The role of homophobia, misogyny, and the violence of empire is being overlooked in conversations about the conditions that gave rise to the Pulse nightclub massacre, said activist Yasmin Nair.
“I think right now the impulse on the part of many, certainly the right, but also I think many in the gay community, unfortunately, including the sort of liberal, lefty gay community, the impulse has been to blame Islam. But Islam in some sense is incidental to what happened here,” said Nair.
Nair warned against embracing hate-crime legislation as a solution, saying what it “fundamentally does is enhance penalties. And all it really does is to fill the coffers and the jail cells of the prison-industrial complex.”
“Right now we’re in a mode where we want to think about love and understanding or we want to think about expanding hate crime legislation even more, but neither is going to take us towards really understanding the complexity of the times in which we live and the ways in which, frankly, a US imperial machinery has created this particular set of circumstances,” said Nair.
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Fifty people were shot dead at a gay Orlando night club on Sunday, making it the worst mass shooting in recent US history. One thing survivors recall is the shock. The bar was packed. The music was loud. People felt good. Then shots rang out. This is a bit of what they said. SPEAKER: So we got to the bar, close out tabs, get some water, joke around with our bartender friend. Ten minutes later, boom, boom, boom. Three shots right then and there. NOOR: Now joining us to discuss this is Yasmin Nair. She’s a writer, academic and activist based in Chicago, co-founder of the editorial collective Against Equality and a member of Gender Just, a radical queer grassroots organization based in Chicago. Thanks so much for joining us. YASMIN NAIR: Thank you for having me on the show. Thank you. NOOR: So, I wanted to get your reaction to this immense tragedy. There’s been an outpouring of support and prayers from around the world. Let’s start with the targets of the attack, you know, patrons at a gay night club on a busy night in Orlando. The attacker was apparently homophobic. He beat his ex-wife. Give us your thoughts on just this, you know, the sheer tragedy of the situation and who the targets were. NAIR: Sure. You know, I think, I don’t know much about the club at all, but, you know, this is obviously a space where people–I should say first of all that by and large gay night clubs across the country are a rarer and rarer thing to see because the night club scene, as such, has dwindled considerably, the gay sort of bar scene has dwindled considerably in the light of online venues and so on. But, obviously, you know, the weekend, during Pride Month, this had to have been a very celebratory space, a space where people gathered to be around other queer people. And I think what a lot of people are experiencing right now is a profound sense of vulnerability, of deep trauma, of a sense that, you know, decades and decades, centuries, really, of work establishing ourselves within, you know, in the center of society, still results, still means that we are this vulnerable to a mass shooting of this sort, so I think [this is] generally a sense of trepidation, a sense of, perhaps even of fear, but also just of, really just anguish and hurt, I think, for a lot of people. NOOR: And more details have emerged of who the shooter was. He was born in New York to parents from Afghanistan. He worked for a private military contractor. The LA Times is reporting a former coworker of his said on Sunday that he often used slurs against African-Americans, gay people, and women. The man, Daniel Gilroy, 44, worked with him for about a year and he said he complained multiple times that he was dangerous. He didn’t like Blacks, he didn’t like women, lesbians and Jews. And so, you know, he had told the employer, he had warned him about this. We know the FBI had interviewed him. He was a person of concern. A little bit about your thoughts on his background and, you know, details are still emerging, but what we know and what we can sort of garner from this information and where he came from. NAIR: So, I think Mateen’s life and the details that we know about him make it clear that he was in many ways a man of his station, of the kinds of conditions that we’ve created for something like this exactly to happen, actually. His parents are from Afghanistan, a war torn country for which we are responsible. He, you know, his earlier signs of domestic abuse, his wife has said that he beat her and was abusive to her. His hatred for other minorities despite being himself a minority, his general, you know, his gun-buying spree, his fetishization of guns, his fetishization of the police force. There are photos of him wearing an NYPD t-shirt. You know, all the indications are that these are [ripe] conditions for something like this to have happened, and I think right now the impulse on the part of many, certainly the right but also I think many in the gay community, unfortunately, including the sort of liberal, lefty gay community, the impulse has been to blame Islam. But Islam in some sense is incidental to what happened here. What we’re seeing is someone who exists at the nexus of a series of events and trajectories that the United States have carved out. So a lot of people, for instance, when they, you know, today–And I understand everyone is feeling vulnerable. Everyone is feeling under threat, feeling a sense of danger, but we live in a society where, you know, queer brown and Black people are constantly under danger from the state, from police. We are