Paul MacAlindin: “We’re fighting a war not on love, but with love”

Paul MacAlindin, former conductor of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, explains why solidarity between LGBT and Muslim communities is essential in the aftermath of the Orlando gay nightclub shootings. 

We are at war. It started with the 2003 invasion to cripple Iraq, gain control of oil, and strengthen our Middle Eastern intel. The trouble is, we were so successful that our current enemy, the so-called ‘Islamic State’, has installed an entire ideology and war machine on the back of it. The effects of the recent mass murder in Orlando which claimed 49 innocent lives have been felt by the LGBT community worldwide. 

And yet, on that same day, Iraq Body Count reported 97 Iraqis killed by violence, such a common occurrence that it’s no longer deemed newsworthy. As one of my Iraqi translators said, ‘The terrorists don’t care who they kill; they just want to destroy as much as possible’. As a community, we are a minority with all the wisdom and experience that entails. 

Many of us have survived a personal arc from fear and persecution to pride and equality. We have lessons to share with Muslim minority communities, whose hands have been marked with our blood spilled by an act of hatred from one mass murderer. Remember how our toughest opponents used AIDS as a smear strategy to bring down our battle for equality? Those of us who survived have learnt a lot. 

If we allow ourselves to be divided against our Muslim communities, then we shut out any possible dialogue and break down the democratic society that protects all our rights to debate respectfully or fiercely, and non-violently. We may not share the same blood, but we are united by it. Working with the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq taught me that reconciliation isn’t a pre-packaged workshop: it’s messy, ungrateful, inefficient and exhausting. 

But if we don’t continually engage, then we end up with racism, paranoia and homophobia. Institutions like Pride and the Notting Hill Carnival know this. However, we don’t always need grand gestures to heal rifts: a meal, a smile, a song, or a helping hand can work wonders, as no minority can integrate without the help of others. 

If we are weak, if our hate does the talking, then we are joining the ‘Islamic State’ in their very precise strategy to divide our wonderful society, and turn us against each other. The husband of recently murdered MP, Jo Cox, said: “Jo believed in a better world… She would want us to unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.” 

So let’s reach out to other minorities we would normally ignore, try and understand what being LGBT and Muslim must feel like right now, and remember we’re fighting a war not on love, but with love. 

Paul MacAlindin’s new book Upbeat: The Story Of The National Youth Orchestra Of Iraq is released on 18 August, and is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

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