“[Omar Mateen’s ex-wife] described him as mentally unstable and traumatised”. So said Suzanne Moore, in her article yesterday1 in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
It’s just one word, but it raises an interesting question, one that the author doesn’t address at all in the article: If Mateen was traumatised, then by what? By whom?
I don’t think it was by the sight of two men kissing, which is what the media seem to be suggesting was what enraged him and galvanised him into action. The traits and behaviour thus described by his ex-wife predate the tragic events in Orlando.
Perhaps the following may come
across as insensitive, and “too soon”. My intention is not to offend. Like others in the community, I am trying to make sense of events, in my own way. Without detracting from the victims of the shooting, is it possible that Mateen could himself be a type of victim? Namely, a victim of the downside to “extreme” biculturalism, where children born and/or raised in a culture outside of their parents’ more conservative native country find themselves in a sort of identity limbo, attracted to a more liberal, individualistic society, but expected to conform to a rigidly authoritarian culture of which they often lack first-hand knowledge.
Even in cases where such children and young adults do not become violent, we know that this state of affairs can easily result in feelings of alienation, inadequacy, or feeling “between a rock and a hard place”. This sentiment has been attested to in studies of generations of British children of Indian or Pakistani origin, for example.
To me, it is not at all unfeasible to imagine just such a young man, indoctrinated by a conservative and homophobic Muslim father (who has issued a statement since the Orlando massacre confirming his belief that “God will punish those involved in homosexuality”2), feeling increasingly at odds with the freedoms around him, and unable to reconcile them with the draconian ideologies of his father.
We know that violence is often an indicator of weakness, trauma, or other charater flaws; it has also been shown that those who are the most vocally and viscerally homophobic are statistically likely to have repressed homosexual leanings, themselves.
The aggression meted out by Omar Mateen to his wife, and the specific targeting of an LGBT club, suggest, if we read between the lines, that he may have had urges that went beyond a mere distaste at the sight of two men kissing.
Some are choosing to emphasise the homophobic nature of the massacre; some are blaming lax gun controls; others are blaming religious extremism (or unhelpfully projecting extremist actions onto the religious in general); some, such as President Obama, are urging introspection.
In the wake of such tragedies, it’s tempting, and perhaps comforting, to look for one-stop causes. The vitriol and divisiveness shown in the media and on social media between groups laying claim to their own explanations to the exclusion of any other is a testament, I think, to how unhelpful an approach this is.
The truth is not always that simple, no matter how much we’d like it to be. Singling out hot-button issues such as gun control/access, homophobia, or radical Islam can only ever give insight into a part of the picture. Introspection runs the risk of suppressing action, or in overidentifying the problem as within ourselves, while paying less attention to external factors.
It may run counter to our instincts and emotions, but we stand much to gain, I believe, from a nuanced, holistic, critical look at events, bringing to bear what we know about politics, media spin, social dynamics, and social psychology. Much to gain, and not a lot left to lose.