Barney Frank is Wrong: We Must Grieve Undivided for Orlando

Orlando Shooting

© Alisdare Hickson

Victims of the Orlando massacre must be honored and remembered collectively.  

Barney Frank’s recent remarks on the Orlando massacre were as heartbreaking as they were unoriginal. Speaking with The New York Times, the former Democratic representative from Massachusetts downplayed the significance of the shooting as a sign of a dangerous climate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, and intersex (LGBTQI) communities, instead reinforcing the clichéd assignment of collective blame to Muslims.

“There is clearly, sadly, an element in the interpretation of Islam that … encourages killing people — and L.G.B.T. people are on that list,” Frank claimed. “And I think it is fair to ask leaders of the Islamic community, religious and otherwise, to spend some time combatting this.”

Despite the typical nod to the convention that blaming an entire minority community is not progressive—in his generous clarification that “the overwhelming majority of Muslims don’t” massacre people—Frank’s implication was unmistakable: Muslims pose a unique threat to other Americans.

Driving Force

Let’s be clear: This massacre was driven by multiple systems of hate, including homophobia, transphobia, and anti-Latino and anti-black racism. Individuals bear responsibility for their own acts of violence. Yet all of society—regardless of faith—is responsible for dismantling systems of hate, implementing sane gun control policies, and providing meaningful support to communities targeted by violence.

Frank’s remarks instead attempt to leverage grief toward religious profiling and falsely pit communities—LGBTQI and Muslims (which of course are not distinct communities, but intersect)—against one another. Such rhetoric divides rather than unites us, while erasing LGBTQI Muslims.

His comments contrast starkly with sentiments I have heard expressed in Boston. When I attended vigils for the LGBTQI victims of the Orlando massacre last week, I was deeply moved to hear many folks express their hope that the LGBTQI community’s grief not be wielded as a weapon to perpetuate structural or physical violence against Muslims. Still reeling from this hateful attack against LGBTQI Latinx and black communities, these individuals predicted exactly the type of rhetoric we later heard from Barney Frank, and preemptively spoke out against such opportunistic backlash by policymakers and politicians.

Their pleas were not new; many LGBTQI communities have consistently stood with our Muslim communities against violation of our human rights under national security pretexts. Still I was not only moved, but saddened to hear these expressions of solidarity. Were it not for the ongoing “War on Terror,” those speaking might have felt less urgency to protect others and might instead have felt entitled to focus more exclusively on mourning those killed and honoring struggles against anti-LGBTQI, anti-Latinx and anti-black violence.

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I am humbled and grateful for these expressions of love and solidarity with Muslims, but I wish we lived in a world where they were unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the space to simply grieve is a luxury denied to many of the communities targeted in Orlando, as it presents an opportunity too tempting for those who seek to divide and profile us.  Targeted communities’ space to grieve has frequently been disrespected, politicized and obstructed.

Even grieving for victims of the “wars” on “drugs” and “terror”—or more silent wars like deafening state indifference to the AIDS epidemic—has often been enough to label us subversives or pariahs. In statements of solidarity with Muslims at Orlando vigils, we see another example of how the domestic “War on Terror” disrupts the lives of not only its primary target community, but additional marginalized communities. Today, it complicates the grief of LGBTQI, Latinx and black communities (Muslim and non-Muslim) who are all too aware of how this massacre is being seized to promote counterproductive, dehumanizing profiling and surveillance tactics.

Do Not Be Divided

I am convinced the targeting of suspect communities is rooted in fears of our expertise and potential influence. Targeted communities possess a dangerous sort of knowledge, rooted in direct experience of the forms of structural violence—imperialism, militarism and incarceration—that they disproportionately suffer. We are, therefore, well-equipped to mobilize to end this violence. But campaigns to police “outgroups,” whether based on sexuality, gender, race, faith or conscience, divide us and disrupt our ability to organize for liberation together.

As a non-LGBTQI Muslim, I want to live in a society that centers and honors the victims of the Orlando massacre. This honoring can take many forms: reading their stories; listening to the communities most impacted; engaging in prayer, reflection and service.

What it clearly does not include, however, is seizing false license to increase surveillance and targeting of another highly vulnerable community; we disrespect those killed when we use their deaths in this way.

It is imperative that we reclaim space to grieve authentically and defend it from attempts to manipulate and divide us.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Photo Credit: Alisdare Hickson


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