Yesterday’s deadly shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando—in which at least 50 people were killed—is but the latest, and most horrific, episode in the long-running Islamist war on the global LGBT community. Ever since it came to power in parts of Syria and Iraq two years ago, the Islamic State (to which Orlando killer Omar Mateen swore fealty) has lent a cinematographic edge to its murderous hatred of homosexuality, giddily distributing worldwide images of its frequent propulsions of gay men from the rooftops of high buildings. Around the world, homosexuality is punishable by death in 10 countries, nine of which are dominated by Islamists (the exception, Nigeria, has a strong Islamist current). The Orlando massacre was not the first Islamist attack against gays in the United States. In 2014, a man named Ali Muhammad Brown murdered a gay couple in Seattle after luring them into a rendezvous via the hook-up app Grindr. “My mission is vengeance, for the lives, millions of lives are lost every day,” he said in his confession. “All these lives are taken every single day by America, by this government. So a life for a life.”
Yet while the Islamist war on homosexuality may be unambiguous, many of my gay brothers and sisters have difficulty acknowledging the nature of the threat. Like Jews, we have a natural impulse to sympathize with other minority groups. That’s a laudable instinct. But divorced from reality and an appreciation for nuance, it can become remarkably pigheaded, not to mention suicidal. Particularly when, nearly everywhere it rules, one “minority” group (in the American context) oppresses all others.
In the aftermath of yesterday’s shooting, many gays, following the lead from liberal commentators and political leaders from the president of the United States on down, are trying to diminish Islam as a factor in the killing. Among gays there exists an exculpatory reflex on the issue of Islam, a desire to spread blame evenly among all faiths, or on no faith at all, and pin responsibility upon an amorphous “hate” encompassing everything from the baker refusing service to gay newlyweds to Iranian Mullahs hanging gay teens from construction cranes. Characteristic of this response was a tweet from Sally Kohn, a lesbian Democratic consultant and CNN contributor. “Homophobic, misogynistic, racist extremist hate is the problem,” she wrote. “It is problem in Islam, in Christianity, in Judaism, or any other form.”
What’s at play here are two, somewhat contradictory convictions: a moral equivalence that balks at singling out one of these faith traditions as uniquely predisposed to murderous homophobia, and a (not altogether unjustified) animus toward the politicized right-wing Christianity that has fueled much of the American conservative movement’s opposition to gay legal equality over the past several decades. The fact, however, is that while Islam certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on homophobia, it does have a majority market share on its murderous variety. Tempting as it may be to pin events like the Orlando tragedy on “extremist” individuals, it is clear that Omar Mateen has plenty of company—in light of ISIS’s gay genocide, Hamas’s regular harassment of gays and execution of one of its own commanders for alleged gay sex, and the state-sanctioned homophobia of dozens of Muslim-majority countries.
Nor can such extreme homophobic attitudes be attributed to just a handful of Muslims. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center poll I wrote about for Tablet earlier this year, 75 percent or more of Muslims in 33 of 36 countries (including 89 percent of Palestinians) believe homosexual behavior to be inherently wrong. These depressing views extend to Muslims in the West as well: a poll released in Britain two months ago found that half of British Muslims believe homosexuality should be illegal.
Many gays, it would seem, have subconsciously internalized what I’ve termed the regressive left’s “victim pyramid,” where they have been displaced by Muslims as objects of left-wing sympathy by post-Cold War intellectuals who decided to annoint the Ummah as their new proletariat. “It used to be quite fashionable to root for the gays, but that was back in the 1980s when they were dying of AIDS and Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were arrayed against them,” I wrote. “Today, HIV is a manageable disease, gays can get married, and many of them are white, live in the suburbs, and sometimes even vote Republican.” That Saturday was Latino Night at Pulse will do little to complicate the narrative of the intersectionality-obsessed left.
Another dodge employed by many gays and liberals, in addition to downplaying Islam, is to focus ire on the gun rights movement. As the casualties were still being counted, Democratic partisans took to Twitter singling out the National Rifle Association rather than ISIS as being responsible for the attack; Media Matters for America even cited an NRA official referring to Caitlyn Jenner as “he” as somehow relevant to the tragedy. My friend Julia Ioffe identified as “the culprit” the AR-15 assault rifle used by the killer in his murder spree, which, if successfully prosecuted, would be the first inanimate object t0 be held culpable for homicide in the American justice system. I have no reverence for private gun ownership and, to paraphrase a great diva of the gay community, if I could turn back time, I would probably erase the Second Amendment. But it’s here to stay—and, more importantly, so are over 300 million firearms in private hands.
Are the partisan tweeters purposefully dense? They are. Denouncing hatred, guns and evangelical Christians is easier, not to mention more intellectually comforting, than confronting the dangers of a new-old form of religious obscurantism adhered to by untold millions of people who belong to groups that we—not they—have positioned as benign objects of our well-meaning attempts at equalitarian uplift. For products of a free society, which greatly values sensitivity to others, and wishes to continue enjoying life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while forthrightly condemning the sins of racism, sexism and homophobia, it’s unsettling to imagine that other people don’t want the same things we do. In fact, they want to kill us, for reasons that we simply cannot undo, if we want to remain who we are—especially if we are gay, female or Jewish, or atheists, or like to read the wrong books, or look at cartoons.
That’s the truth. Yet for the self-anointed community of the good, anything is easier than dealing with the reality of a fascistic political movement that cloaks itself in religious language and religious hatreds, enjoys meaningful support in Muslim communities and even among Muslim religious leaders, and which routinely uses brutal violence to erase the basic human rights and often the lives of everyone who fails to adhere to their medieval theocratic dictates. Desperate to transform violent oppressors into the Christ-like oppressed, the regressive left averts its gaze, and, more often than not, boldly blames the victims.
Yesterday’s massacre also complicates a fashionable leftist critique of American foreign policy, which is that the Islamist terrorism directed against the West is the result of our bad behavior overseas. In this reading, American support for Israel, its maintenance of the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, and various other “Islamophobic” policies abroad generates legitimate rage at the U.S. that—regrettably, though not unjustifiably—results in terrorism, which is the cri de coeur of the unbearably oppressed. This has always been a morally obtuse theory, and, if there’s any silver lining to yesterday’s attack, it’s that the butchery of gay people enjoying their freedom by an Islamist fanatic will hopefully shame the cretins who regularly take to the airwaves and newspaper opinion sections to hawk such reprehensible claims. What does Glenn Greenwald think Americans should have done to avert this latest Islamist outrage? Shoot our own gays?
President Obama, in his remarks to the nation, declared that “we have no definitive assessment on the motivation” of the killer other than that “we know he was a person filled with hate.” At least he didn’t say the victims were just a bunch of random folks in a nightclub. One suspected, long before he even approached the podium, that no matter how many calls Omar Mateen made to 911 pledging his allegiance to ISIS, the president would not be able to bring himself to utter any variation of the word “Islam,” and instead grasp toward the chimera of gun control, and in that regard he didn’t disappoint. In its destructive reluctance to stand up for core liberal beliefs, the regressive American left will elect Donald Trump.
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James Kirchick is a Tablet columnist and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt, 2022). He tweets @jkirchick.