Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr Photo Caption: A Minneapolis vigil in the wake of then Orlando shooting Flickr Link:

The communal implications of Omar Mateen’s self-loathing

Corroborating accounts have surfaced regarding Orlando gunman Omar Mateen’s habit of frequenting the same gay club in which he killed 49 people on Sunday morning. Such revelations add another dimension to the still-surfacing portrait of Mateen, who was shot and killed by Orlando police right after his rampage.

Those who knew Mateen say that he was prone to homophobic rants and often talked about killing people. But we now know that Mateen himself was gay, and even used several gay dating apps like Grindr and Adam4Adam to hook up with other men. This contradiction in Mateen’s life isn’t something that the public is seeing for the first time. His outward homophobia and secret homosexual life is a pairing that’s been revealed in the lives of other, more public, figures.

Take the once wildly popular U.S. pastor Ted Haggard of Colorado, who ranted and raved against homosexuals with mighty vigor until the Almighty saw it fitting to expose that the bellicose preacher had been having sex with his own masseuse for years. Or take former Republican Senator Larry Craig, whose conservative record includes support for several pieces of anti-gay legislation. He, of course, was caught in 2007 for trying to solicit sex from an undercover police officer in a Minneapolis bathroom. The officer was investigating instances of lewd conduct in the public washroom and arrested Craig, whose political career pretty much ended on that day. The list goes on.

The issue of non-heterosexual behavior has a way of revealing itself in strange, often shocking, ways in the lives of many religious folk, who know what a prickly topic it is for their communities. Some of them just so happen to be gay and, clearly, from what we’ve witnessed, have a tough time reconciling disparate aspects of who they are. A certain percentage of them deal with this dissonance through rage. Mateen’s rage turned into bloody violence, not just against 50 innocent people last weekend, but also his ex-wife, who he physically abused.

Mateen’s shame and anger was his own problem until he decided to carry out a massacre. Attempts by anti-Muslim voices to blame Islam the religion for what happened miss the internal turmoil that must have taken place within Mateen. The Muslim community’s major institutions, as always, have been tripping over each other to condemn Mateen’s actions, but the more pertinent conversation should be about whether this man’s crime bears upon how Muslims talk about sexuality in this day and age.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr Photo Caption: A Minneapolis vigil in the wake of then Orlando shooting Flickr Link:
Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue on Flickr
Photo Caption: A Minneapolis vigil in the wake of then Orlando shooting
Flickr Link:

Such a conversation may involve an examination of sacred sources, in which a normative consensus on the issue has been established in a way that sets rules against the acting out of homosexual tendencies. But, more importantly, given the tradition’s irrefutable stance on the absolute need to respect others, it’s more than just useful to examine how the Muslim community (and the wider society) has been addressing about this topic.

Of course, for the most part, it’s probably not talked about much in a substantive way by most Muslims. Sexuality remains a taboo subject. Yet our society is visually awash in sexual imagery and the LGBTQ community has gained substantial sociopolitical ground in the past decades. Without having to make value or moral judgments on these facts, a rational Muslim should be able to recognize reality as it is, and conclude that today’s environment will eventually come into contact with pretty much everybody, including Muslims.

The implications of these realities should be a top priority, but the excesses of our egos must not burden the way we address such matters. Regardless of whether or not an agreement can be reached by all those taking part, the goal is to find a way to mitigate whatever connection there might be between the character of our present discourse and the shame/rage experienced by those who’re struggling to find their road to inner peace.

What happened in Orlando is a tragedy that should prompt a healthy degree of self-examination on the part of Muslims, especially those in the West. This shouldn’t be controversial.

Recognition of present-day reality and basic respect and humanity is not, as some defensive and narrow-minded Muslim voices suggest, some kind of capitulation to or defeat at the hands of “secular liberalism.”

Examination of the possible relationship between self-loathing or suffering and the quality of the Muslim community’s “collective talk” on non-heterosexual human behavior isn’t an automatic kow-tow at the alter of modern Godlessness.

And, as if this isn’t common sense, affirmation of people’s basic humanity regardless of whom they choose to have consensual sex with—that all people have the right not to be killed, spat on, bullied, cursed, or abused for who they choose to be their consenting partner—is a matter of common decency, not some sort of moral concession that Muslims have to make in the process of negotiating a place in the world.

Those who can’t stand the audible proclamation of these basic truisms shouldn’t look to change the opinions of others on this matter. Rather, they should see the embarrassingly clear parallel between their own discomfort in the face of facts and Omar Mateen’s painfully tragic inability to deal with his own inner realities.

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    Steven Zhou

    Steven Zhou is a writer and journalist based in Toronto, Canada. Read his work at and follow him on Twitter at @stevenzzhou

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