Opinion

Views on Orlando tragedy from a Muslim in Tacoma

Zuleyha Ozonder, who is Muslim, holds a candle and a sign to show that many in the Islamic faith support the LGBT community during a vigil in Seattle on June 12, in response to a mass shooting earlier that day at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Zuleyha Ozonder, who is Muslim, holds a candle and a sign to show that many in the Islamic faith support the LGBT community during a vigil in Seattle on June 12, in response to a mass shooting earlier that day at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Associated Press

It is hard to describe what an ordinary American Muslim feels each time a radicalized representative of our faith commits an act of terror in the name of Islam and, by doing so, brings embarrassment to the community of Muslims.

On the one hand, we experience fear of guilt by association, especially now when the issue of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. is a centerpiece of political debates and when there is a growing number of threats against mosques across the country.

On the other hand, we feel deeply sorry for the victims and their families. The concepts of loss, grief and terror are not foreign to many Muslim refugees and immigrants who come from war-torn or politically violent parts of the world.

However, in this case, what adds more pain to the injury is the fact that the Orlando massacre coincided with the holy month of Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, when Muslims across the world fast, engage in charity and refrain from violence. It is a period of peace and kindness.

In this regard, Omar Mateen, the man who murdered 49 and injured 53 people, is a hypocrite who committed an act of hatred in violation of his own religious traditions. Contrary to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s claims that Muslims celebrate such attacks, most Muslims neither approve nor share Mateen’s hatred towards sexual minorities.

While in the Quran homosexuality is prohibited (as it is in the Bible), attitudes towards homosexuality in all 49 Muslim-majority nations are mixed and are not as radical as portrayed by some politicians and pundits. In some Muslim countries homosexuality is banned. However, in about 20 predominantly Muslim countries — such as Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon and Jordan — same-sex relationships are legal.

Here in the U.S., according to one study, 42 percent of American Muslims support same-sex marriages compared to only 28 percent of Evangelical Christians, 26 percent of Mormons and 14 percent of Jehovah Witnesses.

In other words, an average American Muslim thinks more progressively about same-sex marriages than an average conservative Christian. In fact, one Baptist pastor in Sacramento already praised Mateen during the sermon and was “upset that he didn't finish the job.” From this point of view, blaming all Muslims for Mateen’s crime is not fair.

But in the context of American politics, the Orlando massacre is more than just another mass shooting. It is the first time a terrorist has targeted a particular social group — representatives of the LGBT community.

In the past, Muslims and the LGBT community have stood together in the political camp that embraced such groups under its umbrella. About 70 percent of American Muslims and 63 percent of the LGBT community members identify themselves as Democrats.

However, Mateen, by the nature of his crime, drew fault lines in that camp. He did what every American Muslim was afraid of: He shifted the debate in favor of those who profit from the rise of Islamophobia and he gave more voice to Trumpism, the ideological system that encourages abrasive, false and divisive arguments as the way to achieving political power.

Mateen perceived the world through the divisive and radicalized paradigm. However, our response to what happened in Orlando should not be divisive but rather collective.

Radical and violent behavior is, partially, a socially constructed and learned experience. It is influenced by a wide array of factors. In this regard, we should stop demonizing Muslims as inherently evil individuals.

Instead, we need to encourage dialogue and understanding between American Muslims and other social groups in the U.S. We need to be louder and bolder than some opportunistic politicians who preach intolerance as a solution to religious radicalism because such solutions will only escalate the violence and divide our diverse nation even further.

Geysar Gurbanov is a Tacoma resident and an alumnus of the Rotary World Peace program. He graduated with a master’s degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and he researched communal violence during his studies at Duke and Harvard. He also worked with international organizations in the field of human rights, democratization, and conflict resolution. Twitter @geysar.

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