The recent shootings at the popular gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando, Florida, have held the world’s imagination for the last week. But the tragedy of human life is such that no incident, great or small, is beyond manipulation to serve someone’s ends. Tanmay Bhat would concur. Just as Tanmay’s Snapchat story brought forth the chest-thumping nationalists, the shootings at Orlando have drawn out a number of ugly ironies, 5 of which I point out here that took place in our own country. (For lack of space and the sake of my sanity I have refrained from adding undoubtedly hundreds more that emerged in the discussions around the globe.)
Our honourable Prime Minister
I won’t deny it, I laughed a little. It was the saddest laugh I’ve ever had occasion to elicit in my life.
In a country where all sexualities other than the normative heterosexual orientation are not just taboo but outright illegal, the Prime Minister’s tweet felt like a slap in the face. Chapter XVI, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, dating from 1860, criminalises all sexual activities held “against the law of nature”. It is interpreted as a mandate that outlaws homosexuality as well. For the hundreds of thousands of Indian citizens whose very beings are outlawed by the vaguely phrased law, the tweet was a sign of astonishing hypocrisy on part of India’s head of state. No doubt the reaction was politically necessary, given India’s global position as an ally of the States. But when viewed from this perspective, the tweets loses all sincerity and meaning: it becomes mere words served as diplomatic platitude that neither sympathises with the victims of Orlando nor indicates a change in stance towards homosexuality and other orientations within our country.
Articles expressing profound disappointment and anger with the Prime Minister appeared on the internet soon after the tweet, which still beams in all its glory on the Prime Minister’s timeline. The tweet is in tune with the Prime Minister’s recent visit to the Tomb of the Unknowns, a memorial for the hundreds that died in the Vietnam War, frequently termed as America’s most blatantly imperialistic and neo-colonialist act. No Indian Head of State had previously visited the Memorial, as a mark of protest against the war crimes committed by the US Army in Vietnam. Both cases involve a selective amnesia of the sort that points at erasure: erasure of a political ideology, erasure of integrity, and erasure of acknowledgment of domestic issues. The irony is stark indeed.
Now this one I experienced myself. Let me tell you a story of a very interesting Facebook conversation I had on a friend’s wall. The friend had shared this link of an article published in the New Yorker, in which the American Muslim community expresses condolences and solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community. It is a positive article: one that vows to bring change unitedly, through work of an inclusive and diverse group of people. That’s all good, right?
Wrong. At least according to the slew of comments that immediately appeared beneath. The gist of the comments, pictured below, is this: that American Muslims, and Muslims in general, are to blame for what took place, because they refuse to “modify” Islam, would rather follow the Koran “page to page”, and that the book itself has very harsh diktats against homosexuals.
I’m just going to point out that literally at no point have Muslim speakers attempted to deny that issues exist within their religion.
They are simply pointing out that not all Muslims follow those tenets or acknowledge them. Unlike the #NotAllMen hashtag, which was invalidated by the fact that an overwhelming majority of that particular group of people do indulge in the actions they were being accused of, the “Not All Muslims” argument stands because the overwhelming majority, in this case, does not behave in the manner they are being indicted for. There are 1.6 billion Muslims in this world. It is quite evident, from the still-limited area that Islamic terrorism largely originates from, that the largest groups of Muslims do not condone such acts. (Duh.)
The focus on the Omar Mateen’s religion will drive focus from the more pertinent issues at hand: those of homophobia and gun control.
Homophobes exist within every religion and America’s gun laws are notorious for the shootings that are a direct result of them. Focusing on and blaming the shooter’s religion for his actions is simply an attempt to distract from these very real problems dogging America. It is a blatant blame game that seeks to make the shooter a foreign ‘Other’ and thus disclaim responsibility.
In fact, this openly gay Muslim cleric disagrees with the basic assumption that Islam is harshly judgmental of the homosexuals.
In an interview published in The Times of India, Daayiee Abdullah states that “There is nothing in the Quran that says anything against it”, adding, “During my research in Saudi Arabia, I found positive interpretation on homosexuality in Quran. But the literature coming out from Wahhabist and Salafist schools, puts an incorrect interpretation on it.”
The fact is that white, Christian, conservative America with its culture of homophobia and Second Amendment protection is equally to blame for this. The whole debate about the shooter’s religion started because he is Muslim. No one would have thought of bringing it up if he was Christian, or Jewish. The dirt-digging is simply partisan politics at hand, especially in the times of Trump, exploiting USA’s baseless Islamophobia. No one is trying to claim that Islam is not problematic, just as many other religions are. Trying to prove that ‘they’re asking for sympathy’ or ‘all Muslims hate homosexuals’ is thus moot. They aren’t, they don’t and this debate was never about either of those things.
Believe it or not, this is a thing. These are the people who insist they don’t hate Islam or Muslims, but put the onus of every action of every Islamic terrorist on the shoulders of literally every Muslim on the planet, while adding that Islam is innately a violent religion.
(Yeah, I don’t get it either.)
