Sorrow and Solidarity

This isn't going to read well, or flow pretty. I'm writing it through teary-eyes and a clenched jaw.

Pardon me.

I've written about Islam and terrorism for the better part of 8 years. I was in Morocco during the Arab Spring, I won a damn Associated Press Award for a column on the Boston Marathon bombing.

I'm going to tell you the difference between the public response to what happened in Orlando and the public response to what happened in Boston.

It's really simple.

A good chunk of this country doesn't give a good goddamn about gay people dying. Listen to "pastor" Stephen L. Anderson celebrate these deaths. That's the difference, right there.

It isn't just Muslims. Not this time.

It's anyone who thinks they know the mind of God well enough that they can put a bullet into someone who disagrees.

Don't say this "pastor" doesn't represent Christianity, either. He's one man with a camera. Sure, I get that.

And Omar Mateen was one man with a gun.

I am guilty too. I am guilty of propagating homophobia. I have written for one outlet or another since I was an undergrad at Louisiana State. For a long time, I used my pen to harass the gay community.

I've written a mea culpa before, this is not that. Then I was sad and ashamed, now I am angry--and still ashamed.

Oh, I never called for violence. I never shouted anyone down. I never flung unseemly epithets. I was worse than that. I was subtle. I was rational. Calm, collected--deliberate.

Just like Omar Mateen was when he looked over the iron-sights of that assault rifle.

And why?

Because I'm a Muslim.

Or more particularly, because I was a Muslim who wanted to bend society and shape it to my world-view.

I was saving America, of course, from moral degradation.

I'm sure Omar thought he was saving something too, not America I expect, and definitely not Islam.

And like Omar Mateen I didn't understand my religion, and maybe I still don't. But I was filled with that same self-righteous arrogance. Never a militancy, but definitely a fatal certainty. As my life spiralled, though, Islam reinvented me once again. It humbled me, brutally, and taught me about my thorough ignorance. My fallibility.

I championed peace, but preached hate.

Now, years later, it's a strange thing to realize how terrible my own past prejudices were by watching the muted response to this attack--to realize that these people, these victims, are hated as much as the gunman who killed them.

I've spent years following terrorism and it's effects on the popular conversation and social media, and I have never seen a response quite like this one; a response so eerily unbalanced. A lot of people are treating this attack as though it happened in another country--and maybe that's the closest, most shameful, corollary.

When Muslim terrorists kill innocent Muslim civilians abroad, some folks could care less. Others celebrate. When a Muslim terrorist kills innocent people at a gay night club in Orlando. Some folks could care less. Others celebrate.

I don't have a nuanced solution to the world's problems--if you want that, read Haroon Moghul's piece.

Our worlds are so different, our beliefs are so different--but this, this is a shared experience. But it isn't the only experience I had today, it isn't the only thing I realized.

I spent today with my head in my hands.

I talked to Muslims terrified of what might happen next. I talked to Muslims scared that they would lose their faith, scared they wouldn't be able to reconcile their identities with this violence and all the other violence hung around our necks the world over.

We were prepared for this, though. This has happened before, this will happen again. The Muslim-American community has gotten good at stealing itself against accusations of inhumanity and inherent barbarism.

What we were not prepared for was the tremendous support that the LGBTQ community immediately threw to American Muslims.

I received concerned calls and texts from people who were worried about me. People who cared about me. People who know I live above a mosque, in the deep south, in the middle of Donald J. Trump's travelling election-year circus.

In this age of the weekly mass shooting, it was hard for me to find fault with their concern.

The first person to message me was a gay man, a man I met writing for the Huffington Post. This man became my friend after reading one of my columns. We started talking more after his husband passed away. We bonded over the shared experience of death and its attendant grief.

After he buried his husband, he shipped me a box of oranges from his personal grove.

The next person who called me was a Jew, and a dear friend, someone who knows what it's like to be the object of faith based prejudice. He knew, and he knew exactly what to say.

As a Muslim, I believe all things that happen happen through the will of God. Good and bad. It was experiences like these that turned my mind from hatred, and moved me to empathy and love.

Invariably, every time I write a column like this--and God knows I've had to write more of these than I can stomach, I am often shouted down.

Some people will say, where is your apology? I can't apologize and set this right. I didn't do it, and neither did any of my friends. No single one of us can speak on behalf of all of Islam. Not me, not Omar, not Reverend Anderson.

But I can try to set right the things I have written in the past, and this is another feeble attempt at that.

Others will say the best solution is to abandon my faith. To step away from this tradition that embraced me when I lost everything dear to me and faced death itself.

That I cannot do, either.

Islam is in my heart and soul, it is the core of my identity, and as I sat with my head in my hands I thought about how running away would be to tear out all of my insides--leaving me hollow. Worse yet, to abandon Islam would be to abandon the God that brought me here, the God that brought me from hatred to peace, from great and terrible loss to security, faith, and a future.

To that end, every step I take away from my religion is ground ceded to Omar Mateen. Every Muslim of level head and sound mind driven from this path is another bit of territory abandoned for ISIS to seize. My friends mentioned above understand this. Many, many Muslims understand this too.

Tonight, I've shed tears for victims and their families. I, like my orange growing friend, know the knife-like pain of sudden loss. I am aggrieved all the more that is was a man calling himself Muslim who visited this pain upon them.

Tonight, I've shed tears for my own faith and my own, people I know will be killed because--at least in part--by the acts of men like Omar Mateen, the San Bernardino shooters, the Tsarnaev brothers and the litany of other arrogant, armed, souls.

If you want to fight hatred, help more people like me have these experiences--so that we might take your love, and carry it to men like Omar Mateen.