After Orlando, confronting radicalism requires radically different thinking
© Moriah Ratner

Sunday, June 12 will be remembered as one of the darkest days of American history. We do not yet see the consequences of the Orlando terrorist attacks. But that was the day when the dots were connected, when the hatred that drives extremist Islam against America and the civilized world reached the LGBT community in America. It has been obvious to us that attitudes toward LGBT rights in most Islamic states pave the way for extremists to target the most vulnerable. But on Sunday, the message something different. That was the day when the forces of yesteryear hit the forces of the future, sending yet another message that their intention is to stop us from going all the way in granting full equality to all of our citizens, the very human rights that make us so different from other parts of the world. But perhaps it was also the moment when democracies realized what is at stake if we don't stem the spread of radicalism, not just in America, but throughout the democratic world. This is the day when we all came to understand the geopolitical nature of LGBT rights.


There was something touching and important about the fact that the ambassadors of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden marched at the Washington parade just hours before the Orlando attack. Their message was that on this issue, we all should stand together.

But after we've all drawn our personal conclusions and have gotten over the shock, there needs to be a moment of reflection about what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. When we wage a fight for our LGBT brothers and sisters and when we consider the way we have been tackling terrorism in our democracies for years now, we still need the courage to be clear that political correctness should not inhibit our ability to think big strategically; to think outside the box. Attacking everything that Islamophobes, homophobes or sheer crazies say is not enough. In the United States and Europe, political correctness is holding us back — not because it makes us cave to radicalism — but because it hinders radical, outside-the-box thinking. Only radically new thinking will help us find a way out of this mess. We're not simply looking for a solution; we are looking for a mindset that can lead us to solutions. The presidential campaign is not a helpful environment for this; neither is the populism that is getting stronger by the day in Europe; nor, for that matter, the bureaucratic thinking in most European capitals. This is a great moment for think tanks to step up to the plate, to come up with new ideas that will re-energize our tired elites. Like it or not, our democracies are constructed in such a way that ultimately politicians will have to make decisions and come up with the solutions and the resources to combat terrorism from within and from the outside.

The U.S. made a terrible mistake in Iraq — against the advice of newly liberated Central and Eastern Europeans — when it failed to distinguish between the radicals in Iraq and those who actually were only part of the system because they had no choice. (Life and family come first.) Disbanding the Baath Party and the armed forces made this distinction impossible. Now we are bound to commit the same mistakes in the name of political correctness: not being able and ready to state clearly that the murderers, the perpetrators of these horrible acts, are radical Islamists who should be distinguished from law-abiding, tolerant and inclusive Muslims, who accept our democratic values at home and abroad.

The LGBT community has grown up in front of our eyes. Washington's Pride Parade was spectacular and it was amazing to see new faces, to see more and more people who are actually not part of the LGBT community march for gay and lesbian and transgender rights. But this year, it was just a little bit less exciting than the one last year — which is good. We are slowly moving in the direction when gay pride will not have to be a yearly event, but a part of our everyday lives. The Orlando murders remind us that there is no firewall between different segments of society, gay or straight. You can become a target because terrorists do not distinguish among us. They are bound and determined to have a world without human rights and individual freedoms.

What a pity that just a few short hours after this horrific act of terrorism, the lives of these people have become political campaign fodder. But all of these candidates and their supporters should know that, like it or not, we are all in this together. All freedom-loving people are targets. Unless American society can figure out how to deal with terrorism  in the long-term, if America cannot show proper leadership in the world on how it can use its power — hard or soft — to beat the extremists, we will all go down.

Simonyi is the managing director of the Center for Transatlantic Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins University.