Mass Shooting in Orlando: I’ve got a few questions, do you?

Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
June 15, 2016

Summary: What Happened?

On June 12, Omar Mateen, an American citizen of Afghan decent went into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and murdered 49 people and wounded 53 more. He did it in the name of Allah. He did it in solidarity with ISIS. He threatened further attacks from ISIS in his final Facebook post. In many ways, given other global events, it was an event that some expected – it was only a matter of time. But this horrendous crime wasn’t committed by a refugee. He wasn’t an illegal immigrant. He was an American citizen who had been radicalized.

Questions 1:
Was this a hate crime against the LGBT community or an ISIS-related terror attack

The official stance of Islamic doctrine is that homosexuality is wrong and completely unacceptable. The Koran has various verses that offer forgiveness if the person is willing to give up the behavior and other verses (in the Hadiths) that seem to indicate the killing of homosexuals. Territories like ISIS and countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia put homosexuals to death.

Homosexuality is also forbidden by the Bible, but the punishment for such behavior is left in the hands of God – The command to kill homosexuals was not given to Christians in the New Testament.

But during the attack, Mateen called 911 and pledge his allegiance to ISIS and ISIS took credit for the attack. It looks like a classics jihadist terror attack on a soft target, designed to produce mass casualties. More and more information is coming out regarding the planning and execution of this crime- which makes it less and less likely that it was a random hate crime directly towards the gay community.

Questions 2: 
Was the killer, Omar Mateen, struggling with his own sexuality and thus acting out his self-hatred upon others?

There are reports that Mateen frequented gay dating sites and the gay nightclub Pulse on numerous occasions. Maybe he was just casing the location – the same way he was he checked out Disney for a possible attack. Maybe he had been struggling with his sexual identity. Regardless, it still connects back to how Islam views homosexuality. But one cannot ignore Mateen’s own proclamations that his motive was his support for and allegiance to ISIS. Whatever his personal struggles, jihad remains the central motivation.

Question 3: 
Is Islam inherently violent or has its peaceful nature be co-opted and perverted by groups like ISIS?

This is my least favorite questions -and the stickiest, because I have friends, people I’ve known for years and care about who are Muslim and view Islam as peaceful. They are offended and horrified by ISIS and say loudly and clearly that ISIS is not Islamic and that Islam is a peaceful religion.

But ISIS is getting their ideas and worldview from somewhere. And those ideas are coming from the Koran and Hadiths (the saying of Muhammad). There are verses in the Koran, when taken at face-value appear to advocate the killing of infidels, homosexuals, adulterers, Jews and Christians. There are a number of people I know (military members, journalists, university students, former Islamic scholars and others) who live in Muslim majority countries who identify themselves as Muslims in a cultural sense who have told me clearly that Islam is NOT peaceful and that ISIS is living out the true version of Islam. At their most generous, they admit that there are uncomfortable contradictions in the Koran that can leave the reader and student of Islam confused.

Those who disagree with the idea that Islam is violent point out that many verses from the Koran are taken out of context, misinterpreted or simply mistranslated into English. And that any verses that refer to taking action and attacking “infidels” is referring to when Islam itself is first attacked. It’s simple self-defense. They also point out verses that call for peace, mercy and tolerance. 

The bottom line is this: ISIS justifies what they are doing through what is written in the Koran and the Hadiths (the saying of Muhammad.) There is a religious component to their violence and that cannot be avoided – even if you disagree with their interpretation. Why does this matter? Because it means that they are motivated by an ideology – and in that case, their worldview must be identified, named and then eradicated.

Question 4: 
Does the Bible have any verses that could be ripped out of context or misinterpreted? 

Absolutely. If you look at Psalm 137:9, “Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks,” sounds pretty violent – again, until you put it in context of the cruelty of the Babylonian captivity of Israel.Nowhere does it imply that God approves of this kind of revenge. Fortunately the New Testament gives Christians a different way of praying for their enemies.

When you look at Luke 19:27, Jesus says, “But bring here these enemies of mine, who did not want me to rule over them, and slaughter them in my presence.” But, again, this verse is taken out of context of the story Jesus is telling. Jesus was reciting the words of the character in the parable he was telling about the Talents, making his disciples understand what rulers do when they take over a dominion – they eliminate their enemies. The disciples never took the instruction as a command to slay anyone that refused to be ruled by Jesus. – he was not instructing his followers to take action and kill those who refused to follow him.

Question 5:
Is Shariah Law something that most Muslims want as their form of government? 

Some do, and some don’t. Shariah Law, a form of Islamic government based on the Sunnah (the words of Muhammad), and the Koran.  It would support the following actions and punishments as listed in this link.  From a Western point of view and Christian point of view, some of these laws seem restrictive, violent, and punitive towards women and other groups. Not all Muslim Majority country want this as their government. But others do. Check out this link from a recent Pew Study to see how different Muslims countries feel about Shariah Law.  You will find a wide variety of views, but you will find that the majority of people who live in Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others nations favor Shariah Law.

Questions 6:
Should all Muslims be lumped into the same pile as potentially dangerous people simply because of their identification with Islam as their faith? 

