In the early hours of Sunday the deadliest mass shooting in American history unfolded. Amred with an AR-15 rifle, Omar Mateen opened fire on hundreds in Orlando's gay nightclub, Pulse. With over fifty dead and another fifty wounded, this marks an unprecedented level of gun violence. However, I aim in this post to address the coverage of the event meant to reinforce Islamophobia in America.
A very thin expression of solidarity with LGBTQ Americans has been mentioned repeatedly in mainstream media - as though it is a given. It is clear that this expression of mourning is more about co-opting the story in service of hatred toward Muslims, even in the case where the shooter was an American-born secular Muslim. In particular, he should be characterised by his disaffectation and his anger problems more than by religious affiliation (based on the information provided by his coworkers and family).
I remember after the Bataclan Theatre attacks. We knew the name of every victim. We knew their life stories, dreams, and favourite colours. If I may make a prediction - we won't get this with Orlando. We have already forgotten the victims, less than 48 hours later. It's about the perpetrator, ISIS, and religious zeal. Never mind that treatment of LGBTQ people in America has been (and absolutely unequivocally continues to be) deeply rooted in homophobia and transphobia, whether around washroom politics, legal marriage, adoption, access to housing, employment equality, etc. Don't forget it was a white male who was stopped on the way to Pride in LA on Saturday with an arsenal of automatic weapons. The violence committed against queer people in America is pervasive, and it's beyond dishonest to insinuate that it is only outsiders that hold these values.
I remember after Sandy Hook it was considered by conservatives ''an insult to the victims' families'' to talk about a ban on AR-15 assault rifles. We are now seeing precisely this debate occurring on CNN, Fox, and MSNBC. If so, I can only conclude that this has something to do with the fact that it is easier to talk about our gun problems than it is to address pervasive homophobia, especially when doing so would take away our collective capacity to shame Islam for it.
Many have published articles saying it is an either/or proposition: that it can't be that Christians are intolerant of queer people and the Muslims just get a free pass. It should not be about attempting to say that some people's hate is justified; rather we need to acknowledge that western society is also entrenched in histories of oppression and that we do no good to slough off the hatred. Let's stop pretending that we don't have very real contemporary issues related to race, gender, class, or sexuality. It's only a matter of time before we go back to oppressing and marginalising, though it's less sensational if it isn't so violent.