“Love” was the word I heard most often Sunday in San Francisco from people mourning the deadliest mass shooting in American history, which took the lives of at least 49 at a gay nightclub, Pulse, in Orlando early Sunday morning. In a phone call to 911, the shooter, now dead, declared allegiance to the Islamic State, police say.
“God is love,” said one man, Daniel Borysewicz, a hospice pastor.
“Muslims are about love and the sanctity of life just like Christians, just like Buddhists, all different types of people who look on the side of love. Because God is love, no matter how you wrap him up, or her or wrap them up. It’s a matter of…God is love..and the love that we share with human beings is the connection we have with God because that’s how God manifests in our lives. It is the love we share with each other.”
Another man, a Latino gay rights activist, said love was the foundation of the unity marginalized groups need to show in the face of hatred.
“Love is love,” said Salvador Tovar. “We’re going to stand united. Muslims, Christians, Catholics, Atheists, everyone here. We’re standing together for our brothers and sisters whose lives were taken. Regardless of your religion, regardless of your sexual identity, regardless if you are straight, gay, bisexual, love is love.”
I asked: “What would you say to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders right now?”
“Love is love,” he said. “We’re going to stand equal. Or they will take us one by one.”
Both men, members of the city’s LGBT community, rallied and marched with thousands of others down Market Street on Sunday night, a show of defiance and unity against anti-gay bigotry and gun violence itself. In the speeches by local politicians, activists and parents of gun violence victims, Islamophobia, homophobia and the National Rifle Association were San Francisco’s common enemy, not Islam or Muslims. Thousands cheered when David Campos, a gay city council member, said the community would not respond with bigotry towards Muslims.
Love is San Francisco’s best defense, but love has enemies. Those enemies sometimes win.
The gruesome, hours long attack in Orlando, which police say was carried out by Omar Mateen, 29, an American of Afghan descent, was the work of a man who had a history of abusive behavior against his former wife and others. His father maintains that his son, who died in the attack, hated gay people and became enraged seeing two men kissing in front of his family. A security guard, his former coworkers call him unhinged, racist and sexist, NBC reports. He made disturbing statements to colleagues about Islam, but you’d probably think Mateen was a jerk no matter what religion he claimed to follow.
Eric Hubert, 94, a member of Grace Episcopal Church, said he didn’t blame Islam for this kind of killing.
“This is an American craziness,” he observed, adding that “Abraham is father to us all.”
With a history of angry outbursts, Mateen was the kind of guy who San Franciscans say should not have been able to legally purchase the semi-automatic assault weapon he used to slay dozens of people. There are already legal remedies that might stop this kind of massacre. California has started experimenting with a “Gun Violence Restraining Order,” or GVRO, that allows families or law enforcement to request courts issue GVROs on individuals who are threaten to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement then can take the weapons away.
But no such law exists in Florida, and there are minimal restrictions to gun ownership. So here I am writing about 49 people who were alive on Saturday, and had no idea they wouldn’t live to see the sun rise on Sunday.
By Monday, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the Stonewall Jackson and George McClellan of American politics (both losers, in their own special ways) were duking it out in one of the first major battles of what promises to be an election season full of them. Although Clinton paid lip service to rejecting Islamophobia, her proposal for what to do about people like Mateen were similar to Trump’s.
In an interview with NPR‘s Steve Inskeep, Clinton laid out a “number of proposals to tackle this issue of self-radicalization.” They include “working with Silicon Valley to prevent online radicalization” and “creating more integrated intelligence use among all levels of law enforcement,” pulling from foreign and domestic sources, and, in her Trumpiest statement yet, the creation of a “broader database” of suspicious individuals.
Federal authorities reportedly interviewed Mateen several times about his flirtations with political violence, but never found evidence enough to charge him with anything.
Clinton’s targets for increased surveillance, and restrictions on owning a gun, would include “people who have expressed the kind of admiration and allegiance to terrorism.” Muslim communities across the United States have experienced what it’s like to be spied on, and Clinton’s proposals suggest nothing more than more surveillance. In New York City’s surveillance scheme for Muslims and mosques, a young man’s deciding not to drink was reason enough for suspicion. To Arab American leaders in the city, that kind of distrust did nothing but breed distrust with law enforcement.
Many might argue that he shouldn’t have been able to buy a gun because he was a despicable abuser of his wife. Instead of saying that, something based on known facts, Clinton is talking fluent Beltway-speak for: “We need to expand the surveillance state. There will be more money for that when I’m president.”
Trump, meanwhile, has said that we need to get “tough and smart” and that he would have a lot of “systems” to keep track of Muslims, and a total ban on Muslim coming into the United States. They’re a nightmarish cartoon drawn in childish crayon colors, but that’s just a less politically savvy way of saying what Clinton did. Expand the powers of the government and all will be well. In San Francisco, however, the emphasis was on love, not suspicion.
Mikail Ali, a Deputy Chief for Special Operations, addressed reporters about security for the next pride event. The local news reporters watched eagerly for signs that Ali might give their viewers something to worry about. Police circled Harvey Milk Plaza, named after San Francisco’s first openly gay city council member.
