Monday, 13 June 2016


Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old man, murdered fifty people and injured another 53, many seriously, in the early hours of yesterday morning. He entered a gay night club in Orlando, Florida armed with a rifle and a handgun, and started shooting. Hostages were taken and, following a three-hour standoff, he was shot and killed by police. 
A ghastly event, and one that has shocked the world. One feels only pity and sadness for the families of the many victims, and for the community in Orlando. What to make of all this?
Mateen was a US citizen, born in New York to parents who had immigrated there from Afghanistan. Some commentators have helpfully pointed out that his abominable actions are only to be expected from a radicalised Muslim whose homophobia is endorsed by the Koran.

If that's the case then Christians also have a lot of explaining to do. Religion, as Christopher Hitchens eloquently argued, spoils everything. Religious beliefs (and, worse, religious convictions) have been the cause of limitless human suffering over the past two thousand years (and, to be sure, the source of consolation to many). Homophobia - and intolerance in general - is legitimised by holy books held in high regard by Christians and Muslims  and it's fruitless to argue the case with zealots who hold to the prohibitions of iron age tribes,
Mateen's crime, his father is reported as saying, was prompted by his rage at seeing two men kiss in public in Miami. I think on closer examination his motives may prove to be more complex, personal and deep-rooted. His actions have reportedly been praised by ISIS and will no doubt prompt many Americans to advocate the use of the kind of deadly weapons so easily obtained and deployed by Mateen. 

This is really about guns, not religion. And it's about mental health. Look, if you can bear to, at this Wikipedia page listing rampage killings worldwide, arranged by continent and then by type ('grenade amok', vehicular killings' and so on). It makes for the grimmest reading. There's no sense in any of it, no reason, although recurring factors are mental illness and alcohol, and practically all the perpetrators are hopeless inadequates with some kind of grudge against society. Some of these dreadful crimes inevitably have a political and/or religious context or motivation but most are the work of mad, dangerous people with access to weaponry or a way of starting fires.

We need to know about forgotten nonentities such as William Unek, an African police constable who in 1957 killed a total of 57 people in two separate spree killings three years apart. We need to know about Woo Bum-kon, a South Korean policeman who killed 56 people and wounded 35 others during the night of April 26/27, 1982. This was the deadliest known mass murder committed by a lone gunman in modern history, until the Norway attacks of July 22, 2011, in which the white supremacist Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people by detonating a van bomb in Oslo, then shot dead 69 young people at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. Breivik did this to promote his anti-Islamist manifesto (which, I was startled to learn, quoted our public intellectuals Jeremy Clarkson and Melanie Phillips).

Andrew Philip Kehoe, an American farmer, murderd his wife and 43 other people (including 38 children), and injured 58 others by setting off bombs in the Bath School disaster in 1927. 

Ronald Gene Simmons, Sr., a retired US Air Force master sergeant, killed 16 people over a week-long period in 1987, fourteen victims were close members of his family - his wife, three sons, six daughters and three grand-children.

Luis Alfredo Garavito Cubillos, a Colombian rapist and serial killed admitted to the rape, torture and murder of 147 young boys although the final tally is likely to be in excess of 300.  Colombian law limits imprisonment to 40 years but as he confessed and assisted the police in their enquiries his sentence was reduced to 22 years.  Pedro Alonso López also Columbian, was sentenced for killing 80 girls, but claims to have raped and killed more than 300 other girls in Columbia, Peru and Ecuador He released in 1998 from a psychiatric hospital on good behaviour. His present whereabouts is unknown. Can you believe that?

What can we learn from all this? That Muslim zealots have no monopoly on mass murder. That the world has some very frightening nut cases in it. That Catholic Columbia appears to be a safe haven for child killers. That guns kill people. 

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