Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] The Wider Problem With Muslim Homophobia

I was saddened, though not altogether surprised, when Ikram Saeed recently commented that criticizing those Muslims who believed that their religion requires the ritualized torture-killings of non-heterosexuals is an act of racism. I say "not altogether surprised," since Ikram had earlier commented that people victimized under shari'a law were "wimpy" if they lacked the capital--social, economic, political--that they needed to escape. This sort of morally blind privatization of public goods that ends with the privatization of human rights, the kind of process that reduces rights from universal goods to things that you can have only if you were lucky, serves bigots' ends quite nicely.

Infinitely more politely, in the same thread skooshje asked why, exactly, the statements of New Zealand parliamentarian Ashraf Choudhary that he favoured the ritual torture-killing of non-heterosexuals by stoning in countries under shari'a law were newsworthy. One very good reason is that these religious prejudices are being enthusiastically enacted as criminal law in the Muslim world, right now.

The recent execution by hanging of two gay teenagers in the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad on what seemed to be trumped-up criminal charges is, sadly, not atypical in Iran, where up to four thousand people have been executed since 1979 on grounds of their sexual orientation. As Johann Hari wrote a while back, the Muslim world is characterized by pervasive and violent homophobia.

All of the seven countries that treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death are Muslim. Of the 82 countries where being gay is a crime, 36 are predominantly Muslim.

Even in democratic societies, Islam remains overwhelmingly anti-gay. Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of North America, says "homosexuality is a moral disease, a sin, a corruption. No person is born homosexual, just as nobody is born a thief, a liar or a murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education."

Sheikh Sharkhawy, a cleric at the prestigious London Central Mosque in Regent's Park, compares homosexuality to a "cancer tumour." He argues "we must burn all gays to prevent paedophilia and the spread of AIDS," and says gay people "have no hope of a spiritual life." The Muslim Educational Trust hands out educational material to Muslim teachers--intended for children!--advocating the death penalty for gay people, and advising Muslim pupils to stay away from gay classmates and teachers.

Christianity certainly has its issues, and leaders of certain Christian sects are certainly unwilling to take their right responsibility for epiphenomena like gaybashing. It's worth noting, though, that Christian Reconstructionism is a theology decidedly in the minority. Take the story of the unfortunate teenager Zack, unfortunate enough to be born to conservative Christian parents. He wasn't afraid that he'd be murdered; rather, he was afraid of being dispatched to a reeducation camp by his father. This isn't good. It would also be churlish to deny that this isn't murder.

When respected and supposedly respectable Muslim clerics like Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi feel free to publically advocate the murder of homosexuals in order to restore an antique purity to society, along with the limited domestic abuse of women, female genital mutilation, committing genocide against Israelis, and murdering apostates, it seems safe to conclude that a disturbingly large chunk of the world's Muslim population have very serious issues with pluralism. I don't think that it's a coincidence that Turkey, run by an aggressively secular regime for the past three-quarters of a centruy, that has the best human-rights record--on homosexuality, on human rights in general--of any large Middle Eastern state.

It all comes down to the question of whether I have as much of a right to exist as anyone else, even if in moral error. I wanted to believe that I did; I didn't think that I was naïve at the time. Forgive me for believing in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

What about people who don't believe I've such a right? Imagine that I said that I had no problem with Muslims living in Canada, even--like Choudhary with New Zealand's non-heterosexuals--happily cooperating with them when needed, but continued by saying that if Canada became my ideal polity we should send a research team over to investigate Oswiecim so as to apply that camp's principles domestically. It would be very hard indeed to pretend that I wasn't a vile bigot. Would my abhorrent views would suddenly become legitimate if I announced that they stemmed from religion? I doubt it. The "God says so" excuse is terribly weak. ("The Führer says that we should deport the Jews of Strasbourg to the camps" is wrong, but "God says we should burn all the Jews in Strasbourg" is strong?) By this standard, Choudhary and the Muslim women interviewed by Janet Rankin are terrible bigots. It would be unreasonable for me to ask for their approval, but it isn't at all too much to demand that they recognize that I have just as much a right to life as they. Bad things happen when people decide that others are useless eaters, or evil abominations. People who proudly proclaim themselves bigots and then say people shouldn't be allowed to criticize them confuse me: Why aren't they willing to take responsibility for their proudly-confessed beliefs? Surely they don't want people to pass over them in silence and pretend they're like everyone else.

There is a personal threat to me in this bigotry, though fortunately it's a distant one. By far the biggest problem with bigots in the Muslim community is that these are the very same people who want to be given power over Muslims, and in so doing, try to forge a community in their own image. Last October, I referred to Andrew Duffy's Toronto Star article, written before the Fortuyn imbroglio, about the ongoing collapse of interethnic relations in the Netherlands. Dutch hostility to the immigrants was certainly a factor. An equally important factor was bigotry in the Dutch Muslim community, for instance, pervasive homophobia, nested in a set of repellent bigotries--on gender roles, on religion, on public culture--deeply rooted in a particular interpretation of Islam. The homophobia is only one face of this. If we--and by "we," I mean anyone interested in avoiding a clash of civilizations--agree to let Islam be represented by power-hungry idiots making repellent threats, then the 21st century will be bloody indeed. Passing over a history of Islamic tolerance at least comparable to that found in the lands of Christendom and often superior does no one good.

What can we do to stop this? Over at A Fistful of Euros, Edward Hugh explores Amin Maalouf's In The Name of Identity, quoting the conclusion at length.

Within a given society, the moral contract would take the form of an agreement between members of the majority culture and those of minority cultures to treat each other as equals, and to take seriously the constitutive nature of the other’s culture. To this end, each must be prepared to give up his claim to cultural purity. Majority members must not predicate full-fledged membership on a complete abandonment by minority members of their cultural heritage; rather, they must be prepared to accept them as full members in light of--indeed, in celebration of--their cultural (or ethnic or religious) difference. For their part, members of minority cultures must be prepared to adapt, at least minimally, to the basic rules and values of the majority culture, even if this means abandoning some of their cultural practices.

The purs et durs won't like this. They never do like this sort of thing. But, the last time that the purs et durs were left to run unchecked in Europe, they reduced the population of Germany by a third. They shouldn't have the entire world as a playing field.

What should we do first? Getting everyone to agree on such basic precepts of human rights as the sancity of human life is a good place to start. It's telling that anti-Muslim bigots and Muslim fundamentalists both define Islam and Muslims as inherently bigoted and violent. Setting forth to disprove the bigots, whether in the blogosphere or in the real world, is an excellent first project.
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