by Sara Khaled
I’m sad. Really, really sad, and it seems that’s the reasonable response. People all over the country and the world are mourning out of direct loss, or the specter of it. It is scary to have your reality called into question, and in some moments it happens so abruptly that you feel unhinged and powerless. Orlando is a moment of that for me, and largely because of the empathetic pulses that come about when stories of tragedy cut too personally.
My last name is unapologetically Muslim–it literally translates to slave of Allah. Frankly, despite the sacrilege this may cause for many of my loved ones, I hate my last name. My last name, however, is the simplest of my complicated relationships with the faith I was born into. I have had a complex and often negative relationship with Islam, but it is inscribed into me in ways that I have the right to refuse, and in ways that are simultaneously unconscious to the point of being inextricable from my selfhood.
My relationship with Islam is complex for a number of reasons, one of which is my sexuality, but the one I wish to put forth here is that my personal relationship with Islam is complex in large part because the public conversation around Islam is visceral, terrifying, and hateful. My desire to be critical of this religion to which I belong (at the very least by heritage) is complicated by the fact that I feel entirely defensive of it. I fear consistently that my criticism of the faith will be co-opted into the mouth of reactionaries, whose intent may be as acute as hatred, or as dull and dangerous as ignorance.
I resent my religion in many ways, but what I resent more is the way that my religion has been crucified into a nexus of evil and backwardness.
This fear is real, very real. It has been beaten into the bodies of Muslims abroad for at least a decade now, and it is increasingly being felt upon the bodies of those of us here in the States and in the relative safety of “democratic” world powers that chose to kill our family members in our homelands, and merely, attack us. Every word I speak of Islam is heavy, secreted, and largely left to roll into my dreams and innermost thoughts. I resent my religion in many ways, but what I resent more is the way that my religion has been crucified into a nexus of evil and backwardness. The hatred towards Islam creates the very thing it fears: fundamentalist interpretations of the text. When someone such as myself, who is far left of center, queer, and fundamentally, at the core of my being, explorative, inquisitive and incredibly open to new ways of being, is too scared to speak up, there is a replication of conservatism within the religion and outwardly, in appearance, to those who are ignorant of it. I am too scared to navigate this faith, to speak of its beauty and its shortcomings, because it has been proven to me that the audience at large is only interested in the stories of oppression I have to share, anxious to beef up their agenda of vilification.
This struggle, of being silenced prior to speaking a singular syllable, also exists for me within the faith, but to me, these experiences are not equivocal. My silence within the religion is painful, hurtful, and expected. Point me towards a religion or school of thought where poles of conservatism and progressivism do not struggle for ideological hegemony, and we will have discovered a unicorn. I do not hate my religion for this struggle, frankly this dogmatism is why I tend to generally shy away from all religion. It is time the hypocrisy of Islam as fundamentalist came to an abrupt stop. Rather than descend into a hysteria which describes Islam as inherently anti-human, a religion which shares the majority of its core tenants with the other major monotheistic religions of the world, it would suit us better to ask questions which have material bases. Here’s one that comes to mind: the rise of popular descriptions of Islam as violent can be traced within the past 20 or so years; if Islam was inherently violent, why have we as a collective people not been screaming at the pulpit for the past few centuries? Islam’s description as violent has coincided with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the larger Middle East as perpetuated by the US, Britain, and other global powers. Without digressing into a lengthy description of the effects these wars have had on a peoples who have been living in poverty and distress for decades, there is a point that is painstakingly clear to me: Islam has not been an imagined threat, a scourge upon this earth, for time immemorial. Just as the effects of invading Iraq and Afghanistan are still ever present 10+ years after the first soldier landed in a country that wasn’t his, so we see the effects of war unraveling in flashes of Western resentment. This resentment is understandable. In fact, it is warranted. The death of innocent people as response to resentment isn’t, as it was not and is not in Iraq and Afghanistan to this day.
I love joy; it is why I am queer. Despite being told that there is something abhorrent about me, I chose to love whomever my heart falls for steadfastly and without regard to anything but that person’s well-being and our happiness.
On Sunday evening, a few hours after I awoke to heavy, heavy sadness, I went to a vigil in Midtown Atlanta, often described as the gay epicenter of the south. I left more disquieted than I came in. The words were brief and spare. There was a general plea for love, a communal recitation of the National Anthem, and several shout outs to Obama, the passage of gay marriage, and the elected officials that were present. The words were then ended with music, in hopes of moving sorrow away with joy. I love joy; it is why I am queer. Despite being told that there is something abhorrent about me, I chose to love whomever my heart falls for steadfastly and without regard to anything but that person’s well-being and our happiness. However, I fear the lack of a pause here. I fear that in midtown Atlanta, a neighborhood which has gentrified so rapidly so as to have disappeared the majority of its communities of color, that not uttering the Latin@ names of those brutally murdered was a glaring mistake. That to not warn of the imminent Islamophobia that is bound to be heightened due to this incident is dangerous. I fear the uncritical nationalism that comes about in moments of collective tragedy. I understand its origin is in love and community, but it tends to alienate and scapegoat at the detriment of people here and abroad. How do we define our allegiance? If it is by the community of queers, we have yet to reach out to the people of color, the trans, the Muslims, the Black folx and those internationally. If it is as allies, we have yet to make moves to protect Muslims against the persecution which has now earned a man who jovially alludes to the genocide of Muslims a 50/50 chance at presidency.
I want to declare my allegiance to community, love, and safety. And for this reason, I want to warn against the militarism within the ranks of cops at home and troops abroad that moments such as this tend to enliven. I want to warn against the vilification of Muslims, as it is the ignorant, and all-consuming vilification of another community, the LGBTQIA community, that resulted in a massacre. I want to warn against the mowing over of difference in moments of collective relief, as attention to difference is the only way for us to be fair to those that are different and the same as us, because we are unique and we are treated differently, and not considering that has only ever harmed the distressed. As was said at the vigil, “Love wins”, but only if we are training for it.