As we complete our observance of Shavuot tonight, we are heartbroken by the news of the horrifying massacre in Orlando early yesterday morning. We are only beginning to fathom the horror, the unthinkable “firsts” that mark this nightmarish event. It bears repeating that this is the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, the worst gun violence assault ever in our nation, and the single worst attack targeting the LGBTQ community. There’s much we have yet to learn about the dark forces behind the carnage, but this much we do know: this attack took place in what should have been a safe haven and place of belonging for the LGBTQ community, and at a time of celebration in the month of Pride.
The LGBTQ community was clearly and specifically targeted by a murderer acting upon baseless hatred. The targeting of any Americans for who they are and for living freely is an attack on all of us and on the freedom which constitutes the very soul of this nation. In the wake of this horrific act, we must resist the temptation to focus solely on a single factor at play. There are multiple dynamics, each one perilous in its own right and demanding a vigorous response.
We must face facts:
- Gun violence proliferates in our culture. Assault weapons meant for military use are readily available, to a wide variety of consumers.
- The LGBTQ community continues to be subjected to a deep and targeted hatred, despite recent achievements in civil rights.
- And, if the killer's own words are to be taken at face value - we are all threatened by a violent and radical reinterpretation of a religious tradition, including faithful adherents to that tradition.
To talk about any one of these while ignoring the other does a disservice to the victims, to Americans, and to our ability as a nation to address this attack effectively and to prevent the next attack from being a sad inevitability.
We must also acknowledge that none of these challenges is new:
- We have called over and over for action, as mass shootings happen across our country every two weeks in schools, malls, workplaces, houses of worship, and on so many of our streets. While the motivations of these attacks differ, all are made fundamentally worse by our all too easy access to guns. “Thoughts and prayers” and platitudes for the victims are insufficient. Nothing short of immediate, concrete, and measurable action is acceptable to restrict access to assault weapons and illegally obtained handguns.
- We’ve seen the LGBT community targeted in the past. Here too, prayers and expressions of solidarity for victims in the wake of this violence ring hollow when they come from those who have engaged in and supported the rhetoric of homophobia, or have put up obstacles to legal protections for the LGBTQ community. Now is the time for serious reflection about the ways in which all of us nurture a culture of hatred toward this community and other minorities, and to insist on action to make ours a society that embraces and protects all of us in our differences and our dignity.
- Last year, when a Jewish religious extremist committed a terrorist murder at the Jerusalem LGBT Pride March, we reminded the Jewish community that such radicalism and violence are not reflective of our community. Still, we said then, the path to radicalization and violent extremism begins someplace, and it is incumbent on all of us to address the roots of its formation in our faith community. So too today we must welcome and lift up the clear rejection of these actions by leaders of communities with which this terrorist is identified, while also insisting that all faith communities reflect on the ways in which the path he took began - and we must offer our partnership and support to those who work to ensure that the seeds of violent extremism are rooted out in each of our communities.
To recognize and name that the terrorist claimed to act in allegiance with Daesh also requires us to affirm that Daesh does not represent the mainstream Muslim community. Radical Islam is a real and serious challenge in our time that threatens not just our nation but also threatens the global Muslim community. While we must protect our nation and defeat this extreme ideology, engaging in rhetoric or enacting policies that demonize all Muslims is an obstacle to that end. Rather we must work to ally ourselves with and reach out to Muslim communities - here in the U.S. and abroad - who are fighting for the soul of Islam, a religion that they interpret as advocating peace and humanity and rejecting violence. We must work together with our partners in communities here in New England who quickly spoke out and rejected the violence in Orlando.
JCRC and the organized Jewish community join with others in Boston in declaring our solidarity with the LGBTQ community, with the people of Orlando, and with all those who are standing up to reject violence and the spread of extremism and hate in all its forms.
Jeremy Burton Adam Suttin
Executive Director Board President