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After Orlando: fighting homophobia and Islamophobia together Open in fullscreen

Hilary Aked

After Orlando: fighting homophobia and Islamophobia together

Trump's potential presidency is a call to progressives to unite behind a clear mesage [Getty]

Date of publication: 21 June, 2016

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Comment: Using this horrific crime to stoke Islamophobia underlines the need for an intersectional approach to fighting oppression, which recognises the links between different systems of discrimination, writes Hilary Aked

The slaughter was horrific enough. But the media treatment of the Orlando massacre brought with it different horrors. It was difficult for some to acknowledge that homophobia was key to the killings, let alone the likely transphobic element and the clear racism of targeting the Latinx community specifically. Numerous sources paint a picture of the murderer Omar Mateen as a violent, misogynistic and racist man.

Yet in the wake of the deadly attack on the Latinx LGBT community of Florida, the right has sought to whitewash and "straightwash" these realities, in order to fit the killings into a narrative of "Islamic extremism". This is despite America's long history of mass killings and the fact that there is little or no evidence that the shooter had any substantive ties to any terrorist group.

The race politics has been hard to ignore, especially when juxtaposed with the killing of British MP Jo Cox, days later, whose brutal murderer has not been termed a terrorist in the media despite his very clear links to a number of far-right, white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups (though some reports suggest he may yet be charged under counter-terrorism legislation).

In the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, queer communities around the world were deeply affected. Just as many black people viscerally felt the violence of the Charleston church shootings (the first anniversary of which has just been marked), they had experienced violence motivated by the same logic, though less brutal, as that meted out to Pulse nightclub goers.

But Muslim communities felt a different type of fear - that they would be blamed collectively. Sure enough, rather than focus on the 49 victims, Mateen's crime became about his identity as a Muslim. His cursory mentions of Islamic State and al-Qaeda were enough for the papers to run with this. In reality, much of the evidence points to the fact that Matteen's case is more like that of Elliot Rodger: a tale of toxic masculinity.

The right has sought to whitewash and "straightwash" these realities, in order to fit the killings into a narrative of "Islamic extremism"

Nonetheless Britain's Daily Telegraph went to print with the front page headline "Isil wages war on gays in the west". This epitomises a trend that is almost worse than ignoring the homophobia of the crime; exploiting it to set up a binary between the (queer-friendly) "west" and the (queer-hating) "rest". There's no evidence Mateen was acting on the orders of IS. There is every reason to believe his homophobia - as well as his love of guns - was nurtured in the USA.

Exploitation of this horrific crime to stoke Islamophobia underlines the need for an intersectional approach to oppression, which sees the links and overlaps between different systems of discrimination. Take Donald Trump and his frankly terrifying supporters: it's very clear that they hate queers almost as much as they hate Muslims. Trump's shocking potential presidency behoves progressives, therefore, to unite behind a clear message that says no to homophobia and Islamophobia, transphobia and racism.

That said, there is no point in pretending all forms of oppression are the same. Muslims in many countries in the west are facing demonisation as a suspect community, state-sponsored surveillance and criminalisation.

By contrast, gay rights in the West have become detached from their radical roots and gone mainstream; right-wingers like David Cameron champion gay marriage and Pride, forgetting its origins as a protest, welcomes BAE Systems and attracts support from the LGBT section of populist-right party, UKIP.

This epitomises a trend that is almost worse than ignoring the homophobia of the crime; exploiting it to set up a binary between the (queer-friendly) "West" and the (queer-hating) "rest"

The umbrella term "queer" attempts to re-politicise gender and sexuality and while gay rights are mainstream, severe levels of prejudice, discrimination and violence are faced by queer people of colour in particular, especially trans people and sex workers. In other countries, of course, the situation is reversed: being Muslim isn't a problem, being queer very much is.

We cannot gloss over the very real tensions that exist. A dominant strand of homonationalism has for years now sought to weaponise sexuality in combination with state power and border controls to exclude migrants. Meanwhile Israel's pinkwashing has convinced some that queer liberation goes hand-in-hand with an anti-Arab racism, Palestinian dispossession and an apartheid state.

Islamophobia often takes the form of projecting an assumed homophobia or sexism on to Muslims; in 2013 a young woman attending Pride in a hijab was spat at. Others, however, speak out against Islamophobia.

Islamophobia often takes the form of projecting an assumed homophobia or sexism on to Muslims

Conversely, there are those who offer up sections of the Quran to disown responsibility for their own homophobia, just as some bigots within the Christian and Jewish faiths do. Such literalist justifications willingly ignore their own agency in the act of interpreting holy texts and offer ammunition to those who demonise Islam using a rainbow flag. And they silence queer Muslims who sometimes face multiple levels of discrimination. By contrast, others have recognised that fact that we cannot dismantle one form of prejudice without dismantling others.

Selectively opposing one form of oppression is not only wrong in principle, strategically it also shrinks the progressive support base that can be harnessed to defeat the global forces of Trumpism that augur a terrifying future.

The only way forward to prevent the right manipulating events to divide communities and stoke fear and suspicion is to fight oppression everywhere, together.

Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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