From our partners at DownWithTyranny!
I just got back from my from my first visit to Azerbaijan. Corruption is rife and the government is authoritarian but those aren’t aspects tourists notice. The country is beautiful, everything is inexpensive and the people are absolutely wonderful. Aerbaijan was the first Muslim-majority state that was dedicated to secularism. A parliamentary democracy, it started worked on social reform decades ago. It shows today in the way men and women interact with each other on all levels. The role of women in Azerbaijan seems to have far more in common with Europe than it does with other Muslim-majority states I’ve spent time in, from fairly westernized Morocco, through Arab heartland countries like Egypt, Palestine and the UAE to disparate countries like Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Azerbaijan is the polar opposite of Afghanistan in the societal role of women. It could hardly be more different. And that role of women in society profoundly impacts what we in the west call homosexuality.
A few years ago I wrote about Afghanistan’s unique and pervasive bacha bazi subculture. That isn’t part of the Omar Mateen story, although the New York-born, Florida-raised Mateen comes from a traditional Afghan family where Pashtunwali– the Pashtun Code– was the basic foundation of life for the immigrant family. It’s impossible to talk intelligently about Mateen’s sexuality without reference to Pashtunwali, which, of course, has been completely left out of the discussion by the American media.
The code is an oral tradition that governs the lives of Pashtun males and goes back thousands of years, long before Islam came to Afghanistan or Pakistanand although Afs tend to not differentiate between Pashtunwali and Islam, the two are often at odds– and Pashtunwali takes precedence, even among the most conservative and fundamentalist Muslim society in the world. (I’ve read that Pashtunwali is widely followed by the Pashtun diaspora.)
“Women are for children, boys are for pleasure” is an Afghan (Pashtun) aphorism that flows from Pashtunwali but is unrelated to the Koran. Keep in mind and then remember that in Afghan society only the label of homosexuality causes social discomfort, never the practice, not even the open practice. When people in the West study the code, what they learn about Pashtunwali is first and foremost courage (tora), revenge (badal), hospitality (melmestia), and generosity to the defeated. It promotes self-respect, independence, justice, love, forgiveness (as well as revenge) and tolerance toward all. I found Afghanistan to be one of the best of the over 100 countries I’ve visited. I’ve been there twice– first in 1969 when I was still a kid– and I know, and regret, that I can never go back.
I want to lay out a few tenets of Pashtunwali that seem to have played a role in the sad tale of Omar Mateen. First Nyaw aw Badal (justice and revenge), which compels Afghan men to seek justice or take revenge against a perceived wrongdoer. No time limit restricts the period in which revenge can be taken. Justice in Pashtun lore includes even a mere taunt which “counts” as an insult and which usually can only be redressed by shedding the taunter’s blood. If he is out of reach, his closest male relation must suffer the penalty instead. Badal may lead to blood feuds that can last generations and involve whole tribes with the loss of hundreds of lives. And then comes Turah (bravery), compelling a Pashtun male to defend his property, honor and family from incursions. He must always stand bravely against tyranny and be able to defend what he sees as his “honor.” Death can follow if anyone offends this principle. Combine this with Sabat (loyalty), which mandates that Pashtun men owe loyalty to their family, friends and tribe members. Pashtuns can never become disloyal as this would be a matter of shame for their families and themselves.
This first hand account by a man who had sex with Marteen multiple times fits the pattern you might expect. Mateen, he said wasn’t interested in terrorism as much as he was in revenge, angry and upset after a man he had sex with later revealed he was HIV positive.
Friday, Kevin Sullivan and William Wan wrote a piece for the Washington Post, Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter. It isn’t worthless because it gives some of the details of Mateen’s life but analysis is utterly lacking.
Right off the bat, they write about Mateen’s “lifetime of angst and embarrassment.” He was humiliated, bullied and disrespected all through his childhood and school years. Acquaintances recall him as “unpredictable, angry and sometimes threatening.” On a superficial level, he reacted by becoming a bulked-up bodybuilder who learned how to shoot guns. He worked at a Gold’s Gym and at a GNC. Sometimes he denied being a Muslim; other times he claimed kinship to Osama bin-Laden.
