Monday, January 23, 2017

TERRORISM: Orlando massacre: for a minority of a minority, two worlds collide

Barely a few days after Americans of all faiths and backgrounds came together to celebrate the life of the great American Muhammad Ali, the unifying spirit of that event has been spoiled by the spilling of blood. Early on Sunday morning at an LGBTQI venue in Orlando, some 50 people were gunned down. While shocking, news of a mass shooting in the US is not new. The fact that the gunman proclaimed to be Muslim, the weapons he used, the ease with which he could procure them, is also not new. Attacks on people because of their sexuality, again not new.

There has been plenty of conversation about whether this was an indiscriminate act of violence or a deliberate terrorist attack. The gunman's religious heritage, his marital discord and his family background were the subject of speculation even before all the victims had been identified. But the real elephant in the room was in fact the victims. Whether orchestrated by Islamic State or not, this was a targeted attack on people from the LGBTQI community in a place that was theirs, a space they believed was a safe one.

This event is fast becoming a moment for LGBTQI people who grew up in Western Muslim communities when their two worlds could collide. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally appreciate and speak about homophobia among them with the vigour they speak about Islamophobia directed against them. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally understand that LGBTQI Muslims are part of their community, albeit marginalised from within as well as from without.

Will Western mosques, imams, leaders and those claiming to speak for the faith and the believers recognise that all sinners are equal and none of more equal than others? Or will Western (including Australian) Muslim communities be too busy trying to deflect the inevitable hatred from themselves? 

Or at least from their straight selves. In this respect, Muslims won't be alone in effectively airbrushing the pain of their LGBTQI minority.

Remarks by so many public figures in the US and Australia almost ignored the fact that the victims of the Orlando attacks for killed because they were LGBTQI people. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mentioned the direct victims of this atrocity, the LGBTQI community of Orlando, but described the incident as an attack on all, arguably diluting recognition of the essentially homophobic nature of the crime. Commentators and pundits even question whether this was in fact a homophobic act. Worse still, some even pointed fingers at the mourning LGBTQI community and accusing them of "hijacking" the pain and horror of what happened in Orlando for their "own" purposes.

Let's be honest about this. The attack on the Orlando club was primarily a homophobic attack. The gunman's family have described his homophobia. The gunman went to a nightclub at 2 am with an assault rifle and he stayed there for three hours, killing gay people during the heavily publicised Pride Month – a time and in a place where they not only felt safe but so safe they felt that they could celebrate their identity and the community they had built around them. There should be no question about this and yet in the minds of so many of our leaders and our media, this central fact has had to compete with speculations and prejudices and frivolous punditry.

Discussion has naturally turned to the possibility of a similar incident happening here. Experts speculate on law enforcement arrangements, on intelligence and on the strength of "radical Islamists". Yes, this is all important. But please, let's not forget the many ways in which LGBTQI victims are affected. Imagine if an LGBTQI venue was attacked in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra. What if, among those killed, was a same-sex couple from Britain celebrating their honeymoon?

What if one survived, but had to be faced with the prospect of their spouse's Australian death certificate stating the words "never married"? At a time when the survivor should be mourning, s/he would find her/himself fighting for legal recognition of their relationship, for rights to the deceased loved one's body, and their funeral arrangements.

Should we use the Orlando shootings as an excuse to patronise and lecture our Muslim minorities about the homophobia in Muslim tradition, we might be prepared to acknowledge that our own Western attitudes and laws and even our (allegedly) Christian heritage aren't exactly lacking in similar traditions and attitudes. It's easy for some in our broader community to say with pride that only "those" Muslims have sufficient hatred to commit such an attack, as if the average American or Australian Muslim can only be seen as a potential IS fighter. Would our lectures be so stern if the Indiana man apprehended by police around the same time as the Orlando massacre had used his weapons to carry out a deadly attach at the LA Pride Festival in West Hollywood? And why do we persist in the fantasy that Muslims have a monopoly on homophobic violence and terrorism?

When our social attitudes and laws are stripped of homophobia, we can then point the finger with some confidence at minority attitudes. Although one wonders if pointing fingers ever achieved anything. Finger-pointing and blame are the strategies favoured by those unable to overcome hatred and rage, those who cannot handle difference. In this time of mourning, please spare us your superiority complex.

Haneefa Buckley works at a brand development and consumer insights agency based in Sydney and is a gay Muslim. Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, author and PhD scholar at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship & Globalisation, Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 14 June 2016.

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