The attack has induced a moment of catharsis among America’s Muslim leaders
BY Habiba Hamid
Shortly before 2am on June 12, a man parked outside the LGBT nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida. It was pride weekend.
Moments later, he entered the premises and opened fire, armed with an AR-15-type assault rifle, a handgun and many rounds of ammunition, Orlando Police Chief John Mina said. Over 300 people were in the club; nearly one-third of them were shot.
At 5 am, 11 police officers stormed the club, engaging in a gunfight with the assailant, after distracting him with explosives. 50 people were fatally wounded, and 52 were injured, a Kevlar helmet protecting one officer.
The gunman’s name was Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old of Afghan origin, born in New York, which meant that the largest gun-crime massacre in recent U.S. history was about to take on a different hue.
The victims and their perpetrator were both minorities—the former subject to a horrific homophobic crime, the latter, a Muslim deranged gunman. His ex-wife, Sitora Yusufiy, who had divorced him in 2011 described him as bipolar and emotionally disturbed. “I can honestly say this is a sick person. This was a sick person that was really confused and went crazy,” she told ABC News.
Ronald Hopper, an assistant agent in charge of the FBI’s Tampa Division claimed that around the time of the shooting, Mateen called 911 to declare his allegiance to Daesh. Hours later, Reuters reported that Daesh claimed responsibility for the attack on Sunday afternoon on its Amaq news agency. Despite being known to FBI officials for claims that he would kill, Mateen was still able to legally purchase firearms last week.
But the acts of what appears to be a lone gunman, perhaps inspired by Daesh, or the acts of a deeply mentally disturbed man, have triggered profound soul-searching far further afield.
In the days after the funeral, of the U.S. boxing icon and civil rights activist Muhammad Ali last week, when America appeared to welcome American Muslims into its bosom, a sense of healing prevailed. It was short-lived. The shooting was quickly capitalized upon by Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, who immediately called on President Barack Obama to resign over his ‘Achilles heel’—what he termed “radical Islam.”
The U.S. Muslim community has found itself at a crossroads, with a degree of introspection as to its stance towards and treatment of the LGBT community.
The leadership of the LGBT community in the U.S. has long been recognized for having stood in solidarity with Muslims against hate crimes and Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11. The feeling has not always been mutual.
Now however, there is no holding back. “For many years, members of the LGBT community have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community against any acts of hate crimes, Islamophobia, marginalization, and discrimination. Today we stand with them shoulder to shoulder,” Nihad Awad, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil-rights and advocacy organization in the U.S said. “The liberation of the American Muslim community is profoundly linked to the liberation of other minorities—blacks, Latinos, LGBTs, Jews, and every other community. We cannot fight injustice inflicted upon some groups and not fight it when it targets others. Homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia—we cannot dismantle one without the other,” he continued.
A groundswell of anger against the homophobic massacre has poured forth. Members of the Muslim LGBT community set about organizing a vigil in Washington D.C. on the June 13, against homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia, while Muslim leaders from orthodox groups set about issuing carefully tempered statements. Imam Suhaib Webb, a D.C. based Imam and activist noted on Twitter that: “Today’s murders remind us of hatred’s dangerous power and the great work we have to do in building the capacity to temper it.” He went further; “Thoughts and prayers with the victims, their families, the LGBT community, law enforcement and the city of Orlando.” Saif Inam of the U.S.-based Muslim Public Affairs Council told representatives of U.S. LBGT community that: “We are your allies, we are your partners, we are your friends.”
Several Muslim states including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE and Qatar have denounced the attack in terms that fell short of being unequivocal: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns in the strongest terms the attack on innocent people in Orlando, Florida, and sends its deepest condolences to the families and friends of the victims and to the people of the United States,” their statement noted; “We will continue our work with the United States and our partners in the international community for an end to these senseless acts of violence and terror.” Several Arab states issued near-mirroring statements, “On behalf of the leadership and people of the UAE, our deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of the victims of yesterday’s heinous attack in Orlando. We condemn the hate and fanaticism behind this unspeakable violence. We must all work together to promote tolerance and peace,” UAE Ambassador to the U.S., Yousef Al Otaiba offered. No mention of the LGBT community was made, so the laudable sentiments had the effect of inducing yet more reflection across social media among Muslim publics.
As the dust settles and at the time of going to press, the families of the slain are releasing tragic details of their last words. “Mommy I love you,” wrote Eddie Justice in a 2:06 am text to his mother Mina Justice. At 2:08 he typed: “I’m gonna die.”
Few words can act to salve such pain; but perhaps a regional commitment towards ending terrorism against all minorities, irrespective of their personal circumstances, might go part of the way there.