Guest Post: Thoughts on the Orlando shooting and the geopolitics of the Middle East | Work of Arts
Guest Post: Thoughts on the Orlando shooting and the geopolitics of the Middle East | Work of Arts

Guest Post: Thoughts on the Orlando shooting and the geopolitics of the Middle East

Was this an attack on the gay community or a statement on foreign policy?

As a Middle Eastern gay student at the U of A, I was shocked at the shooting in Orlando’s gay nightclub and have expressed my support for the victims’ families. I have been following the news and the conversations that transform from a standoff between “white,” “male,” “gay,” “North Americans” vs. “brown,” “hyper-masculine,” “anti-gay,” “Middle Easterns,” to a struggle trying to prove that gunman Omar Mateen was not gay, or that he was confused.

In the beginning I was following the news out of personal curiosity, but since the discussions have been shifting toward stripping someone of his homosexuality or blaming immigrants for what has happened, I have been thinking about what will happen to a brown gay immigrant once the rushed paranoia conquers the minds of the majority?

I watched my white gay friends posting hateful posts against Islam and Muslim immigrants in their Facebooks, leaving me with the question of where I’m located, included or excluded in the LGBT community.

During the early hours after the massacre, it was convenient to use hateful stereotypes and rebuild a wall between “us” and “them.” Based on one person’s actions, we hastily wreak havoc on millions of Muslims to express our fear, forget world history and empathize with victims.

I watched my white gay friends posting hateful posts against Islam and Muslim immigrants in their Facebooks, leaving me with the question of where I’m located, included or excluded in the LGBT community.

But we forget to ask why this shooting happened. Was Mateen really homophobic and did he intentionally target a gay club because of his religion? How should we respond to survivors’ interviews talking about Mateen pleading to the U.S. government to stop bombing his country?

Now after a few days, it is in the news that Mateen was a frequent patron of the gay club over the years, had had encounters with many other patrons there, and had even been on Grindr, a social network app for the gay community. Mateen was gay? We do not know, but we know he had homosexual inclinations and had sex with men in Orlando — men from the Pulse. The thought of Mateen, the outsider, the supposedly anti-gay Muslim, threatens us even more. We have built the wall of hatred between us (as the gay-friendly nation) and them (as the savage Muslims in the Middle East). But Mateen’s homosexuality penetrates this wall. If he was gay, then isn’t he one of us, and shouldn’t we protect him too? Where do we put the wall now?

The fear of Mateen penetrating our walls has elicited some unexpected responses from academia. Instead of answering why Mateen carried out the shooting, academics have not shied away from stripping Mateen of his homosexuality to keep gay identity a property of the West, and something not available to non-white Middle Eastern Muslims.

James Downs’ “Stop saying Omar Mateen was gay” article in the New York Daily News casts Mateen’s homosexuality out by saying if we recognize he had homosexual inclinations then we are running the risk of pathologizing gay men. Although Downs attempts to appear sound in his argument around the construction of gay identity, the fear of losing what gay liberation movements of the ’70s have achieved tars his piece with prevalent double-standards. The fear here is if we accept Mateen was gay, then the wider population will think all gay people are sick and capable of committing massacres. He uses the strategy of us vs. them to deny the deceased’s homosexuality to protect white gay males from being victimized and pathologized.

We struggle hard to protect us vs. them, and yet we do not ask: why did this shooting happen?

Even if we validate Mateen’s homosexual inclinations, there are those who will use the familiar Orientalist strategy of exoticizing and pathologizing Middle Eastern men. It seems such arguments are already on their way as we see news headlines about “Mateen’s confused sexuality” or Mateen’s “creepy” messages on Grindr.

William Leap, Professor of Anthropology at American University, has shared Downs’ article on his Facebook page, adding that if we accept Mateen’s homosexuality then it suggests that “we did this to ourselves.” Leap finds accepting Mateen’s homosexuality problematic and, using the argument of respecting the victims, defines it as “diffusing for further social or political analysis.” But what is wrong with asking if we really have been doing this to ourselves? We struggle hard to protect us vs. them, and yet we do not ask: why did this shooting happen?

For more than five decades, the United States has been exploiting, destroying and slaughtering civilians in the Middle East, including Mateen’s homeland of Afghanistan. Much has been written on the vitality of the Middle East and its oil for the U.S. in geopolitical and financial terms. However, stories of U.S.-driven mass destructions and massacres in Afghanistan never make it to the news in North America. No one here empathizes with victims of airstrikes and bloodsheds in Afghanistan. For decades, Afghans have been mourning over the loss of their family members, their national security and the future of their homeland.

This story of ruthless exploitation is similar to what African-Americans have experienced. Indeed, one of the survivors mentions how Mateen sympathizes with African-Americans, saying, “I don’t have any problem with Black people… this is about my country, you have suffered enough.” Several survivors say Mateen has explicitly declared the reason behind his deadly action as wanting “the U.S. government to stop bombing his country.” Mateen was a lunatic murderer who had been suffering through the socioeconomic exclusion of racial minorities in the U.S. and the loss of his family back in Afghanistan.

So the question still remains: was the shooting an attack on a gay-friendly nation by an anti-gay Middle Eastern Muslim, or a maniac reaction to United States’ decades-long exploitation of the Middle Eastern nations? If it is the latter, isn’t it time for us to take responsibility and demand for change in our foreign policies?

 

Guest posts present the experiences and viewpoints of Arts students, faculty, staff and alumni. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.


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About Aryan Karimi

Aryan Karimi

Aryan Karimi is PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology. He has worked with several communities in Edmonton including the Africa Centre, iSMSS (Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services) and the Centre for Public Involvement. His research areas include sexuality, identity, immigration and ethnicity. He is currently working with gay asylum seekers and UN officials in Turkey and Canada to study Western discourses of Human Rights and asylum regime in Canada.


  • Dwight Allott

    I think the media, which thrives on shock value, is responsible for distilling this into Stereotypes (i.e., villains, aggressors, perverts). You can lead the ignorant to a book, but you can’t make them think.