On the morning of Sunday, June 12th, 49 people tragically lost their lives and countless more were injured in a shooting at an LGBT club in Orlando, Florida, in what is now being considered the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. Following the recent terrorist attacks that took place in Paris, San Bernardino, and Brussels, initial questions about the events that occurred in Orlando revolved around whether the gunman, identified as Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, had ties to the self-proclaimed Islamic State (or ISIS). While the investigation into any possible ties between Mateen and ISIS is still ongoing, there has been much conversation about the role Islam—particularly the Qur’an—plays in the violence the world has witnessed over the last year.
I have read and heard many fallacious moral high-ground arguments citing Islam as a fundamental and existential “danger” to Americanism, such as by showing the Qur’an’s intolerance of homosexuals and homosexual behavior. Many of these arguments usually begin and end with the same premise: that Islam as a religion, notably certain parts of the Qur’an, directly leads to the kind of atrocious events that have occurred in Orlando and elsewhere around the world. The problem with these arguments is that in comparison to the Bible and the Torah, the Qur’an itself is actually relatively passive in its stance toward homosexuals and the type of punishment the behavior allegedly warrants.
“In comparison to the Bible and the Torah, the Qur’an itself is actually relatively passive in its stance toward homosexuals and the type of punishment the behavior allegedly warrants.”
The Qur’an treats homosexuality as a transgression, and even as a forgivable sin, rather than a behavior punishable by death. The invocation of violence toward homosexuals does appear in the story of Lot in surah 7, ayat 80–84, but this story also appears in Christian and Judaic religious texts. In fact, it is the Bible and the Jewish Torah that dictate homosexuals be “put to death.” On the other hand, the Islamic hadith, which are distinctly different and independent from the Qur’an, do indeed call for violence and death to homosexuals similar to that of the Bible. However, without discrediting the inherent issues with this kind of violent rhetoric, it is critical to remember that the hadith have a very complex and controversial history in Islam, and not all schools of Islam treat them the same way.
This is not to say that the Bible or the Torah are any worse than the Qur’an or the hadith, nor is it to say that the Qur’an and the hadith are any worse than the Bible or the Torah. Rather, it is to demonstrate that intolerance and violent rhetoric exist in all of the Abrahamic religions, and it is absolutely critical to remember that any person of any faith, ethnicity, or nationality can find justification for violence in religious texts—and people have been consistently doing this throughout history. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups use Christian religious justification for their heinous violence and racism; the Army of God uses religious justification to stalk, harass, and shoot doctors who perform abortions and bomb abortion clinics; the Jewish Defense League and other Jewish extremists use religious justification to carry out their own attacks in the United States and abroad; and the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and other radical Islamic terror groups utilize religion in the same way to justify their own abhorrent actions.
“Intolerance and violent rhetoric exist in all of the Abrahamic religions, and it is absolutely critical to remember that any person of any faith, ethnicity, or nationality can find justification for violence in religious texts—and people have been consistently doing this throughout history.”
Jumping to the conclusion that Islam, as a whole, is incompatible with Americanism after events like Orlando is extremely problematic and ignores the thousands of other lives lost to extremists who justify their actions with other religions. It is deeply troubling that many are quick to condemn an entire religion, but refuse to consider the man who drove two hours to Orlando with the intent to slaughter innocent people as anything other than a calculating radical Islamist. Any person who can pick up a weapon and kill innocent people, regardless of faith, ethnicity, or nationality is a deeply unhinged individual. Any person who can produce such senseless carnage—like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, the UCLA shooter, the Aurora, Colorado shooter, or the Virginia Tech shooter—is a deeply troubled and disturbed individual capable of finding justification for their actions regardless of religious affiliation.
It is during tragic times like these that it becomes easy to close ourselves off to what we perceive as “the other” and try to reach for any examples of intolerance in Islam, while the same intolerance exists in all of the Abrahamic religions. Unfortunately, this closed-mindedness is exactly how Omar Mateen thought, too. He believed all homosexuals were intolerable; he believed their actions should be limited; he believed their rights should be stripped. It is precisely this type of thinking that breeds the violence and horror we witnessed last weekend. We can, and must, do better than that.
Intolerance, hatred, and bigotry are never the answer. Omar Mateen taught us that much.
Image: The Qur’an, holy book of Islam. (Creative Commons, Nasir)
Michèle St-Amant graduated from Hofstra University in 2015 with a B.A. in political science, history, and psychology. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in political science at George Mason University, where she is focusing on comparative politics, terrorism studies, and the relationship between low-state capacity and intrastate conflict in the developing world.