I woke up uncharacteristically early on Sunday morning; my sleep pattern broken from my 2am sehri, and my ears still alert to the irritating beep of the BBC News Update. Like many others around the world, I quickly became aware of the tragic Orlando shootings. My heart sank. Another mass shooting in the US, another attack in Orlando. I reeled further when I learnt of the place where the events had unfolded - the gay club, Pulse - for many, a safe haven away from prejudice and hatred. This was not just a senseless act of violence against random individuals, but a calculated attack against Orlando's Gay and Latino communities. And then I recoiled slightly. Out of fear. Like many other Muslims around the world, I hoped that the killer was not Muslim, that this homophobic hate crime would not have been motivated by someone's skewed and violent interpretation of Islam. Hooked to the Live News updates, my fears were quickly confirmed. 'The FBI have confirmed Orlando killer had leanings towards radical Islamism'.
Muslim leaders, far and wide, stated their condemnation for the horrific attacks, repudiated the killer's 'Islamic motive', and have expressly called for unity not hatred in the wake of the tragedy. The Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity issued an eloquent statement, of its support for an Islam that is centered on inclusion, justice, and equality. Elsewhere community groups have organised a Muslim blood donation drive for those injured in the shooting. Still, this is not enough. 'The Muslim community is not doing enough to root out Islamist preachers', 'Muslim mothers are not doing enough to prevent their sons' radicalisation', and 'All Muslims hate gay people'. These narratives, drawn out in the wake of every Muslim act of violence, place the actions of a few criminals on the shoulders of millions. Somehow, white American shooters never seem to represent their 'community' in the same way, even if they claim to be fighting a 'race war'.
Of course, mass shootings always spread fear. US licensing laws and rampant gun culture mean that the cycle of shootings and fear repeats itself all too often. In fact, there were 372 mass shootings in the US, in 2015 alone, killing 475 and wounding 1,870. All of these attacks are tragedies, but, in a succession of tragedies, Orlando stands out. The Orlando shooting will spread a different kind of fear. Fear amongst Muslims: that one form of hatred will unleash another kind of hatred. Fear amongst LGBT individuals: that their safe spaces will become prey to violent intrusions once again. Fear amongst LGBT Muslims: that they will suffer the reprisals of this massacre in deep and multi-faceted ways.
And their fears are not completely unfounded. For after every terrorist attack committed, there is a spike in anti-Muslim assaults. In France there was a 281% rise in Islamophobic hate crimes in the three months following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The 2005 London bombings saw Islamophobic attacks increase sixfold that year. As for homophobia, the UK saw a 22% rise in homophobic hate crimes in 2015, reminding us that anti-LGBT violence remains a grievously worrying problem too.
Of course, some have already begun to exploit this brutal Orlando shooting to spread further hatred. Shortly after the attack, Donald Trump was quick to congratulate himself for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, tweeting 'Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism'. Some have posted homophobic vitriol on Twitter, applauding the killer and viciously dehumanising the victims. Many will continue to use the horrendous act of violence which took place on Sunday Morning to propagate bigotry and hatred.
The brutal Orlando shooting should remind us all of the devastation caused when the fuse of hatred is lit. The Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen was reportedly repulsed by two men kissing, Charleston shooter, Dylan Roof who killed 9 Black Churchgoers, thought that 'blacks were taking over the world', Anders Brehvik believed Europe was turning into 'Eurabia'. Whether a form of hatred targets individuals' sex, race, colour, religion or sexuality, we must stand firm in our opposition to it. Our voices our stronger when our voices unite.
#PrayforOrlando #LoveWins #HopeNotHate