By Shawn Ahmed
May 24, 2017
The attack in Manchester by suspected suicide bomber Salman Ramadan Abedi may be an ocean away, but as a queer, Bangladeshi-Canadian Muslim living in Toronto, it brings back many painful memories that are too close to home.
I remember my queer Bangladeshi friends and I mourning the loss of Xulhaz Mannan and his friend in a targeted Islamist attack. I remember reading the statement the Islamists posted afterward, praising themselves for successfully killing members of the LGBTQ community in Bangladesh. I remember finding footage posted online of the corpses and watched in horror as bystanders carelessly dragged one of the limp bodies across the floor.
I remember the days after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., which left 49 victims in its wake. I remember how, because of a single tweet in which I condemned the attack and mentioned I was a gay Muslim, countless Muslims near and far began to send me death threats. Some said I would be next, some wished I had been among those who died in the club and others told me they’d stone me themselves.
I remember what it was like days after the Quebec City mosque shooting. I remember how a day or so later, as if someone had flipped a switch, I started bawling like a baby. In tears, I cried my way down the streets of Toronto until I reached my local mosque. Once there, I got on my knees, and as if to finish what someone else started, recited the very prayer that the six victims were trying to complete.
Each of my identities acts as a lens through which I see every terror attack. As a Bangladeshi, I see that Islamists kill people in Muslim countries as gleefully as they kill people in the West. As a gay man, I see that too many Muslims condone or embrace homophobia. This foments the grounds upon which Islamists target LGBTQ and LGBTQ allies (of which the attack in Manchester intentionally or unintentionally has done). As a Muslim, I know that every terror attack leads to more Islamophobia, which means that innocent Muslims could be targets of the next hate crime.
Every part of who I am is left a little more afraid after every terror attack. It is because of this multifaceted fear that I am reminded how fortunate I am to live in a country that has police willing to protect people like me. It is a privilege that queer Bangladeshi Muslims in my ethnic homeland do not have. As reported by local media, venues such as the Air Canada Centre and BMO Field are increasing security. Pride Toronto, which hosts the city’s biggest LGBTQ parade, will undoubtedly be working with police to do the same. This would be in keeping with Pride’s response to the Pulse shooting last year.
While I find strength and comfort from the police of this country, it is also true that others find fear and intimidation. None of my identities comes with enough privilege to be immune or blind to the injustices that warrant police reform and improvement. But this is about more than whether police officers should march in the parade in uniform. Police deserve to march at Pride because they are not, as the rhetoric would have you believe, “terrorists.”
To honour any restriction of police participation in Pride on this basis means we expressly conflate each and every uniformed police officer in Canada with the Manchester bomber. To agree to demands on these terms means we think the Toronto Police Service is equivalent to ISIS. Unsurprisingly, as I’ve seen on social media, these are the very comparisons the proponents of banning police from Pride make. But, to be frank, it’s not really the feelings of the police that I care about.
If Xulhaz Mannan had been surrounded by police in Canada instead of al-Qaeda in Bangladesh, he’d be alive right now. When a terrorist walked into the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it was police who rushed in to save lives. When a terrorist stormed a mosque in Quebec, the Muslims inside reached for their phones to call the one organization they knew would come to their aid. It wasn’t ISIS they called. To not recognize this dishonours both the survivors and the dead.
The police are not perfect. But for all the privilege their duty and service grant us, the least we can do is give them and their institution the privilege to march with us.
Shawn Ahmed is a queer, Bangladeshi-Canadian Muslim activist who has been honoured by both the World Economic Forum and the Webby Awards