The Orlando shooting: Terrorism, homophobia or mental illness?

Omar Mateen

On Sunday June 12, a gunman stormed into an Orlando gay night club, opening fire on the clientele, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others. The perpetrator has been identified as 29 year-old Omar Mateen, a New-York born US citizen of Afghan descent.  He has been described by his ex wife as an extremely violent man with bipolar tendencies, who was physically abusive to her and isolated her from her family. His colleagues also paint a similar picture of Mateen, who they considered potentially dangerous with possible links to extremist Islamic groups.
In the wake of this carnage, many people are left with more questions than answers. Was this a case of terrorism? Was it a homophobic attack or was it simply a case of a mentally ill man carrying out an attack on helpless people?

Was this a case of Terrorism?

Before the June 12 attack, the gunman Omar Mateen had shown signs of radicalisation and had been investigated by the FBI for 10 months in 2013, after he scared colleagues by claiming to be a member of Hizbollah and having ties to Al-Qaeda. In 2014, he was once again investigated after an acquaintance of his became a suicide bomber in Syria. The men both attended the same mosque and knew each other. However, both investigations failed to establish a credible link between Mateen and extremist Islamic groups.  Mateen even had connections to a former US marine and undercover FBI agent who had become radicalised and created a website called Timbuktu Seminary. It is believed that Mateen was a member of the website which was used to disseminate and spread radical teachings.

Moments after the June 12 shooting, Mateen called 911 and pledged allegiance to Isil. He also mentioned the Tsarnaev brothers, the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, in his call.  While Mateen’s father has openly criticised the actions of his son, he said it wasn’t Omar’s responsibility to carry out judgement, because “Allah himself will punish those involved in homosexuality, not his servants on earth”. His controversial comment has been widely criticised, with many questioning Omar Mateen’s family life and upbringing, which probably set the scene for his extremist nature and prompted him to become somewhat radical. While Mateen may have been exposed in one way or another to radical ideologies, suffice it to say that Mateen did not have sufficient or viable links to any extremist group to label his actions as a terrorist attack. Although he pledged allegiance to Isil in his 911 call to police, it appears it was an attempt to justify his actions under the guise of religion.

Was it a homophobic attack?

It is alleged that Mateen was prompted to carry out these attacks after seeing two men kissing. And from the statement made by his father, it is clear that he grew up in a household that had extremist views towards homosexuals, which may support claims that this was in fact a homophobic attack. However, in the days after the shootings, it was uncovered that Mateen was actually a regular at Pulse, the gay night club he attacked. It was reported that he frequently visited the club and would sit at the back and watch or would at times become belligerent after having too much alcohol. Further to this, it is alleged that he used gay dating apps and had messaged people on the site. Mateen’s former classmate—Samuel King, who worked with him at a shopping mall after high school said that Mateen always knew that he (King) and his friends were gay, but never showed any disapproval towards their lifestyle. He said he never sensed any form of homophobia or aggression from him.

In light of this new evidence, it would appear that Mateen was not homophobic and was in fact somewhat accepting of alternative lifestyles. Statements given by patrons of the gay night club, pulse where the shooting took place suggest he frequented the club on numerous occasions. While some may argue he may have done this to scope out the venue and plan his attack, his persistent interest in the club suggests otherwise. Further to this, his ex-wife— Sitora Yusufiy, (who he was married to for four months), said that Mateen’s father had accused him of being gay several times before their divorce.

In 2006, a man who attended the same police academy college as Mateen also claimed that he had made romantic advances towards him, but he declined his offer. Given these developments, the question remains, was Mateen gay? And were his actions on June 12, carried out as an act of self-hate, because he could not come to terms with his true sexual orientation?

Was he mentally ill?

In an interview, Mateen’s ex wife gave a chilling account of the man she believed to be mentally ill. She claims that he was bi-polar and physically abused her during the course of their short marriage. However, there has been no official diagnosis to confirm his mental state. Social commentators argue that labelling Mateen as “mentally ill” somewhat relieves the perpetrator, even diluting the seriousness of his violent actions. It is a “convenient way to dismiss a very inconvenient truth: that any one of us has the potential, given the right set of circumstances, to do something terrible”. It offers a simple explanation for a serious, well thought out crime.

A few last words

Given the facts that we now know about Mateen and the events of June 12, it can be argued that it was not terrorist attack, as Mateen did not have sufficient or viable links to any extremist group to call it terrorism. His actions were clearly self-motivated and not linked to any form of organised religion. His allegiance to Isil in his 911 call, appears to be an attempt to justify his actions under the guise of religion and possibly become a “martyr” for the “cause”. However, Mateen’s life before the attack, tells a different story. It details the life of a man who was conflicted in nature, someone who may have questioned his sexual identity. While we may never know what exactly prompted Mateen to commit such a heinous act, it is clear that Mateen’s action on June 12 was a premeditated act of terror, committed by a man full of anger and self-hate.




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