The details of Omar Mateen’s life, as they drift into public consciousness, are all over the map.  It’s had to figure out from the recollections of his high school classmates, his co-workers, his family, what motivated this mass killer.  One thing, however, seems a bit clearer right now:  he was not acting as an agent of ISIS or any other terrorist organization.  But the media has glommed onto the “self-radicalized Islamist terrorist” narrative and apparently doesn’t want to give it up.  It is, of course, the one explanation that sells well with nearly the entire U.S. population.

I remain suspicious of his 9-11 calls proclaiming his devotion and solidarity to ISIS and Al Qaeda.  To me it seemed way too self-serving and convenient as he went about killing Pulse patrons.  Reports indicated that he was a self-proclaimed supporter of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah but any true ISIS adherent and potential martyr would know that Sunni ISIS and Shiite Hezbollah are deadly enemies.  No one can claim allegiance to both terror organizations and remain a serious adherent.   Friends and classmates of Mateen’s recall him as friendly, not at all religious, while others have stated that he cheered the 9-11 attacks and claimed to workmates that he had relatives in both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah.  When questioned by the FBI about his workplace comments, Mateen claimed that he made his statements in anger because his co-workers were teasing him about being a Muslim and felt discriminated against.  I suspect that his comments about his support for both Al Qaeda and Hezbollah probably would have made the FBI think that this guy was simply not serious and had made these statements to freak out his co-workers.   Anyone who is a serious adherent to radical Islam would never claim to be a friend of both.  It is simply not credible.

One of Mateen’s high school classmates, John Delancy, who rode a school bus with him for several years, stated: “He was a chubby kid and got bullied about his weight.  He was probably one of the only kids of Arab descent in the school.  That made him stand out.”  Friends have described Mateen as chasing girls, going to parties and drinking, not the typical profile of a radical Islamist.  “He was fun,” states 27 year old Ryan Jones, who often went out with Omar.  Former classmate Samuel King and his friends also hung out with Mateen at a mall where he worked at a GNC store.  King also worked with Mateen at a Ruby Tuesday’s and said that half the staff were openly gay, including King.  “He had to know it, but I never got any sense of homophobia or aggression from him.”    

When asked about Mateen’s 9-11 loyalty pledge to ISIS, his father said he did not believe it was genuine.   “I think he just wanted to boast of himself.  No radicalism, no.  He doesn’t even have a beard.  I don’t think religion or Islam had anything to do with this.”  Recall, also, that Omar’s father’s first public statement was that his son was enraged over witnessing two men kissing in Miami and that religion had nothing to do with his son’s murderous rampage.

So let’s pivot, for a moment, to the media’s ironclad conviction that this is a religious terrorist attack. 

When my partner and I saw Omar Mateen’s picture flashed on the television screen, we both reacted in the same way: “Damn,” I said, “he’s really cute.”  My partner said “Very handsome.”  Now I know you may feel insulted given his horrific act and the fact that for some reason we are not supposed to say his name now, but this does not alter the fact that he was a very handsome young man who would have fit in without a blip into any gay nightclub in the country.  And apparently he did.  Pulse patrons have stated that they saw Mateen many times at Pulse – one said two times a month, another for a period of three years – and his presence caused no particular attention.  In fact, several people have stated that he was friendly, chatted with other patrons and generally blended into the scene.  Had he been casing Pulse, scoping out the building, planning his attack?  But he could have done this in a couple of days, a week, let’s say.  It would not have taken three years.  Then too, he was a user of a gay hook-up ap and exchanged text messages with other gay users.

Let’s agree that the “details” of why Omar Mateen chose to murder 49 people at a gay nightclub remain conflicted. 

And the term “conflicted” might be a more relevant term than the media might believe.   With some knowledge of Islam and Middle Eastern culture, and more specifically gay culture in the Muslim world, the strictures against homosexuality are extreme and the prescribed punishment for homosexuals very severe including death.  But once you become familiar with Muslim and Arab culture, through friends (including Muslim gay friends), travel and first hand experience, you come to know that homosexuality is not extremely rare but in fact quite common.  All those Saudi men who board flights to the UAE and Europe for a weekend of drinking and debauchery, are not looking exclusively for women to practice debauch with.  To correctly characterize the predominant Arab ethic, it would be more accurate to cite “homosexual acts” rather than homosexuality since this latter term implies a more fundamental biological imperative rather than simply engaging in brief sexual acts between two men. 

Such activity is widespread throughout not only the Arab and Muslim world, but throughout the entire world irrespective of national boundaries or cultural norms.  Many families have the “odd uncle” or bother-in-law, the confirmed bachelor who at the age of 45 has never married and lives alone.  Many families are aware of homosexual predilections in their relatives but so long as this secret doesn’t become public knowledge, it is tolerated and remains an unspoken truth.  And this is particularly true where the punishment for homosexuality and homosexual acts are severe.  If you think that Iran doesn’t have an extensive gay “community” you would be wrong even though this revelation in this fundamentalist religious nation can result in death.

As more and more details of Omar Mateen’s life emerge, I can’t help thinking that maybe this guy wasn’t some religious terrorist but a severely conflicted man at war with his own sexuality, perhaps filled with self-hate and loathing.   Many other mass shooters have “snapped” for less. 

But the Islamic terrorist narrative is the one that unites America like no other.  It is the easy explanation.  Not so with a gay themed murderer.  That a closeted, conflicted, angry, nominally heterosexual man could perpetrate such carnage, requires a whole lot more thought and nuance than does a pledge of adherence to ISIS.   Then too it isn’t an explanation that will unite America.  It is one that will empathize divisions. 

Of course, there is nothing defensible as to the cause of Mateen's.  The carnage speaks for itself.    But how will we explain why?  Religious terrorist?  Closeted Muslim?  Raging mental defective?  We shall see.  Or, then again, maybe not.  Maybe we will simply accept the fact that Omar Mateen was a self-radicalized religious fanatic despite a series of facts that don’t really support this conclusion.   And if it turns out that his only motivation stemmed from religious extremism, then so be it.  But let's not overlook the fact that he chose a gay nightclub unlike any other such terrorist that I'm aware of.    



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