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The Orlando massacre – Bigotry Squared

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On Monday, June 13, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, hundreds of revelers attending a club that catered to Orlando’s gay and lesbian community met the incontestable evil: a man who, harnessing the twin bigotries of religious and homophobic intolerance, assigned to himself the role of Angel of Death and armed with a battlefield weapon murdered 49 souls, grievously wounded fifty more, and finally left this earth guided by a police bullet to his head.

How one wishes that bullet had come sooner! A lot more innocent lives would have been saved that night. How one wishes the police never had to fire that shot! And everyone who died that night would still have been alive today.{{more}}

The conflict between these two wishes points to the moral paralysis within which we often find ourselves when we are confronted with evil beyond measure. On the one hand, we hope even though all the evidence points to the contrary that just a different choice made by one of the victims or the police would have reduced the savagery that has been unleashed against us. On the other hand, we hope vainly that the killer had never entered that endless midnight of despair where he rationalized and celebrated his decision to launch his murderous rage against unsuspecting party goers.

Grief is the common denominator that links both responses. We grieve the loss of lives; we grieve for shattered families; we grieve for communities whose collective memories are forever scarred. And time is the only balm that can heal the wounded. That healing process would be long. More immediate however is the necessity of understanding the motivations of the killer and what we in the Caribbean can and must learn from the barbarism visited upon gays and lesbians partying at a private club.

The killer declared that he gave his allegiance to ISIS, a terror organization waging war across much of the Middle East, but in particular Iraq, Syria, and Libya, who have also demonstrated the capacity to actively organize terror strikes in Europe or inspire attacks in the USA. It is crucial to understand that ISIS justifies their violence as a fulfillment of what their faith, Islam demands of them. It is also crucial to understand that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims reject ISIS’ interpretations of the demands of their faith. Hence, despite the carnage that ISIS inspired attacks sometimes generate in the West, ISIS has killed and continues to kill far more Muslims than non-Muslims in their battle to make their interpretation of Islam ascendant among Muslims. So while it is true that ISIS finds Christians, Jews, Hindus, Rastas, and any believer in something other than Islam to be in grave error, it is equally true that they do not tolerate interpretations of Islam that differ from theirs.

Broadly speaking, this kind of religious intolerance is alien to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and the broader Caribbean. Our Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, Rastafarians, Spiritual Baptists, and of course Muslims practice their faith without fear. Of course, deep religious differences exist. But no one is under illusion that they can or should impose their views on anyone else at the pain of death.

One should be equally clear eyed however that the killer chose a gay and lesbian club as his target. That choice was not random. It reflects instead the deep hostility that many Muslims have towards gays and lesbians. In this respect, the killer’s views that homosexuality is an abomination that must be erased from the earth has deep resonance within the Caribbean. Every Caribbean society criminalizes homosexuality. Our rejection of homosexuality is written into our laws. Today this bigotry stands alone with the laws more often ignored than enforced. With the Islamic State however, it is bigotry squared with religious extremism and homophobia woven together in a single expression of hate. It is our hope that in SVG and the wider Caribbean we never knit them together. For as we have seen in Florida, in that way lies evil.

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