But for now, one thing is very clear. It doesn’t help then when politicians use the loss of life as political opportunism and call for ill-defined action that could result in physical harm against an entire religious group.
Not only will politicians like Trump use Orlando as support for bigoted domestic policy proposals, but they will also use it to support their aggressive foreign policy proposals. But banning Muslims or bombing countries where they reside won’t deter ISIS or other extremist groups, and such acts certainly won’t eradicate homophobia in the Middle East or in the United States.
There is a widespread perception that Middle Eastern countries or countries with a large Muslim population are inherently homophobic. Islam is often equated with homophobia, despite the existence of many queer Muslims. It is true that there are many countries where being gay or queer can result in a death sentence, but the same can be said of other non-Muslim majority nations. In some countries, like Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe, these homophobic policies are even driven by right-wing American activists.
And the idea that nations with Muslim populations hate gays is overtly simplified. Many Muslim nations where homosexuality is illegal denounced the Orlando attacks. “As a queer person in the Arab world, everywhere you turn someone wants to use your body, your story, or your life for their own purposes,” queer Arab author Saleem Haddad wrote in the Daily Beast earlier this year. In the piece, Haddad notes homophobia in the Arab world, compares to how it is portrayed in the West, and repeatedly asks the question, “Who owns queer Arab bodies?”
Perhaps equally important, it’s unclear how religious Omar Mateen, the gunman responsible for Sunday’s attack, actually was.
“Judging from Omar Mateen’s media portrait, which can only be incomplete at this stage, he seems to have dabbled in superficial religiosity in the couple of years leading up to his heinous act,” Khaled A Baydoun, an assistant professor of law at the Barry University Dwayne O Andreas School of Law, and Mehammed A Mack, an assistant professor of French Studies and SWG (Study of Women and Gender) at Smith College in the US, wrote for Al Jazeera.
“His sexism, however, was longstanding and violent, leaving the lasting impression that his was more of a hate crime than an act ordained by his religion. This sexism was nurtured in a Southern U.S. context where homophobic laws are being pushed by politicians and pundits following recent LGBTQ civil rights strides, spaces where queer People of Colour sit at the dangerous intersection of armed homophobia, xenophobia and racism, and occasionally, hostility toward LGBTQ people and lifestyles present within, but not exclusive to, Muslim American communities.”
Such an awful attack as Sunday’s requires a response, but should that response be to retaliate militarily against an entire religion or region — especially when homophobia is also present in the United States and exported abroad?
“American Muslim tolerance levels equal or surpass other U.S. religious groups, the demographics Muslim Americans are most appropriately compared with,” Baydoun and Mack wrote. “As countless Muslim progressives have explained, Islamic theology contains a culture of tolerance, even sexual permission, which must be nurtured. We must refrain from presenting Muslims with a false choice between ‘Western’ sexual liberty and ‘Eastern’ sexual modesty, and demanding a too simple allegiance.”