Orlando: Muslims are people. LGBT people are people.

Orlando: Muslims are people. LGBT people are people. June 16, 2016
Rainbow flag flying against blue sky
Image by Hai Yang. Creative Commons.

It’s taken me until today to feel like I can say something about the shooting in Orlando. Actually, I’m still not sure if I can say anything. I mostly want to amplify the voices of LGBT people, Muslims and ex-Muslims, and to remember that some people are members of more than one of those groups. But there are two threads I’ve pulled out of reading my friends’ posts, and they’re pretty simple: first, treat people like people, and second, tolerance of homophobia breeds homophobic violence.

Let’s start with this, one of the first things I saw when I logged into Facebook after the shooting:

The Christian Right has introduced 200 anti-LGBT bills in the last six months and people blaming Islam for this. No. #PulseNightclub

My ex-Christian and progressive Christian friends (many of whom are queer) have been sharing this and similar sentiments all over the place. They are angry that the Christian Right has fomented hatred and bigotry towards LGBTQ people for decades, contributing to a culture of violence against queer people, and are now acting like this shooting is just an Islamic problem. Many have pointed out that less than a fortnight before the attacks in Pulse Nightclub, James Dobson apparently endorsed killing trans people in bathrooms.

My Christian friends are also anxious that the Orlando shooting does not become a pretext for further persecution of Muslims. Samantha Field, reminds us that hatred is an apt term for evangelical attitudes to LGBTQ people:

Believing that I don’t have the right to exist exactly as I am is hatred. Fighting against my civil rights is hatred. Believing that Romans 1 applies to me and that I’m therefore “worthy of death” is hatred. Referring to my existence as an abomination— which has happened to me multiple times over the last few days– is hatred. One man on my public facebook page told me I was abomination, that my existence was just as evil the eyes of God as mass murder, but then two comments later said that he “loved” me and “mourned the deaths in Orlando”!

Kathryn Brightbill is equally powerful:

To the PCA pastor who told me that he was still going to keep preaching that our lives and our loves are a sin, even knowing that it was a message that drove kids to suicide, because to do otherwise would compromise the gospel, you’re killing us.

To the PCA elder and now retired county attorney for a Florida county that shall remain unnamed, when you declared that it would be more merciful if God would just call gay people home because then they couldn’t keep sinning, you’re killing us. Under the logic of that brand of theology, the shooter at Pulse was an agent of God’s mercy, snuffing out lives before they could sin any more. That’s a theology that’s killing us.

In a bid to ensure that the Christian Right gets the blame it deserves for fuelling the widespread homophobia of which this shooting was just one extreme manifestation, my Christian friends have at times argued that the shooting has nothing to do with Islam. My ex-Muslim friends don’t find that helpful either. They have been fighting homophobia in Islam for years, and they don’t want white Christians pretending their struggle is not real, thanks.

Maajid Nawaz: Saying this has 'nothing to do with Islam' is as blinded as saying this *is* Islam. Clearly, this has *something* to do with Islam #OrlandoToo often, people mistakenly refer to Muslims as if they are monolithic. My progressive Christian friends, anxious to stop bigotry against their progressive Muslim friends, sometimes talk as though all Muslims are peaceful and accepting of LGBT people. Some firebrand atheists I know talk as though all Muslims want to burn the entire West. But Muslims are people. Like all people, some are mostly kind while others are frequently shitty. Some of them hate the United States and some of them don’t. If we remember this nuance, we are less likely to fall into the trap of bigotry.

Aliyah Saleem of Faith to Faithless publicly shared a Washington Post article titled “LGBT Muslims do exist, and they are grieving. It is time for acceptance.” For those who think of Islam as a monolith, it’s a useful reminder.

In response to the Tweet I pictured at the start of this post, ex-Muslim Heina Dadabhoy writes:

Yes, the Christian Right has been behind a lot of awful actions against LGBTQ people. Yes, never-Muslims of all stripes have been, can be, and are anti-LGBTQ. No, that doesn’t somehow absolve Islamic teachings and bigoted Muslims from their culpability and complicity in anti-LGBTQ sentiments. Erasure and denial of a problem never did a thing to solve it.

