Dr. Michael Welner, a forensic psychiatrist renowned for work both in cutting-edge legal cases and research on criminal evil, talked to the Clarion Project about how sexual repression and denial of one’s own hypocrisy influences Islamist terrorism.
Below is the latest interview between the Clarion Project's National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro and Dr. Michael Welner:
Clarion Project: The FBI says there is no evidence that Omar Mateen (who attacked the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando killing, 49 and wounding 53) had a homosexual relationship, although attendees of the gay club say they've seen him there. What's your take, as a doctor, on the possible connection between Islamist extremism, homosexual inclinations, and Islamist terrorism?
Dr. Welner: Ideological mass killings in the name of Islam are carried out principally by young men proving a commitment to their faith and who idealize destructive violence as a grand vehicle for doing so.
The rewards of such ultimate sacrifice are particularly manipulated in an age group struggling with sexual deprivations so highlighted in traditional Islam.
Apart from relating to sex as unclean, Islam vehemently rejects homosexuality and condemns gays to death. Is bisexual curiosity or even experimentation necessarily incompatible with terrorism among the devout?
Precedent would demonstrate that it is not.Osama bin Laden, for all of his reputation of piety, was found to have a cache of pornography. Yasser Arafat, as noted by intelligence leaders from Romania and the United States, maintained a voracious homosexual appetite and, simultaneously, religious support for the waves of suicide bombing he organized in the name of martyrdom.
The key to both was the denial of their sexual indiscretions. Denial is very much a part of Muslim culture and of how men in particular relate to personal flaws.
Denial serves psychological needs by eliminating one’s psychological conflict. This quality endows one with the ability to maintain earnest sincerity despite factual hypocrisy. Because denial erases torment and eliminates the need to resolve a personal conflict, homosexuality to have an unconscious linkage to Islamist terrorism when there is linkage at all.
Mateen’s father, Sediqque Mar Mateen, and his standing as a pro-Taliban political figure, inspire natural questions about whether Mateen killed to achieve absolution for the dishonor he brought to his father.
Nevertheless, Mateen had a long history of inappropriate aggression from his earlier years. The shame his father experienced because of Mateen’s behavior was longstanding.
There is no reason why Mateen would be so mindful of his father’s reputation as an adult in 2016 any more than he would be at any other time.
Like other ideologically-driven mass killers – indeed like all of them — Mateen made his agenda clear. He called a 911 operator and expressed official allegiance to the Islamic State “caliph” Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi, called a television station to express anger towards the United States for bombing in Syria and in Iraq, and communicated with victims around him and with police.
For hours, while murdering others around him, Mateen had every opportunity to express antagonism toward gays and did not. Therefore, there is no evidence for homosexual hatred as Mateen’s conscious motive.
Mateen’s presence at Pulse on previous occasions and his reported engagement of gay men through dating apps has not extended into any credible accounts of an active homosexual lifestyle. How then does one integrate Mateen’s online activity and repeated presence at Pulse with his later plundering of the club?
It is best to remember that other Islamist terrorist incidents have been perpetrated by actors who specifically presented a false moderation in order to embed themselves with a target who would otherwise have been inaccessible.
The scenario that Mateen engaged gay men in chatrooms or partied at Pulse may have had everything to do with making himself familiar enough to partiers at Pulse to diminish suspicions that he had destructive intentions.
The mass killer is typically inexperienced in death. Dehumanizing others is essential to the process of breaking down inhibitions to kill complete strangers. This is where the Pulse nightclub, in my professional experience, comes in.
Gays and lesbians are dehumanized in Muslim religious teaching. An attack on a nightclub full of Americans would be worthy of martyrdom. An attack on a nightclub full of gay Americans would be worthy of martyrdom but easier for the inexperienced if wannabe warrior to execute insofar as the victims would be considered subhuman to begin with.
Clarion Project: One of the oddities of the Muslim world is that there is such hostility to homosexuality, but if you talk to people who lived there or troops who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, often you'll hear about widespread homosexual activity in their society, even among Islamist extremists who believe in killing gays. Based on your studies, can you explain this apparent contradiction?
Dr. Welner: Unpredictable sexual exploration is the potential byproduct of pressure to deny and to repress teen and young adult sexuality. Children, both males and females, are commonly exploited by Muslim males as an alternative to forbidden premarital heterosexual sex.
Aggressors relate to their victims in detached and unemotional terms, as vessels for their relief as opposed to emotional and sexual intimacies. This mechanical relatedness to alternative and extramarital sex enables a Muslim to deny homosexuality.
Unpublished research on inmates in Guantanamo demonstrated that detainees who had more exposure to the West maintained the most ingrained hostility toward America. It is therefore not surprising that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed studied at North Carolina A&T, for example.
Hostility toward open gays emerges from similar demonization of others for tempting to blasphemy, rather than one’s own lack of discipline or even sexual inclinations.
Homosexuality is less a threat to Islam than the demonstrative message that homosexual lifestyles are an acceptable alternative. Gay pride is a direct threat to Islam, more so than homosexual tendencies that can be denied or displaced elsewhere.
Vocal hostility toward homosexuality by traditional religion is not exclusive to Islam. There are zealots in Christianity and Judaism who later prove to have their own sex practices that contradict their preaching.
What distinguishes the Islamist supremacist movement today is its political mission of imposing its will on surrounding society, which includes the submission of all beliefs and practices deemed unacceptable to Islam.
Submission by force is well on display in countries controlled by Islamic supremacists. ISIS (the Islamic State) is only new in their spectacle, which has intimidated communities into submission for fear of the atrocities otherwise awaiting them.
ISIS has used the shock of defenestration of homosexuals in territories it administers to impact sex practices among host populations.
But institutionalized hatred and violence toward homosexuals is well-recognized from other Islamist societies such as Iran and Hamas-run Gaza. The sectarian rivalries between the Sunni and Shia do not yield daylight when it comes to homosexuality under Islamist rule.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on top-tier television and radio. Read more, contact or arrange a speaking engagement.