Tuesday, September 19

How We Failed Omar Mateen

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I first learned about Orlando over cereal and water at 3.20 am, for suhoor in one of months of the year in which I feel most spiritually replenished by Islam. I knew that if I let myself feel what I wanted to feel, fully, I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but when I was up in the morning there were multiple messages from my friends — my queer friends, some queer and Muslim — reaching out to make sure I was okay. Flailing, without answer or understanding, without the security we had briefly fooled ourselves into growing accustomed to. Some asserted their presence, some preferred to take the precautions necessary to protect themselves and their loved ones. And some just wanted a moment to grieve.

Omar Mateen was a Muslim American, born and raised within the borders of the United States. He was also the man who killed 49 queer, mostly Latinx, people on Friday night in Pulse, a night club, in Orlando. It is most fatal mass shooting by a single gunman that we know of. Orlando was an attack on members of my community, and mostly Latinx members of my community, an important fact because it really is queer and trans people of color who receive most of the violence of homophobic and transphobic aggression. Omar Mateen, though, was also a man of color, and that too a Muslim man, from a community that has also faced a lot of violence and aggression.

So Orlando had too many levels to it, too many things to take into account, and I couldn’t be angry about the onslaught of Islamophobia because I was too busy holding myself when my queer siblings were attacked. My identity became a paradox, but the visibility of queer and/or trans
Muslims after the attack helped. Not all QT Muslims, however, have the privilege of being out to our Muslim communities.

I used to say that community is about seeing yourself reflected in other people, that they can help you know yourself better. I had ifatr on the day after the shooting with my Muslim community, most of whom were college students. I watched as people went on, like nothing had changed and the world hadn’t proved itself, once again, as a dangerous and painful entity. People just wanted to eat falafel.

I wanted to yell or at least make some sort of announcement, ask for a moment of silence or even acknowledge what happened, but I couldn’t without outing myself. Or maybe I just didn’t have the energy to speak up, one more time, make a Facebook status or share an article. I was so angry at Omar Mateen, so angry at him being presented as a Muslim before a homophobe, as though his Muslim identity explained his homophobia.

Why was it, though, that Muslims were primarily silent on this, only speaking up to defend Islam from Omar Mateen and radicals like him, denounce him from Islam, but not grieve the queer community or the Latinx community? Almost everything I saw from Muslims denounced Omar Mateen, as though violent tirades against queers and queer love aren’t standards in the masjid, as though we don’t learn this rhetoric as often as we learn to say “Allahu Akbar.”

And then, his picture was found on a gay dating app. This doesn’t mean he was gay or queer, perhaps some would say he was having some sort of existential crisis or maybe he was looking for targets. Maybe he actually was queer. Either way, Omar Mateen’s potential queer identity showed us a deep failure on the part of the Muslim community, because his being queer while hating queerness is totally and completely plausible given the Muslim rhetoric on queerness.

Every queer Muslim I know who grew up hearing this in their place of worship hated themselves before they could barely love themselves. The Muslim silence on Orlando was ironic, given the years of screaming I had grown up hearing from the podium at the masjid denouncing queerness.

So when Omar Mateen’s profile was found on a gay dating app, I finally realized how I felt about my Muslim community. I was angry at them, hurt for what they turn queerness into. I know there’s work to do, there’s colonialism that fucked us over and there’s generational pain to undo. But if Omar Mateen really was gay or queer, I was afraid that the Muslim community would use this to fuel the fire against queerness. His violence would become an anecdote of the evilness of “gay identity,” like we are inherently violent instead of taught, in masjids, to hate ourselves until we want to burn everything we touch, too.

Ironically, I wanted to be able to say all this without having any non-Muslims co-opt the anger I felt towards my Muslim community, and turn that into an anecdote of Islam’s evilness. So I stay silent, while my communities demonize each other.

Disclaimer: The name Huda Ghassan is a pseudonym. The author of this piece wishes to keep their identity private for fear of persecution because of their sexual identity. 

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