The horrific massacre that occurred in Orlando, Florida, last weekend, and the responses to it reveal a strange intersection of bigotries: homophobia, religious extremism, gun idolatry and the rise of fascism in the United States with the candidacy of Donald Trump.
Omar Mateen did not choose by chance the gay night club to wallow in blood. He had visited it before. He had a hatred of gays that was beyond irrational. Indeed, it may well turn out, if media reports are true, that he had strong repressed gay feelings. This is not uncommon with male homophobes.
The more vicious they are, the more likely they are secretly gay. There is also a curious correlation between hatred of gays and discrimination and aggression against women.
In any event, the killer was filled with self-loathing and rage. He was emotionally unstable.
He wished to dominate his wife, and when she refused, he brutalized her. She left him within a year of their marriage. Had she been living in another culture in another country, she would have had to put up with him for the rest of her life.
Mateen became the perfect subject for a perverted religious ideology that demonizes the “other”; in this case, gays, women, and non-Muslims, along with the values of freedom and tolerance.
One of the enduring features of religious extremism is the derogatory and abusive treatment of women. This is not too surprising, since all of these religions arose in cultures where women were considered the property of men –– first of their fathers and subsequently of their husbands.
The whole historical emphasis on female virginity had more to do with keeping property secure for its owner than with sexual virtuousness.
Of course, all religions have gone through various reforms, largely because the societies in which they were practised became more open over the centuries to the growing observance of human rights, and also because of internal theological progress. Nevertheless, even in the most liberated of cultures, many religions still show evidence of discrimination against women, and, in some parts of the world, women are still treated as property. If there is one human group most deserving of reparatory justice for crimes against humanity, it is women.
Whatever the causes of Islamic extremism, and they are many and complex, it is a threat to any society based on human rights. ISIS and Boko Haram are just the most hideously perverted expressions of a religion based on peace. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims throughout the world abhor and condemn the actions of these extremist groups is often ignored by the media in the West. The practice of Islam is no more monolithic and homogeneous than the practice of Christianity and Judaism.
There are fundamentalist extremists to be found in every religion: the one thing they have in common is hatred. The irrational reactions, typified by Trump, to massacres committed in the name of Islam feed into the narrative of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and Christianity.
Trump’s spewing of anti-Muslim vitriol is not a spontaneous emotional outburst. It is carefully calculated to inflame the appallingly large number of white supremacist, racist know-nothings that constitute his “base”.
These are angry at the increasing diversification and “colouring” of America, and yearn for a strong demagogue who can make America white again by banning immigrants from the non-white world and deporting over 11 million Hispanics. This is fascism writ large.
Trump in fact represents the last political gasp of the Republican Party, which, after the defeat of Mitt Romney in 2012, argued that the party needed greater outreach to Hispanics, women, young people and other minorities. Trump is betting he can win the election with only white votes.
This is of course futile, and Hillary Clinton, even with all her negatives, will clean his clock and the Republicans will suffer the worst electoral disaster since the 1964 defeat of Barry Goldwater who carried only six states and won only 38 per cent of the popular vote. Just think on the recent speeches Clinton and Trump gave in response to the Orlando tragedy to understand the difference between sanity and lunacy.
But we should never forget that Trump is dangerous. He is the classic narcissistic, pathologically lying, bullying demagogue who loves trampling over everyone.
Finally, guns. Most non-Americans look upon the American idolatry of the gun with amazement. The idea that in any society people should have free unqualified access to guns is preposterous. But that any person should be able to buy an automatic rifle like the AR-15 used in so many massacres in the United States is beyond belief.
You don’t need it for hunting; you don’t need it for protection; it is a weapon of war designed to kill as many people in the shortest possible time. It is hailed by its devotees as the gold standard for mass murder. It is truly a weapon of mass destruction.
But the National Rifle Association defends its sale, and this is a powerful lobby. So we can sadly expect that this situation will continue.
(Peter Laurie, a former Barbados diplomat, is a noted social commentator.)