It’s in my nature to refrain from commenting on the controversial so as to avoid inflaming the personal sensitivities of others. But this time round, I’ve seen enough rubbish on the web to attempt contributing some (hopefully) meaningful dialogue. So despite the insecurities that my ability to express myself eloquently and informedly falls short of the task, I have laboured to compose this as inoffensively as I can.
Since the Orlando shootings on 12 June, a number of people have weighed in on the situation with varying degrees of anger and numbed cynicism. Condemnation of militant, extremist Islam hasn’t been this internationally strident since the March Brussels bombing, nor has solidarity with the LGBTQ community been so evident. As someone raised in a country such as Singapore, where discourse on gender identity seems largely stalemate, these themes are very relevant and very disconcerting.
What disturbs me is the endorsement of the attacks on the gay nightclub, Pulse, by critics of LGBTQ rights on the basis that homosexuals “got what they deserved” for their alleged transgression. These are dangerous opinions that lack legitimacy, and what more are blatantly unethical. Perhaps the greatest irony is that, after a brief survey of such comments, these sentiments generally derive from zealous devotees clinging to religious dogma. In their attempt to crucify their ideological opponents and rationalise genocide, they are left no better than the hateful gunman who opened fire on civilians.
Similarly, the killer’s religion has become embroiled in many accounts, when in fact it should not colour the way we process the merciless killings. Fair enough, our gunman was likely to have subscribed to ISIS radicalism as purported by many news agencies, but we run the risk of mislabelling an act of terrorism by an isolated fanatic as the ritual of an entire faith. It’s a case of a rose by another name; put a semi-automatic in the hands of any other extremist bent on religious purgation of his own like, and we have the exact same template for mass murder.
Both the LGBTQ and Islam debate expose this human preoccupation with imposing labels on others. To the organised mind it is easy categorisation, but it is also a divisive tactic wielded to justify the separateness of people based on our individual moral code. This is precisely what is so damn problematic about this tendency. People become less of who they are that is, funnily enough, so similar to the majority, and more defined by a single trait that is perceived iniquitous to a minority. Labels are dehumanising, and if you slap one on every individual you meet, then that’s all they will ever be. No matter where gender deviance (for want of a better term) falls on your personal spectrum of morality, or whether that morality differs from faith to faith, being gay or Muslim should never diminish one’s personhood. Just because you don’t agree with someone’s beliefs, doesn’t mean you should judge them solely for it.
In writing this, I may be misconstrued as conveniently disregarding the rhetoric of homophobic hate crime or racial stereotyping from the context altogether. Make no mistake, I am fully aware that both are vital to the narrative of Sunday’s events. Indeed, it should serve a necessary caveat for those who elect to casually sweep the conversation of race and LGBTQ rights under the rug. What I’m trying to say is, when I look at the scenes of death and sorrow that have unfolded, I don’t just simply see ‘gay’ or ‘Muslim’. I see sons and daughters whom parents will never see again. I see travel junkies who will never climb up to Machu Pichu or snorkel in Tahiti. I see lovers who will never get to argue with their spouses what shade of yellow to paint their new apartment. I see a man who will never learn to understand to love beyond a label. I see lives ended in unwarranted carnage. And I count them all as losses.