Gunman Omar Mateen on social media. Photo: MySpace Gunman Omar Mateen on social media. Photo: MySpace

We cannot let the massacre in Orlando be used to stoke up homophobia and Islamophobia, argues Lindsey German

The horrific events in Orlando have been met with a good response by many on the left, who have wholeheartedly condemned this as a homophobic attack and showed solidarity with the LGBT community. This includes Muslims who want to make very clear their revulsion at such attacks.

There has been a rather different attitude in some of the media, most notoriously on Sky News where Owen Jones walked out after a lengthy discussion where the presenter (and Jones’ fellow guest) repeatedly tried to downplay the homophobic nature of the attack. Various print media also downplayed or ignored this element.

Why would this be the case? Partly, of course, it is to downplay the very real level of homophobia which exists in society. Despite the very great advances which have been made in many countries in my lifetime (when for the first 16 years of my life all sexual acts between men were illegal), this still exists everywhere. It is sometimes connected to right wing political or religious beliefs, but extends far beyond that, and has to be opposed and confronted everywhere.

Partly, though, it is because there are those with a political agenda who want to foreground their view that Muslims are to blame for many of the ills of the world, and anything that complicates this view is conveniently passed over. Here we have a man who launched a murderous homophobic attack, who according to the Guardian was inspired by (rather than directed by) ISIS, and who according to his ex-wife was both mentally ill and physically violent.

So this was a terrorist attack – of the sort we have seen for example in Paris – but it was also a homophobic attack. This is important because it suggests a particular target from someone who clearly had right wing views on a range of subjects. It also suggests he wasn’t just targetting ‘people enjoying themselves’, as has been said, but people of a specific and open sexuality enjoying themselves. Tragically this view is not just confined to terrorists, or to Islamic terrorists, but reflects this wider homophobia in society.

We live in very volatile and dangerous times. We know that terrorism exists – a product of the wars in which our governments have been so implicated – and that it has grown. The fact that this attack was from an individual not directly connected with ISIS but acting in their name (unlike those in Paris) should make us more worried, not less.

We know that racism is growing. Muslims are blamed for many of the problems in the world, denounced as terrorists and extremists, and far right parties are growing on the basis of scapegoating refugees and migrants. We know that the EU referendum debate in this country is seeing the most appalling racism, not just from Nigel Farage with his prediction of more sexual assaults if we stay in the EU, but now from Gordon Brown targetting Albanians (a majority Muslim country).

The racists and the right will use this attack to further ramp up their Islamophobia. Everyone who supports the right of the oppressed to equality should oppose them. We have a common interest in fighting oppression wherever it exists – and the system which creates and perpetuates it. 

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.