I suppose I could write some nice gentle opening paragraph to this piece, delicately easing you into a conversation where I try to establish the validity of my premises. I could try to convince you to lower your defenses, maybe even believe that what I’m about to write is sympathetic to your personal biases, but honestly?
There is something that lies at the heart of this tragedy, and far too many others: The failure of the West to openly acknowledge that yes, Islam has a problem. Scratch that: problems, plural, but we’re just going to address the one today. It’s typical for those on the left to bend over backwards to excuse Islam from the excesses of its radicals, if for no other reason than to reaffirm their apparent need to view Muslims as a persecuted minority. But let’s not kid ourselves; in countries where Islamic law holds sway, homosexuals are actually persecuted; not the “microaggressions” that plague Muslims in the West, but more the “if they find out you’re gay they’ll stone you to death” kind of persecution.
I hate to break it to you, but when there are entire countries where they’ll murder you for being gay, you can’t call that “radical Islam”. You can’t blame it on fringes, on extremists, on aberrant psychology or whatever smokescreen you’re choosing to employ this month.
When we’re talking countries, it’s not “radical”. It’s mainstream.
So don’t tell me that this is strictly about guns and homophobia as if the fact that the shooter was a Muslim who claimed allegiance to Islamic State has nothing to do with the atrocity he committed. When Islamic State demagogues are calling for terror attacks during Ramadan, when they’re executing homosexuals en masse in the territories they control, often in horrifying fashions.
Yes, moderate Islam is a thing. We can’t paint with too broad a brush, nor tar all Muslims with the actions of a few… million of their co-religionists.
Sometimes people ask me why I’m on board with the “Green Agenda”, why I support alternative energy sources, and investment in further development of nuclear power. This is why. Because we have a festering hole in the world that our governments dare not condemn too loudly for fear that they’ll turn off the tap.
If we can’t discuss this, if you insist that we sweep the excesses of Islam and the horror of Sharia law under the table whenever a radical does something awful, if you refuse to countenance the fact that the sort of rhetoric and bigotry that creates radicals is endemic to Islamic countries… then things will never improve. Not just for us, but for them. I’m not going to rattle off some “white saviour” narrative here, where I expound on the virtue and necessity of the civilized man to bring forth the torch of justice to the benighted heathens of the world. But I also have no intention of shying away from the fundamental truth that in far too many places, Islam is trapped like a fly in amber, mired in a mentality that is centuries out of date.
Two more things we need to discuss, the two factors that are typically blamed when someone decides to make the world feel their pain in the most awful way imaginable: Gun control, and mental illness. Neither one of which apply in this instance, of course, but they’ll almost certainly be the go-to explanation by those unwilling to face reality.
It’s hard to call this a failure of gun control when the shooter had done everything right, when his earlier flirtations with extremism didn’t generate anything actionable. While I’m certainly in favor of background checks, and quite frankly in favor of treating guns the same way we treat cars, the fact is that we can’t deny someone their rights based on a hunch. Yes, the system will fail occasionally, and people who shouldn’t have firearms will be able to purchase them, but realistically we cannot expect everyone involved in the sale of a weapon to have the sort of psychological training and Holmesian acumen to recognize mental illness or extremism at a glance. Tracking terrorists is the government’s job, and as for the mentally ill… we’ll get to that.
I suppose you can blame the boogeyman of “the assault rifle“, as if there were something more than just cosmetic differences that dictate the function of a semiautomatic weapon.
Because the truth of the matter is that THIS:
is functionally the exact same weapon as THIS:
And though one of them would have been quite thoroughly illegal under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the only practical difference between the two of them is that one is currently equipped with a larger magazine than the other, and such magazines are both ubiquitous enough, and sufficiently easy to manufacture, that their banning would be little more than a sop to public hysteria. What’s more, the banning of “assault weapons” is completely meaningless in terms of stopping mass shootings; any semi-automatic handgun with a detachable box magazine (ie, the majority of handguns sold today) is a perfectly sufficient weapon with which to kill a lot of people, and in fact comprise the vast majority of firearms used to commit murder in the United States.
And I do mean vast, to the tune of 90%. Banning assault rifles while overlooking handguns is cosmetic at best, utterly ineffectual, and ultimately a total waste of your time, politically speaking, expending vast effort and massive amounts of political capital to ban an easily replaceable weapon used to commit less than 5% of the firearm murders in the United States.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing to be done about the tragic frequency of mass shootings in the United States. I am, however, saying that if you want to do anything about it and have it both be effective, and more importantly survive a Constitutional challenge, you need to start looking at the amendment process. Two-thirds of Congress, three-fourths of the states.
Good luck with that.
And, finally, the mental health angle.
This one is tough. Because much like the gun control angle, it doesn’t really apply in this instance. We can say that homophobia is a psychological condition, but it’s not really true. We’re not talking about an instinctive revulsion, or at least not primarily, but rather a taught hatred, something that children are indoctrinated with on multiple levels even in relatively tolerant societies.
Was the Orlando shooter “deeply disturbed”? There are entire countries where what he did would be… functionally legal, barring certain formalities that he failed to observe. How can we call him insane unless we refuse to acknowledge that there is a culture out there, to which he had strong ties, in which his actions were arguably “justified”?
But even leaving aside this shoe that fails to fit, how does one address the mental health angle? Do we create a registry, listing every person who has ever sought psychological counseling, stripping them of the rights guaranteed to them by law? How do we define who goes on such a list, or the parameters by which they are judged? Do we say that “mental illness ‘X’ is actionable, but mental illness ‘Y’ gets a pass”? How would you enforce such a system?
What effect do you think such a registry would have on the willingness of people to seek psychiatric treatment? “Hey, I realize that you’re depressed, but now that you’ve said that, I have to take down your name and social security number so that I can report you to the relevant authorities who may or may not be stopping by your house periodically to make sure that you’re not accruing an arsenal”.
I can’t imagine such a system succeeding at anything more than increasing bigotry against the mentally ill, and driving people desperately in need of assistance away from seeking it.
Much like the gun control issue, the conversation being had here is the wrong one, driven by hysteria and panic rather than logic and empathy. Instead of attacks and blame, we need to push for acceptance and acknowledgement, to decrease rather than increase the stigma of mental illness.
I’m not really sure how to end this piece, to be honest. Because I don’t have any solutions. There is no quick fix, no simple action that we can take that will solve all our problems. We’re caught between law and culture, and the only way out is to carve one or the other into a new shape.
And we can’t do that by screaming at each other. We can’t do it while living in denial, while getting our opinions from demagogues and ideologues. Willful ignorance will not see us through this.
We need education, understanding, and brutal honesty. We need to think long and hard about the changes we might endeavor to effect, about the consequences of those decisions, the new shape that our shared culture will assume.
Because no matter what we do, there will be consequences. The delicate balancing act between liberty and security, and the need to preserve both as best we are able. Tip the scales too far in one direction, and in the end we will have neither.