Blog 071: Orlando, Islamist Terrorism Propagating Religious Homophobia

David Rand


How many more times must we repeat the famous quotation from Éric Fottorino?

Failing to name things correctly, observed Camus, only increases human misery. Failing to name them at all negates our humanity. (Source)

The horrific attack in Orlando, with some 50 deaths and as many wounded, was not a random event with no known cause and no explanation. But that is the impression one gets when listening to some media and commentators. The political party Québec Solidaire, for example, issued a declaration in which no mention of either religion or Islam can be found. The statement denounces homophobia, but apparently the origin of that prejudice remains a mystery for QS.

It is not enough to denounce hatred. We must identify the disorder at the root of the hatred; we must denounce its cause. In the case of the Orlando attack, that disorder is called religious homophobia and its cause is Islam.

Of course it is impossible to know with absolute certainty the motives of the shooter. But we nevertheless have some very clear indicators. The shooter was a Muslim with radical Islamist tendencies and had already been investigated by the FBI. He pledged fidelity to ISIS in a 911 phone call made during the massacre. His father, originally from Afghanistan, is apparently a Taliban sympathizer. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the attack, the father criticized his son, not for his antipathy towards gays, but rather for having performed the killing when it is god who should have applied that punishment.

The shooter put his plan into action during Ramadan, a month when religious leaders advise increased piety, which would favour jihad among extremists. We know that in one of the region’s mosques, the Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford, a guest preacher declared that homosexuals deserve the death sentence, a pronouncement which was not criticized by mosque officials. We also know that several important Muslim theologian take a similar position. For example, Yusuf al-Qaradawi of the Muslim Brotherhood considers the question of how gays should be killed.

Homophobia is so widespread in Islam that it must be considered the norm. For example, a 2016 Environics poll of Muslims in Canada found that only 26% think it possible to be an observant Muslim while living openly in a same-sex relationship.

There are of course other issues and other factors to be considered here. The question of arms control in the United States is obviously raised. We must not forget the extremely homophobic atmosphere created by right-wing Christian fanatics in that country, in particular the right’s reaction to the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in all states. There is the issue of the United States’ worldwide military hegemony, often used by a certain wing of the political left as an excuse for its complacent response to atrocities committed by Islamist extremists, that is to say, its cowardly betrayal of the critical stance which anyone on the on the left has a duty to adopt with respect to all religion.

However none of these issues changes the pivotal fact that the Orlando massacre resulted from religious homophobia whose source is Islam.

As atheists, we stand in solidarity with gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities who are targets of Muslim homophobia and the sexual dysfunction — if not outright pathology — which are part and parcel of Muslim theology. Yes, several other religions are homophobic as well, in particular the other monotheisms, Christianity and Judaism — but in this instance, it was an Islamist fanatic who pulled the trigger and killed and wounded so many. We also stand in solidarity with ex-Muslims, both women and men, who have found the courage — often at great personal risk, sometimes even risking their lives — in order to throw off that crushing burden which is Islam.

Of course we do not condemn all Muslims. We do not assign the blame for this atrocious crime to all. We know that it is Muslims themselves, especially Muslim women, who are the first and most aggrieved victims of that totalitarian ideology, an ideology which often contrains its adherents to silence and abject obedience though merciless repression. This is even more the case for Muslims who are gay. If religious homophobia is devastating in the USA, it is a hundred or a thousand times worse in Islamist theocracies.

However, we also know very well that the so-called “marginal” nature of radical Islam is a myth. The assertion that extremist Islamists constitute only a tiny minority of Muslims is false. Worse, it is a lie, because we have polls of good quality which lead us to a completely different conclusion. For example, a 2011-2012 Pew Forum study determined that at least tens and probably hundreds of millions of Muslims throughout the world favour the death penalty for apostasy — that is, for renouncing Islam. There are, of course, several ways one might define extremism, but in my opinion the simple fact of criminalizing apostasy, regardless of the severity of the punishment imposed, is extremist. It is the absolute negation of freedom of conscience.

Are you concerned that the Orlando attack might be used as a pretext to persecute Muslims in general? They are already seriously persecuted by Islam itself. Do you want to help? Here are a few things you can do (non-exhaustive list of course):

  1. Support secularists in the Muslim world and from the Muslim world. For example, here in Quebec we have the Association québécoise des Nord-Africains pour la laïcité (AQNAL, Quebec Association of North Africans for Secularism) which supported the Charter of Secularism. The members of AQNAL want to live in a society where individuals are not labelled by their religious affiliation and where the state is independent of any religion, because they know only too well what a threat religion is when it has political power.
  2. Support those in the Muslim world who defy the worst and most oppressive constraints of Islam: for example, women who refuse to wear the veil, or people who refuse to respect the fast during the month of Ramadan, or gays who simply want to live their lives.
  3. Undertake analyses and criticisms of the dogmas and tenets of Islam and publish them on the Internet or in the press. Such material constitutes a precious resource for Muslims who are deprived of their freedom of expression in Muslim theocracies and in countries with theocratic tendencies. The Internet is an important tool for undermining the power of tyrants.
  4. Work for freedom of conscience for all, men and women, everywhere in the world, and in particular for the right of apostasy. Remember that there are many Muslim-majority countries where apostasy — that is, leaving Islam — is a crime which is severely punished, sometimes even by death. Once that right is won, people will have the freedom to practice or to refrain from practicing that religion, while those who remain Muslim will do so by choice and not by obligation.
  5. You can also join our association Atheist Freethinkers, or another organization with aims similar to ours.

Finally, and above all, what you must NOT do is to be intimidated by false accusations of so-called “islamophobia.” This dishonest term confuses two distinct things: the healthy and necessary criticism of Islam as an ideology on the one hand; and the prejudice against Muslims as persons. The accusation is used by islamofascists and their dupes to censor that necessary criticism. Furthermore, the suffix “-phobia” implies an irrational fear, but there is nothing irrational about questioning religious beliefs such as those of Islam. To censor such criticism is an attack on the rights of all, and in particular on the rights of Muslims themselves.

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