It has been two and a half days.
By now we know that in the early morning hours of June 12th, 2016, a crazed, Islamist extremist took a small arsenal of legally obtained weapons in to a nightclub frequented by the LGBTQ community in Orlando, and then proceeded to murder 49 people and wound 53 more.
Now that the initial shock and horror of that atrocity has started to subside, with the smoke barely settled, people are starting to retreat in to their sadly predictable factions.
Liberals are blaming gun culture in the United States. A culture that makes possible with obscene ease, the purchase of weapons of mass destruction (unless of course we decide that killing 49 people does not qualify as “mass” destruction). A gun culture that is a fact of American life. A gun culture which makes massacres like Orlando (and Charleston, and San Bernardino, and Sandy Hook, and Virginia Tech, and Aurora, and Columbine, etc.) so “easy” to pull off. The liberals don’t mention Islamist extremism.
Conservatives are blaming Islam. In fact, the presumptive presidential nominee for the Republican Party, Donald Trump, is once again calling on the United States to ban all Muslims from entering the country (never mind that the killer in Orlando was born in New York). The conservatives don’t mention guns.
The reality of course is that this most recent and most deadly atrocity was about homophobic bigotry, fueled by Islamist extremism, and made possible by guns.
There are clearly multiple variables at play. By focusing only on the variable that validates our political narrative, not only are we are dishonoring the lives stolen by this kind of hatred and violence, but we are leaving the door wide open for the next attack. We are being pitifully myopic. If we only attack guns, extremists will use bombs or knives or whatever tools they can find to main and kill others. In the case of Islamist extremism, if we vilify all Muslims, the extremists among them will simply use anti-Muslim bigotry and xenophobia as tools for recruitment and convenient excuses for more extremism. We clearly have to talk seriously about both the obscenely easy access we have to the tools of murder as well as the perversion of certain religious ideologies that inspire murderous behaviors.
Here is what must happen:
We have to better control the proliferation of weapons designed to kill. As a simple start, people who are deemed too dangerous to board a plane, should also be deemed too dangerous to purchase a gun.
We have to eradicate Islamist extremism. Preferably by convincing adherents that their extremist interpretation of Islam is morally bankrupt to the degree that they begin to once again place value on human well-being; but by force if they insist on violence against others.
Both of these actions are going to take time, so what can we do now? We can ensure that all people are treated with the same dignity and respect expected within a free and open society, particularly people such as those in the LGBTQ community, who are consistently targeted for derision by those who think their holy texts, irrespective of the religion, compel them to denigrate LGBTQ people as unworthy, sinful and broken. For example, Christian politicians in the United States don’t get to “pray for Orlando” in one breath, and in the next, make the lives of LGBTQ people who aren’t being laid to rest, miserable by restricting their restrooms or the marriages or their adoptions or whatever else they can find that helps them discriminate in the name of “Biblical” or “family” values.
Fundamentally, we have to champion and promote the “liberal” in the classical sense and secular values that make pluralistic societies work. These are the values that erode the walls between factions. We have to promote across the globe, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of conscious, freedom of ideas, freedom from tyranny, and the rule of law.
If history is any guide, understanding that our problems are more complicated than any one faction would have you believe will take time. So in the meantime, consider a contribution of financial support to the victims now.
We all will make a difference. We have to.