constantly targeted by the machinery of brutality that the state has put in place and legitimizes, and when killings happen, as we have seen in this spate of killings by police, for instance, when killings happen our bodies and our lives are considered much less valuable. So, for a lot of us, really, the sense of safety and the disruption and the vulnerability that we feel exists on an everyday basis. That’s one thing. The other thing is that this is someone who is an immigrant, you know, whose family migrated here from a country that we are still blowing to bits. We live in a time, even though he was not a veteran, to be clear, we live in a time when people are returning from places like Afghanistan and Iraq in much, with much more brutal injuries to body and to mind than we could have conceived even during, you know, the wars like Vietnam. We have veterans returning not just horrified at what they do to others in other countries, but at a sort of range of their own actions. In other words, they’re not just horrified at what they say happening, but at what they themselves feel compelled to do, right? And I think what Mateen represents is this general kind of circumstances of psychosis, for lack of a better word. You have someone who lives in these very contradictory, in this very contradictory set of issues, right? You have someone who is a migrant who is, I’m sure was marginalized because of his Muslim family identity. You have someone who also at the same time fetishizes the very violent police structure that the state imposes on, I’m sure imposed on him. In fact, the FBI, as we know, interviewed him at least three times and yet, and someone who has all kinds of issues. Homophobia, misogyny, clearly. There’s a psychosis that we are creating. This is not at all to excuse his actions or to forgive them in the most uncritical way. But it is to say, can we think more deeply about what happened here? Can we also think about the fact that a white man named Howell was also apprehended, I believe the same day, on his way to the Los Angeles Gay Pride where he wanted to shoot people as well, and no one is really discussing that. So, you know, I think we have to get out of the framework of thinking about this in terms of Islamic terrorists, which is the framework that’s being placed, and we also [inaud.] think about what else is going on to make these sorts of incidents more eventual. NOOR: And Yasmin, I saw this post, a meme on Facebook that said, you know, why is he being referred to as a radical Islamic terrorist and not a homophobic right-wing terrorist? Because that’s, you know, as far as we know, we know, you know, IS has claimed responsibility, but that’s after the fact. As far as we know, [crosstalk] that sort of– NAIR: [interceding]–They claim everything.– NOOR: –More represents his ideology. But I also, quickly–We’re almost out of time, but I wanted to get your response. You know, there’s been calls for new laws around, hate crime laws passed in the wake of such tragedies. What is your response to that? Do you think that, you know, further incarceration, you know, get these people off the streets, do you think that is an appropriate response? NAIR: Right. Well, hate crime legislation, what it fundamentally does is to enhance penalties. And all it really does is to fill the coffers and the jail cells of the prison-industrial complex. And hate crime legislation is based on the premise that somehow we can biologically engineer things with legislations that eventually drive out. We drive out hatred, period, and that just does not happen. The proof of that is in exactly what happened this weekend, which is to say, many years after the Matthew Shepard hate crime bill, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd hate crime bill was passed, we’re still seeing not just a widening but a deepening of such incidents. Hate crimes does nothing but sort of increase the range of the PIC, the prison industrial complex, but also, you know, I think the gay community also has to think about, what are the–The gay community tends to not think about the complexity of factors. When it finds that something is homophobic, when someone is homophobic, when an incident is homophobic it tends to sort of fixate on that and not look at the external, very complicated mix of circumstances that exist around that. So, the idea of thinking of this as pure hate is–It’s one thing to think about it as a hate incident. That’s one thing. But hate crime legislation is an entirely different thing which takes us really nowhere. And frankly, historically, queers have never felt safe within the prison industrial complex. Historically we also know that hate crime legislation targets, it actually pulls out African-Americans and people of color much more likely than it will target white people, for instance. They’re often the ones most charged with hate crimes, for instance. So, it simply increases the disparity of the prison industrial complex. Hate doesn’t take us anywhere. We need to sit down and have much longer, harder conversations, and I fear I am somewhat pessimistic about the possibility of that happening. Right now we’re in a mode where we want to think about love and understanding or we want to think about expanding hate crime legislation even more, but neither is going to take us towards really understanding the complexity of the times in which we live and the ways in which, frankly, a US imperial machinery has created this particular set of circumstances. NOOR: We want to thank you so much for joining us. NAIR: Thank you for having me on. NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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