A terrorist is an extremist. A radical. A person who uses violence for political ends. Technically, yes, Omar Mateen—the man whose virulent attack on the LGBTQ community left 49 people dead on June 12—was a terrorist.
At this point in our country’s post-9/11 history, however, “terrorism” connotes something insidious. “Terrorism” means Islam. “Terrorism” means brown skin. “Terrorism” means Other—not Us.
(White) Americans can’t be terrorists, right? Even though terrorism has existed at the hands of (white) Americans since this country was colonized (anyone ever heard of slavery?). No, “terrorists” have beards and wear turbans and suicide bombs and kill in the name of radical, Eastern ideologies.
But these connotations are rooted in racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Yes, according to the transcript of the 911 call Mateen made during his rampage, which the FBI released in full on June 20, Mateen did pledge allegiance to the Islamic State. Yes, his parents were born in Afghanistan and yes, he was a Muslim. That stated, his ties to ISIL have not been explicated to any compelling extent. And more importantly, we must remember that ISIL’s ideology has nothing to do with Islam. Islam is a religion that promotes peace.
ISIL pushes an agenda of hate. It is a violent, misguided organization that falsely claims religious, political, and military control over all Muslims. And one more time, for the people in the back: It has nothing to do with Islam. As a cultural Catholic, I reserve the right to argue that the Westboro Baptist Church—despite its self-identity as a Christian sect—has nothing to do with Christianity. So, too, do Muslims reserve the right to argue that ISIL has nothing to do with Islam.
By labeling Mateen a terrorist, we distract ourselves from the painful truth: Our culture killed those 49 people in Orlando. Our culture—a culture that relentlessly promotes homophobia, racism, and sexism—stole those lives. And for all those times we have either overtly or covertly endorsed those –isms, each of us was complicit in the Pulse shooting. Because for all those times we have turned a blind eye to hate, we have helped sustain hate.
The Pulse shooting was not a function of Islam, or fundamentalism, or terrorism. The Pulse shooting was a function of hundreds of years of institutional oppression of queer and trans people of color. The Pulse shooting was a function of our twisted culture, our mainstream media, our schools, and our second amendment. The system is to blame. Not fundamental Islam, or terrorism, or even this one, sick human being.
My unequivocal love and support goes to all those victimized at Pulse, to their loved ones, and to the entire LGBTQ community, whose humanity was once again called into question and viciously threatened on June 12.
If you can spare a few dollars, please show your solidarity by contributing to the GoFundMe dedicated to the victims of the shooting and their families. Please, implore your senators to stop accepting thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA. Please, do something to curtail this culture of hate.
And if you haven’t yet woken up to the reality of this tragic situation, please, try to wake up, and #StayWoke.