The Donald was predictable in the wake of the Orlando horrors, when 49 people died and 53 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. He tweeted:

Do we really need Trump-style “toughness,” however, against Muslims, complete with a ban on their coming here?

Instead we need stricter laws against powerful weapons, more money for mental health counseling, faster identification of potential beneficiaries of therapy, and smarter homeland security in general. (The killer was even able to work for a private security firm.) Yes, those should be the main precautions.

But how about something else—a concerted effort to use libraries and schools to promote empathy in American society, including empathy toward people with different religious, political or sexual preferences? That, in turn, should mean more encouragement of reading, especially of certain books. Check out The K-12 and economic cases for a national digital library endowment on the LibraryCity site, and you’ll find detailed references to the powers of the right kinds of books as empathy builders. Also of interest might be Cell phone book clubs: A new way for libraries to promote literacy, technology and community.

Omar MI’m not saying that this particular killer, Omar Mateen, 29, a gay-hater born to Muslim immigrants, would have joined such a club on his own and turned into a law-abiding, community-minded soul. But given his love of technology, think about a different scenario. What if Mateen had undergone mental health counseling soon enough, including bibliotherapy (here and here), perhaps along with others in a cell phone book club targeted at individuals with similar problems?

Mateen did not just venerate radical Islam. He also loved his cell phone and social media, probably far more important to him than the Koran. What if society had reached out to him in a tech-savvy way, with bibliotherapy as part of this? It isn’t enough just to wage propaganda wars against ISIS online. Rather we also need to consider why maladjusted people like Mateen are susceptible in the first place to radical Islam (quite different from the peaceful mainstream version) and act accordingly.

Bibliotherapy, cell phone book clubs and the rest would hardly be definite preventatives. But perhaps this hate-filled bigot would have been less likely to go on to kill 49 gay people. He may not have stopped being a hater; but if nothing else, he might not have been so eager to listen to ISIS or the blood-thirsty demons inside him.

Meanwhile, my sympathy to the families of the victims. And to Florida’s Muslim community.

While I’ve mentioned cell phone book clubs and bibliotherapy in a secular context, I’m all in favor of religious organizations of all faiths also experimenting with such efforts.


  1. In Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, he attributes part of it to the invention of the printing press and thus the proliferation of fiction which can promote empathy for those who are different from us. It is a powerful argument, and one which I know is true from my own reading experience. It is hard to fathom from Orlando and other recent acts of hate that violence has declined over the centuries, but it has. Just not recently.

  2. One thing that we need to be cautious not to fall for is the idea that a viable solution includes the inculcation of values using schools, libraries and other institutions. Indeed, the uncritical acceptance of the values one holds is the root of this problem. Rather than receiving handed down values, each of us needs to discover and invent our own values and be able to defend our choices without resort to authority. Helping people acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to this idiosyncratic task is where we should be investing our time and treasure. It’s much harder than telling people what to think and how to feel but it is the better, more effective and more defensible path.

  3. @Frank: The best bibliotherapy isn’t heavy-handed. People ideally will discover empathy and other good stuff for themselves in an organic way when they analyze characters and their motives and effects on others. Blibliotherapy isn’t just therapeutic. It’s also empowering.

  4. Keep in mind that the issue in this case isn’t that Omar Mateen hadn’t read books teaching him empathy for homosexuals. He was one himself and had even visited that club numerous times and dated other gay men. He knew the gay world from the inside. Here’s one of numerous stories coming out.

    Ask gays and they’re tell your that their worse foes come from within their own ranks. It is indeed a strange world.

    And if you actually follow these stories from the mass killings, including this one, to the mass sexual assault in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, you’ll find a common pattern. The dangers these people (individually and collectively) presented were well known in case after case, but nothing was done because of to act would bring on accusations of some “phobia,” particularly Islamophobia. The killers at Fort Hood, San Bernadino, and in this case all gave repeated indications that they were violent. (And in Europe, rape rates have skyrocketed in Muslim immigrant areas but gone unmentioned in the media.) Nothing was done because accused was Muslim. If these killlers and rapists had been anything from a Baptist to an atheist, something would have been done to stop them.
    So, in a nutshell, what David is advocating is one of the causes of these killings and not a solution. We need to do what we have long done with the ills that immigrant often bring with them. The Irish drank too much. We came down on them for that and they moderated. The Italians were violent, particularly with knives. We turned them into model citizens. And we did that by insisting that they change. We made life hard for them until that did.

