The Attack of the Narratives

I wrote the following Sunday evening, after watching the news coverage of the Pulse Club shootings. It appeared, with a few changes, in The Kitchener Post, and I’d like to share it with you here:

Almost as horrible as learning of the mass shooting that killed over 50 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, are the narratives that immediately rose from it.

The Pulse nightclub is a famed gay bar in Orlando, and given its prominence, and given that this is Pride month, we were forced to ask if this was a targeted attack.

In spite of the progress that has been made in affirming the rights of the LGBTQ community, the rhetoric against them has been beyond heated.

In the aftermath of the manufactured controversy in North Carolina where a bill was passed preventing transgendered people from using the bathrooms of their identified gender, there have been a rash of perverted vigilantes who have been trying to police this.

A small bomb even went off in a Target bathroom recently, after the department store chain announced its trans-friendly bathroom policy.

And the Lieutenant-Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, got into hot water when he tweeted Corinthians chapter 6, verse 7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” at 7 a.m. on the morning as news of the Pulse nightclub attack was developing.

But then other narratives started to emerge. The shooter was identified as Omar Mateen, an unstable young man who reportedly called 911 before storming the nightclub to dedicate his attack to the terrorist group ISIS - or Daesh as others prefer to call them.

And the story immediately pivoted. Was this a terrorist attack - a phrase that the media were reluctant to use when we’d wondered if the attacker was a Christian akin to those of the Westboro Baptist Church, who went onto social media that day to praise the killer for killing homosexuals.

In the background, there is the question of how Omar Mateen - a man who was already on FBI watch lists - could legally purchase a military-grade assault rifle a week before his attack.

In the past, when the explanation of “terrorism” could not be placed on a mass shooting, opponents of gun control in the United States have focused on the mental health of the shooter responsible.

Guns don’t kill people, they say: people kill people, and maybe instead of preventing mentally ill people from buying guns in the United States, we should focus on dealing with their mental health issues.

Fair enough, but since the horrible shooting in the elementary school at Sandy Hook in December 2012, there have been 998 mass shootings in the United States. What have these people who have suggested we look at mental health issues instead of gun control actually done to address mental health issues?

When horrible things happen, our minds struggle to cope, and one way to cope is to place the event inside a narrative we can understand: extremism, terrorism, lack of gun control, mental health issues, and so on.

Many of these narratives raise vital questions that deserve answers. How do we deal with religious extremism that targets homosexuals, and inspires disaffected youth to terrorism?

But the narratives clash together, as these things that we set up to soothe ourselves help us deflect pointed questions from political opinions we disagree with. Some of us don’t want to deal with homophobia, or gun control, and so take refuge in attacking terrorism.

In our attempts to keep our world views safe, we end up doing nothing but foster the status quo, and we wonder for the thousandth time why the unthinkable happens.

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