Omar Mateen was not mentally ill, and he was not a Muslim; he was a homophobe who was disgusted by gays, and a sexist who beat his wife.
Lunatic is a word that lets us distance ourselves from the difficult people and difficult problems that we had a hand in creating. In reality, we live with the kind of hatred that Mateen represents every day. We see it and we hear it, and most of the time we let it slide, because, after all, we’re good people; we’re the liberal West: we gave them marriage and we gave them the fringe, what more do they want?
Well, it is those very freedoms that make our homophobia that much more dangerous, and the reason is very simple: disenfranchisement. Omar Mateen did what he did because he could not effect change in a legitimate way. He had no legal recourse, and so he picked up a gun and went out to Pulse, because it was the only option available to him. He would have been right at home in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Pakistan, but in the States, his views are not reflected or legitimized by the law. At least not officially.
Make no mistake: that’s a good- no, a great- thing. But it’s also what makes Western homophobia so much more volatile. Mateen faced a legal wall, so he shot it down. What we need to do is engage with, or ideally preempt, that point of obstruction.
There are two ways I can see of doing this.
Firstly, stop the homophobia. Mateen should never have been able to get that desperate and frustrated, let alone reify his desperation and frustration. He should not have had those views in this day and age. So, what we need to do is deal with and intercept the problem of homophobia through education, and by actively working against the every day normalization of homophobia in society.
As an aside, I don’t think we can lay the blame at Islam’s doorstep for this one- at least, not entirely. Every Abrahamic religion is vehemently sexist and homophobic, and every religion has terrorists. Terrorism has no religion? Terrorism has many religions. And anyway, Mateen was not a practising Muslim. He was a homophobe who found justification in Islam, in one aspect of his cultural identity, and used it to justify violence.
The second way for us to deal with the problem is to take away the violent option entirely. Doing that seemed pretty simple before the Bataclan: take away the guns, take away the assault rifles. It worked for us. It didn’t work for France. But I don’t think that that was a failure of the written law; I think it was a failure of the law in practice. Just look at the scenes in France this past week: English, French and Russian football fans running amok in Marseille and Lille, and a bipolar, unfocused and improper response from French riot police.
Ultimately, we just need to start getting this conversation right. Calling Mateen a lunatic sanitizes his motivations and takes them out of the complex sociopolitical melange in which they festered for 29 years. Branding him mentally ill, with no medical evidence and an offhand quote from his ex-wife, does the same and, more importantly, offends and dangerously stigmatizes an entire group of people who have enough to deal with as it is. This is about bigotry, and this is about gun laws. Stop talking around the issue, and confront it.