Byko: Why Orlando was different

3 x 2 rainbow lights candlelight vigil
People hold up candles against a rainbow lit backdrop during a vigil Monday, June 13, 2016, for those killed in a mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub downtown in Orlando, Fla.

THE MASSACRE at Paris' Bataclan concert hall last year was the work of Islamic terrorists, as was the attack on Pulse. More people were murdered at Bataclan - 89, yet the Orlando massacre where 49 died somehow seems worse.

The people dancing and drinking in Pulse were hated not just for where they lived - in the liberal West - but for what and who they were.

This one was different from the tragedies at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine.

Omar Mateen drove two hours to murder gay people.

He selected a minority with a long history of being targeted - sometimes quietly through the veil of discrimination, often by brutal violence. During a break in the assault - this is almost unbelievable - Mateen called 911 to declare his allegiance to ISIS.

"This one is uniquely different in that it targeted LGBT Americans, therefore it really was both a terror attack and a hate crime," says Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum, an LGBT civil rights organization based in Philadelphia.

The murderous attack would be terrorizing to "any marginalized minority in this country," he says.

As a whole, perhaps because they have been hated and marginalized, most gays are reluctant to point a finger at any other group, and here I refer to radical Islamists.

Some refuse to acknowledge any link between radical Islam and hate crimes.

"I think in fact the tone of American politics has led to homophobia and Islamophobia," says Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center.

I ask how the tone of American politics explains terror attacks in Paris, Brussels, Madrid, and elsewhere.

"It can't be denied that the political structure in the United States has set a tone of anger to LGBT and Muslim people," he says, adding that American LGBT people have to focus on their own country.

I find it really sad that he so casually, and solely, faults his own country. Is that Ameriphobia?

In his address to the nation, a solemn President Obama said the killer "was inspired by various extremist information," without specificity. "We have no definitive assessment" of his motives, said Obama.

I think we do: Radical Islam.

In a minor victory for reality, on Monday Hillary Clinton said she would use the term radical Islamism.


Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal doesn't want to go there.

"I don't care what kind of extremism it is - Muslim or far-right-wing extremism, it doesn't matter. Extremism is extremism, no matter what religion," he says.

If we are talking about Christian hate groups, "I would say the exact same thing. I would not be blaming all Christians because of those yahoos," he says.

Nor would I, nor would most Americans, I think. I ask Segal if he believes most Americans blame all Muslims.

"Yes, I do, and I think that's very unfair."

It would be very unfair if he were right, but I don't think he is.

Since the horrific shock to our system we suffered on 9/11, carried out by (radical Muslim) extremists, there have been no mass arrests, there have been no mass deportations. Yeah, there's name-calling on Twitter and Facebook and in comments, but a lot of minorities get a dose of that.

Muslims are safer here than in Kabul, Damascus, Tripoli, and Baghdad.

Calling the terror " 'Islamic extremism' politicizes this issue," says Segal.

"The people who do that are demagogues," says Segal. The murderer was "an American who did this regardless of what he's saying."

Americans are not immune from infection, and what he was saying was that he pledged fidelity to ISIS, which routinely executes gay people. I choose to not ignore what Mateen said because it tells us something, maybe not everything, about his motives.

We have been attacked, multiple times, not by Islam itself, but by the virulent, hate-filled virus known as radical, extremist Islam.

The Equality Forum's Lazin concedes that "Islamic countries are the most homophobic in the world," but adds that other right-wing religious organizations - such as the Westboro Baptist Church and ultra-Orthodox Jewish sects - also purvey homophobia.

I agree that fundamentalists - Muslim, Christian, Jew - are handcuffed to centuries-old beliefs that defy modernity.

If that is the disease, there is no easy cure.

215-854-5977 @StuBykofsky