Omar Mateen committed a hate crime. It’s unclear if he was an Islamist, too

Flags at the Washington Monument fly at half-staff to honor those killed in the June 12, 2016 shootings at a gay club in Orlando, Fla., in Washington, D.C., on June 13, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-UDDIN-OPED, originally transmitted on June 13, 2016.

(RNS) On Friday, the United States celebrated the passing of Muhammad Ali, an American Muslim who stood for America’s highest ideals. On Sunday, it condemned a savage gunman as an Islamist radical before his motivations had been confirmed.

Omar Mateen opened fire in a crowded gay nightclub in Orlando shortly after 2 a.m. June 12. With 50 people dead and 53 wounded, it is the largest shooting rampage in modern America.

Law enforcement officials speculate that it was an act of terrorism. There are indications, though, that it may be a hate crime.

Seddique Mir Mateen, the suspect’s father, told NBC News that he was “in shock,” but acknowledged his son had recently expressed anti-gay sentiments. He also said the attack “had nothing to do with religion.”

According to his father, Mateen had recently seen two men kissing and touching each other in public. Mateen had expressed outrage, livid that his toddler son had to witness it.

After the incident, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation tweeted, “Our hearts break for the victims and families of this horrific act of violence. We stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ community in #Orlando.”

Despite evidence that this might have been a hate crime, law enforcement is already pointing fingers at Mateen’s religion as a source of motivation. After the tragedy, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division, Ronald Hopper, speculated Mateen was an Islamist radical.

Law enforcement officials reported that they were investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism and a possible hate crime.

“We do have suggestions that that individual may have leanings towards that, that particular ideology,” Hopper said at a news conference.

About 20 minutes into the attack, Mateen called 911, pledged allegiance to ISIS, or the so-called Islamic State group, and mentioned the Boston Marathon bombers. Mateen had also been the subject of two separate FBI investigations — both spurred on by suspicions of terrorism.

But neither investigation yielded any evidence of terrorism connections, and there were no open investigations of Mateen at the time of the shooting.

The tragedy comes on the heels of a worldwide celebration for the life and achievements of Ali, an American sports hero and civil rights leader whose influence shaped America’s future forever. Ali was eulogized as a unifying symbol — a man who bestowed upon himself the title of “The Greatest” and lived up to it.

Inspired by his Muslim faith, Ali fought for equality and justice and practiced the type of compassion he read about in the Quran. Throughout his life, he unabashedly and publicly brought up his faith and the overarching role of God.

With memories of Ali’s greatness, side by side with memories of his deep religious devotion, Americans were able to grasp how one can be both fully Muslim and fully American.

Yet after Sunday’s violent incident, many have again reverted to the familiar but false dichotomy regarding Muslims in America: that because a gunman is Muslim, he must be a radical, bent on destroying America.

What do we know? Fifty people are dead, 53 people are wounded, friends and families are mourning the loss of their loved ones. What we don’t know is why Mateen murdered so many innocent people. Instead of speculating, the American public — all of us — has a responsibility to obtain the facts.

(Asma Uddin is the founding editor-in-chief of altMuslimah.com. Kaitlin Montgomery, altMuslimah’s news editor, contributed to this piece)

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  • “Omar Mateen committed a hate crime. It’s unclear if he was an Islamist, too

    Only if your head is buried in the sand, or if you are trying to deflect attention from the fact that vicious hatred of gay people is not only an aspect of being an Islamist, but is also deeply embedded in mainstream Islam.

  • Um, all Muslims are not the same – just as all Christians are not the same, all Atheists are not the same, all Pagans are not the same, and so on. This Muslim was obviously motivated by his religion – pledging allegiance to the Islamic State during the attack. It’s no secret that the Qu’ran contains hatred toward gays, and that many Imams have openly stated that gays should be killed (and the Bibles too have horrific hatred toward gays as well, and some Christian ministers have long spouted hate based on them). Even the shooter’s father said that God will punish gays. The undeniable fact that the killer killed due to his religion doesn’t mean that all Muslims are like that, and more than the many acts of Christian terrorism means that all Christians are terrorists. Let’s be honest about the fact that this person was spurred to terrorism by Islam, and that peaceful versions of Islam exist – and that the same can be said for other religions, like Christianity. Let’s affirm that one can be a peaceful Muslim and American, a peaceful Christian and American, and so on. But, pretending that the killer wasn’t a “true Muslim” is simply dishonest – the no true scotsman fallacy, which helps no one.

  • But this tragedy is being hijacked and turned into the right or left’s agendas. It is a simple fact that he was taught, I would dare say, by the very man who was ‘shocked’ at his behavior. It was reinforced by a society that condones and perpetrates violence taught by the various religious books. He could just as likely have been Christian. Based on the values vomited out by many political figures and Christian church leaders. It doesn’t matter if he was an Islamist, he was taught hate. His hate was codified and given justification by the ruling class, Christian and Muslim. But introspection is the most difficult thing a person can do, so we will blame Islam, or guns, or God for the these murders of human beings instead of looking inward and changing ourselves. #wearenotyouragenda

  • The obvious question is from what source did he develop his hatred of gays? His father stated that God will punish gays so his family and religion were the likely source of his views. His 911call where he expressed solidarity with ISIS and reports of his praising Allah while killing pretty well sums it up. Since it is the responsibility of Islamic law to judge and execute, he went against Islam. He did it in the name of Islam. If the act had be done by a Westboro Baptist Church member would we blame Christianity?

