From Orlando to Nice, LGBT repression mixed with Islamic radicalization fuels jihadi age

Only a month after Omar Mateen carried out the Orlando massacre against the LGBT community, the French police revealed this week that Mohamed Lahouiej Bouhlel, the Tunisian-born terrorist who killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day, was a bisexual who had a 73-year old boyfriend and zealously used dating websites to hook up with both men and women.

Since bottled up sexual rage mixed with Islamic radicalization seems to have been a motive in both Mateen’s and Bouhlel’s violent rampage, what can we do to stop this phenomenon?

Ridding the world of ISIS and other terrorist organizations may curtail imminent jihadi attacks but it won’t end the culture of homophobia that permeates all spheres of Islamic society. What we need to do is to prioritize LGBTQ rights in the Muslim communities. By empowering activists and using the media to broadcast gay-affirmative messages targeted to Muslims, we can remove the stigma and dilute the hate-filled narrative that regards LGBTQ people as the worst creature in Islam.

For four years now, since I started campaigning for LGBTI rights while living in Afghanistan, I’ve been ringing the warning bells about the grave security threat posed by the persecution of homosexuals in Muslim communities. As someone who grew up gay and Muslim in an insular immigrant community in the US, I know how difficult it was for Mateen and Bouhlel to reconcile their identity conflict. In 2013, I created a precedent by coming out gay in Afghanistan. I suffered an incredible backlash—being cursed, humiliated, threatened for my life, and rejected by most of my family, relatives, and by many Muslims inside Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora.

While the emotional and psychological toll I’ve suffered from being deserted and isolated has been devastating on my wellbeing, today I live with peace knowing that what I did what was just and right. By coming out gay and leaving Islam (for atheism), I ended my internal conflict and depression and staved off self-medicating myself in high-risk addictions or falling into prey to Islamic extremism as both Mateen and Bouhlel apparently did.

But not everyone has the courage to withstand the life-threatening antagonism I have endured. The danger of being labeled gay and being outcasted is a terrifying fate for many closeted Muslims who would rather die than face public humiliation. At its essence, Islamic culture is driven by toxic hyper-masculinity and a glorification of heterosexual men treating women and passive males—boys or effeminate men—as objects of sexual conquest.

In this milieu, LGBTQ Muslims are forced to suppress their desires and live with constant fear and shame since homosexuality is regarded as an abomination in Islam. I’ve known many gay Muslim men who, cannot pursue romance with the same gender or conform to the straight path of Islam, become very angry and suicidal. If closeted LGBTQ Muslims continue to feel ashamed for being different and guilty for having sinned and condemned to eternal hellfire, then they pose a security risk since they have no outlet for their frustration and ever be accepted. Such men fall prey to the jihadi terrorist cause either out of desperation since they have no support network or other means of survival, are lured into a honey trap, or have bought into the fairy tale of homicidal martyrdom, which promises automatic entry into paradise.

For too long Muslims have remained silent around the issue of homosexuality in Islam and how sexual repression mixed with Islamic radicalization fuels untold oppression. The silence legitimizes hate and honor crimes and acts of terrorism. After the massacres in Orlando and Nice, it’s obvious that we can no longer sweep LGBTQ Muslims under the carpet. 

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