(With minor changes and revisions, the following post will be syndicated
later this week in the USA Today family of newspapers.
An acknowledgement to Shaw for links to
rightwing evangelical hate screeds)
First reports: Shots fired in an Orlando nightclub. Three hours later, a swat team storms the building. By morning, we learn the scope of the carnage: 49 dead, 53 wounded, and 26 in critical condition. During the siege, the shooter dials 911 and claims allegiance to ISIS. Fragmentary soundbites trigger waves of suspicion and fear.
“This is not the Islam I know,” my Muslim friends and neighbors assure me. An editorial in TcPalm reads: “This is not who we are.”
Our local Islamic community responds. “It violates the teachings of Islam,” says Dr. Taher Husainy, a prominent neurologist and Muslim spokesman in my community. This is not the Islam he knows.
Victor Ghalib Begg, a guest columnist of this newspaper, quotes the Quran: “Whoever kills a person, it is as though he has killed all humankind.” This is not the Islam he knows.
In Dallastown, Pennsylvania, Rev. Christopher Rodkey of St. Paul's United Church of Christ posts a sign: ”Wishing a blessed Ramadan to our Muslim neighbors.” A crank caller slams Islam. Rodkey traces the call to a Republican National Convention delegate pledged to Donald Trump.
Within days, new details emerge. Daniel Gilroy, a former Florida police officer who knew the shooter, describes him as unstable and unhinged. According to Gilroy, the shooter abhors gays, blacks, Jews, and women — slurs often riddled with threats of violence.
Sitora Yusufiy, the shooter’s first wife, recalls an abusive former husband. He beat her, confiscated her paychecks, and kept her confined as a virtual prisoner. She flees the marriage after four months.
In 2013 and 2014, the FBI investigates the shooter for possible ties to Muslim terrorist groups. Insufficient evidence; case closed.
On Monday, we learn the shooter lived a double life. He frequents a gay nightclub on a regular basis. Patrons recall an exchange of text messages on a gay networking site.
“Why, if he is gay, would he do this?" asks the father of the shooter. Perhaps this term applies: Reaction formation. It is the public mask of a disturbed person disguising an inner torment. It explains why a closet homosexual may present himself as an angry homophobe. New details change our portrait of the gunman.
But not according to Donald Trump who wants us to be very afraid. “I said this was going to happen,” he boasts with chest-thumping bravado. Muslims murder gays, and the president is a terrorist sympathizer. His cheap shots misfire. The shooter is not an immigrant but a native-born New Yorker.
Pious words segue to customary pander. We hear sleazy soundbites of derogation and scorn from Twitter to television. The latest Frankenstein turns audiences into angry villagers brandishing pitchforks.
On FaceBook one day later, Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Lewis describes the City of Orlando as “a melting pot of third world miscreants and ghetto thugs.” He is immediately suspended.
We hear reckless rhetoric from the pulpit. Evangelist James Dobson claims transgender people who use public restrooms should be shot.
After hosting Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal at a religious liberties conference last year, Pastor Kevin Swanson called for gays to be sentenced to death if they refuse to repent.
Senior Pastor Robert Gallaty says: “Go to Leviticus 20:13. God gives us the punishment for engaging in these sins … They must be put to death.”
“This is not the Christianity I know,” says a pastor in my circle of friends. This is not the America I know, nor the country I want for my children, grandchildren and future generations.
For a nation that prides itself as the melting pot of the world, hate speech turns us into hypocrites. We demonize and dehumanize our differences. We scapegoat and persecute the innocent along with the guilty.
We fail to condemn the bully pulpits of animus and injustice among us. Where is our moral compass? It is time to restore the values of honesty and decency in our public life and hold everyone accountable. Enough is enough!