After the Orlando Massacre the time to expand Interfaith cooperation is now.
Once again we wasted our chances. The events in Orlando June 12 brought out the best and worst in people, yet governmental changes appear more cosmetic than real apart from individual apologies from people like Lt. Governor Spencer J. Cox (R-Utah).1 As a trans activist I felt angered and saddened at the attack upon LGBT peoples by a self-radicalized Muslim. Then I felt just as angered when radicalized Christian preachers celebrated with jeers and slander against the dead, even equating all gays to “pedophiles”.2
It’s a story repeated again and again, each time with greater intensity and enhanced radical vitriol. Many of us predicted events like this would come and the vitriol shouted by enemies of LGBT people like male gorillas as they roar and pound their chests. But I refuse to believe anything can be inevitable. I believe there is more we can do and have some suggestions where to look.
It’s time to take another look at inter-community cooperation to suggest what needs to happen to take the next step in promoting societal harmony, to cap the rising tide of radicalization, and to dare to call radicalization what it is anywhere it occurs.
Americans have largely restricted the term “radicalization” to Muslims, stigmatizing every one as potential if not actual radicals. I’ve known many Muslims over the years. Some are and have been my neighbors, coworkers, and fellow students. I’ve tutored Muslims and visited their mosques. When I did research for one of my books I turned to Iman Suhail Mulla, MSW of the Islamic Society of Orange County for a Koranic perspective on an issue and he was happy to help.
But the heated rhetoric over Orlando included Donald Trump who demanded that President Barack Obama use the word “radical Muslim” in his speech or resign, obviously a demand for the president to engage in the same inflammatory language as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee has indulged.3
People must understand. There are plenty of Christians every bit as volatile as was Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the crime in Orlando. I’ve seen it in my 20 years of involvement in Evangelical churches. The disparity of the use of “radical” or “radicalized” provides evidence of a growing enforcement of bias upon the American public through societal stigma by aggressive religionist elements.
So 49 died in Orlando plus the equally dead Omar Mateen. It’s something an Evangelical Rep. Rick Allen (R-Georgia) prayed for the previous month in a GOP conference.4 Any time elected officials seek the death of those whom they serve something is amiss… radically amiss.
With that in mind, let’s look at some facts concerning the terrorist Mateen and draw some lessons from them.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Kevin West who often attended Pulse to say that Mateen had messaged him periodically over the course of a year before last Sunday’s incident. He said he had used the gay chat and dating app called “Jack’d”.5
The Daily Beast reported that Mateen regularly picked up lunch from Samuel King at Ruby Tuesdays when working next door to him. Samuel King also performed as a drag queen. King described Mateen as a “jokester” who didn’t have apparent issues with the LGBT community, coming in to gay bars to laugh and drink with bartenders whom he knew to be lesbian. He smiled a lot but religion never came up in conversations.6
Clearly, Omar Mateen’s involvement with the LGBT community had been more than a passing curiosity. It’s an involvement he appears to have hidden just like many who have yet to come fully out of the closet hide from others.
But people observed another side of Omar Mateen. Other acquaintances described him as a “practicing Muslim” but “spewed racist and anti-homosexual slurs,” according to the Times.7 His imam at the Islamic Center in Fort Pierce, Syed Shafeeq Rahman told The Daily Beast that something had changed in Mateen in recent years. “He would not talk to anybody, but would just smile.”8
Changes like that must be taken as danger signals that demand another find out what gives. Racist and anti-gay slurs indicate troubled minds that can potentially turn violent. The 2013 FBI investigation of Omar Mateen may have revealed only superficial ties to terrorists, but even though they closed their investigation,9 the changes in Omar’s demeanor should have been taken as a tacit cry for help that all of his peers missed. Did the FBI convey their concerns to his religious leaders with some follow-up? There’s no evidence that they did, at least what has been purported in the press.
His own family appears to have missed their window of opportunity as well. In reviewing his family ties, it’s easy to expect that an internal conflict raged within Omar Mateen that involved his LGBT interests and the moral imperatives imposed by his own family. The issue clearly must be more than a criminal and legal. It’s a psychiatric and moral matter.