  • If the media reports are correct and the shooter spent many hours over many months at the night club drinking, it is possible that he was at war with himself over his own identity. He could well have been fighting between his natural state being a gay man and the adopted identity of his faith that gay men are outcasts.
    The Political pronouncements from Trump and others I believe are missing the mark on the reality.
    May those killed rest in peace. The situation is so sad from every focus point.

  • The evidence is coming to light that it was religious hatred fornicating with self directed homohatred, I’ll say this yet again:

    This young vermin was angry for the obvious reason. I am increasingly convinced the the worst, the most vicious, and the most virulent of those opposed to our right to live our lives as free men and women and equal participants in society, whether religious or not, are homosexual hating homosexuals who cannot bear the thought that we are allowed to do just that, when they have confined themselves to the prisons of their small minds, shriveled hearts, minuscule souls, and over-mastering fears that someone will find out about them. Maybe even the God of love that they pretend to worship.

  • I would blame 2000 years of homohatred and prejudice, disguised as sincere religious belief.

    You can blame Christianity if you will. Many Christians have managed to move beyond it. Some prefer to make a living out of it.

  • “It’s unclear if he was an Islamist, too.”

    Someone else wrote this. not me. But I’m going to quote it. I’ve edited out a few words, but I wish I could include them.

    Shove. Your thoughts. And Prayers. We don’t need them. I don’t want them.

    You can’t elevate people like Kim Davis, Ted Cruz, Huckabee and Trump and then as a country turn around and pretend that it’s Islam that caused this.

    We have been beaten to death with fists and boots and bottles and bats and lead pipes. We have been shot and stabbed and mutilated. We have been raped to death and we have been raped as punishment. We have been trapped and burned alive, families too ashamed to claim our corpses, churches refusing us burial. We have been strangled and stuffed under motel mattresses. We have been hung from barbed wire fences and left, alone, to die slowly.

    America you have done all of this to us while calling *us* the predators, accusing *us* of perversion. You have stripped us of honor and titles even after we fought and died for you. You have called our bodies and our families unnatural and legislated against their safety. America, your politicians have fractured our bones under the heels of their shoes and their footprints have tracked our blood all the way to the airport bathrooms and clandestine hotel rooms where they seek pleasurable release from us.

    How dare you, America, use our suffering and our corpses as a shield to attack 1.6 billion people. How dare you pretend that suddenly, just today, you care for our safety while you do nothing about the reckless greed of gun manufacturers, do nothing about the people in power who mock us and encourage fear of us.

    How dare you, America, try to co-opt the fear that I live with every day of my life – every threat, every attack, every slur that has been screamed at me, every bit of rage hurled at me by men who wanted my number in a gay bar or men who cornered me to demand to know how my girlfriends taste, every bit of shame from the pulpit on Sundays, every time I had to hear as dobson said my queerness should be beaten out of me, every time I gripped my son’s hand a little tighter to walk past the protesters outside of Pride. How dare you try to take this fear that *you* have instilled in me and redirect it towards YOUR war.

    America, you have been at war with me since before I was even born. I am not your cannon fodder. You are not actually angry on my behalf and you do not get to twist my anguish to fuel yet more hatred and yet more death.

    So take your thoughts and your prayers and turn them inward. They won’t help me, but maybe they’ll help you realize that we’ve been dying all this time and you never cared before.”


    This is me again.

    Deadly Prejudice disguised as sincere religious belief, or admitted for what it so clearly is. Islamist or christianist– it doesn’t matter. Religion that says “believe what I believe, because God says I can hurt you if you don’t.” Not all bigotry is hate. So much of it is a completely unwarranted belief in an always present, always assumed, and totally imaginary superiority as a human being, a heterosexual, a moral person, a Christian, a Muslim.

    And let us not leave out a culture so in love with guns and violence that any attempt to control them is seen as an attack. So You can add moral idiocy, paranoia, and a disregard for humanity to the list.

    Or, you can just call it congress, and a certain political party.

  • Most of them when they can. It’s why tourism in Dubai is so popular for Saudis. The 9/11 terrorists used to hang out in strip clubs even. There is even a form of liquor originating in Muslim lands from centuries ago, arak.

    “Allah sleeps” is a traditional toast for Arab drinkers.

  • Could be. Just because I wear a cowboy hat out here in the excessively sunny high desert, that doesn’t actually make me a cowboy. I’m not.

    However if I kill 49 people for what ever the motivation, that would make me a terrorist.

  • It can be two things! Many incidents categorized by the FBI as terrorism also have hate-crime aspects, or could have been prosecuted as hate crimes without being labeled as terrorism. There’s no “speculation” here. This attack followed the pattern of other Islamist attacks, Paris November 2015 in particular.