Sunday, 12 June 2016

Omar Mateen and American Culture

Some sketchy thoughts about the murder of 50 clubbers at Pulse in Orlando.

1. It does not matter how tragic or bloody the event, there will always be people sick enough to try and score points off it. On this occasion, fast out of the gate was Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who thought it appropriate to gloat over the bullet riddled bodies of the victims. Remember, this man is supposed to be a Christian. Joining him in callous indifference and cynicism comes ex-diplomat Michael Oren. On Israel's Channel 10 this afternoon he suggested Donald Trump would be wise to exploit the murder on account of the gunman being Muslim. Lastly, it's not above the utter bams to make their own play. Each case involves total dehumanisation. Social media simultaneously bridges and enforces social distance. An appalling crime is just another item on the feed/news cycle and is to be annexed for crass position taking. The human dimension, the suffering, the grief for those left to mourn are secondary images inessential to the political meanings constructed around the act of violence.

2. The gunman Omar Mateen was a Muslim. He was not on any watch list, nor was there any indication he was a radical Islamist or, for that matter, particularly devout. Before Mateen went on his murderous rampage he apparently called emergency services and pledged allegiance to IS. With these circumstances, it's understandable the authorities are responding to it as an act of terror. Yet as Alishba points out, homophobia is a problem in Muslim communities - a point that's often impolitic for outsiders and to mention. According to Mateen's Dad, it was witnessing two men kiss that sent Mateen into a murderous fury. This is worth bearing in mind as this act is unpicked and made sense of. When these sorts of crimes are committed by Islamists, previous experiences in the West fall into the pattern of indiscriminate slaughter (London, Madrid, Paris, Brussels) or specifically targeted military personnel, such as the murder of Lee Rigby, or the 2009 killing of 13 people by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. This attack is more suggestive of last year's massacre by husband and wife pair Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino which saw the killing of 14 of Farook's work colleagues, and the Syndey cafe siege: that is murders in which Islam is a flag of convenience for motives steeped in vengeance and narcissism. Or, in this case, plain old bigotry. We should find out in coming days.

3. Cue another round of American soul searching and hand-wringing about gun control. Obama will make his usual pleas, as he does every three to six months, and the GOP will blame the club goers for not taking their weapons with them. The right wingin', bitter clingin', proud clingers of their guns - as Sarah Palin likes to call this increasingly unhinged constituency - are happy to see the death of 50 gay clubbers here, a packed cinema there, and classrooms full of kids as so much collateral for their inalienable rights. The truth is that easy access to arms is only one part of the problem. There is something deeply sick with American society. No other advanced society suffers these sorts of shootings with anything approaching this level of regularity. It cannot be explained by the size of the population - per capita they're way above similarly developed countries. Nor do other states with large gun ownership, such as Canada where over a quarter of adults own one, have the same rates of violence. That leaves something exceptional about American culture. The constant reinforcement of individual gratification and sovereignty, even as the realities of free market fundamentalism trample all over it. The absence of mass, collectivist-inspired politics, the glorification of violence, the way American media and culture splits people into competing constituencies with little emphasis on integration. From afar it appears the nearest an advanced society is to a Randian nightmare, a dysfunctional dystopia where the war of all against all too often explodes into bloody outrages.


Metatone said...

Have you seen this talk by Gladwell on Columbine and suggesting following attacks as partly about social copying (a la Mark Earls) ?

I think there's a sense in which this attack fits into that stream of actions.

Speedy said...

"that is murders in which Islam is a flag of convenience for motives steeped in vengeance and narcissism."

I recall the would-be Tiger Tiger bombers looking forward to slaughtering the "slags".

Owen Jones is right to say this is about homophobia, but it is also a strain of mainstream Islam - Leftists brush over these "cultural differences", but ordinary Islamic culture is as homophobic as the most right wing Christianity, just as it is equally sexist, and often routinely anti-semitic and supremacist. Of course, not all Muslims are terrorists, but neither are most Southern Baptists.

Yet we don't appear to have an issue condemning the backwardness of Southern Baptists, say, or Mormons, and if a nutter bursts into a black church with a gun, we don't hesitate to condemn racism and try to understand as an American problem. If an Israeli settler starts shooting Palestinian civilians, the howls against Zionism are de rigueur... etc.

I thought the comment "he wasn't even very religious" was interesting - the assumption being, if he was more Islamic he would be more homophobic?

So of course this is about Islam, and a homophobia shared by other intolerant, right wing beliefs, be it Republicanism or Southern Baptism or Neo Nazism. The thing is - why does the Left give it a free pass?

Mike Macnair said...

Pitfalls of instant posts. From this morning's press it is clear that (a) he announced he was doing an ISIS operation (b) he had been investigated by FBI as an islamist extremist, but cleared of organised links. Hence, treating this as a window on US culture rather than a lone-wolf analogue of the Bombay attack was a mistake.

Gary Elsby said...

I heard he was interviewed twice by the FBI and was on a 'no fly' list.
There have been more mass shooting in the USA this year than there are days of the year so far.
The NRA response is, as expected, 'more good guys should have more guns'. Staggering, really.
Did Blair get it right?

Phil said...

It looks like I might have been right.

Phil said...

Again, more interesting background on Mateen. It looks increasingly like his "Islamism" is a rationalisation of his complex of frustration, inadequacy, and hate.

BCFG said...

At least in these cases we get to hear the victims stories, we see them as real human victims.

Contrast this to the multitude killed by Western Christian/Secular bigots in endless wars of greed and power (everyone brushes this aside!). We never hear the stories of these victims of Christian/Western secular barbarity, more often than not are treated like a hoarde of inhuman beasts. And this Christian barbarity more often than not comes with solid support of the bigoted Christian masses (this gets a free pass from left to right!).

I suspect the staggering levels of bigotry in the West generate some distress that sometimes explodes into extreme violence. But remarkably not that often it must be said. These are events are very rare, you would think they happened daily reading what some people say. Maybe if Muslims had drones they would, who knows?

When a white boy shoots up the neighbourhood it is pyschological issue or a problem with US gun laws, this time it is all about Muslims and Islam. And for some totting up the crimes by Muslims is a sport, as is their silence in relation to crimes by white folk! If it is obvious this is about Islam it is also obvious this is a story of US society.

When the Israelis kill a Palestinian this never gets howls of any kind, partly this is because it happens so often it in't even news. Dog bites man (the main reason though is the Palestinians are seem as vermin by the enlightened).

It should be noted that just because someone announces they are carrying out an IS operation does not mean they are, anymore than Peter Sutcliffe was following the word of God. To establish any kind of operation takes more than taking statements at face value.

In the enlightened West the main concern when a migrant boat sinks is that some may have survived and still might make it to these shores. I really don't think we are in a position to dish out moral guidance to anyone.