BY ALI NAJMI
The recent attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando was a horrific act of violence leading to the largest loss of life from a mass shooting in American history. The images of family members mourning and not knowing the whereabouts of their children—whether they were dead or alive—has affected all of us and will stay with us longer than we like. The hatred shown that day by Mr. Omar Mateen, however, will not divide our community. The coalitions of diverse community members that work together in Queens, and have existed long before this tragedy, boldly defy his message of hate and will continue to do so.
Mr. Mateen was clearly a mentally unstable man. His ex-wife’s descriptions of his anger, physical violence towards her and his own steroid abuse point to a man with many troubles. New reports have come out indicating Mr. Mateen may have been gay himself and struggling with his own identity. He frequently attended the same gay club where this tragedy took place and was subscribed to an online gay dating service. Yet the fact that he was a Muslim and pledged allegiance to ISIS before this tragedy has lead to conclusions that Islam as a religion is to blame. However, that is not the Islam I know, or the Islam that my mother taught me. Nor is it the Islam that millions of Muslims in the United States recognize.
A large gathering of local Muslim leaders and neighbors stood side by side with LGBT leaders this past Sunday in Jackson Heights to show solidarity with the LGBT community in this time. Local, national and international Muslim leaders and clergy have denounced Mr. Mateen’s actions unequivocally.
The most troubling part of Mr. Mateen’s horrific acts is that he specifically targeted a gay nightclub. The LGBT community and its leadership have been the most prominent and vocal voices against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim attacks. Councilman Danny Dromm’s leadership is one of the best examples of this. As an openly gay Councilman, he continues to hold a sign that states, “I am Muslim too.” He first held that sign in 2010 to protest the increased anti-Muslim vitriol being spewed by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-Long Island) and others at that time.
As a straight man, I hold a pride flag and march in pride parades to reciprocate this solidarity and because I believe the fight against homophobia, transphobia and Islamophobia are linked. The solution is to build a culture where people of conscious, regardless of religion or sexual orientation, respect each other and work together for a greater good and to suppress hatred in all its forms. We have been doing that and will continue to do so. Mr. Mateen and others like him will never be able to stop us.
Ali Najmi is an attorney based in Kew Gardens and co-founder of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York.