CBS News reported how his father, Seddique Mateen, hosted the “Durand Jirga Show.” on a California based Afghan satellite TV station.10 The Daily Beast said that Seddique Mateen posted a video on a Facebook page titled, “Provisional Government of Afghanistan – Seddique Mateen” in which he ordered the arrest of Afghan politicians as if he was president himself. This posting occurred only hours before the Orlando shooting. They further reported that Seddique Mateen vocally sympathized with the Taliban.11
But one statement by Omar Mateen’s father stands as indicative of a basic attitude that must have aroused immense conflict in the son:
God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality. This is not for the servants of God.12
What that clearly indicates is that the father had already judged homosexuals to be worthy of the punishment of God. This presumption of the right to judge betrays this supposed “live and let live” as nothing more than tolerance.
People must understand. Tolerance presumes the right to judge and condemn others but sets limits on how much can be tolerated and to what extent one can execute that judgment. Tolerance always fails sooner or later. Liberty, however, makes no such presumption. Most people who claim to love liberty only love their own liberties without regard for the liberties of others. Such people cannot genuinely love liberty. They only love tolerance instead.
So given these stressors and danger signals we might infer that Omar Mateen could have been helped on multiple levels had his peers intervened at an earlier time: psychologically, legally, spiritually, and culturally. To my knowledge the infrastructure for accomplishing an integrated effort to reach out for healing doesn’t exist. Our communities are fragmented, opposed to one another, engaged in what are often quests for domination, a trait endemic to Christians and Muslims especially.
What I would suggest would require unprecedented cooperation between LGBT community centers and leaders, the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), The National Conference of Christians and Jews, The Interfaith Alliance and related Interfaith organizations, churches, mosques, counseling agencies, attorneys, paralegals, law enforcement personnel, and teachers. We need a network of mentors who understand cross-cultural communication and can take it to a new level. That new level would require religious literacy in more than one religious tradition just like businesses are requiring bilingual employees more and more.
Local Interfaith groups typically don’t keep a lot of members. They disband about as often as transgender support groups do, either because lack of commitment erodes them or because they may become locked into a cycle of sitting around and listening to a speaker talk about something innocuous. But what Interfaith groups have done for society so far has been more valuable than gold.
Such groups usually include members prominent in minority religious organizations, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, maybe a New Ager, a typically mainline Christian, plus maybe a Jew or 2, depending upon local demographics. Evangelicals, whose demand for denominational dominance often render them more as cults than religions, often refuse to have any part of Interfaith councils. Minorities often attend these events to assure people in other religious communities that the people of one’s own faith are really decent people after all.
Interfaith members have one thing in common: they buck the exclusionist and elitist attitudes commonly fostered in their own religions and encourage understanding and cooperation between religious organizations. As a result, we even see 2 or more members of religious bodies come together for a special interfaith service once in a while. But so far we haven’t seen much more than that.
Events in Orlando should awaken Interfaith groups to a greater mission: outreach to individuals at risk in order to heal the community at large. Here’s what I mean. It’s time for us to invest more of our energies into their efforts to expand their networks to include:
- LGBT peoples, especially now that more are reasserting their historical roles in spiritualities of various sorts. So far we haven’t seen wide LGBT involvement in Interfaith groups precisely because till recently LGBT have been excluded from religious life altogether.
- A united teaching effort to familiarize members and non-members with the sacred texts of multiple religions and the customs developed by those religions, all for the purpose of fostering cross-cultural communication and understanding. Some Interfaith groups already promote religious literacy on a small scale. But this needs to expand so that everyone who negotiates or acts as a bridge between cultures can have the tools of religious literacy ready to do what they have committed to do.
- A network of counselors and other mental health professionals to teach and advise concerning danger signals indicating radicalization and to provide a means for these individuals to enter therapy. To date, psychiatric professionals have often disdained religious involvement as a threat to their objectivity or their commitment to science. “Christian counselors” have been the main exception. These, much like the Nazarene psychologist James Dobson of Focus On the Family, have a different mission that’s less about providing actual therapy than about assuring that people stay in church ranks by any means possible. We need a different kind of counselor today: one with such sophistication that the counselor can bridge the gap between diverse cultures to provide therapy for people like Omar Mateen. Nobody can help to facilitate this level of cross cultural communication than Interfaith organizations.
- A network with law enforcement personnel, paralegals, and attorneys who can advise and recommend to individuals at risk and to religious bodies at risk of becoming hotbeds of radicalization concerning legal challenges and consequences. We rarely see a legal professional in an Interfaith group. But every organization needs legal people to advise them. These, like counselors, need the same level of sophistication in religious matters which they may or may not have achieved in their studies. Interfaith organizations can help fill this need.