When a white Christian man opened fire on an abortion clinic, nobody called it terrorism, even though it was done on the name of religion.
No one demonized the entirety of Christianity, just that one man. Then WHY, if a Muslim man acts on his own impetus, is every Muslim blamed for it?
It cannot be denied that, in practice, Islamic culture is often homophobic, both socially and legally. One only has to look at the laws in place against the LGBTQ+ community in countries that follow the Sharia to acknowledge this. The killing of Xulhaz Mannan, an editor of an LGBT magazine in Bangladesh, is also a startling reality. But Islam is not the only religion that carries this blame, neither is it the only religion whose practitioners resist change in traditional beliefs. Hinduism, or its more assertive brother Hindutva, is no exception. Ask the Maharashtra-based Narendra Dabholkar, an anti superstition crusader, who was shot dead in 2013 for his activism. It’s also interesting to note that the Vatican officially accepted the heliocentric theory in 1992. Until then it insisted on geocentrism. American schools in the south have, as recently as last year, refused to keep Darwin in the syllabus, preferring creationism instead.
No religion is free from resistance to modification, and to blame Islam alone for it is absurd. Nor are Muslims passive to the flaws in this culture: deceased activist Sabeen Mahmud, the recently expelled Iranian parliamentarian Minoo Khaleghi and the Nobel Prize-winning Malala Yousafzai have all paid a heavy price for their attempts to address extremist Islamic culture. It is certain that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of nameless, faceless others who do the same. The interpretation of Islam is subject to frequent modification by many intellectuals today. The ISIS and similar associated groups are the ones guilty of trying to impose a medieval religious structure and philosophy on Islam’s followers, not all contemporary Muslims.
The attack may be religiously driven as well as homophobic, but if Omar Mateen would have belonged to any other religion, nobody would’ve brought his religion into the equation. The only reason it was mentioned was because it’s Islam. The choice was to dissect a tragedy and play votebank politics with Islamophobes.
The “I-don’t-care-these-are-Paschimi-Problems” Homo/Transphobe
Unfortunately, I don’t have visual evidence of this particular reaction, as it turned up during a verbal conversation I had with the parents of one of my students. It was the day before her History and Civics exam and I was attempting to make her understand the meaning of “Fundamental Rights”, or civil liberties, whichever way you choose to phrase it. During the course of the explanation, I referred to the massacre, and immediately her mother, who happened to be listening, jumped in. “Why tell her about all this? It is, after all, not our problem.”
Yes, yes it is. In a country that effectively denies the existence of multiple sexual orientations and gender identities legally, socially and politically, at any given point of time there is a Pulse waiting to happen.
In a country where Valentine’s Day celebrations, a harmless if innately capitalist celebration of a natural human emotion is under attack from saffron flag-wielding self-styled moral police, a Pulse can happen every day. Did you know that West Bengal is one of the biggest hubs of India’s illegal firearms trade? Did you also know that recently, gay and transgender patrons were stopped from entering a nightclub in Kolkata?
The Orlando shootings are not the problem of a foreign “Other” that behaves in ways alien to “Indian culture”, whatever that is.
It is a symptom of a fundamental human problem of non-acceptance of anything defined, however arbitrarily, as non-conformative. It’s a problem that pervades across cultures, Western or Eastern (colonial terms in themselves), Muslim or Hindu or Christian, American or Indian. By denying that this is our problem, you are denying that people with alternate sexualities and genders exist in India. You are implying that these are a choice that is a result of a liberal and, by connotation, “immoral” environment. Both of these assumptions perpetuate homophobia and transphobia within society.
I would like to add that my student’s parents agreed with me at the end of the conversation. At the very least, they acknowledged my point. This ended on a happy note, but I wonder how many other such discussions around living rooms and coffee tables in the country won’t. I wonder how many lives will be endangered because of this.
This guy. (Oh, god, why.)
Look, I’d heard of Indian Trump supporters before. I’d had my share of hearty laughs at them. I’d even thought they provided a certain amount of amusement during the grimmest American Presidential in my memory.
Then I met one of them.
Well, after a fashion. On Facebook. And that meeting itself has been enough for a lifetime. I gave an extremely long and emotional reply to him on Facebook, but here I’ll just say this: if you think banning an entire community of people from entering one specific country, and persecuting those from that community within the country, is in any way a feasible and acceptable solution to global problems, then you probably aren’t fit to think about these problems in the first place.
Incredibly, there are, even, Muslim American Trump supporters.
I don’t know what their rationale is, but I think, at this point, I’m too tired to find out.
The massacre in Orlando has brought out some very varied reactions amongst global onlookers. Some of the best would probably have been actions along the lines of #IllRideWithYou, a hashtag that was started in Sydney in response to the café shootings there, when non-Muslim citizens accompanied Muslims on public transport to protect them from adverse reactions. Here’s hoping that these 5 kinds of Islamophobes and homophobes will one day learn compassion; that one day they, too, will be part of such a positive campaign to help those at risk for the actions of other members of their community.
A girl can dream.