This article can also be found at Tremr.
*Writer’s note: I do not identify with either community mentioned in this article; this is simply an outsider’s observation.
In the weeks following the worst mass shooting in American history, many Muslim-Americans have feared the backlash that has inevitably followed. After tragedies like the one in Orlando, communities are often pitted against each other out of fear and a desire to swiftly and unfairly point the blame at a particular group. The shooting, which was committed as a hate crime against the gay community by a Muslim-American man, has evoked a flurry of accusations about rampant homophobia in the Muslim community.
After a tragedy of this scale occurs, “there’s going to be this rampant Islamophobia within the LGBTQ community,” said Omair Paul, a gay Pakistani-American and UN representative for Muslims for Progressive Values. Sahar Shafqat, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland stated, “I think that mainstream LGBTQ organizations have not been great about understanding intersectionality however it occurs, and specifically for LGBTQ Muslims. She continued that these LGBTQ groups often times limit their inclusivity to white gayness.
Traditionally after such tragedies, people of all political affiliations and religions have set their ideologies briefly aside in order to come together in unity as a nation.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump, however, is doing just the opposite.
His responses to the tragedy have included boasting about his predictions that such an event would inevitably occur. And of course, no Trump rhetoric would be complete without his claims that banning all Muslims from entering the United States is now more justified than ever before.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Trump has proceeded to masquerade as a champion for LGBTQ rights. He has asserted that he will, without a doubt, do more for the gay community than fellow presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, claiming that she “can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays, and anyone who doesn’t share their view.”
Trump’s above statement serves as the epitome of problematic thinking post-tragedy. His attempts to capitalize on the black-and-white rhetoric of anti-Muslim finger-pointing are incredibly evident when one considers a crucial tidbit that he has conveniently failed to mention: the fact that approximately ten years ago he called for a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage.
Pamela Geller is a similar example of an anti-Muslim crusader posing as a champion for gay rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center named her “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.” She reportedly allies “with virtually any individual or movement that expresses stridently anti-Muslim sentiments, no matter how otherwise repugnant.” As one of the most outspoken anti-Muslim proponents in the US, Geller routinely spreads lies about American Muslims’ hatred of the LGBTQ community, while simultaneously attempting to convince the public that she cares deeply about gay rights.
Naturally, the kind of fear-mongering rhetoric pushed by the likes of Trump and Geller often lacks any kind of empirical evidence. A 2015 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that in actuality over 40% of American Muslims support gay marriage, and are even more accepting of it on average than Evangelical Christians, Mormons or Jehova’s Witnesses, according to a study by Pew Research. Many Muslim young people have condemned the attacks and have even embraced the LGBTQ community.
It is possible that the theme here – animosity between the LGBTQ and Muslim communities – can, to an extent, explain the motives of Orlando shooter Omar Mateen. Mateen, who was born in New York to Afghan parents, was also reportedly a gay man who felt “disgusted” upon witnessing two men kissing in public. But was it the act of two men kissing, or rather the fact that Mateen may have felt caught in the crossfire as a gay Muslim man? Perhaps he felt tortured internally by the perceived need to choose between his sexual orientation and his religion.
In short, Orlando cannot and should not be defined as a battle between the LGBTQ and Muslim communities. Pitting the two communities against each other, as Donald Trump and Pamela Geller have done, is simply an attempt to ultimately keep both groups oppressed. Contrarily, the fact that both communities experience rampant discrimination and bigotry could point to the usefulness and necessity of an alliance and better understanding between the two. “The problem,” as The Atlantic points out, “is Islamophobia in general, not just in the queer community. The problem is not just homophobia within the Muslim community, it’s homophobia in general.”
Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast