Yesterday afternoon, I sat in a tree in a neighborhood park, taking in the LGBTIQ Pride festivities. Tonight, I stood in a field in a neighborhood park, partaking in the same community’s mourning.
It’s sad sometimes the difference a day can make.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it until my message is heard: My father was killed by a Muslim terrorist, and that’s why I’m not afraid of them.
My father was an oddity, a rarity, a lottery ticket gone awry. The bomb that killed him took 270 lives all told, 189 of them American. At the time, it was the deadliest terrorist attack against an American target. It killed approximately 0.000077% of our country’s population1. A 2003 report showed more Americans per year dying in snowmobile accidents.
I’m not afraid of terrorists because that’s what they want. Not to murder, but to disrupt. To strike fear in the hearts of people going about their lives. Feeling fear would mean handing them a victory.
The thought of an attack crossed my mind tonight, in the park. As I held an unlit candle, waiting for the vigil to start, I looked around at the crowd and the police scattered along the periphery. We were sitting ducks, just as those men in the night club in Orlando were yesterday. And that was why we were there.
A woman spoke towards the end of the vigil about her internal conflict, being both Muslim and queer, both villain and victim. While my specifics differ, I’ve been both, too, at various times in my life. As a teenager, I called things I disliked gay, even as classmates told me to stop being so fucking Jewish. And that was why we were there.
As my city’s openly gay mayor expressed solidarity with the men of Orlando, as tears rolled down my friend’s face, I thought of the one time I kissed another man, as a Valentine’s Day present for my then-girlfriend. The kiss was simply a peck on the lips, but it made her night. Months later, when we discussed it, she tried to get me to admit to having felt something in that moment. “All I felt were Dave’s lips,” I replied confidently. But I’d done it. A single, simple kiss, the same act that the Orlando shooter’s father claimed had set him on his rampage. And that was why we were there.
“Thoughts and prayers” has become a phrase repeated by politicians so much in the wake of America’s epidemic of mass shootings that it’s become ripe for ridicule. Thoughts and prayers are meaningless—the latter, especially—when action could be taken to reduce the violence.
Until my friend invited me, I wasn’t going to go to the rally tonight, though I’m glad I did. I wasn’t going to go because I’ve become desensitized to the horror of it all, because the (overly) rational part of my brain looks at this endless series of shootings and asks, Well, what do you expect?
Societies make choices. Societies establish priorities, and either emphasize them or abandon them2. And tragically, we Americans have decided that, no matter how many times we have previously acknowledged the failings of our founders, the Second Amendment must stand a pure and shining beacon to their supposed intent.
We elect fear-mongers and racists, homophobes and demagogues. We elect them because they hand-choose the people who will vote for them, gerrymandering districts that fit the ideologies they’ve already embraced. We watch them dodge the real issues, pointing fingers at supposed alien elements while ignoring how our own laws are complicit.
But those of us who think, we know better. Tonight, I watched a gay Muslim speak to a grieving crowd about the conflict those politicians say she should feel. And nobody who was there would say that any part of her is any part of the problem.
- Census data estimates the 1988 U.S. population at 244.5 million.
- See: Washington State’s McCleary decision.