the fact that they were gay turned out to be only a partial explanation of their murderer's motives, it doesn't change who the victims were and that they were specifically targeted. Expressing sorrow or anger at the event without at least acknowledging that the victims were all gay people is hardly helpful. In that regard, Donald Trump did at least do that much, even if in service of his apparent emphasis on religion as the final cause of this killer's homophobia.

The way we use (or don't use) words matters. Acknowledging the identity of those murdered matters. Acknowledging all the factors that may have played a part in the killer's motivations matters also. As does admitting that, however hate-filled he may have been, without being able to get a gun, he could not have so easily perpetrated his crime.

As Senator Warren said this afternoon on the Senate floor, the murders were committed by "a terrorist with hate in his heart and a gun in his hand."

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