Mateen appeared conflicted about his religion and his sexuality, according to dozens of interviews with those who knew him. He married twice, each time to a woman he had met online, even though he also seemed drawn to gay life and culture.
…But over the years, Mateen’s inner conflict seemed to explode again and again– not only at the [police] training academy but also toward classmates, toward co-workers, toward his first wife and finally toward the 49 strangers he left massacred on the bloody floor of the Pulse nightclub.
…William Winkler, 30, of Orlando was a classmate of Mateen’s at Mariposa Elementary, where his mother taught Mateen in fourth and fifth grades.
Winkler recalled Mateen taking other kids’ toys and acting like a bully, especially toward girls. Winkler said that Mateen acted superior to others and that teachers had great difficulty with him.
“I do remember the teachers at the school wanting to get him help desperately, as he was just such an angry kid,” said Winkler, who remembered Mateen having few friends. He was not sure whether Mateen was ever diagnosed with any learning difficulties but remembers him frequently requiring one-on-one tutoring with teachers.
…Mateen’s father dropped his son off at school every day, Winkler said, and he had a reputation for being disrespectful of female teachers and dismissive of complaints about his son.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Mateen was 14 and a sophomore at the Spectrum alternative school, a campus in Stuart, Fla., for students with behavioral issues.
Months earlier, he had been expelled from Martin County High School for a fight with another student in math class, public records show. He was charged with battery and disturbing school functions. Officials declined to prosecute, but Mateen later listed the incident on job applications as an adult.
On the morning of the 9/11 attacks, one former classmate recalled a teacher turning on a television and the students watching as the second plane hit.
“[Mateen] was smiling. It was almost like surreal how happy he was about what had happened to us,” said the former classmate, who did not want his name used, because he did not want people to know he attended a school for poorly behaved students.
After watching the second tower get hit on a classroom TV, Mateen stood up and claimed that Osama bin Laden was his uncle, said the classmate, whose account was corroborated by others.
“Back then, we didn’t even really know who Osama bin Laden was,” he said. “But he talked about shooting AK-47s… He said he shot them and his uncle taught him how to shoot them.”
The classmate recalled other students becoming angry. “The teacher could tell we wanted to hurt him, so the teacher grabbed him” and sent him to the dean’s office, he said.
Mateen’s father was called and came to pick him up. “I remember his dad walking up,” the classmate said. “And in the courtyard in front of everyone, the dad slapped him right across the face.”
Other classmates described Mateen as disruptive, but some said he was more of a class clown than a troublemaker. Several said that Mateen, who was overweight, often got picked on.
“He was brutally bullied,” said Justin Delancy, who said he rode the school bus with Mateen for several years. “He was a chubby kid and got bullied about his weight. He was probably one of the only kids of [Afghan] descent. That made him stand out a bit as well.”
“He was eccentric,” Delancy said. “He was just one of those guys that people wanted to bully because he was a pushover. He’d try to get a seat [on the bus]. Couldn’t get a seat. Someone would slap him on back of head. He’d try to joke and laugh and make fun of himself to get the attention off of himself. But it didn’t work.”
…The elder Mateen said in an interview this week his son was “a very respectful person.”
“He respected his family,” he said, “especially the parents.”
…Friends and co-workers gave conflicting reports about Mateen’s religiosity and personality at the time. Some said he was extremely pious and serious, but others described him chasing girls, going to parties and drinking.
“He was fun,” said Ryan Jones, 27, who said he often hung out with Mateen.
Mateen hung out at the mall with an openly gay former classmate, Samuel King, and many of King’s gay friends.
“He had to know [we were gay], but I never got any sense of homophobia or aggression from him,” King said.
Mateen was also quickly starting to transform himself physically.
Friends at the time said the chubby teenager, who stood just under 6 feet tall, was working out constantly and starting to add massive amounts of muscle– with a little help from chemical “juice.”
