( This article appeared in Pakistani English language daily The Nation and can be accessed here: http://nation.com.pk/blogs/19-Jun-2016/we-need-to-talk-about-the-orlando-shooting-and-we-need-to-do-it-honestly )
What took place at Pulse in Orlando ought to make one thing clear: a queer person’s existence is still a crime. And I am not only counting the more than 70 countries where being gay is still a crime literally – death being an ultimatum in some of them.
This is what has followed since the tragedy: sick-minded celebration of the shooting on social media (are these the same people who clamour ‘do not associate us with ISIS’?) and immediate attempts by media to deflect the homophobic element and make it look like just another terrorist attack.
Orlando shooting has boggled our minds because of its unique nature; the usual discourse of ‘oppressed-and-disillusioned-minority-member-taking-up-arms-against-privielged-majorty’ to help understand the tragedy flies out the window because this is a case of a crazed lone wolf from one vulnerable minority playing an unholy god with the lives of another oppressed group. But instead of using this as moment to challenge the hateful environment LGBTQ face, the wounded community has been slapped with being used by the Western Right on one hand and those on the other who wish to clad their casual homophobia under the garb of ‘condemning’ the attack while refusing to mentioning the letters ‘LGBT’. Orlando is not just about America’s gun laws (did you wonder what if it had been one man with a knife against hundreds of unarmed people?) or Islamic fundamentalism or latent homophobia or domestic violence as a red flag. It is about all of these and to talk about one aspect in order to avoid talking about the other is a disservice to the victims and their loved ones.
A liberal Pakistani Muslim friend and activist shared the press statement issued by Islamic Masumeen Center of New England on her social media account and when I pointed out that it failed to mention LGBT in particular and only gave a general condemnation, her reply was along the lines of ‘one step a time’. But LGBTQ community must not accept any condemnation from those who wish to pay lip service. Must the LGBT wait for their ‘turn’ even in their tragedy that is the worst case of mass shooting in the history of United States? Even in a tragedy that humanised the ‘monsters’ that insecure heterosexual homophobes have in their heads, the LGBTQ remain second priority? If the hateful religious preachers can mention gay people by name when they spew hate against them, then it is not bigoted to expect these same religious institutions to mention LGBTQ by name when they condemn Orlando. Or else we will keep on being confronted with the insulting ironies such as Pakistan, India and the Saudi Arabia decrying this incident while their own LGBTQ people are getting harassed and killed.
Instead of an honest discussion, there have been given carefully crafted condemnation so those who created the homophobic environment of religious fundamentalism towards the LGBTQ can continue to do so and save their skins too.
The issue is that Orthodox Islam and Islamic world do have a problem with LGBTQ. Digging into the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen’s personal life and finding out that he was no saint himself does not negate the fact that he found his homophobia religiously sanctioned. That is the problem. We need to drop this ‘he was not a Muslim’ rhetoric and realize that though we may term him a ‘bad Muslim’, this did in fact happen in the name of Islam and by a man who professed to Islamic faith. Why?
When I went to London Vigil for Orlando, my heart soared to see another Pakistani face, that of a human rights activist and lawyer Zaakbar Ali who was representing Association of British Muslims. These are the voices we need, those of an Islam that is relevant to a 21st century diverse globe full of its differences. But stuck between the Muslimophobia (and I use that term on purpose) and homophobia, those of us who wish to be progressive voices have been asked to choose a camp. We need to make reformers such as Amina Wudud, Imam Usama Hasan , Dr Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle, Parvez Sharma (to mention a few) mainstream and we need to drop the politics of lower expectation from the Muslim communities. In short, the antidote to Islamic radicalism may lay within the Muslim discourse, in Sufi, American and European versions of Islam. We need to gap the schism between mainstream Muslim and the LGBTQ communities.
From Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer’s painful and infamous refusal on Sky News in the United Kingdom to check their privileges and wishing to make it about them to a Pastor Roger Jimenez from Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento preaching to his congregation “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die!” it should be clear that Orlando is definitely not just a ‘Muslim problem’. GOP, which has a record of being homophobic, is now crying the crocodile tears having seen an opportunity to demonize an entire Muslim American population. Marco Rubio shared space in rally with Pastor Kevin Swanson who has argued for executing gays.
We need to celebrate Orlando Muslims who donated blood when LGBTQ are not allowed to and condemn the homophobic Islamic preacher Farrokh Sekaleshfar who preached in the same Orlando “Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now”. And it is possible. Or else, we leave a vacuum in intellectual discourse which will be exploited by the likes of Trump and Rubio. And so, this is no open invitation for the Right Wing to have its open field day. One can only imagine what forlornness of LGBTQ Muslims (such as the wonderful group I met at the same London Vigil called ‘LGBT+ Against Islamophobia’, who were the faces of what real compassion and reason look like when two vulnerable communities are being pitted against together) who are confronted with ‘pick a side’.
Simply put, to defeat Omar Mateen’s mindset we need a dialogue, not rhetoric and to win this war, we must love more, not less, for if we do so ‘they’ have won. We need to talk about Orlando and we need to talk about it honestly. We owe it to the fallen brethren.