Last Sunday I woke before dawn, as is common during Ramadan, to have a small meal and pray. Although I don’t often turn on the news that early, I did that morning – and was greeted by news of the drama unfolding at the Pulse in Orlando.
Immediately, as I’m sure so many others in my community did, I found myself praying once again, “Please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim.”
Once again my prayer wasn’t answered, once again I’m writing with a heavy heart, enraged further because so many are simplistically trying to blame a madman’s rage on Islam in order to avoid their own hypocrisy and possible complicity at the Pulse.
It was terrorism. It was a act of terror by Omar Mateen, a Muslim, clearly deranged, who struck out at a marginalized group of Americans whom he hated more than he loved life – whom he hated more than he loved Islam, ironically contradicting the reality that American Muslims are, according to a 2015 Pew poll, more accepting of homosexuality than are evangelical Christians, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Perhaps Mateen should’ve looked more deeply into his own community for support. Instead, today we’re forced to witness terrorism by a madman from one marginalized community perpetrated against another marginalized community.
“… I woke up to the news that 50 of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Orlando were massacred in what President Obama called, ‘the most deadly shooting in American history,’ Raymond Braun, an LGBTQ community activist posted. “This came on the heels of a bathroom being bombed earlier this week in protest of transgender people having the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. That could’ve been me in that club. That could’ve been my best friend in that restroom.”
For many others the response was too easy – blame “Radical Islamic Terrorism.”
Just say the words and erase Stonewall Inn, Matthew Shepard — erase the horrors of discriminatory legislation that denies Americans the dignity of their identity — the dignity to marry whom they love.
Erase the memories of atrocities where American Muslims weren’t involved; Oklahoma City, Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Charleston, Umpqua Community College, Colorado Springs.
Erase our communal guilt, hypocrisy, complicity – our failure to protect our children and loved ones.
Say “Radical Islamic Terrorism” and ignore the complicity between politicians and the firearms industry in providing weapons to civilians whose sole purpose is, as Gen. Stanley McChrystal (Ret.) said, “to kill people.”
Sunday’s killer was an American, outsider, bullied, bully, violent wife abuser, hater, psychopath. His back-up was a community of haters who had spent years painting targets on the backs of fellow Americans by favoring anti-LGBTQ legislation and candidates, justifying their prejudices using the very kind of literalist interpretations of scripture that they accuse Muslims of doing.
Following Orlando, I found refuge amidst the LGBTQ’s community social media comments that included a range of understanding and inclusion rarely seen in our Public Square:
“Seeing lots of Muslim leaders condemning violence. Not seeing any Republican leaders condemning homophobia.”
“I refuse to let this story be about ISIS – the gunman was an American, raised on American anti-LGBT hate with access to American guns!”
“It is my duty as a Muslim to care about marginalized LGBTQIA people and issues affecting, them like violence and suicide”
“Now we get to watch politicians blame “immigrants” for the logical conclusions of their own domestic policies and hateful rhetoric”
What privileged elites and bigots don’t realize as they turn to blame Muslims and LGBTQ people for the carnage is that the attack on the Pulse wasn’t anyplace – it was against a sanctuary – and Mateen knew it.
“Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them; vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression,” Richard Kim wrote in The Nation. “They take sound and fabric and flesh from the ordinary world, and under cover of darkness and the influence of alcohol or drugs, transform it all into something that scrapes up against utopia.“
It was a hate crime: It was no more Islamic terrorism than Dylan Roof’s attack on Emanuel AME Church was an act of Christian terrorism, than Baruch Goldstein’s massacre at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque was an act of Jewish terrorism.
Today, we must spurn hypocrites who ask for prayers after having spent years demonizing LGBTQ peoples, denying them equal rights and sanctuary against aggression. We must avoid being seduced by hypocrites who’ll try to exploit the innocent LGBTQ community and use them as pawns to promote their political agenda, pitting Other vs. Other.
Let’s not forget that not long ago hypocrites Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal spoke at the National Religious Liberties Conference where pastor Kevin Swanson preached about about executing gays or that following events in Orlando preacher Roger Jimenez sermonized, “… I think that’s […the killings…] great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight.”
We may never know what drove Mateen to terrorism. Was he a homophobe or a hard-drinking, closeted, homicidal self-loathing gay man? Was he a conspiracist and confabulist (he once claimed membership in both Hizbollah and Al-Qaeda – groups that hate each other) or was he a lone-wolf terrorist driven by a corrupt ideology? A terrorist so twisted he conducted Facebook searches during his attack using search terms “Pulse Orlando” and “shooting.”
We must resist being seduced by Mateen’s shout-out to ISIS — a call many believe may simply have been a desperate way to justify his homicidal impulse — a futile attempt to give meaning to a criminal act of terrorism — to self-contextualize it through his twisted, delusional deranged mind.
Attributing such terror to “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is intellectually lazy and demonstrates ignorance about Islam. Such ignorance, along with calls for banning and marginalizing Muslims is dangerous. It’s wrong because terrorism is not an extension of Islam. The terrorism may be perpetrated by Muslims, Jihadists, Islamists or whatever you want to call them — but it’s not Islamic and that’s the difference — and the difference is important.
As former CIA Director David Petraeus has said, “Such statements directly undermine our ability to defeat Islamist extremists by alienating and undermining the allies whose help we most need to win this fight: namely, Muslims,”adding “I fear that those who demonize and denigrate Islam make it more likely that it will be our own men and women who ultimately have to shoulder more of this fight — at greater cost in dollars and lives.”
As we mourn yet another American tragedy we must realize there’s no easy path forward, no easy answers. We’re in this together, you and I, privileged and marginalized, cisgendered and LGBTQIA people, believers and non-believers, Muslims and non-Muslims.
The guilty party isn’t one person – one religion – or guns. It’s our inability to know each other, to know our history, to acknowledge our mutual humanity – and our capacity to act inhumanely.
Today. there’re no separate paths forward, no easy way out.
This was published in The Portsmouth Herald.
An earlier iteration, shorter, was published in the Keene Sentinel