The most obvious version of this [erasure] is when someone “jokes” that being an LGBTQ Muslim is an “oxymoron”, as though centuries of gender-and-sexual-minority Muslims do not merit notice or acknowledgement, as though laws and traditions have ever stopped people from existing and living as they are, as though Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2007 statements merit agreement rather than derision. I wasn’t any less pansexual when I was Muslim and pretending to be straight as I am now that I have been able to accept myself. I was closeted and in pain, going through bouts of denial and despair, but I was not straight just because I was a Muslim trying to suppress what I knew my religion and fellow believers would see as my gender and sexual deviance.

I’ve seen other people trying to argue that the Orlando shooter wasn’t a true Muslim because of reports he was pretty sporadic in his religious observance. In response to such arguments, Iranian atheist Kaveh Mousavi says:

I have known my fair share of basijis (para-military Islamists who help Islamic Republic enforce the Islamic law and to crush protesters and reformists). They confiscate playing cards (haram in Islam) and play them themselves. They drink the alcohol they confiscate. They lust after women whom they harass for not abiding to the strict dress code. And many of them are closeted gays.

Being hypocritical does not make them any less Islamist. It doesn’t make their beliefs any less sincere. In fact, all ideologies like this REQUIRE their most ardent believers to think of themselves as corrupt and sinful. If martyrdom washes all your sins, then it helps to need some washing, you know.

Call this ideology whatever you want. Islamism. Conservative Islam. Traditional Islam. Whatever. But the most horrific thing about it is this: it oppresses the executioner and the victim alike. It crushes its enemies, and its soldiers.

The point that everyone shares is that homophobic cultures foster homophobic violence. Here it’s worth remembering that the shooter’s father said God will punish gay people.

One of the smartest commentaries I’ve seen is by Hiba Bint Zeinab. It’s been widely shared on Facebook, but isn’t a public post. I quote from it here with permission.

I don’t understand how there can be question about whether there was Muslim influence. It’s so very basic.

We either do or do not concede that if one is homophobic, being immersed in a culture of homophobia likely influences those homophobic ideals.

If we do not, we can’t talk about the Christian right or anti-lgbt bills anymore here either. But those denying that Mateen’s religion likely has anything to do with it are basically saying it is a widespread culture of American homophobia (among other lovely bit of USian experience) responsible. If we claim that, then we concede that surroundings matter in influencing bigotries.

If we do concede that, then we must acknowledge that Omar Mateen was part of more than one community, and in key aspects of his life closer to one community than another. And as per the above, any community steeped in homophobia that he is part of would likely influence his homophobia.

Then, we either do or do not concede that modern mainstream Muslim culture is steeped in homophobia. This does not require any individual to be aligned with a political Islamist ideology or to be a fundamentalist or to even really be practicing, or to not be struggling with the faith or even, I’ll say, have any faith at all—examining Mateen’s patterns of practice and his understanding of political Islamist ideology is a red herring to the question of whether he was influenced by surrounding Muslim homophobia. He no more needs to be scrupulous than someone raised in a conservative Christian community in the bible belt needs to go to church for their homophobia to be influenced by their culture. In the case of Islam, socialized homophobia need only involve the civil aspects of Muslim tradition being strongly heteronormative, establishing a gender binary, and opposed to any sexual conduct not within the confines of a nuclear heterosexual family as a matter of moral normativity. The details are where it gets most ugly to be sure, but we need only concede the above. And we either do or we do not.

If we do not, then damn. We’re deeply ignorant or in denial aren’t we?

If we do, then we are forced to conclude that Mateen was likely influenced by Muslim homophobia as well as American homophobia and perhaps American authoritarianism/fascism.

And remember, those of us clamoring to make sure the Muslim influence isn’t deliberately denied or obscured are really trying to do exactly what the rest of you are: fix shit before it gets worse. The key claim isn’t LET’S BLAME ISLAM. The key claim is “there is a real and urgent problem with homophobia in modern Muslim communities that needs to be addressed and PEOPLE ARE SUFFERING IN SILENCE because of it.” ~ Hiba Bint Zeinab

Dana Hunter has a useful post on how you can help and be a good ally to LGBT people in the wake of Orlando.
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