It happened in Charleston a year ago and it happened again in Orlando. The shooter in Orlando had better weapons and more available targets, but the same thing happened. An angry person with a gap in their sense of personal meaning wrapped their anger around a symbol system that spoke to him, and acted on it. In Charleston it was the rhetoric of White Supremacy, in Orlando it was the fundamentalism of Isis. The Islam the killer had soaked up from the Internet was more real to him than the living breathing worshippers praying beside him in his Mosque. While they prayed for the peace of Allah, he prayed to Allah for the strength to carry out his assault.
He didn’t create this out of the air, like the Son of Sam. He wasn’t that kind of crazy. Islam does condemn homosexuality. It’s not that hard a jump from there to a condemnation of the western societies that tolerate and accept it. If the killer had some unresolved homophobic issues that drew him to this particular target, we’ll never know. We know he had anger management issues and beat his wife during their mercifully (for her) brief marriage. We know he was “in touch” with Isis. That’s all we’re going to get. He’s no longer available for comment. LGBT people celebrating in public worked for him as his symbolic target of choice, like a small group of black worshippers did for the shooter in Charleston and the Twin Towers did for the men who flew the planes on 9/11.
The good and bad thing about ideas is that walls can’t keep them out. Ideas don’t have physical form. They can’t be spotted on radar and they can’t be shot down. Good ideas can get past the walls of prejudice and oppression and bad ideas can get past the walls of airline security, immigration controls or even past the looming world of constant surveillance “for our own protection”. It won’t do any good. The very politicians who storm against radical Islam are only carrying the message of “it’s us against you” to waiting ears. Isis doesn’t need to recruit. In the age of the Lone Believer, their enemies are doing it for them.
Fortunately, the good ideas are also out there. We’re hearing about Muslim congregations donating blood for the Orlando wounded. It’s out there in the same media that broadcasts the hate speeches. It’s a matter of picking and choosing. Muslims rolling up their sleeves are choosing a symbolic action that works for them, that speaks to who they are, a symbol of shared humanity that strikes back against the symbols of hate on both sides of the struggle. And when Muslim blood is given to save the lives of LGBT infidels, that symbolic act that takes on flesh and blood and starts to work toward change in the real world. The killings in Charleston missed their target. Confederate flags came down. The Orlando shooter will miss his, no matter how many bullets his assault rifle was able to spit out.