Anxious Orlando Muslim community focused on healing

ORLANDO –  As news of the carnage at Pulse nightclub broke last Sunday morning, June 12, Orlando’s Muslim community was already at work.

“Our main concern was and still is the victims and their families and how to provide necessary services that they need; mobilizing blood drives, GoFundMe accounts, getting Spanish translators on the scene. We were on the scene the first day,” said Rasha Mubarak, Orlando regional coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Despite these efforts, the media narrative propagated in the hours after the attack, one of “radical Islamic terror,” has left the local Muslim community on edge. Mosques and Islamic centers in the Orlando area have hired extra security in fear of retaliation for the attack, and by some accounts, attendance was down at the first Friday prayers held after the attack.

“Islamophobia is up 500 percent since Paris, then with San Bernardino… it’s the highest it’s been post-9/11,” said Mubarak, “that’s in the back of our minds, but our first main concern is for the victims and their families.”

According to the FBI, in 2014 about 19 percent of hate crimes in the U.S. were motivated by religion. Of those, most were targeted at Jewish people (57 percent) and the second most against Muslims (16 percent). The overall amount of hate crimes committed in 2014 was down in all categories compared to previous years – all categories, that is, except for attacks against Muslims.

It didn’t take long for backlash against the Muslim community to appear after Pulse. On June 13, the day following the attacks, a vandal with no sense of irony spray-painted “#StopTheHate” on Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford.

In the wake of the massacre, 200 American Muslim leaders signed onto a joint statement conveying their sympathies to the families of the slain while denouncing the concept of collective guilt.

“We feel compelled to state that it is an egregious offense against the culture and laws of America-as well as Islam’s-to place collective guilt on an entire community for the sins of individuals. ‘No soul bears the sins of another,’ says the Quran.”

“Can’t fight homophobia with Islamophobia”

Rasha Mubarak told People’s World that snapping into action with and for the LGBTQ community was a smooth process.

“Obviously, any kind of tragedy is going to make for new relationships but we were pretty swift in getting together because we already knew each other,” said Mubarak.

“These are people that we’ve worked with before, colleagues, friends,” she continued, “They’re a part of our movement family that we’ve gone to legislative halls and battled against bigoted legislation [with].”

The initial story that the shooter was motivated by religious zealousness has deteriorated as details of his life come to the fore. Mubarak’s illustration of her community’s relationship with LGBTQ organizations goes to show there is no fundamental contradiction in LGBTQ people and Muslims working together.

Mateen’s history of violence against his wife, his troubled upbringing, and his apparent struggle with sexuality have painted a picture of a sad and broken man – not the sort of spiritual warrior that he, the media, or ISIS might want the public to think.

Still, the tragedy highlights the importance of the work that still needs to be done to erase homophobia across communities.

“We all need to fight homophobia: Muslims, Christians, Jews, and atheists. The Muslim community is finding a balance between its religious beliefs and respecting equality. We all need to stand together and not be okay with any kind of phobia. Hillary Clinton used to be anti-gay marriage. People do evolve and I think the Muslim community will evolve without compromising its religious principles.”

Fixing the problem starts at home

Over the week, U.S. politicians have cited the Orlando attack in various contexts in order to push their already-established political aims.

While Donald Trump has used it as evidence of the need for his ban on Muslim immigration domestically, both he and Hillary Clinton have invoked it to fan the flames for further military intervention against ISIS.

In the light of recently leaked State Department cables calling for military escalation, some have hypothesized that the leak was purposefully allowed in an attempt to shape the foreign policy of the next president. Neither of them look like they need much convincing, however.

“This is a time is to talk about gun control and not doubling down on the military. I hope that we as Americans, during our election process, take it back to authenticity and holding our candidates and elected officials accountable, not jumping the gun with talks of the military. This is not what the problem is here, the problem is access to guns,” said Mubarak.

Republican officials have been hopelessly recalcitrant on the question of gun control and have used every parliamentary trick in their power to stop legislation that may offend the NRA.

This past week, however, statements from Hillary Clinton and top leading Democrats on this issue have seemed to move the needle, however slightly.

The most important statement came from Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy in the form of a 15-hour filibuster on the Senate floor.

As a result, a vote on banning people on the FBI terrorist watch list from purchasing weapons and expanding background checks could come up for a vote as soon as Monday.

As for the future here in Orlando, Rasha has seen the best parts of her community reinvigorated with love and is hopeful as a result.

“We’re up against an often toxic climate, but there’s also been so much love and compassion from our interfaith communities. We’ve been breaking bread together the last few days and there have been people reaching out saying they love their Muslim brothers and sisters.

“A lot of people from outside the city, outside the state have reached out as well, saying they’re so proud of how fast Orlando has stood together. We’re not going to let anything divide us here in Central Florida.”

Photo: Muslim Orlandoans show their support at vigil on Sunday night. CJ. Atkins | PW




Patrick J. Foote
Patrick J. Foote

Patrick Foote writes occasionally for People's World. At the University of Central Florida, he worked with the Student Labor Action Project organizing around the intersection of student and worker issues. He would go on to work in the labor movement in such organizations as Central Florida Jobs with Justice, AFSCME Council 79, and OUR Walmart.