Chia Barsen - The Orlando Terrorist Attack and the Response from the Secular Left

even the lowest whisper can be heard over armies, when it’s telling the truth - Chia Barsen

In a 911 call made at the time of the Orlando attack, Omar Mateen, declared his allegiance to the Islamic State and also mentioned the Boston Marathon Bomber. Soon afterwards, the Islamic state claimed responsibility for the attack and issued a statement declaring Omar Mateen an Islamic State fighter. Amidst an election in the United States, this attack was used by both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, to further their own political bourgeois agendas. These agendas include everything from domestic state repression through heavy policing and surveillance, and restrictions on migration, to warmongering foreign policies.

The Obama administration issued a statement on the attack, making no mention of the connection between this terrorist attack and the Islamic State, and the global threat of political Islam. Immediately after the attack, Muslim clerics were called on by the media to make statements in regards to the attack. The statements made by the Muslim clerics were centred on gun control in the US and highlighting the importance of limiting the sales of automatic weapons to the public. The left wing media, including news broadcasts such as “Democracy Now”, also framed the attack around the need for greater gun control. Meanwhile right wing news media framed the attack around Muslims in general and the need for strict boarder control and migration to keep Muslims out.

Blaming guns for the Islamist murder of 49 people in the Orlando gay club, is like saying that Zyklon B gas was the cause of the Holocausts and not the Nazis. Gun control is a clear and present issue in the US and there are countless episodes of shootings in the US to justify the removal of all guns (not just automatic weapons), from the streets. However, piggybacking on the gun control debate and not making any mention of the threat of Political Islam and Islamism, is the furthering of a political agenda and not simple ignorance or apathy.

The republican nominee, Donald Trump, is using the Orlando attack to further his racist agenda to “ban all Muslims” from the United States. This sectarian far-right racist ideology, mimicked and echoed in the bible belt states as well as by right wing news media (such as Fox news), is incredibly deleterious for the working class struggle in the US. There is not a single grain of truth in terms of “protecting” the working people against Islamist attacks, instead it is an excuse for the Trump administration to push for greater use of surveillance and repressive state tools to quell all working class associations, demonstrations and street protests for higher wages, access to benefits and a lower cost of living. A small example of this was George W Bush’s Terrorist Surveillance Program that authorised foreign and domestic wiretapping of communications that was extended to new heights after the September 11 attacks.

Meanwhile, there is an ongoing and equally dangerous narrative, which describe those on the left who are critical of Islam as “racist” and as “Islamophobic”. Critical left wing anti-theists are being categorized as right-wing racists, the likes of KKK, for making any mention of Islam, Islamism and Islamists. The narrative here is that any critical rhetoric against political Islam or Islam itself, parallels with racist, anti-migrant, right wing ideology and is inherently promoting hate and violence against Muslims in general. For this reason, many of those who are critical of religion and religious movements, have simply stepped out of the debate for the fear of being labelled “racist”. These people are also in a state of cognitive dissonance (a mismatch between thought and behaviour) by joining the “Islam is religion of peace” camp.

There are important distinctions to be made in regards to what is meant by “Islam”, “Political Islam/Islamism”, “Islamists” and “Muslims”. Side by side with these words, the definitions of “secularism”, and “atheism” are equally important. Political Islam/Islamism and Islamists are the likes of the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram and Taliban, who want to implement the Sharia (Islamic Law). Countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, UAE have already implemented the Sharia in almost every aspect of the lives of people residing in those countries. 

A “Muslim” is a follower of Islam.  Meanwhile, “secularism”, which many atheists (disbelievers in the existence of god) want implemented at a state level, is the fundamental separation of religion (the church) and the state (all public institutions including education and law). More than 20 countries in the EU are secular, at least on paper (at constitutional level), including five Northern countries (e.g. Cuba and Canada), and many more countries in different continents around the world. France is a good example of secularism actually implemented at a social level. Under this definition, religion is viewed as an institution, and is separated from the believer. 

Atheists believe that human beings have the right to free conscience – human beings have the freedom to believe in whatever they want privately. However, at a state and government level, the religion must be kept separate. Also, as part of free human conscience, human beings have the fundamental right to free speech and to criticise all beliefs, which includes Islam as a belief system. 

