News reports have begun to subtly shift the narrative of the Orlando mass murder. In the beginning, the FBI and MSM touted the line that Omar Mateen was a jihadi who called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS. It looked like a neatly wrapped package of Islamist terror as we’ve seen in similar attacks throughout the western world including in San Bernardio and Ft. Hood, here in the U.S. It fit nicely with the neoconservative, pro-Israel, Islamophobic viewpoint of presidential candidate Donald Trump and GOP-affiliated sites like FoxNews, Breitbart, etc.
But somehow the narrative didn’t add-up. First of all, if you’re an Islamist why not attack a symbol of government or commercial power as the 9/11 hijackers did? Why attack a gay nightclub? No previous U.S. Islamist attack has targeted gays (though the Paris attack did target a concert venue somewhat akin to the Orlando club). Second, at his work as a security guard, he reportedly claimed affiliation with Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamist movement in deadly conflict with the Sunni-affiliated, ISIS. In other words, if he was an Islamist, he was a very confused one. Third, reports began to arrive of witnesses and acquaintances who revealed that Mateen frequented gay bars and used web apps commonly used in the LGBT community. More recently, his current wife told the press that Mateen revealed to her before they were married that he had a “secret life.” Fourth, though Mateen was clearly Muslim, those who knew him said religion was not a very important element in his life. All this does not add up to an Islamist terrorist:
…There are three strands,” said Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The dominant strand is that he hates gays. Then, there is his personal rage. He doesn’t like his life at all.
“The third strand is Islamist ideology, which is the weakest of the three,” said Potok, whose Alabama-based organization tracks extremists. “It’s almost like an afterthought.”
…The portrait has turned far more complicated in the course of a week, with experts now saying Mateen appeared to be driven by a dangerous mix of bigotry, self-loathing and, perhaps, mental illness.
News reports now indicate that law enforcement is now backing off its initial claim that Mateen was “radicalized.” Instead, they are beginning to look much more seriously at the killer as someone tormented by his homosexuality and finding it in stark conflict with his family’s Afghan religious values and life-style. There is also another element of mental illness in the mix. Given Mateen’s traditional Afghan background, it would’ve been next to impossible for him to navigate the complexities of both being gay and suffering from mental illness:
“It’s a lot easier to call it Islamic terrorism because we’re all united against that,” [local criminal defense attorney Khurrum] Wahid said. “But it’s not as easy to call it homophobia because we’re not all united against that.
“To me,” he said, “this case smacks of someone who was not comfortable in his own skin — maybe because of his sexual identity. … If I’m a self-loathing gay man, this [Islamic State pledge] is the mantle I’d rather carry.”
If Mateen did attack the Pulse nightclub due to his tortured sexual identity and inability to co-exist with it, it would make sense that he would wish to continue hiding it even in death. That might explain why he offered the red herring of pledging allegiance to ISIS. In the eyes of his family, especially his father, who considers himself an Afghan national patriot and devout Muslim, Mateen might be seen as dying for a cause that a traditional Afghan Muslim might understand: taking a stand against what they might view as a degenerate western custom, homosexuality. In effect, the killing may’ve served two purposes: committing suicide in order to end his sexual/psychic suffering; and dying with some sense of honor in the eyes of his family.
I have cautioned some pro-Israel commenters here who’ve been quick to jump on the jihadi bandwagon in this case. I said it was far too early to be able to speak definitively about the killer’s real motivations. And given these more recent developments, it appears they were wrong.
In recent days, Britain has seen the horrific assassination of pro-immigrant activist and MP, Jo Cox, by a white supremacist, Thomas Mair. The most salient element of the story appears to be his repeated shouting of “Britain First,” as he killed her and was being subdued by law enforcement. The slogan is the name of a white supremacist political party campaigning against British membership in the EU (Cox was an ardent supporter of continued membership).
One of Cox’s most well-known missions was supporting Syrian refugees and encouraging their resettlement in Britain. This was a position adamantly at odds with British far-right groups like the English Defense League and Britain First. Cox was also a member of the parliamentary Friends of Palestine caucus and vocally supported the end of Israel’s siege of Gaza.
One of my Twitter followers tweeted to me a telling YouTube video (above) in which Britain First leader, Paul Golding, shouts at his detractors his admiration for Israel. This post on the Britain First website confirms its admiration for Israel and support for it against the Arab horde. This is a view common to the entire UK far-right. It derives in part from devout Islamophobia. Thus, it sees Israel as a Middle Eastern bulwark against the evils of Islam.
At this point, the full range of Mair’s motivations for this crime are not known. While it’s clear that his hatred of Cox’s support for immigration and EU membership were primary motives, it’s too early to know whether Israel and Palestine also played a role.
No matter whether this is true or not, it’s important to note that the most murderous elements of the European far-right have a deep and abiding affection for Israel. Not because they love Jews, but because they hate the same enemy as Israel’s: Muslims.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.