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A tiny side bar in the tragic events of Orlando was a mini media spat in the UK in which a commentator who is gay accused a presenter and a co-guest of deflecting from the fact that the attack on the night club was a homophobic act.

This is a sidebar, but one worth debating because it is also about the story as a whole.

Sky News presenter Mark Longhurst was chairing a paper review with guests Julia Hartley-Brewer and Owen Jones. Mr Jones, a stalwart left winger and campaigner against Islamophobia was clearly upset about the attack, and, as a gay man felt he strongly identified with the victims.

Towards the beginning of the programme Jones stressed the importance of ‘calling out’ that this was an attack on the LGBT community. Longhurst agreed it was that saying ‘‘deliberate targeting of them’. Hartley- Brewer agreed – ‘This was a hate crime and an act of terrorism’.

Jones argued that people who would not normally talk about gay rights were going to ‘appropriate’ the attack because the perpetrator was a Muslim- Omar Mateen. He also complained that there were few LBGT voices being invited onto the broadcast media.

Things got heated when Longhurst mentioned the Paris club attacks and suggested Orlando was, like Paris, an attack ‘on the freedom of all people to enjoy themselves’. Jones replied ‘I’m sorry, but you just don’t understand this because you’re not gay’ to which Longhurst retorted ‘Whether I’m gay or not has no reflection on the fact that this person killed 50 people’.

OpinionSmallHe then moved on to a newspaper headline -‘Isil wages war on gays in the West’ and asked Jones ‘You share that view that basically this was deliberately targeted on one part of the community rather than the freedom to enjoy yourself no matter what your sexual orientation is?’ to which Jones said ‘What on earth, what are you talking about?’ Longhurst pointed out they were discussing the newspapers, Jones said ‘And I am trying to understand the point you’re making. This was a deliberate attack on LGBT people in an LGBT venue. It was a homophobic terrorist attack. Do you not understand that?’

Longhurst then quoted the American authorities that based on what the perpetrators father had said Mateen ‘may have have targeted the homosexual community;’. This infuriated Jones. ‘May have! He did! Why are you saying this?’

Hartley-Brewer said ‘we’re not saying he’s not homophobic… I completely accept, as he does, that it was a homophobic attack’.

Longhurst mentioned the LGBT rights group Stonewall to which Jones, who was by now staring sullenly at the floor and not engaging, said ‘Oh you’re going to have an LBGT voice talking about it are you? Interesting’. ‘Sorry?’ says Longhurst – ‘Nothing’ replies Jones and then walks off the set.

So, what was that all about?

It seems Jones was determined to see the murders only as being a homophobic attack directed against gays and not connected to religion, and the presenter was framing it as also another attack on the Western way of life and not as part of ‘everyday’ homophobia.

Longhurst was also trying to explore if the attack fitted into the wider pattern of violent Islamist assaults on freedoms but took care to say that the evidence was not yet in.

Everything in Jones’s writing suggests he would not see the attack as an example of the Islamist’s hatred of gays even if it were proved, and it has not yet been, that Mateen acted out of religious conviction.

For him it fits into the narrative of the continuing prejudice, indeed persecution, of LGBT people. In this he is entirely correct. But at no point did anyone disagree with him. He was so upset at the event that he appeared not to have heard the other two say, several times, that they agreed the attack was homophobic.

Jones has spent years combatting Islamophobia and knows that this event will feed prejudice against Muslims. It seems to me he was so upset about the incident, and is simultaneously so deeply ingrained with the world view that the waves of terrorist attacks in the last decade are nothing to do with Islam, that he became furious when the discussion began to open up and potentially link the Pulse Club with the Bataclan.

It may be that Mateen, despite his pledge of allegiance to ISIS, was motivated solely by homophobia and that that phobia was divorced from his religious beliefs. However, homophobia is often linked to religious belief. Large sections of the Christian church still regard it as a sin, and it was entirely reasonable to explore the possibilities that religion, warped or not, may have played a role in the terrible events in Orlando.

Modern left wing thinking is hamstrung by its own theology of minorities. LGBT people are a minority and suffer prejudice, Muslims in the West are a minority and suffer prejudice. What many people cannot do is to accept that within minorities there can be widespread prejudice towards others.

It is hard, indeed impossible, to argue that within Islam, as within Christianity, there is not overt prejudice against homosexuality and that people will act on that prejudice.

Walking away from that debate is to be part of the problem.


For the record I know and am friendly with both Mark Longhurst and Julia Hartley-Brewer, but do not know Mr Jones.

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10 Comments on "Orlando: (How To) Discuss?"

  1. Mike Pennell | 14th June 2016 at 8:15 am | Reply

    I don’t know any of the three journalists but I did watch the segment. Jones was making the point that some will express views on the attack which meet their own agenda and downgrade the fact that LGBT folk were the specific targets. Longhurst carelessly described it as an attack on people having fun as in Paris, implying it was just a continuum of a general attack on the West. It wasn’t and Jones wasn’t being heard

  2. mahatmacoatmabag | 14th June 2016 at 9:41 am | Reply

    Owen Jones publically displayed his intolerance to anybody who doesn’t regard Homosexuality as the supreme form of human existence on the planet. Maybe next time he marches under the banner of “Queers for Palestine” at an anti-Israel demonstration he will look over his shoulder just to make sure that his Muslim friends aren’t intending to stick a butchers knife in his back, but I doubt it because Owen Johns & his friends are too blind to notice that radical Islamic terror is out to kill for the sake of killing irrespective if they are killing Gays, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Women, Children, Invalids or their fellow Muslims.