These definitions are important because Islam, as a religious institution, can be separated from the believer, a Muslim. This is the same for every single religion, and is the basis of secularism in over 50 countries around the world. This is also the basis of freedom of speech. Islam and Political Islam can and must be criticised and this criticism must not be re-defined under the right-wing rhetoric of “racism” and “bigotry” towards Muslims. The separation of the belief and the believer, the separation of religion from the state, is the very reason many Muslims, Christians, and believers of different religions in the West are enjoying the freedoms that they have. One of the reasons many Muslims have escaped from the countries in the Middle East, such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Taliban of Afghanistan, is due to the intolerance of Sharia and Islamism.

Generally speaking, there is a strong level of homophobia in the West. Islam, along with other major religions, such as Christianity, generally promote homophobia and do little to challenge this narrative in society. In countries such as Iran, where the Sharia is implemented, the LGBT community lives in secret, afraid of prosecution, which includes death by hanging. The Islamic State has also executed several individuals (thrown off rooftops) for simply being gay. Many Muslim clerics, including Farrokh Sekaleshfar, a British born medical doctor and Shi’a Muslim scholar, spoke at the Husseini Islamic Centre just outside Orlando Florida on March 29th 2016. When asked about the LGBT community, he replied “Death is the sentence. There is nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence”. 

Does this mean that all Muslims are homophobic? No, it does not. However, society is already homophobic and patriarchal, all other Abrahamic religions are homophobic and patriarchal: one only needs to visit the bible belt states in the US meet some of the NRA rifle bearing homophobic preachers there. Being Muslim does not automatically make a person homophobic. 

However Islam (as an institution), and Islamism (as a political movement), are both fundamentally intolerant towards the LGBT community in society. It is very difficult for a Muslim or even an atheist to refute this. The only response left is usually the “interpretation of Islam” argument which hold little water in the face of continuous preaching of many Muslim Scholars that state otherwise. This is one reason why I can assume many Muslim gay men and women would find themselves in a state of cognitive-dissonance in relation to their sexual orientation/identity, and their belief.

Omar Mateen’s murder of 49 people in a gay club was a hate crime towards the LGBT community, but above all this, it was an Islamist attack. As more information is revealed on the media about this troubled individual, it has come to evidence that Omar frequented the club himself, suggesting the possibility of him being gay. The cognitive dissonance that was mentioned above, combined with Islamism is incredibly dangerous. Political Islam is especially dangerous for the LGBT community that has diligently carved itself a safe space in Western society (in other societies it is still needed to be kept secret). Political Islam is also dangerous for woman’s rights that were fought for, and are continually being fought for, over decades of class struggle.  This is another reason why the Political Islam must be labelled for what it is, and must be confronted for what it does to society. 

“Sectarianism”, “racism”, and “bigotry” are false accusations made towards the secularist left as a result of the confusion of political movements. One does not unite the working class by labelling all critics of Political Islam and Islam as “racist bigots” and then pretend to protect the rights and freedom of women and LGBT community at the same time. There are distinctions to be made between the far-right Trump led movement and the anti-Islamism secular left. Calling all critics of Islam and Islamism “racists” is not a revolutionary rhetoric to fight against the likes of Trump, but rather a confused reactionary one.

In the context of global class struggle for freedom and equality, the rise of political Islam in the Middle East, and now in the West, is rooted in the reactionary warmongering foreign policy of the West and the support of Islamist states such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. But what do the working people choose? They choose secularism, they choose to have unquestioned fundamental freedoms (especially the freedom of conscience and speech), they choose gender equality, and they choose the freedom of sexual orientation. People choose a society without Western and Islamist terrorism. Yesterday’s fascism is today’s Islamism, and it must be confronted, fought and defeated like fascism, not ignored and hidden. In the political context where the “left” news media hides Islamist terrorism under “gun control” and the right wing news media calls for the “ban of all Muslims”, it is here that the left must once again stand firm by its demands for unquestioned fundamental freedoms and to draw a permanent line under secularism as the starting point for any future free society.

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