    We need to come down equally hard on Muslim communities, demanding that they warn law enforcement about their creeps. This problem is arising out of their ranks and they need to be responsible for the fixes. And we need make it very clear not only that people who engage in violent talk need to be dealt with, but that any Muslim who does so needs to be get ten-fold scrunity.

    This isn’t being intolerant. This is putting our enforcement vigor where it belongs, precisely on the group that’s far more inclined than any other to kill. Indeed, all you need to do in each of those case is assume that the unhinged guy talking of violence was a Baptist deacon who belonged to the National Rifle Association and all those chattering about tolerance would be screaming intolerance. They’d be stereotyping galore. They wouldn’t be calliing for understanding or empathy. They have no empathy for a Baptist who belongs to the NRA. Even their very peacefulness infuriates them. Witness Obama’s nasty remark about those who “cling to religion and guns.” He didn’t mean Muslims. He meant Baptists who like to hunt.
    Indeed, liberal have long engaged in nasty lies about ordinary Americans who engage in no violent talk and obey the laws, but also believe in their right to own guns for self-protection. Here’s merely the most recent such lies.

    Imagine a different context, one in which Muslims are asked about violence in their religion—yes, actually aggressively asked with examples of that violence given. That is a stretch isn’t it? Further imagine that those Muslims give carefully thought out, cogent answers. Finally, imagine Katie Couric and her documentary team cutting out those answers and substituting, as she did with these gun rights advocates, a video of those Muslims looking around waiting for the interview to begin—implying that they had no answers.

    Yes, in both cases that video substitution is a nasty, vicious lie. But when it comes to gun rights advocates, the editing is done to make them look bad. An NRA member is to be blamed for every gun killing in the country even though he has lived a peaceful blameless life. On the other hand, Muslims, whose very homeland in the Middle East is a cesspool of Muslim-on-Muslim violence, are treated as if Islam is really a “religion of peace.” Great effort is made to not hold them accountable in even the loosest sense. In foreign policy, you see that in efforts to blame tiny Israel for inter-Muslim violence that has nothing to do with it.

    It’s madness, utter madness. The answer to violence by an unhinged gay Muslim isn’t to make slashing attacks on straight Methodists who belong to the NRA. It’s to level strong criticism at the very groups who’re spawning this violence, so we can spot them before they kill.

    All this chatter about empathy is misplaced. We need more empathy for law-abiding gun owners and an end to media attempts to demonize them. Indeed, one result of this mass killing is that gays are asking why Florida laws banned concealed carry at the club. That inability to defend themselves is precisely why so many died.

    And we need to set aside faux empathy for Muslims and demand that they, like the Irish, the Italians, and a host of other previous immigrant waves, not only behave properly but come down like a ton of bricks on those in their own group who turn violent. That means they report violent talk to the FBI. It means they shun mosques with violence-promoting immans. It means they insist that violent-talking Muslims face legal restrictions that prevent them from acting out their violent inclinations.

    –Michael W. Perry, co-author of Lily’s Ride: Rescuing her Father from the Ku Klux Klan

  5. @MikePerry: Whether the killer was gay or not—I wrote based on what was known at the time—my point still stands. He was a sick man in need of help that would have lessened the chances of his pulling the trigger. To be blunt, he was a potential criminal.

    Moving on to another topic, we should treat all terrorists and potential terrorists alike, regardless of their ethnic groups. I never said anything to the contrary. And, yes, I would encourage members of all ethnic groups to report and take other precautions against potential terrorists if sufficient reasons existed.

    But make “demands” on Muslims as a group to do this? As thought “Muslim Central” exists?

    As for the empathy or humanity issue in regard to whole ethnic groups, I plead guilty. But no favoring of one over the other!


The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail