A strange thing happened a few months ago. I got a news alert that my photo project, Just Me and Allah, which documents queer Muslims and their diverse experiences, had been mentioned in a major LGBT magazine website.
I didn’t recall having done an interview with them, so I clicked on the article. The piece was about a 17-year-old Muslim girl in North Dakota allegedly having had a gun pointed at her head by her father after he discovered that she was a lesbian. In the piece, I was cited as proof of the existence of pro-LGBT Muslims – as if that were an anomaly. I wondered whether some random LGBT Christian would’ve been mentioned had the story involved an evangelical father and his daughter.
This pattern of double standards is going to be repeated on a massive scale in the aftermath of Sunday’s horrific news – the devastating fact that 29-year-old named Omar Mateen killed 50 people at an Orlando gay club. Although details are still emerging, his father told NBC News that his son may been motivated by witnessing two men kissing in Miami a couple of months ago. “This has nothing to do with religion,” he told NBC, adding that the family had been unaware of his plans.
There will be no shortage of voices in the media in the days and weeks ahead analyzing the links between Islam, terrorism and homophobia. Political candidates will likely use the incident to gain support for their platforms in the upcoming election.
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We are now used to the fact that, every time a criminally misguided Muslim commits an act of violence, the entire religion and all its followers are questioned and placed under suspicion in a way that isn’t replicated with other faiths. We – and this of course includes queer Muslims – have to take extra care walking down the street at night and entering our mosques for fear of Islamophobic attacks. Muslim organizations and activist groups are tasked with the responsibility of releasing public statements, apologizing for the actions of terrorists and reminding the world that Islam promotes peace so innocent Muslims who are just trying to go about their daily lives don’t suffer repercussions.
Much has been written about what drives someone to kill innocent people. Arie Kruglanski, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland, studied the final words of suicide bombers and discovered a pattern: their motivation is personal significance and a search for a meaning that they are brainwashed into believing can only come with death. This is not the typical Muslim experience, but an aberration.
Our thoughts must for now be with those in Orlando. But over the next few days, as we try to recover from this atrocity and begin to piece together what it all means, it’s important to remember that Islam is exploited by religious extremists all over the world, often in attacks committed against other Muslims. One such incident occurred recently in Gulshan-i-Iqbal in Lahore, Pakistan – a park I used to love visiting with my family as a kid. Nothing made me feel freer as an 8-year-old than rushing down the slides with my younger sister. More than 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed by jihadists who claimed to be targeting those celebrating Easter. However, the majority of people killed were Muslims – something the terrorists would have known full well.
Hopefully the Gulshan-i-Iqbal story illustrates that this can’t be boiled down to us v them. We’re all experiencing the same tragedy together. And I can tell you first-hand: being a peace-loving Muslim who is just as angered by homophobic attacks as everyone else isn’t out of the ordinary.