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A San Francisco Vigil for Orlando Shooting Victims Promises To Combat the Hate With More Love

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Thousands gather in San Francisco to pay tribute to the victims of the June 12 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. PHOTO: Tim Redmond, 48hills.org, used with permission

Like many others, I woke up yesterday and heard the news of the shooting in Orlando. I heard the words “club”, “shooting” and the shooter's name.

I am not sure I will ever be able to describe the magnitude of the pain, anger and frustration I feel each time an attack is carried out by an individual with a Muslim name. It's like being punched in the gut repeatedly, with no time to breathe. I want to grieve as part of a community, but instead I'm fearful even in mourning. I'm fearful of the repercussions this will have on people who have nothing to do with the incident—people who are so far removed from the mindset of the attacker that they too are targets for this kind of violence. I've seen and lived it all, so have so many of my family and friends. From being ‘high risk’ to ‘collateral damage’, we've heard and lived it. We are told complaining makes us idealistic, and we shouldn't ‘play the victim card’. So instead we just use it as fodder for morbid jokes. It never helps.

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An attendee at a vigil in San Francisco for the victims of the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub. PHOTO: Sana Saleem.

Yesterday, as the news of the attack unfolded, the comments trickled in. How do I share my condolences? What would be appropriate coming from a Pakistani Muslim woman like me? The first thought that came my mind was: why the hell did this lunatic have access to guns? But if I post that I'd be told I'm making excuses for religious extremism. Condemn religious extremism, and I would be told to apologize for the sins of others. Apologize for the sins of others, and I'd be told that I'm pandering to Islamophobia. Say nothing, and I'd be told that I'm complacent too.

Tongue-tied, grieving and frustrated I left my home to join thousands in the streets of San Francisco. The mood in the Castro, the heart of the LGBT movement, was vividly colorful, yet solemn.

I stood with thousands of others as one after the other, people spoke out about their fear, their pain. They spoke about knowing how it felt to be hated and marginalized. But most of all, even in their grief each one of them stood firmly against the targeting of another community. “Not in our name,” they said. Each one of the speakers committed to not let this incident be used to further target Muslims in America and around the world.

I saw an older man break down, holding his head between his hands as his partner sang “We Shall Overcome” in his ear to calm him down. I saw people people holding hands, lighting candles and hugging strangers. In the crowd of thousands, each one of us had a story, a reaction, and it was okay to share it. It was okay to be who I am, to be in my skin and not be made to prove myself before I was allowed to mourn just like everyone else. I saw people promise to respond to this murderous hatred with even more love, even more acceptance, and so much more compassion.

Last night I saw a city like no other. Ah, San Francisco, even in mourning you're stunning, courageous and committed beyond belief.

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‘… even in their grief each one of them stood firmly against the targeting of another community. “Not in our name,” they said.’ PHOTO: Sana Saleem.

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