What is scapegoating?When a man opens assault-weapon fire at a gay nightclub and murders more people than any lone assassin in U.S. history, and before more than a smattering of information about his life and motives surfaces, politicians rush to outdo each other in attributing his deranged and evil act to his religion. (See The New York Times for a concise account of Trump’s fear-mongering, and sadly, see Politico for a glimpse of Clinton’s jump onto the scapegoat bandwagon.)
What is scapegoating?When a Baptist preacher in Sacramento, a man of Latino heritage, applauds the deaths of nearly 50 individuals whose sole crime was dancing while gay and Latino, saying, “I think Orlando, Florida, is a little safer tonight. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. I’m kind of upset he didn’t finish the job.”
Singling out one facet of identity to blame for whatever the scapegoater detests is always – and I mean always – vicious, untrue, and damaging. Anyone who doubts this needs only shift the practice onto categories normally considered immune in this society. Friday is the first anniversary of the Charleston church massacre, in which a lone gunman killed nine people at a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. The shooter, Dylann Roof, maintained a website of white supremacist and neo-Nazi material, along with a manifesto with separate sections for “Blacks,” “Jews,” “Hispanics,” and “East Asians.” He said he attacked the Emanuel parishioners because he wanted to start a race war, commending himself on his “bravery.” He belonged to a Lutheran Church.
Imagine Donald Trump – for that matter, imagine anyone – the morning after Roof’s crime, holding a press conference to condemn “Lutheran terrorism.”
Each hour since Omar Mateen opened fire in Orlando has added more information, more complexity, to the story. Witnesses described Mateen’s having previously visited the night club he later attacked, and also being an active user of a gay dating app. Is it possible he was ashamed and conflicted – especially given the violent homophobia of his father, an outspoken Taliban supporter – and acted out his self-hatred and ambivalence on others as a perverse and horrific attempt at redemption? Fariba Nawa, herself an Afghan-American, offers a deeply felt and thought-out essay on the PRI website in which she explores this question and asks her community to acknowledge and interrogate the pervasive homophobia that has resulted in beatings, ostracism, broken lives – and perhaps, in Omar Mateen.