A gay nightclub. Latin night. Forty-nine dead. Fifty-three wounded. June 12, 2016: the worst mass shooting in recent American history (CNN).
This shooting was a homophobic hate crime that did not spark discussion about homophobia, hate crimes, mental health, or gun control. Instead, it sparked a discussion about Islam. The Pulse nightclub shooting was a horrific act of terrorism, but it cannot become an excuse for Islamophobia.
During his 911 calls to the Orlando Police Department, the shooter, Omar Mateen, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. This prompted a flurry of Islamophobic reactions, including presidential nominee Donald Trump calling for a ban on Muslim immigrants. But blaming all Muslims for the actions of one man leads onlyto more hatred, as it unreasonably condemns an entire group of people.
In addition, this kind of reaction does not address the many roots of violence in the United States. Tragedies like the Pulse shooting present an opportunity to discuss mental health issues and gun control reform and should not be used as an excuse to isolate and oppress an entire community. Rather, the aftermath of such events should be regarded as a time to consider which laws or policies require reform.
The majority of perpetrators of mass shootings are not Muslim. Treating every Muslim as a threat and acting as if Islam is a breeding ground for violence is not only a ludicrous act of discrimination but statistically illogical. From 1980 to 2005, 94% of terrorist acts in the U.S. were committed by non-Muslims, according to the Huffington Post. Treating Islam as the root of terrorism is both unjust and baseless.
When a Muslim commits an act of terrorism, the media automatically focuses on his or her faith, yet the same is never true for perpetrators of other religions. This is especially unjust considering that Americans are twice as likely to be killed by white, right-wing, non-Muslim extremists than by radical Islamists.
Omar Mateen committed a horrific crime and his actions cannot be excused, but Islamophobia cannot be excused either. Mateen’s actions were not a result of Islam, yet media outlets continue to perpetuate this idea, deeming the fact that Mateen allegedly prayed at a mosque days before the attack newsworthy, as if this in and of itself proves that his religious faith caused his actions. Headlines such as “Pulse Shooter Prayed at Mosque 4 Days Before Attack” only spark hatred, unnecessarily adding fuel to the fire.
There is no easy cure for terrorism. There is no perfect remedy for violence in this country. There is no band-aid for the bullet holes that mass shooters leave in their wake. But rather than fixating on the faith of Omar Mateen, we should focus on the victims, their stories and their names. Rather than allowing a hate crime to fuel more hatred, we should let it fuel a discussion. Forty-nine dead. Fifty-three wounded. Let’s talk about it.