The hurried characterization of Omar Mateen as a foreign bogeyman goes well beyond reactionary, formulaic reciprocation; it is the very lens through which all American Muslims are viewed.
The widely held belief that Muslims are incapable of existing as autonomous members of American society—and specifically that the reason for this is because they are left almost entirely incapacitated by their Muslim identity—is used to otherize them during times of tragedy. They are rejected from the folds of American culture, and their crimes are quickly pinned entirely upon their culture and the faith they’ve chosen to follow.
The assertions that Mateen’s homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, and racism were all due to his following Islam began appearing with lightening speed after we learned of his identity. Even now, pundits continue to deny his actions be divorced from his religion, and despite the CIA finding that there is no direct link to ISIS, he’s been characterized as their mercenary. His horrific crimes are attributed not to the culture of violence that continues to find safety in political offices and within legislative text in the United States, but to his parent’s birthplace and the religion he is said to have called his own.
The pundit class continues to ignore the climate in which Mateen was created, including legislation that allows for businesses to discriminate against members of LGBTQ communities. For example, there were 44 anti-transgender bills being considered in 16 states in February of this year, according the Human Rights Campaign:
“[S]ome create state-sanctioned avenues of anti-transgender discrimination; and others deny transgender people access to bathrooms, locker rooms, and athletic teams consistent with their gender identity.
The disturbing proliferation of anti-trans bills, including 23 that target children in schools and school sports, is part of a stunning surge of more than 175 anti-LGBT bills in 32 states this year.”
After Target announced that they would allow customers and employees to use whichever bathroom they choose, a wave of transphobic protests began, including instances of men mocking transwomen by wearing wigs and skirts and attempting to frame their bigotry as a desire to keep women ‘safe’.
And yet, for too many, there are no factors that will override their orientalist view of The Muslim. Muslim communities, despite how often we hear politicians talk about their being part of Our America, live lives of marginalization—they find themselves buried between the lines of a nationalism which pulls away from them like oil and water, and often results in communal expulsion.
They argue that The Muslim is only in repose so long as he’s able to subdue his barbarity. They contend that The Muslim only feigns devotion to national customs, that he only appears to practice patriotism, and so they must be watched as they pray in their mosques for any signs of savagery. The Muslim American is a hyper-visible, yet invisible being who will have his Americanness stripped the moment he errs.
This is the caricature of The Muslim that we’re sold in our papers, and that we hear of in the news, and it is the caricature of an animal. For it’s far easier to digest that people like Mateen are external forces rather than products of entrenched homophobia, transphobia, and racism.
What is it about Omar Mateen that made him less American than Eric Rudolph, who so hated what he called an “aberrant [homosexual] lifestyle” that he bloodied Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics? This is a face of America that many refuse to come to terms with, because it allows them to excuse or ignore the implications. After all, what will these realities mean for those who continue to peddle the myth that this hatred is largely imported and not homegrown?
There is nothing foreign about Mateen’s beliefs nor anything remotely alien in his actions. The conversation must change in order for there to be a remedy. What this will take is organizing against those that target marginalized communities. But there can be no organizing without first acknowledging the truly domestic nature of this violence.