As you’ve undoubtedly heard, seen, and read about, a tragedy has occurred at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. I simply say “nightclub” because while I watched this horrible event unfold on my iPhone at 2 in the morning, I didn’t for even a second think about the sexual orientation of those involved. Unfortunately, for the alleged gunman, Omar Mateen, this wasn’t the case.
From the evidence that we have now, the Orlando shooting was perpetrated by a deeply disturbed individual with a lot of hatred towards the homosexual community and access to extremely dangerous weapons. He also seems to have been homosexual or bisexual himself, and was known to be a regular at Pulse and other gay nightclubs.
Now, as a good card-carrying, bleeding-heart liberal, I’m supposed to begin my argument here. I should tell you about how countries like Japan, Germany, France, Australia, and Britain have an extremely low gun murder rate in comparison to the United States. I should tell you about horrible atrocities against the LGBT community, like the Matthew Shephard murder, and how they have been committed by people of all creeds, colors, and religions. I should also tell you that many Republican/conservative politicians and voters don’t believe that the LGBT community deserves the civil rights that every other group comfortably enjoys. And if I told you all of those things, they’d all be true.
But this article’s purpose isn’t to grab conservatives by the neck and shake them until they think and act right (boy, how nice would that be?). Its purpose is to talk directly to those on my side, the liberal left, about the choice we have to make about the other big thing that helped form the mind (and actions) of the man who committed the Orlando shooting—his religion.
As reported this week, the Westboro Baptist Church plans to protest the funerals of the victims of the Orlando shooting. They will be criticized and mocked, as they should, but what most of us (especially Christians) realize and say out loud is that these people are using parts of the Bible to legitimize behavior that we today find abhorrent. But at the end of the day, these admitted Christian fundamentalists are spreading hate by holding signs and yelling terrible things at strangers, not murdering people.
Does that mean that fundamentalist Christians are inherently nicer/politer/better than fundamentalist Muslims? Absolutely not. As I’ll probably be reminded in the comments below, yes, the Inquisition did happen. Christians are just as capable of causing harm to individuals and society, and in some cases, maybe even more so. But there is a big difference in how we approach Christian fundamentalism and Islamic fundamentalism. That, my friends, is where I believe we need to turn our sights and our conversation.
I am completely 150,000,000% behind everyone’s right to practice their religion in the way they see fit, providing they not hurt or oppress anyone else in the process. And the 1st Amendment guarantees this. But today, there is a large section of the Muslim world that either approves of, or is apathetic to, the kind of oppression that goes beyond the right to worship freely.
What do Muslims from around the world believe?
From an extensive 2015 PEW research poll, there are a few highlights that are a bit troubling:
- In 25 countries, a majority of Muslims believe that Sharia law should be the official law of the land, superseding any type of common law. (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Palestine*, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Niger, Djibouti, DR Congo, Nigeria, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Kenya, Mali, Ghana, Senegal, Cameroon, Liberia)
- 7% of US Muslims say that suicide bombings are sometimes justified with another 1% saying that they are often justified.
- 52% of US Muslims believe that Muslim religious leaders have done well in speaking out against Islamic terrorist groups.
- 62% of Pakistanis (our “ally”) don’t have an unfavorable or favorable view of ISIS.
According to an even more recent poll, and perhaps even more closely related to the Orlando shooting, 52% of British Muslims believe that homosexuality should be illegal with 47% saying that gay/lesbian people should not be qualified to teach children in public schools.
If you look more into these polls, there is good news. Most Muslims don’t consider ISIS to be a true representation of Islam. Most Muslims disparage pre-emptive violence and believe that it is never justified. Check out this interview done by our own Wyatt Redd with an American Muslim who represents the vast majority of Muslims across the globe. But when we are talking about a group with over 1.6 billion members worldwide, even a small percentage is a considerable amount of people. If only 1% of Muslims sympathize with ISIS, that is 16,000,000 people.
ISIS and groups like it are the Westboro Baptist Churches of the Muslim world. The problem is that they do hold some of the same commonly held religious beliefs as everyday Muslims. Intolerance for homosexuals, disrespect for women, a preference for religious law (regardless of the religion) over common secular law—these things are not cultural accoutrements. They fly directly in the face of everything that America and western civilization strives to be.
I am not of the sort that believes that if President Obama begins to address Islamic terrorism by name, terrorism will magically disappear. I am also not advocating violence, intolerance, or bigotry towards anyone of any religion. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we should begin to lambast and lampoon the sillier and/or more dangerous facets of Islam like we regularly do with Christianity.