The massacre in Orlando reminds us that there are wicked individuals who will mow people down simply for the ‘crime’ of being gay. It confirms that Islamist violence, fuelled by a profound intolerance of anyone who dares to live freely or irreligiously, is a pressing problem in the 21st-century West. But most tragically of all, it has revealed a deep crisis of humanism in the West. The response to this act of barbarism has exposed the fracturing of human ideals, of the very notion of a human family, and of the West’s commitment to trusting individuals to live as they please, to be sovereign over themselves, regardless of who it offends. The awful truth unveiled by the obscenity in Orlando is that we in the West lack the moral armoury and collective spirit to withstand Islamist intolerance.
The most striking thing about the reaction to Orlando is how speedily observers made it about themselves; how swiftly they marshalled this massacre to political ends, whether to the traditional political ends of promoting right or left agendas or to the ends of the new politics of identity and its obsession with cultivating narratives of victimhood. The bodies were still warm when political ghouls on the left were claiming the massacre as proof that we need greater gun control and clampdowns on homophobia, and political ghouls on the right were using it to push their case for greater border controls and clampdowns on Islamist speech. From across the spectrum, people used the remains of that blood-stained gay club as a foundation for the construction of their shallow political case: a deeply ugly spectacle.
Even worse, and more revealing, has been the response of the identitarian lobbies. With astonishing speed, and more than a little narcissism, gay leaders and commentators used the massacre to shore up their greatly prized victim status in the realm of identity politics. This is why the post-massacre discussion quickly descended into a petty clash over terminology: over whether this was a ‘hate crime’ that speaks to a general climate of homophobia, or an act of terrorism, against gays, of course, but speaking to a specific Islamist ideology fuelled by foreign ideals. Numerous gay opinion-formers have fought hard for the first interpretation, for the hate crime / homophobia narrative, with some even speaking of the massacre in the same breath as Christian opposition to gay marriage – as if believing marriage should be between a man and woman is on a par with, and perhaps even fuels, the massacre of gay revellers. The censoriousness of such moral equivalence, the moral blackmail of it, is alarming.
It’s pretty clear why gay opinion-formers are elevating the ‘hate crime’ take over the Islamist issue. Firstly, because it allows them to avoid hard political questions about ISIS, about the killer’s ideological motivations, which are a whole moral universe away from the outlook of the baker who doesn’t want to make a gay-wedding cake. And secondly because reading the massacre in this way, exploiting it in this way, allows gay activists to fortify their victim status. In the world of identity politics, victimhood is the chief currency; you win recognition, and moral resources, through demonstrating your fragility. This means identity politics doesn’t only give rise to communal blocs in place of human solidarity – it also stokes up competitive victimhood, with black, Muslim, trans, gay and other sectional grouplets continually seeking stats or using relatively rare occurrences to boost their claims to existential brittleness. The use of the Orlando massacre to buttress the victim politics of the gay-rights movement is no less cynical than the use of it to slam immigration.