I remember Paris. Or rather, the moment I found out about Paris. I had gone to bed early the night before, maybe ten, and slept deeply for eight, nine hours. I woke up, I dressed in my red dressing gown. I turned on the old black radio and began to make coffee. I don’t remember anything else except that I heard some numbers. Huge numbers, impossible numbers, numbers far too big to happen to ‘my’ people. European people. I felt tears and I could hear myself crying and then screaming in the hollow way you only can when grieving. Then I was sobbing into my partner’s arm for a few hours.
It really was hours. I was in shock. This was a bad fairy-tale that happened in the olden days, back in 9/11 or 7/7. It happened to people far away launching angry wars about angry gods. Not here, not on the streets I had walked where we loved, we lived, we breathed. For the next few moments, I became more bloodthirsty than I had ever been in my life.
We’ll make them pay, we will crush ISIS like the murderers they are, they will die more painfully than anyone has under them.
My partner didn’t say anything, only quietly collect the cup I broke and listen in a way that I couldn’t, not now, not while feeling this much pain.
I got angry. Angry at him, angry at his calmness.
“Why are you not crying? How can you possibly not be crying? Aren’t you angry?”
“Of course I’m not.”
“How can you possibly not be angry?!”
He shrugged, quietly turning away. “Because that’s what they are. You are letting them win when you are angry.”
Eventually, months later, I would come to see what he meant. There was a thunderstorm and I was travelling back from London when the news about Orlando broke out. My father’s smartphone told us just the number, same as before, 50. This time I was numb. No tears, no anger. I just accepted it with a sad solemn silence, the same I had seen on my partner’s face. This shocked me a few hours later. I’m an emotional, passionate woman, yes, but Orlando really should have affected me more. Why?
That could have been me, in HEAVEN or G.A.Y, laughing over a cocktail with my friends in a short skirt. That could have been me, wondering where the shots were coming from as the music slowed. That could have been me, with panic and terror, feet sliding in high heels, screaming as my friends were shot like animals. That could have been me. That could have been me. These were my people; I’ve felt the same discrimination, hardship and rejection for liking my own sex as any one of those victims. I’ve stood shoulder to shoulder against this kind of hatred. I’ve spoken on it, at university, for Quilliam. I’ve been told I’m wicked, sinful, wrong, by friends and family alike. I’ve faced hatred. You form the kind of global brothers and sisters in the face of discrimination you can’t in other situations.
So why no anger?
Shock, mostly. But maybe, I had learnt that anger didn’t achieve an end to the Orlando’s and Paris’ of this world. By all means, condemn them, spurn them, and discuss them, same as any terrorist activity in any place in the world. But remember why they do this; to try and push you into being afraid, into being angry, into justifying their barbarism. Because globally, no matter who the victims are, their families, societies and identities mourn. I mourn now for Orlando as I mourned for Paris, perhaps more personally than before. But I will not let my grief and fear become savagery again. When you hear ‘death to the west’ it is spoken not by some demon, but by a man who has let hatred swallow up his grief. Instead of calling for boycotts and bans on Muslims or Islamic countries, show your grief in your freedom. Kiss your partner in public. Hold hands in the supermarket no matter who can see. Take back the freedoms you have won from the sadness you face.
Calling for more blood and more division will not stop ISIS, it will not stop homophobia.
Bravery in the peaceful solidarity of our right to live freely, whether Muslim, Jewish, gay, straight, female or male, black or white, will challenge these ideologies at their core. Debate, discuss, and defend our way of life peacefully, and we play no weapons of martyrdom into the potential ISIS recruits of tomorrow.
You can defeat a man with a gun.
You cannot defeat an ideology with a bomb.
Tackle words to tackle the true root of terrorism.
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