Absolutely not. There are Muslims who want nothing more than to live and let live. They want to worship and let others worship their own way. If they want Shariah law, then they want it to apply to Muslims and Muslims alone. I have personally known literally hundreds of Muslims who have wanted nothing more than to improve their education, get good jobs, raise families and be good friends and citizens.

Question 7: 
Was this simply a gun control issue? 

You’re not going to get rid of the 2nd amendment – but that is a topic for another blog.  Probably there will be some bans on assault weapons – but that is for Congress, our elected officials to debate and decide. But it’s also important to remember that hundreds of millions of guns already exist in the US – so criminals will get their hands on weapons regardless as to any new gun law restrictions imposed. But the Orlando incident is a jihad issue more than a gun issue. Terrorists will find and use a variety of weapons to accomplish their goals.

Question 8:
Does banning all Muslims coming into the US solve the problem?

No. Getting better screening and security processes would help. I can understand putting a ban on any group of people TEMPORARILY until an effective security reviewing process can be sorted out. But let’s be honest- that would not have prevented what happened in Orlando – and act committed by an American citizen.

Question 9:
Will the terror event at the nightclub in Orlando impact the presidential race?

Of course – at least it will inflame the rhetoric and media topics. From the liberal, progressive view, this is a perfect time to turn the focus on gun control. Or gay rights. Or mental health issues. The liberal-progressive argument will be that none of this could happen if people didn’t have access to guns. Of course, most people understand that if a terrorist didn’t have access to a gun, he would manage to make a bomb or some other weapon of destruction. It’s not about the guns. It’s about the ideology that creates the desire to commit acts of terror.

Questions 10:
Why won’t President Obama use the words “Radical Islamist Terror?”

I don’t seem to have any trouble finding Muslims in many countries who recognize and use the words “radical Islamist terrorism.” It doesn’t hurt their feelings – because they know it doesn’t mean them. There are many willing to admit that there are contradictions in the Koran (or seeming contradictions) with verses that speak of peace and verses that speak of violence. There are others that feel the Koran is not applicable to the 21st century and would like to see reform in their religion. And as I already mentioned, many will tell you it’s a context and misinterpretation issue that is fueling radicalism.

But it can also be an emotional issue. And President Obama believes that using these words – linking the words “terrorism” and “Islam” alienates the billion Muslims who could be allies and help against the war on terror. He doesn’t want to enflame anti-Muslim sentiment here in the U.S. and he doesn’t believe that invoking the term will make any difference in the war on terror. Not that Obama’s war on terror is going all that well…but again, that’s another story for another article.

I still have questions – like, “What did Mateen’s wife know?” “What did his father know?” “Why did the FBI interview him twice and yet he was still allowed to purchased weapons?” But there are a few things I’m pretty sure of: I believe that evil exists. I believe that ISIS and al-Qaeda, al Nusra Front, the Taliban and others are using their version of Islam and their interpretation of the Koran to justify their actions. I believe that I have no interest in accusing my Muslims friends and colleagues of being violent and hateful. I believe that uncomfortable conversations are going to happen when these issues and horrible terrorist activities continue to happen.

And I believe that I won’t agree with everyone’s assessment of what’s happening in the world and that many won’t agree with mine. But I believe that conversations, respect and relationships can survive these differences. And I believe that we desperately need God’s grace and wisdom.

6 thoughts on “Mass Shooting in Orlando: I’ve got a few questions, do you?

  1. Often scholars will say that Islam is like the middle ground between Judaism and Christianity. Christianity is the most loving of the three, Judaism is very strict, and Islam is like the middle ground. I agree though that people can’t just take verses of the Qur’an without understanding context. Not only within the actual chapter, but also within the time frame. Qur’anic verses were revealed a few at a time, and were not condensed into chapters until later. The order that they are in the book is not necessarily the order that they were revealed in. Also, most verses were revealed in response/anticipation to an event. For example, drinking wasn’t forbidden until the Muslims were celebrating after a victory and started acting a fool. Also context within the language. Arabic is a language where one word can have ten different meanings, and the Arabic used in the Qur’an is not the same as conversational/modern Arabic.

    I do agree though that it needs modern application and interpretation. And frankly, a different opinion than an old man with a beard. In regards to Orlando, and ISIS, people will find any excuse/reasoning for their actions. If it wasn’t Islam, it would be something else. Because if the shooter wasn’t Arab, the reasoning would be mental illness. But we are willing to take his supposed allegiance to ISIS as the explanation, without even entertaining that idea.

    People are wrong. Not the religion. If you strip away specifics, almost every religion in the world is pretty much the same.

  2. Thank you for responding and taking the time to share such thoughtful insights and some historical perspective. But I am not sure that all religions are the same – but that’s me. 🙂

    Thank you again for your response!! 🙂

  3. Dr. Phil,
    As always I appreciate your insight and wisdom, you definitely opened my eyes. I pray that our president and all of his supporters will open their eyes. Maybe there is something deeper in his mind? I pray you will have safe adventures in the search for knowledge.

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