Magazine July 11, 2016, Issue

Let’s Not Talk about It

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Seeing what we want to in the Orlando attack

An immigrant of Middle Eastern origin. A gay club. An act of violence aimed at killing or maiming untold dozens of people. Neither the word “Muslim” nor the word “Islam” appears in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s report on Musab Masmari’s 2014 arson attack on a Seattle gay club. But there’s a lot that isn’t in that article, including the fact that the arsonist, later arrested with a one-way ticket to Turkey in his pocket, had served as a “cultural ambassador” from the Arabic-speaking world at a conference organized by the U.S. State Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Greenberg said the Benghazi native was motivated by an “intolerable hate.”

What kind of intolerable hate?

So far as the Obama administration is concerned, what is happening at the moment is, if not quite unspeakable, at least unprintable: The Justice Department redacted references to the Islamic State and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and otherwise bowdlerized the transcript (“God” for “Allah,” etc.) of the conversation between Omar Mateen, the terrorist who perpetrated the massacre in an Orlando gay club, and 9-1-1 dispatchers. (After much ridicule and criticism, an unredacted version was released.) The DOJ said that it omitted the words “Islamic State” from this piece of evidence in an act of Islamic State terrorism in order to diminish the propaganda value of the transcript. FBI Special Agent in Charge Ron Hopper said that, since Mateen “does not represent the religion of Islam,” the censorship was necessary to avoid lending “credence to individuals who have done terrorist attacks in the past.”

Of course the mass murder in Orlando “does not represent the religion of Islam.” It represents . . . almost anything else.

The conversation turned briefly toward homophobia writ large, with the New York Times going so far in an editorial as to blame Republican critics of gay marriage for the crimes of an ISIS terrorist who may or may not have been a conflicted homosexual but who certainly wasn’t a Republican. (Mateen was a registered Democrat.) As with the case of Masmari in Seattle, we heard a bit about “hate,” without very much about the particular flavor of hate, a subject that has been in many quarters studiously not talked about. But things have changed a little bit since the Seattle attack, and both gay Americans and Americans in general have come to understand the special barbarism with which jihadists treat homosexuals. It isn’t as easy to draw a rhetorical line between the gay-hatred and the Islamic fundamentalism as it once was.

So, instead, we began to have a national conversation about gun control. That is always comforting to the cultural Left, because in a gun-control fight the enemy looks the way they want the enemy to look: white, male, middle-aged, rural, conservative. Never mind if that isn’t the reality of the gun-rights movement or the National Rifle Association — the cartoon is the political reality, and that’s close enough. The weapons Mateen used in Orlando were utterly ordinary: a semi-automatic rifle chambered for the .223 round (not quite the AR-15 that the media reported, but pretty close) and an ordinary 9mm handgun, which is to say, two of the most common firearms owned by Americans. There was a great deal of talk about these “weapons of war,” when in fact no American troop (and few in any military of any real consequence) receives a semi-automatic .223 rifle as a standard-issue article. It is in fact the semi-automatic nature of the AR-style rifle that distinguishes it from the battle rifles generally carried by modern soldiers.

Omar Mateen used a Sig Sauer .223 and a 9mm handgun. So did the San Bernardino killers. The Boston Marathon killers used bombs made of pressure cookers. The Fort Hood killer, who was an active-duty American soldier, chose a semi-automatic pistol in the relatively exotic 5.7×28mm caliber made by Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre-Herstal of Belgium. Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who carried out the terror attack on a military recruiting center in Chattanooga, had a 7.62mm semi-automatic rifle, a 9mm handgun, and a shotgun. A beheading in Oklahoma was carried out using a knife similar to the ones found in the food-processing facility in which the crime was perpetrated. Faleh Hassan Al-Maleki, an Iraqi immigrant living in Glendale, Ariz., used a car as the weapon in his crimes. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s gang used box-cutters and airliners to commit their crime. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad had a little .22 plinker and a small arsenal of other guns when he murdered Private William Long and wounded Private Quinton Ezeagwula in Little Rock, Ark. The self-identified mujaheed in Morganton, N.C., also used a little .22. Usaamah Rahim in Boston used a knife; he’d dreamt of beheading Pamela Geller.

Gasoline and matches, kitchen-sink bombs, rifles and handguns in various calibers and configurations, knives and more knives: These attacks do have a common theme, but it isn’t the choice of weaponry.

Maybe it is “religious extremism.” We hear a lot about “religious extremism.” Which religion? Oh, let’s not talk about that. Quakers, maybe. The Amish have their secrets, to be sure, and religious violence is not unknown to the Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, or animists of this unhappy world. And that’s a real consideration if you live in Burma, Sri Lanka, or India. But here in the United States? We’re not exactly covered with fundamentalist-Buddhist unrest, and the streets do not run with blood shed by enraged Hindus, though the United States surely gives Hindus and Buddhists cause for offense.

Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez of the New York Times, giving a survey of the religious extremism that led to the enormity in Orlando, dutifully reported that Republicans had been considering laws that would prevent nonconformist bakers from being locked in cages for declining the custom of same-sex couples planning weddings. From there to mass murder? Hop, skip, and jump. The article also insisted that “a Republican congressman read his colleagues a Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays.” That isn’t remotely true, but the Bible can mean whatever media liberals need it to mean: Setting the record straight at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway notes that Newsweek cited the same scriptural passage as evidence that Christianity makes no judgments at all about homosexuality. The Apostle Paul does indeed write in his epistle to the Romans that “the wages of sin is death,” but that’s not exactly “Let’s line the homos up against the wall and shoot ‘em in the face.”

But what about Christian extremism? Sally Kohn, a rent-a-liberal at CNN and the unparalleled mind behind an article titled “I’m Gay, and I Want My Kid to Be Gay, Too,” took to Twitter to note that it isn’t Muslims murdering physicians and staff at American abortion clinics. And that’s true; Islam, in fact, takes a relatively liberal view of abortion. But those Christian fundamentalists aren’t much to brag about as terrorists go: By the most generous count, violence at abortion clinics (which should be, and is, condemned by Christians and pro-life activists) has claimed the lives of eleven people in the 43 years since Roe v. Wade was decided. Fatal shark attacks in U.S. waters are vanishingly rare, but statistically they happen at about twice the rate of fatal abortion-clinic attacks. Christian fundamentalists enraged by abortion will have to step up their game by many multiples of their current kill rate to equal the danger presented by moose or cattle, the latter killing an average of 20 Americans per year. In all likelihood, fewer Americans will be killed this year by angry moose than by angry –

No, let’s not talk about that. Anything but that.

American liberals — and Americans in general — have a commendable habit of dreading and shunning anything that looks like singling out members of an ethnic- or religious-minority group for special scrutiny. That’s why it is so much easier to think of Orlando as an anti-gay massacre inspired by homophobia than as an anti-infidel massacre inspired by Islam. That’s why so many of us would rather talk about guns, including fictitious “assault weapons,” than about what those guns were used to do in Orlando. And that is why we feel perfectly comfortable talking about vaguely defined “hate” or “intolerance” or “extremism” without getting too specific about what’s going on here, which is, hesitant as we are to admit it, the early stages of an intifada, one inspired by the Islamic State and other overseas extremists, often not directly under their command, or anybody’s. (The lack of a central command structure isn’t an absence of design; it is the design.) The days of 9/11-style theatrical terrorism are behind us, and the days of shooting up military recruiting centers, bombing public events, and setting fire to nightclubs are here.

Intifadas are fought by believers, and it matters who those believers are and what it is they believe.

In This Issue



Books, Arts & Manners


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