On Islam, homophobia, and hate crimes

That the Orlando shooting was a homophobic hate crime is incontrovertible. The massacre of people at a gay club is obviously different from the massacre of people at a football stadium or an office or a shopping mall. I have no interest in arguing this point.

The news which has since emerged – that Omar Mateen went to Pulse on a reasonably frequent basis; that he used a gay dating app – puts a slightly different spin on it. No longer are we simply dealing with a man who may or may not have been an ISIS sympathizer; we’re possibly dealing with a man who was closeted; full of fear and shame and self-loathing. It’s obviously an extreme response for that ghastly mix of emotions to manifest themselves as mass murder, but, if that is the case, all of us need to take a long hard look at ourselves and the society we have created.

Anyone who thinks homo, bi and transphobia went out of fashion the day LGBT people got the right to marry and adopt is living in a dream world; just as anyone who thinks the end of segregation was the end of racism needs a reality check. We live in a world of deeply-rooted prejudice; a world in which coming out can, quite literally, cost you your family and your home. In some cases it can cost you your life.

We can blame Islam for making Mateen homophobic – though there’s no evidence he was particularly religious, and as a Muslim who has read reasonably widely around this subject I contest the claim that Islam is intrinsically homophobic – or we can take a more mature approach; one that doesn’t involve ‘othering’. Because it’s not only people of faith who are homophobic, is it? We live in a homophobic society; it’s a miracle for anyone to grow up without being tainted by some of that hatred and fear. None of us is immune from it. The important thing is how and when you extricate yourself from it. Mateen, evidently, never managed it. But lots of LGBT people don’t. And that’s the same for many other minorities – we all know women who can be sexist; ethnic minorities who can be racist.

Yes, mosques and the people who run them need to make statements to the effect that there is no room for such violence in Islam or the wider world; that all people, regardless of gender or sexuality are worthy of love and acceptance. But it’s not just down to mosques, because it’s not just in mosques where LGBT people continue to feel excluded. It’s also in schools and offices and football teams and in government. And by failing to acknowledge that you buy into the myth that we are ‘post-homophobia’. Like hell we are. If we were post-homophobia we wouldn’t still need LGBT clubs; we wouldn’t have to have ‘safe spaces’, where you can hold hands with your partner without fear of reprisal; we wouldn’t need legislation declaring people’s right to live and exist as equals.

But we do have all those. And we don’t have them because ‘Muslims’; we have them because we have failed to create a world in which all of us accept and love all others, regardless of who they love.

It’s not Muslims, or people of faith. It’s homophobes, whoever and wherever they are.

It’s all of us.