  3. Peter Kennedy | 14th June 2016 at 10:03 am | Reply

    I agree with Tim on this. Left wing politicians and supporters seem hell bent on supporting a myriad of issues from gay rights to the provision of cycle paths and because of this they tend to miss (or ignore) the big issues. Let’s face it, ISIS are nuts, they don’t like the LGBT community but they also don’t like music, images of other Gods, lots of other Muslims and even children using coloured crayons. The attack in Orlando (IF it was made on behalf of ISIS***) is just the latest example of their warped Medieval thinking but my suspicion is that Omar Mateen was a lone gunman rather than a man sent on a specific mission. Given that he expressed support for both ISIS and Hezbollah I suspect that there are other issues here.

    Owen Jones would have served the LGBT community better if he had stayed in the studio and made his points in a calm and measured manner. Yes, I know that he was upset, but he was brought onto that programme because the producer thought that his opinions were of value, and by storming out we probably never got to hear most of them.

  4. Really pleased Tim has raised this important issue. There is homophobia within all religions sadly but it is ISIS who have been throwing gay people off the roofs of buildings and it is their ideology that paves the way for this sort of atrocity .The Terrorist who committed mass murder reportedly pledged his allegiance to ISIS just before he committed the attack. Maajid Nawaz the founding chairman of the quilliam foundation for me made a pertinent comment on Twitter. He tweeted “Orlando say it loud: an act of jihadist terrorism that targeted gays, but must concern us all Solidarity” Surely that is the point it was an act of Jihadist terrorism that did target one community. Sometimes they attack Jewish people in a French Café or people of all faiths and none on a Tunisian beach. All of us are targets irrespective of religion, creed, sexuality, Gender, Beliefs. Mahatmacoatmabag is right when he says radical Islamic terror is out to kill for the sake of killing irrespective if they are killing Gays, Jews, Christians, Hindus, Atheists, Women, Children, Invalids or their fellow Muslims.

  5. Dr Lesley Perman-Kerr | 14th June 2016 at 1:43 pm | Reply

    “Extremes are easy. The centre is hard” sums up a significant dilemma perfectly. Extreme right wing views can embrace both Islamaphobia and Homophobia not to mention outdated attitudes towards women which aligns these voices with radical Muslims – a little bit of a hot seat ……. whereas those who have embraced moderation – and I count myself amongst those voices – and actually can only speak for myself. I am struggling with a hardening attitude towards Islam – at the same time being aware that the freedoms we enjoy in the West are partly illusory and partly a result of the subjugation of others.

  6. Like many other commentators I watched in amazement as Jones went into his introverted strop. Tim’s right – the Left has segmented the agenda into tightly focussed arguments, and Jones was conforming to the boundaries of the discussion set by the LGBT agenda. It’s fairly typical of the mindset of these groups that they see any attempt to broaden the context as a threat to their fundamental position. That’s why there’s so much schism and sectarianism on the Left.

  7. Personally I found Mark Longhurst quite obtuse at the beginning of the segment and as a result angry young man Owen Jones loses it and unsurprisingly is incoherent from that moment onwards. If this had have been an attack on say the Jewish community I have my doubts that Mark Longhurst would have interrupted a Jewish person saying it was an attack on Jews with the comment “it was an attack on human beings” or then when facing a statement from that commentator that it was the worst attack on the Jewish community for generations replying with “you can’t say it was worse than the Paris attacks”, the fact is that Jones didn’t say it was worse than the Paris attacks, but Mr Longhurst either wasn’t listening or didn’t understand the point that Jones was trying to make. If tomorrow heaven forbid the IRA were to blow up a Loyalist social club, that would be an attack on Loyalists, not as Mr Longhurst put it “an attack on the freedom of all people to try and enjoy themselves” and I’m sure that it wouldn’t be articulated as such. So I have a bit of sympathy with Jones for losing his cool, but he’s 31 now and a bit of a veteran of these things so ought to be able to keep a lid on it really.

  8. mahatmacoatmabag | 14th June 2016 at 5:19 pm | Reply

    I see we are back to censoring anybody who challenges the hard lefts false claims to be moderates & hold the centre ground , railing against ” the extreme rights Homophobia & Islamophobia” This false narrative of the Left simply doesn’t pass the smell test anymore.

  9. You are spot on.

    I watched it live and then scrutinised the playback a few times to get my thinking right.

    I’ll add one thing. Julia HB used the term “lunatic” which seemed immediately to rile Jones. But he had already referred to the killer as a “thug”, so what is the better descriptor? She then used “lunatic” a few more times, and it was too much for Jones. This was really weird, given his own use of “thug” earlier. Then he told her to stop using the word “lunatic”. Wrong move. She defended her use of her own words and you could see the flames being fanned. Not her fault for that though.

    The scary thing is the online attack on Julia Hartley Brewer, saying she hadn’t said it was anyway homophobic. The evidence is there that she did, on video.

    Jones completely overreacted to in effect, nothing. He has done his debating skills no favours at all.

  10. Some hours after the terrible event and press reaction such as the broadcast described above, tentative evidence is emerging that the killer himself had homosexual tendencies and was a frequent visitor to the club where he carried out the murders, possibly suggesting a more personal motive rather than the general view taken till now. Had this been known at the time of the “debate,” the participants might have been more cautious in their individual approaches. At least, one would hope so.

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