The unspeakable attack in Orlando requires that we take a close look at how societies around the world view people who are part of the LGBT community. This is a community that has fought and continues to fight hard each day for rights that should be taken for granted – first and foremost the right to be accepted for who you are. There is an inherent intolerance towards the LGBT community everywhere and that needs to change.
Currently in the US there is an attempt to place the LGBT community at odds with the Muslim community and create the impression that the madman who committed the massacre in Orlando did so because he was a Muslim. That there exists an inherent intolerance towards gays in Islam and therefore that Islam is evil.
My own impressions and prejudices of Islam were formed largely by the fact that I was born and raised in Jerusalem, one of the most important Muslim cities in the world and the holiest Muslim city after Mecca and Medina. It is a city that is steeped in Islam and even though I lived in a sphere that was segregated and excluded Arabs and Muslims, what I saw in Jerusalem convinced me that kindness, generosity and beauty were the greatest expressions of Islam. The most obvious example of beauty in Jerusalem, and what has become the most recognizable landmark of that city, is the golden dome that covers the Holy Sanctuary, the Haram Elsharif. The sound of the Athaan – the Muslim call to prayer one hears throughout the day in all Muslim cities sounded to me like a celestial chant. The sight of the Muslim prayer itself, be it a single man standing alone in a construction site or countless Muslims kneeling as they face Mecca in prayer symbolizes deep devotion. Then there is the architecture, the magnificent arches, the arabesque ceramic tiles, the shiny intricate brass work, and the wonderful Islamic calligraphy that decorates every Muslim shrine, monument and home. These images emit a warm, welcoming feeling that reminds me of home.
Whenever I am with Muslim friends, visiting a mosque or visiting a Muslim city, I am reminded of this feeling. For me Islam will always be associated with beauty, goodness and charity and this in spite of the fact that growing up as a Jew in Israel I was exposed to a great deal of contempt towards and fear of Islam. I always found the fear and contempt to be completely unjustified, but they are nevertheless part of the Jewish-Israeli narrative and upbringing. Sadly this skewed view of Islam has seeped into America and now has become part of the narrative in the US as well. Living in the US one is deprived of the warmth and generosity that Islam offers in places like Jerusalem, Cairo, Istanbul and other Muslim cities, and the only way to experience this is to visit a mosque or a Muslim community center.
None of this overrides the fact that there exist Muslim criminals, Muslim killers and thieves, corrupt Muslim leaders and lunatics who interpret Islam to suit their sadistic and myopic views of the world. There is an abundance of all of these, just like there are maniacs who belong to other faiths. We know that there are Buddhist monks now who call for the killing of Muslims, and Christians that have been calling for the death of Jews for centuries. Not to mention Christians who call for the death and destruction of other Christians who follow a different form of Christianity than their own. But what we have seen for the past few decades is thousands upon thousands of Muslims in being targeted and killed by Americans and American proxies like Israel in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan. We’ve also seen Muslim cities bombed, invaded and then turned to rubble by Western powers claiming to bring freedom, fight terrorism or both.
And yet one never hears Christians apologize for the countless Muslims murdered by the United States in Iraq, or the UK and France in North Africa or the Middle East. Other than a few exceptions, one rarely hears Jews around the world denounce Israeli attacks in Palestine and Lebanon and the murder by Israeli forces of countless Palestinians or Lebanese. There was never a call demanding that Christians and Jews apologize for the crimes of predominantly Christian states or Israel. Islam is clearly not the problem, and framing the narrative in a way that blames Muslims every time a lunatic says he was inspired by ISIS to murder innocents is disingenuous at best and incitement at worst.
America has a problem with guns. But Americans are not the only people on earth that are obsessed with guns, indeed it is a disease that has infected billions around the world. There is something enticing about guns and the power one yields holding the machines of mass murder. It is so enticing that even very young children are attracted to guns. Having been trained to be a combat soldier myself, I felt that sense of power one gets when firing a semi-automatic assault rifle, as well as other kinds weapons. Thankfully I only shot at cardboard targets and never at people. And, though I had never experienced this myself, it is said that after you cross the threshold and kill one person it is very easy to go on and kill countless others. So the gun-loving virus is not exclusive to America or Americans, but what is different in America is the belief that everyone and anyone has the right to buy and sell weapons. The problem is that the NRA, the corrupt politicians who support the NRA, and the weapons manufacturers who profit when people die from gun violence are more powerful than the pain they cause.
People’s obsession with guns is precisely why guns must be banned and destroyed. Anyone who goes to purchase a gun should be sent for psychiatric evaluation because there is only one thing you can do with a gun – take another life. The bigger and more sophisticated the gun, the more lives it can take at greater speed. Having the desire to do something reckless from time to time might be normal and acceptable, but acting on it and going to purchase a gun should be a warning sign that something is wrong and that this person has gone too far. But sadly the profits from weapons sales in the US are too excessive to abandon, and so it is unlikely we will see and end to gun sales and gun violence anytime soon.
Donald Trump knows that blaming Muslims for the massacre in Orlando works politically, and so he seized the moment. But Donald Trump is an ignorant man who wouldn’t know a Muslim from a Sikh or a Jew from a Hindu. He only knows that racism sells and the “flavor of the day” for racists is Muslims. So he fans the flames of incitement against Muslims and he knows he will get all the airtime he needs, because just like junk food, guns, and violence, Trump sells.
This article was written by Miko Peled for American Herald Tribune on June 22, 2016. Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the US. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. His father was the late Israeli General Matti Peled. Driven by a personal family tragedy to explore Palestine, its people and their narrative.