The Intersectionality of a Terrorist

The Intersectionality of a Terrorist June 16, 2016

by Amanda Quraishi

breakthrough-460889_1280In the face of the kind of tragic loss of human life such as the massacre that took place in Orlando last weekend, I am increasingly frustrated by the immediate response by groups to reject, deflect, and remove any and all nuance from the conversation – simply because they don’t want to be implicated as part of the problem.

But Omar Mateen didn’t come out of a vacuum.

I see people arguing about what his REAL motive was. Was it that he was Muslim? Gay and closeted? From a strictly patriarchal family? Mentally ill? Was it the fault of gun rights activists? Donald Trump? Who has blood on their hands? There is an eagerness to pin this crime on another group that I fear has less to do with preventing future such incidents, and more about covering our own backsides.
Well you know, it might be all those things working in confluence. Maybe his inherent homosexuality was repressed by his patriarchal upbringing and a religious community that rejected and oppressed his identity as a gay man. Maybe he felt that the only way to heaven was to take out his self-loathing on a bunch of other gay people. Maybe in his identity crisis he was easily swayed by the religious rhetoric of violent extremists who preached a way for sure salvation through killing. And maybe the culture he lived in was one that made access to weapons of warfare available to anyone and everyone who desires to use them for evil purposes.

From the Muslim community I see statements like: “Ok so can we talk about homophobia (or gun laws or mental illness) since we are clear now that Islam isn’t the motive?”

No. No we cannot. But we CAN talk about how gay Muslims are repeatedly dehumanized and oppressed in Muslim spaces using holy texts, and how cultural trappings and family hierarchy reinforces feelings of shame, self-loathing and desperation for homosexuals– and in fact for any free expression of natural sexuality. And how this environment breeds unchecked homophobia. We can talk about the absolute failure of leadership in the Muslim communities to INSIST on welcoming and affirming LBGTQ Muslims.

We can talk about how easy it is to ignore warning signs of violent behavior and religious radicalization. We can talk about how successful religious extremists are at messaging online to exactly the kinds of Muslims who are disenfranchised and/or dealing with an identity crisis here in the west. We can talk about how the Muslims who do try to address violent extremism within the community are demonized and ostracized themselves.

I know it’s hard to politicize nuance, but let’s go ahead and set our agendas down for five seconds and get real.  As Muslims, when we see a member of our Ummah (community) perpetuate something as ghastly as murdering 50 innocent people in the holy month of Ramadan, it is time to stop and reflect on what part we had in failing him.

As a Muslim, I am truly concerned about the way violence done by Muslims is being used to implicate our entire faith tradition. But in an effort to defend our religion, we can’t gloss over the ways we’re failing members of our own communities. There’s a marked difference between saying “this is radical Islam” and saying “these are Muslims committing terrorism”. The former is meant to demonize Muslims in general for a political agenda and create distrust of those who follow Islam. The latter is the truth. If we refuse to acknowledge the reality of what is happening to young Muslim men and women under our noses, we are going to lose any moral authority we have in the public sphere.

Religion is more than just holy texts. It’s community – Ummah. Mateen came from our Ummah. The fact that Muslims’ immediate public responses are to deflect certainly does nothing to add to our credibility—individually or collectively.

Amanda Quraishi is a writer, activist & technology professional from Austin, TX.

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