Margaret Barone, a former manager of the GNC where Mateen worked in 2006, recalled Mateen as a sweet young employee who always called her “Miss Margaret.” She said she and other employees always assumed Mateen was gay.
She remembered Mateen and other employees talking about drugs they had taken and Mateen saying that he had taken ecstasy. Barone recalled another employee, an assistant manager who was also Muslim, becoming upset after going out with Mateen a few times and seeing him drink to the point of blacking out.
“He said he didn’t like the things Omar was doing,” she said. “He says to me: ‘He gets too crazy. He blacks out. He starts fighting. He didn’t care whether he got beat up or killed, the way he was acting.’”
Barone also remembered Mateen’s outward transformation.
“If his arms were 20 inches, he had them over 40,” she said. “He was doing massive steroids that he said he was getting through the mail. He’d come in and buy $50 or $60 worth of protein powders, and also the supplements we sold.”
…“This kid bulked up so fast and so quick that he had stretch marks on his skin,” Barone said. “When I tell you he bulked up, oh my Lord, it was like seeing a puny little kid turn into the Hulk.”
…Once an overweight kid who’d been bullied on the school bus, Mateen was now a hulking bodybuilder packing a gun.
He wasn’t quite a police officer, but nobody was pushing him around anymore.
Mateen also found a wife.
In April 2009 in Port St. Lucie, he married Sitora Yusifiy, a New Jersey real estate agent who said she met Mateen through an online dating service.
At first, she said, they lived with his parents and he seemed “normal,” but then the physical and emotional abuse started.
“He was not a stable person,” she said. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
She said he would slap her with an open hand and pull her hair.
Yusifiy said Mateen was not a devout Muslim and preferred spending his free time working out at the gym. She said she never saw signs that he held radical beliefs.
They separated after just nine months.
In September 2011, three months after his divorce was final, Mateen remarried, to another woman he met online.
…From as early as his days at Indian River Community College, some friends and co-workers wondered whether Mateen was gay. Some simply assumed it.
One former classmate at the college told the Palm Beach Post that he believed Mateen was gay and that Mateen once tried to pick him up at a bar.
The classmate, who is gay but was not out yet in 2006, said he and Mateen and other classmates would sometimes go to gay nightclubs after classes. On one such evening, the classmate said, Mateen asked him whether he was gay, which he denied.
“He said, ‘Well if you were gay, you would be my type.’ I said okay and just went on with the night,” said the classmate, who was not identified by the newspaper. “It was not anything too crazy, but I take that as a pickup line.”
David Gonzalez, 34, a gay man who lives next door to Mateen’s parents, remembers how Mateen used to look at him “in a certain way like he wanted me to approach him. He knew I was gay.”
If Mateen were interested in men, it would have been difficult to tell his father.
The elder Mateen has expressed strict conservative views about homosexuality, posting a video on his Facebook page saying that “God himself will punish those involved in homosexuality. This is not for the servants” of God.
Seddique Mateen said he didn’t believe his son was gay, telling reporters, “I don’t believe he was a whatever-you-call-it.”
He said his son Mateen had become enraged a few months earlier at the sight of a pair of gay men being affectionate with each other.
“We were in downtown Miami, Bayside, people were playing music. And he saw two men kissing each other in front of his wife and kid and he got very angry,” he told reporters. “They were kissing each other and touching each other and he said: ‘Look at that. In front of my son they are doing that.’”
But a number of men have told media outlets in the past week that they traded messages with Mateen on gay dating apps such as Jack’d.
…One Orlando man, Cord Cedeno, 23, told The Post that Mateen reached out to him on Grindr, another gay dating app. Cedeno said Mateen tried to flirt with him but he was not interested. “It was the picture of him wearing a tie,” Cedeno said. “I blocked him.”
…Investigators tracing the often-conflicting details of Mateen’s life are still struggling with the “why” of his rampage Sunday. Was he a radicalized Islamist militant, or was that just bravado? Was it Islamic State ideology or some personal demon that drove him to target gay people? Was it something else entirely that snapped in Mateen’s troubled mind?
