We know that Omar Mateen planned an attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. We know he used a pistol and an AR-15 rifle—which he purchased legally– to shoot over a hundred people, leaving 50 people dead and 53 injured. We know he was homophobic, that the FBI interviewed him three times, and that he had pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State as his deadly assault began. We know that his father is a pro-Taliban, anti-American activist. We know that the shooter’s co-workers noticed that he was unstable, but that his bosses were reluctant to take any action for fear of appearing “racist.” We will Mateen’s ex-wife says he was prone to violence and that she believes he was mentally ill.
We will undoubtedly learn more. Still, that’s a lot of data. Isn’t it possible to objectively, dispassionately weigh and measure causes and effects and come to fair and reasonable conclusions that can guide policy without partisan gridlock?
It is possible to at least try, but so far, pundits, elected officials and activists aren’t trying. They are allowing confirmation bias to dominate their thoughts; what matters isn’t what caused this tragedy, but what they want to believe caused it.
To arch conservative pundit Michael Walsh, for example, the problem is that the United States allows Afghanis and Muslims to be citizens:
Ah, Afghanistan, the land of sexually primitive boy-molesters who channel their aggression into wife-beating and mass murder…That’s par for the course for marriages to Muslims, as many real American women who’ve married one of them knows. Flowers, limos, candy… and the second after the vows, domestic prison and beatings for life or until they can escape….The Florida shooter is Exhibit A why the notion of “birthright citizenship” — he was an Afghan Muslim who by sheer chance was born in New York — needs to be drastically curtailed in light of changed circumstances.
ACLU staff attorney Chase Strangio, however, assigned the blame to Christian conservatives. “You know what is gross — your thoughts and prayers and Islamophobia after you created this anti-queer climate,” he tweeted. “The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this,” Strangio then tweeted. “No.”
He wasn’t the only ACLU lawyer who took this opportunity to blame Christians for the murderous act of an ISIS-embracing Muslim. “Remember when you co-sponsored extreme, anti-LGBT First Amendment Defense Act?” the ACLU’s Eunice Rho tweeted at Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and other Republicans.
Sitora Yusufiy, Mateen’s ex-wife, insisted during a press conference that the episode was all about mental illness, and his religion had nothing to do with it. (She did not explain why she just ran away from her repeatedly abusive husband, and did not press charges that might have made it harder for him to buy a gun.) Her fiancé at her side, meanwhile, lectured us about how the massacre was simply “hate,” a common theme during the day. I must have missed all of those shootings where the killer liked and respected his victims. “I asked everyone to forgive everybody,” he said. “Let’s not make this another reason to invade Afghanistan.”
The Tonys last night simplified the episode further: the cast of “Hamilton”struck the prop guns in its Tony Awards performance , after announcing that it would mime shooting muskets during its performance of ‘Yorktown (World Turned Upside Down),’ about the famous battle. What is this supposed to communicate, exactly? What kind of primitive thinking leads to such a decision? How does the use of muskets to obtain our nation’s independence in any way relate to a terrorist attack on a gay night club? What kind of trigger-warning craving audience member would make such a connection? Or is this just blatant, anti-Second Amendment grandstanding?
Of course it is.
Ideally, this would be the perfect opportunity for a mature, rational, unbiased leader to stop playing politics and frame the issues fairly and thoroughly. Unfortunately, the only leader we have is Barack Obama. Despite the fact that Mateen declared his support of ISIS as he was beginning the attack, and despite the fact that ISIS immediately claimed credit for his actions, all Obama would say was that “we have no definitive assessment on the motivation” of Omar Mateen but that “we know he was a person filled with hate.”
Asks conservative columnist John Podhoretz (Full disclosure: I know John, and he was once on my theater company’s board):
“So I guess the president thinks Mateen didn’t mean it?”
No, Obama just refuses to be honest with himself and the nation that Jihadist terrorist groups and radical Islamists are a serious problem. His speech completely ignored the ISIS, Afghanistan and Islam factors in the event, but immediately renewed his attack on the Second Amendment, saying,
“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.”
This is the usual deceit. Mateen had no record, and was as entitled to buy a gun as I am. When the President says it shouldn’t be “easy” to buy a gun, he means it should be hard. The Supreme Court has decreed in many contexts that it shouldn’t be hard for a citizen to exercise a right, and Obama’s Justice Department says so too, when it likes a right.
I want to live in a country where my rights aren’t taken away by the government because someone else abuses them.
Preventing mass shootings by citizens aligned with terrorist groups espousing radical theology is a complex and difficult challenge. Our only hope of solving the problem lies in examining all the issues and factors, not cherry-picking one or another to boost an ideological agenda item. That, however requires honesty, integrity and fairness, and those qualities appear to be in short supply, no matter where we look.
It is like the fable of the blind men and the elephant, but worse. The blind men misunderstood the elephant because they didn’t know that they were touching only one part of the beast. The partisan combatants warping the analysis of the Orlando shooting, however, know there is more to consider to get an accurate sense of the whole. They just don’t care.