As the local news crews packed up and moved on, I asked Ali if they been threats against Muslims over the attack.
“We have not. We’re here and we’re also present at a mosque here in the city to make sure nothing adverse happens,” he said. “We’re passing by each one.”
I asked Ali if he was a Muslim himself.
“By coincidence, yes,” he said.
“How you and other Muslim officers dealing with this talk of surveilling Muslim communities?” I asked.
“We’re not even having that discussion right now,” he said. “We’re discussing having a discussion about supporting a community that is mourning and addressing whatever might develop as a result of this investigation.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter, Trump, who poses in pictures with cops regularly, was selling followers and potential voters on his prescient hot takes on Islam.
“Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he tweeted Sunday. “I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!”
He also called on Obama to resign for not using the term “radical Islam.”
“Is President Obama going to finally mention the words radical Islamic terrorism? If he doesn’t he should immediately resign in disgrace!”
So that’s the Donald for you. But Clinton, in the same interview where she promised to work with Silicon Valley (translation “generous information technology contracts for lucky techies”), also lost her first verbal battle to Trump, in an election where words really matter.
Trump wants to break down the barrier he sees in political correctness run amok. Like the Environmental Protection Agency keeping lead out of your children’s blood, political correctness when practiced by politicians helps keep racial slurs out of your children’s ears. It’s a thin membrane, and it’s fraying.
Her words show that Trump himself might be able to drag her to the right.
Clinton lost when she said responded to Trump’s criticism of Obama for not saying “radical Islamic terrorism.” And she lost badly, as Trump would say.
Clinton also lost an important rhetorical battle with Trump on Sunday morning. Using the term “radical Islam” or any combination of the words
“It matters what we do, not what we say,” Clinton proclaimed.
Tell that to anyone who has ever had “raghead” shouted at them from a passing car, and they’ll tell you the words we say matter, too. They’re deeds in their own right.
“Whether you call it radical jihadism or radical Islamism, I think they mean the same thing. I’m happy to say either. But that’s not the point. The point is Trump goes way too far,” she said.
Now that Sanders is out, Clinton is free to pivot away from the party’s left and start using terms like “radical Islamism.” Trump is pushing Clinton to inch to the right, prompting her call to expand surveillance of Americans. Why not use the term “radical Islamism” or “jihadism.” But this is the language of Fox News. It’s his language. Trump has Clinton talking like Trump does, and Clinton doesn’t think that matters that much.
“I have been hitting Obama and Crooked Hillary hard on not using the term Radical Islamic Terror. Hillary just broke-said she would now use!” he tweeted Monday morning.
If Clinton and Trump are going to reap the whirlwind this year in a dramatic political war for the soul of America, while Bernie Sanders stands nearby watching, then Clinton just lost the first battle. She lost because she suggested expanding the surveillance state, just as Trump does. She also failed to grasp the importance of not sticking the words “radical” and “Islam” and “jihadist” all around a sentence. It’s that kind of thing, repeated billions of times, that fertilizes the soil of society to grow the noxious weed that is Islamophobia.
In order to really mend the Democratic party, Clinton needs to stop just talking about Muslims, but rather take a line from Sanders and start speaking to Muslims themselves. That happened naturally with Sanders, with surrogates like Linda Sarsour acting as advocates for his campaign. Clinton might have a harder time gaining their trust, after treating them as a political liability in 2000, handing back cash to Muslims after getting cold feet about whether they supported Hamas or not, Electronic Intifada reports.
The rally in the Castro district on Sunday had a prominent Muslim voice. Suzanne Barakat, a Muslim doctor living in San Francisco, spoke at the Castro street rally. In 2015, she lost her brother, Deah, then 23, and two other relatives, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha to an angry white man with a gun in North Carolina. She and other members of the Muslim community consider it an attack motivated by hatred of Muslims.
“I am a physician at San Francisco General Hospital, a Syrian American and a Muslim,” Barakat began. “I work with colleagues, family members and serve with love patients who identify as members of the LGBT community. I know from first hand the pain and alienation that many of them experience. These tragedies are coming to us far too frequently. As a physician, I see them as symptom of a deeper illness: hatred, cruelty, intolerance. The cure for it is the medicine of love, kindness and compassion.”
“We are one people, who share the values of humanity and the shared values of the sanctity of life, and the freedom to live as we see fit. We reject your hatred, and we assert our love,” she said to cheers. “I pray and hope that as a nation we follow the example set by you here today.”
Love is one weapon to defeat bigotry, but so is passion and presence in public of the maligned. One member of the Christian clergy present Sunday called the thousands gathered at Harvey Milk Plaza to become more involved in confronting hatred.
“Out of the bars and into the streets!” proclaimed Megan Rohrer, pastor of Grace Lutheran Evangelical Church in San Francisco, to loud cheers from the audience, repeating a call to march made in San Francisco by gay rights activists decades before.
Rohrer added a 2016 twist, in calling for interfaith cooperation.
“We have also come out of our churches and into the streets! Out of our temples and into the streets! Out of our mosques and into the streets!”