Monday marked one year since gunman Omar Mateen went on a rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 58. Pulse was a fixture in the LGBT community. Those grieving the loss of innocent life are correct in mentioning its patronage.
In the midst of his terror spree, Mateen referenced his allegiance to ISIS and American involvement in Iraq and Syria. Those he killed were absolutely victims of a terrorist attack.
The dead in Orlando have something in common with other victims in Manchester and London. What is significant is not how they died, it’s why they died: simply for existing, for being who they were.
That brings us to recent reactions to the Pulse anniversary from media figures and politicians, which showed an inability to identify the real culprit behind the murders. Too many used the day as an opportunity to discuss perceived Islamophobia, the Second Amendment and the 45th president:
The referenced op-ed in The New York Times is especially nearsighted:
This stereotyping has gotten much worse since the Pulse shooting, because despite the outpouring of support for L.G.B.T. and Latino people, the tragedy became an excuse to vilify Muslims before the 2016 presidential election.
The national coverage linking Islam to the massacre was inescapable.
The Pulse nightclub shooting was a terrible act of violence against a marginalized group of people. Attacking another marginalized group is not the way to prevent more shootings, or to help survivors heal.
Such deflection in the wake of stark terror is mind-boggling. There is nothing to be gained by refusing to link Islamic extremism to an event where allegiance to a group called the Islamic State was a motivating factor.
Like other victims of terrorism, whether at home or abroad, I mourn their loss. However, we shouldn’t confer privileged status to one group over another. Six months before the Orlando massacre, more than a dozen people lost their lives at a shooting in San Bernardino, committed by similar bloodthirsty cowards inspired by Islamic terrorists. Those individuals mattered just as much.
Making the tragedies in Florida, California, and elsewhere chiefly about gun ownership or “Islamophobia” is an affront to the victims, their families, and the truth. It’s a refusal to admit that we are all targets, no matter if we’re leaving a concert, attending a work event, or strolling across a bridge while enjoying an evening out. It’s much easier to feed the narrative that homegrown homophobia or hatred of immigrants rather than terrorism is to blame. It’s a more manageable pill to swallow. However, refusing to acknowledge who the real enemy is only weakens our resolve to fight him.
To be clear, that enemy does not occupy the White House as our 45th president. I can say that as someone who did not cast my vote in his favor. Trump’s stance on LGBT issues in the United States is entirely separate from the Pulse shooting. Yes, the LGBT community has every right to question their commander-in-chief’s opinions regarding issues they hold dear, but it is unfair to speak of the rampage and Trump in the same sentence. He was not responsible for the violence that occurred.
As long as the truth is overlooked in favor of the hottest talking point, we won’t be able to adequately address terrorism. We should mourn those taken from us too soon, but we should never use that sadness to gloss over reality and divert attention elsewhere.