The “why” is elusive, but investigators have learned a few key details about the final days of his life:
Mateen purchased an assault-style rifle and a handgun at a Port St. Lucie gun shop in the first week of June.
At some point, Salman [his second wife] accompanied Mateen on a shopping trip to buy ammunition.
Between June 5 and 9, Mateen and Salman traveled to Orlando and visited Pulse, the popular gay nightclub, for “reconnaissance.”
Last Friday, June 10, Mateen went to the Fort Pierce mosque to pray and spent more than an hour there with his 3-year-old son.
On Saturday, Mateen posted messages on Facebook pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State terrorist group.
“America and Russia stop bombing the Islamic state,” he wrote. “I pledge my alliance to abu bakr al Baghdadi… may Allah accept me.”
He added: “The real muslims will never accept the filthy ways of the west,” and, “You kill innocent women and children by doing us airstrikes… now taste the Islamic state vengeance.”
That evening, as Mateen was preparing to leave their Fort Pierce home, Salman warned him against anything he might be planning.
Then Omar Mateen got into his car, drove to Orlando, and walked into the nightclub.
The U.S. military has a tremendous amount of experience in and knowledge of Afghan society. After all, our occupation of that country is America’s longest war. These observations about what we call homosexuality in Afghanistan are all unclassified
• Some of its root causes lie in the severe segregation of women, the prohibitive cost of marriage within Pashtun tribal codes, and the depressed economic situation into which young Pashtun men are placed.
• Other root causes include a long-standing cultural tradition in which boys are appreciated for physical beauty and apprenticed to older men for their sexual initiation. The fallout of this pattern of behavior over generations has a profound impact on Pashtun society and culture.
• Homosexuality is strictly prohibited in Islam, but cultural interpretations of Islamic teaching prevalent in Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan tacitly condone it in comparison to heterosexual relationships in several contexts.
• Pashtun men are freer with companionship, affection, emotional and artistic expression, and the trust bred of familiarity with other men. They often lack the experience of these aspects of life with women.
• This usurping of the female role may contribute to the alienation of women over generations, and their eventual relegation to extreme segregation and abuse.
One of the primary and obvious causes of this cultural tendency toward sexual expression between males is Pashtun society’s extremely limited access to women. Heterosexual relationships are only allowable within the bounds of marriage, and Pashtun honor demands that a man be able to demonstrate his ability to support a wife and family, as well as produce abundant wedding-gifts for the bride and her parents, before he is allowed to marry. Therefore, given the economic situation of most young Pashtun men and the current state of employment and agriculture within the Pashtun regions of Afghanistan, marriage becomes a nearly unattainable possibility for many. A controversial Los Angeles Times article highlighted this issue and featured an interview with a young Afgan man whose situation was typical of this circumstance: In his 29 years, Mohammed Daud has seen the faces of perhaps 200 women. A few dozen were family members. The rest were glimpses stolen when he should not have been looking and the women were caught without their face-shrouding burkas. “How can you fall in love with a girl if you can’t see her face?” he asks.
Daud is unmarried and has sex only with men and boys. But he does not consider himself homosexual, at least not in the Western sense. “I like boys, but I like girls better,” he says. “It’s just that we can’t see the women to see if they are beautiful. But we can see the boys, and so we can tell which of them is beautiful.”
Daud’s insistence that his behavior should not label him as homosexual is the next important point in understanding the nature of this dynamic, and opens the doors to a complex interrelationship between Islam and its cultural interpretations. Even men who practice homosexuality exclusively are not labeled by themselves or their counterparts as homosexual.
…[U]sing another man for sexual gratification would be regarded as a foible–undesirable but far preferable to sex with a ineligible woman, which in the context of Pashtun honor, would likely result in issues of revenge and honor killings. These killings are a Pashtun, not Islamic requirement, although the two tend to become inexorably bound in the minds of rural villagers.
So, was Mateen “gay?” Is that why he murdered dozens of people in Orlando. Within hours of hearing about the crime, I mentioned here at DWT that he was “sexually repressed.” I should have said his parents’ culture is. Not dealing with it isn’t the way to handle it.