Waking up to the news of the Orlando massacre, I felt a combination of fear, disgust, and heartbreak. My first instincts were to pray for the families of the victims of the worst mass shooting in American history, condemn Omar Mateen’s actions, and stand alongside my queer sisters and brothers, reaffirming our dignity as an oppressed minority. But I also knew that this wasn’t enough. As a gay American Muslim, I feel especially vulnerable in a society infected both by homophobia and a highly racialized Islamophobia, constantly trying to encourage the gay community to be more accepting of Muslims while urging the Muslim community to be more accepting of LGBT folk. Sadly, this message of acceptance never reached Mateen.
There has been much illuminating discussion about the need for stricter gun control, the fear of Islamophobic backlash, the cynical opportunism of right-wing politicians, and the importance of labeling this attack as a homophobic hate crime rather than just another “act of terror.” But there is one question that many on the left are too afraid to explore: To what extent has the mainstream American Muslim community enabled the kind of homophobic bigotry which corrupted Mateen’s heart?
It’s not difficult to see why this question causes discomfort. For one thing, many American Muslims worry that negative portrayals of their community will only increase anti-Muslim sentiment in a country enraptured by xenophobic, racist demagoguery. For another, many liberals rightly reject any argument that ascribes blame for the actions of a few to an entire group of people or uses the oppression of LGBT folk in predominantly Muslim countries as an excuse for imperial intervention. These are valid concerns, but they don’t provide a compelling reason to avoid the conversation about homophobia in the American Muslim community. The truth is that the topic of same-sex love remains taboo in most American mosques and Islamic community centers.
It must be said that while Mateen was likely inspired by ISIS’s extremist and virulently homophobic ideology, it’s hard to believe that this ideology is the true source of his homophobic bigotry — his revulsion, for instance, at the sight of men kissing in Miami, and his own thoroughly conflicted relationship with gay social spaces. That primal homophobic sentiment usually precedes the adoption of antigay religious doctrine. But whatever the deepest cause of Mateen’s homophobia, the antigay theology of the extremist group to which he pledged allegiance was all around him. Despite the vast differences between ISIS’s interpretation of Islam and that of most American Muslims, the scriptural core of this antigay theology is something they have in common. And it is the pervasiveness of this antigay theology for which American Muslims must take responsibility.
Let's get specific.
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