Shortly after 9/11, I got a call from the FBI , wanting to talk to me about the incident because of my involvement in the international women’s peace movement Women In Black. I told reporters then that if the FBI thought Jewish lesbians hung out with Islamist men, their grasp of geopolitical realities was tenuous. That may have been an understatement.
Now the FBI is busy trying to determine whether Omar Mateen, who killed fifty mostly LGBT Latinx people in an Orlando dance club, was “a deeply disturbed man” or “driven by religious or political ideology”. By fixating on which box he belongs in, the FBI is again missing the obvious. Like Dylann Roof, who killed nine people in a Black church in Charleston; like Elliott Rodger, who killed six in Isla Vista, California and left a misogynist screed behind; like Scott Roeder, who murdered Dr. George Tiller at church in Kansas because he provided abortions to women who needed them; like Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon; like Wade Michael Page, who killed six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Mateen was a deeply disturbed man, who found purpose in a political ideology.
The FBI should be looking at what Mateen had in common with all these other men who committed similarly horrific murders. The first thing, of course, is that they are all men. The second is that they are all “home-grown extremists,” and the thing about extremists is that they are extreme versions of cultural norms.
Anyone who wants to put an end to these tragedies needs to look at the culture that produced them: ours. Our gunloving, woman-hating, homophobic, individualistic, celebrity-obsessed American culture. Our culture where the most popular movies are the ones in which the population of a small city is killed, without our ever seeing their faces, unless it’s meant to be funny. Our culture where every six minutes, a woman is raped, and middle-class white fathers call it “20 minutes of action.” Our culture where Black and Latino people are killed with impunity by law enforcement and then blamed for their own deaths. Our culture where little girls performing sexualized dances is represented as cute. Our culture where presidential candidates spend debate time arguing about the size of their genitals. Our culture where a white cop rapes at least 13 Black women in seven months before anyone stops him. Our culture where military personnel painted anti-gay slogans on bombs intended to kill Afghan citizens. Our culture where the Pentagon, in 1994, sought funding for a “gay bomb” to make enemy soldiers sexually attracted to one another (it’s true – look it up). Our culture where fear of bathrooms was able to stop the Equal Rights Amendment for women and deprive LGBT people of equal rights.
We have created a culture that loves violence, hates women and queers, and teaches that darker-skinned people’s lives have less value, at home and abroad. We have the power to change that, but it will take political will and lots of work. It’s time we stopped asking how these terrible things happen and start doing something to stop them.