Last night a gunman attacked a gay club in Orlando, Florida. At present at least 50 people are confirmed dead and another 42 are confirmed injured - which would make it the worst mass shooting in American history. The gunman appears to have been a US citizen called Omar Mateen. Even the FBI is now admitting that he would appear to have had ‘leanings’ towards radical Islamic ideology. Perhaps that's why, shortly before his murder spree, he called 911 to declare his allegiance to the Islamic State (which has since claimed responsibility for the massacre).
Here’s a prediction. If the gunman from last night had proved to have been a Christian fundamentalist, every person he had ever associated with would by now be being crawled over not just by law enforcement but by the press. Senior church figures and political leaders across America and the rest of the world would have condemned the act and said how important it is to root out such hatred from people’s hearts. Every group, individual or fellow-traveller who was in any way associated with the gunman’s ideology would be forever tarnished by association even if they had no connection to the gunman himself.
But the Orlando attack would appear to have been carried out by a radical Muslim, not a radical Christian. And so law enforcement will play down the ideological component. Meantime US and other political leaders will try to deny the ideological connection or say - at the most - that it is important not to single out any one ideology. Almost every single Imam in America and elsewhere will deny that there is any connection between the gunman’s beliefs and theirs. If any journalists do look into which mosques or groups the gunman was associated with the entirety of the American Muslim community leadership will insist that any identification of the gunman’s beliefs is in fact ‘Islamophobic’. And so the hatred that propelled the gunman will not just live on, but grow. Which the rest of us might end up assuming was the aim all along.
It is just two months since we learned that 52 per cent of British Muslims believe that being gay should be made illegal in the UK. When that poll was released very nearly the entirety of the UK’s Muslim leadership and spokespeople attacked not the bigotry of their own community, but the poll. It is always the same story. And yet there is a perfectly straight line from that belief to what happened in Florida last night. With any other religious community we – and they – would admit that. But not with Islam.