This week, we were again forced to confront the face of religion at its extremes — this time in the largest single-shooter killing in American history. 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, with an additional 53 sustaining injuries. The shooter, a 29-year-old American-born man of Afghan descent named Omar Mateen, had pledged allegiance to ISIS in a call to 911 during his attack.
The target seemed to be chosen for its clientele. The shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, claimed to have witnessed his son rage at the sight of a public display of affection between a gay couple: “He saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” he told NBC News.
Seddique added, “This had nothing to do with religion.” Meanwhile, the shooter’s imam and ex-wife blamed mental illness as the culprit.
Is it possible this was an extreme case of run-of-the-mill homophobia, one driven by mental illness to an exceptionally brutal end? Or did religion play a role?
When a supposed expression of love between two adults may have led to this level of violence, we’re duty-bound to examine the larger tapestry of hate that generates such individuals and actions.
It’s possible that mental illness, aggression, and internalized homophobia may be all it takes for an individual to slaughter innocents — but is it rational to assume that is the case, disregarding the relevance of his faith and allegiance to the Islamic State?