Philly interfaith leaders denounce political demagoguery at expense of Orlando victims

A group of Philadelphians representing Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and the LGBT community held a gathering Monday to vow unity as the country moves on from the mass shooting in Orlando.

But they were also there to speak out against political and cultural figures blaming Muslims for the attack, which was committed by an American of Afghan descent who claimed allegiance to the militant Islamic State.

“We also will not allow people to trample on the [49] dead lives in Orlando, to use it for their own political purposes,” said Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, his voice growing choked as he held up a copy of presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s statement on the massacre.

Trump has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and monitoring of Muslims and mosques in the U.S. He reiterated that stance after the terrorist attack in Florida.

“Note, it never says the words lesbian, gay, LGBTQ,” Segal said of Trump’s reaction. “Never. He uses this statement to bash other groups of people,” Segal said. “He doesn’t address or speak to those of us who are mourning. You’re a coward. Speak to us, don’t use our bodies for your political purposes.”

Faith leaders said they came together to show their collective support for Philadelphia’s Muslim and LGBT communities, amid concerns that Muslims could be scapegoated for the shooting.

“I’m sad, broken-hearted and frustrated,” said Rabbi Linda Holtzmann of Tikkun Olam Chavurah. “I’ve already heard words of hate blaming the Muslim community.”

Despite their geographical distance from Orlando, leaders at the meetings said they still felt compelled to take a stance on the “fear and isolation” that local Muslims have reported feeling in the wake of the attacks.

“Here in Philadelphia, the Muslims walk down the street, they have the freedom like most cities don’t have. Are we to intellectually say in our minds that we’ve made it and not care about our brothers and sisters from different walks of life?” asked Imam Salaam Muhsin of Masjid Ullah in West Oak Lane. “If I saw this happen to anybody, I would stand up.”