As journalists, we write about grisly topics all the time. It becomes second nature to separate ourselves from the grim nature of our industry, and we learn to compartmentalize the bad, and distract ourselves with our personal trivialities. Given that we are also human beings, we sometimes become a part of the news, and are paralyzed by the realization that we are not mere observers. For me, that defining moment happened this morning, when I found out that more than 50 people were butchered at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in what turned out to be the largest mass shooting in American history. It was even more horrifying to learn that a fellow Floridian, an American of Afghan descent, committed these atrocities.
As victims describe the scene to national news outlets, I can clearly picture the venue because I’m familiar with the bar’s layout. It’s hard to get the images out of my head of people being executed on the same dance floor that my friends and I have enjoyed over the years.
I personally felt the panic that ensued following these macabre events. My phone started ringing out of control early this morning with messages from friends as far as Brazil and Canada worried for my safety. Luckily I’m in New York and far away from today’s awful events.
Similarly, I frantically called my best friend to make sure he didn’t have the great misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, and was relieved to learn that he was fine. Seeing the cameras focused on such a familiar sight continues to be surreal. Since I started writing this article, I learned that someone I know is likely dead.
As news continues to develop, it has become increasingly clear that Islamic terrorists are targeting gay Americans. We’re now learning of a reportedly similar attempt to hurt LGBT people that was stopped in Los Angeles during their Pride festival. President Obama has now labeled the Orlando massacre “an act of terror and hate,” and it’s been confirmed that the gunman swore allegiance to ISIS.
As the news spread of the horrors, my Facebook feed was quickly filled with liberal folks blaming gun laws, and conservatives pointing to Islamic extremism. We cannot sugarcoat the reality that both sides make fair points.
Moreover, virulent homophobia was also behind these senseless deaths. The hate that burned in the heart of this terrorist led him to slaughter dozens. This monster killed scores and scores of young Hispanic youth. After all, it was Latin night at Pulse.
In the aftermath of this horrific event, we need to have an honest conversation about terrorism and homophobia in the Muslim community. Fortunately, I see many of my Muslim colleagues already leading that conversation. Understandably, they are among the most frustrated by these events.
As we mourn the lost and look to make sense of a world where senseless violence is allowed to occur, we need to stand strong and move along. While I’m finding it hard to swallow what happened, I refuse to be psychologically terrorized by terrorists.