The worst mass shooting in US history occurred less than 24 hours ago, and people are already distorting the narrative surrounding this horrific tragedy.
Early Sunday morning, 50 people were killed and more than 50 were injured at Pulse, a well-known gay nightclub in Orlando.
This abhorrent attack stands as a painful and sad reminder that the LGBTQ community in this country remains a target of hate and violence. We may have made strides as a country by adopting marriage equality, but we still obviously have a long way to go.
In the wake of this devastating shooting, you would think people would come together and rally behind the gay community. Instead, many are exhibiting hatred toward Muslims, given the gunman reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS.
We don't yet have all of the facts surrounding this shooting, but the perpetrator was clearly homophobic and inspired by hatred.
Blaming this on Islam is not only misleading, it's insulting to the victims.
It's a disgusting distraction from the fact LGBTQ people are no strangers to hate crimes, and we have not yet established a society where they can live without fear.
Moreover, it's an obvious attempt to divert the conversation away from the plague of gun violence in America, which has stolen far too many lives as Congress fails to pass meaningful gun reform.
Intolerance brought about this shooting, not Islam.
The shooter reportedly saw two men kissing in Miami a few months ago, which his father claimed motivated the incident.
Correspondingly, President Obama described the shooting as "an act of terror and an act of hate."
The president went on to say,
We are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We've reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivations of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism. And I've directed that we must spare no effort to determine what -- if any -- inspiration or association this killer may have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days, we'll uncover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.
President Obama seemed completely dejected by the shooting, as he's now given 14 speeches on 14 mass shootings throughout his tenure.
But, in spite of his careful words, the president is being criticized for not using a phrase many on the right employ when tragedies like this occur: radical Islam.
There's an important reason the president doesn't use that phrase. As he recently explained,
[ISIS] are not religious leaders; they are terrorists. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam. They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills in the name of Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism. No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism.
Indeed, the notion the West is at war with Islam is central to the recruiting efforts of terror organizations like ISIS. Describing acts of terror linked to ISIS as "radical Islam" feeds their narrative and propaganda. Focusing on this is not only distracting, it's dangerous.
Another point people continue to bring up is the fact gays are heavily repressed in majority Muslim countries both by law and the general public. There is a lot of truth to this, but it doesn't mean all Muslims hate gays, nor does it prove Islam is to blame for the Orlando shooting.
The fact of the matter is the US has hardly been a beacon of tolerance when it comes to LGBTQ rights.
While we should definitely denounce human rights abuses wherever they occur, we must avoid falling into complacency regarding our own failings and crimes against humanity.
Moreover, people attempting to blame Islam for this seem to be unaware of the fact that it is possible to be gay and Muslim.
One person is not representative of one of the world's largest religions. There are 1.6 billion Muslims across the globe, and the vast majority are peaceful. Blaming all of them for acts of terror is just plain wrong.
The primary victims of jihadism are Muslims. Individuals living in countries impacted by groups like ISIS know what we are feeling better than anyone, and they hate these groups more than we can imagine.
Muslims are not America's enemies.
Over 5,000 Muslims serve in the US military, putting their lives on the line for our safety. Muslim Americans contribute a great deal to this country, and are just as American as any of us who call this place home.
Until Sunday's awful events, Pulse was known as a safe haven for LGBTQ people living in a country that has habitually failed to allow them to be their truest selves. People have gone to this club, and other gay nightclubs in the country like it, in order to feel comfortable in their own skin and experience at least a modicum of tolerance in a cruel world.
Responding to this shooting by exhibiting intolerance, toward any group, insults the very existence of Pulse and all of the victims of this senseless tragedy.
If we truly want to defeat terrorism, we cannot give in to fear, prejudice and division, because this is precisely what groups like ISIS desire. Terrorists want to drive us apart, they want to erode our values, they want to prove to the world we are deserving of the attacks they orchestrate. We win when we refuse to adhere to these regressive desires.