Today, 9/11 seems as if it happened in another century. After the planes hit the towers, Americans stood united in their grief and solidarity. They cast aside their partisanship to mourn the dead.
Orlando was different. The bodies were scarcely cold by the time the shouting began. On the Sunday talk shows, people sounded as if they were talking about two entirely different events. “ISIS VS. US” blared the headline in the New York Post on Monday, invoking the spectre of a global jihad. The Daily News blamed guns. “Thanks, NRA,” it shrilled.
In the immediate aftermath, Donald Trump blamed radical Islam but refused to mention the word “guns.” Barack Obama blamed guns and terror but couldn’t bring himself to mention the words radical Islam.
The Orlando massacre is undoubtedly a windfall for the Trump campaign. He’s thumping his chest for looking prescient. It will fire up his anti-Muslim blather and harden his support. It also poses a major test for Mr. Obama, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. If they can’t bring themselves to say that radical Islamist ideology is a challenge to Western values and national security, their credibility will be in tatters.
Meantime, plenty of people argued that the real culprit was homophobia and intolerance – not just the shooter’s, but ours. As Mr. Obama put it, “we need the strength and courage to change” our attitudes toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. Funny, but I was under the impression that most of Western society had already done that. Nonetheless, a lot of gays and liberals took the opportunity to go on anti-Republican rants, arguing that the philosophy of jihadism and the philosophy of gun-toting U.S. religious conservatives aren’t so different.
Actually, one difference occurs to me. No U.S. conservative legislators advocate the death penalty for homosexuality. Nor do they celebrate when more than a hundred gay people are mowed down by a terrorist at a night club.
“The only shock was that it took this long for some jihadist to go after a gay establishment,” wrote Bruce Bawer at City Journal. Mr. Bawer, who is gay, has spent years warning about the soft-pedalling of Islamist extremism. He believes that certain Muslim values are fundamentally incompatible with Western tolerance and liberalism. For example, most of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims belong to cultures that believe homosexuality is morally wrong.
The shooter claimed he was inspired by Islamic State, which believes that homosexuals should be flung from tall buildings. According to his father, shortly before the massacre he was enraged by the sight of two men kissing. The father also denied that the massacre had anything to do with religion, which seems a touch disingenuous.
Homophobic attitudes are also found among Western Muslims. According to a recent survey, more than half of British Muslims (52 per cent) think homosexuality should be illegal. Nearly half (47 per cent) think gay people shouldn’t be allowed to teach in schools.
Does this mean we should ban Muslim immigration? No. What it means is that we need to be alert to the challenges of integration. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding folks. The truth is that both homophobia and Islamophobia are deeply wrong. But in a polarized society, these more complicated truths are likely to get lost.
It’s the same with gun control. As one commenter wrote, there’s “a simple answer to these questions: get assault weapons off the street.” If only he were right. Of course assault weapons should be banned. But that alone won’t stop terrorist attacks. The Boston Marathon attackers used nail bombs. The Paris shooters wiped out 130 people with weapons they obtained in a country that has strict gun control. Dangerous extremists will always find a way, especially in open societies that frown on preventive detention and value freedom of speech.
From what we know so far, Omar Mateen seemed like a typical lone wolf: an angry, self-radicalized Muslim who wasn’t particularly religious until he was infected by the virus of extremist ideology. Maybe the FBI, who had him on its radar, should have tailed him more closely. But there are probably hundreds of potential Omar Mateens around, and it’s impossible to tell which ones will blow. Constant surveillance isn’t possible and rounding them up in advance isn’t legal. Raining bombs on the enemy abroad (as Mr. Trump seems to want to do) is no solution either.
For all the blood and treasure shed since 9/11, we seem no closer to figuring out how to stop terrorist attacks against the West – and in some ways we seem farther away than ever. The other difference between then and now is that Americans can’t even discuss the problem without yelling past each other.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this column said no U.S. conservatives advocate the death penalty for homosexuality. In fact, no conservative legislators advocate that.Report Typo/Error
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