- Investigators need to convey concerns to religious leaders who must in turn employ these networks. This should automatically become a part of any action plan on the part of law enforcement if this hasn’t already been conceived. Time again law enforcement tells the public, “If you see something, say something. If you hear something, say something.” This works both ways. Law enforcement agencies that fail to communicate to leaders of involved communities, holding those leaders accountable for appropriate therapeutic action, may lose the respect of the public and may fail in their mission. At the same time we can’t allow law enforcement to enforce what part of any network a religious leader may choose to employ because that would integrate state with church, mosque, temple, and synagogue. It should only be contingent to advise to assure that such action has been taken proactively in religious communities so they don’t have to work reactively in civic communities… or higher and perhaps to follow up on what action those leaders may have taken on behalf of the one at risk.
These recommendations are already consistent with the mission of Interfaith organizations. Doing so doesn’t mean watering down or compromising the culture or teachings of any religion. But where any culture threatens the liberties of others through harassment or worse, none of us can afford to watch passively. What this proposes goes beyond the existing mission of Interfaith societies to a more active outreach of a network, an InterAct, if you will. It will require that people network for the purpose of preventing radicalization in any religious entity and for those people who engage to gain literacy in those members of other religions they serve.
We can no longer afford to waste our chances to help people like Omar Mateen or their potential victims whose names we learn too late. We can no longer afford to celebrate the demise of those who we don’t happen to like. We can no longer afford to isolate religious communities into cult circles. With networking we can all, regardless of faith or tradition, communicate ideals and reach out to those who would subjugate these ideals to vendettas that fester from generation to generation. Indulgence in condemnation never won much for the family of human beings. What does? Understanding and cooperation… ethics that Interfaith councils everywhere have tried to convey to society for decades.
Image: Montage by Lynnea Urania Stuart
- Hensch, Mark. Utah Republican Apologizes to LGBT Community at Orlando Vigil (June 15, 2016) Web: The Hill http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/283598-utah-republican-apologizes-to-lgbt-community-at-orlando-vigil . Retrieved 6/16/2016
- Rosenkreutz, Thamiel. After Orlando Shooting, Christian Pastor Calls for Execution of Gay People (Video) (June 13, 2016) Web: IfYouOnlyNews.com http://www.ifyouonlynews.com/videos/after-orlando-shooting-christian-pastor-calls-for-execution-of-gay-people-video/ Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- Engel, Pamela. Trump Releases Statement On Orlando Attack: Obama ‘Should Step Down’ (June 12, 2016) Web: Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-obama-resign-radical-islamic-terrorism-2016-6 . Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- Stone, Michael. GOP Congressman: LGBT People ‘Worthy of Death’ (May 25, 2016) Web: Patheos blog: Progressive Secular Humanist. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/05/gop-congressman-lgbt-people-worthy-of-death/ . Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- Hennessy-Fiske, Molly; Jarvie, Jenny; and Wilver, Del Quinten. Orlando Gunman Had Used Gay Dating App and Visited LGBT Nightclub On Other Occasions, Witnesses Say. (June 13, 2016) Web: LA Times. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-orlando-nightclub-shooting-20160613-snap-story.html Retrieved June 13, 2016
- Zavadski, Katie and Waddell, Lynn. Changed Man: Drag Queen: Anti-Gay Terrorist Omar Mateen Was My Friend (June 12, 2016) Web: The Daily Beast http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/12/drag-queen-orlando-gunman-omar-mateen-was-my-friend.html . Retrieved June 13, 2016.
- Op cit.
- Op cit.
- Blinder, Alan; Healy, Jack; and Oppel Jr., Richard A. Omar Mateen: From Early Promise to F.B.I. Surveillance (June 12, 2016) Web: The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/13/us/omar-mateen-early-signs-of-promise-then-abuse-and-suspected-terrorist-ties.html . Retrieved June 16, 2016.
- Reals, Tucker. What Has the Orlando Gunman’s Father Said? (June 13, 2016) Web: CBS News Interactive. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/orlando-shooting-omar-mateen-father-seddique-mateen-taliban-god-punish-gays/ . Retrieved June 13, 2016/
- Zavadski and Waddell, Web.