By Edna Nelson
Never before have I heard so much advocacy for gay rights from weird sources as I have while listening to arguments about the Muslim cultural center/mosque planned near ground zero in Manhattan. I heard a woman call a local radio show arguing that if gay folks (and women with uncovered heads and prostitutes) wouldn’t be welcome in the cultural center, it would be a mosque, and if it is a mosque, those homophobic Muslims better start being honest.
A Fox News reporter announced his plans for a gay bar next door. The media is trying to show that moderate Muslims are more homophobic than they are in order to get the support of LGBT folks and liberals in blocking this mosque. So here I sit, hoping no one will buy the hype.
Islamaphobia, the conviction that Islam is a terrorist organization out to get us, is wrong. Not only does it act as a motivation for religious discrimination, but also plays into racial stereotypes about brown folks being uncontrollably dangerous to society, therefore needing to be repressed/oppressed.
”As you know, the Muslim faith doesn’t look kindly upon homosexuality, which is why I’m building this bar. It is an effort to break down barriers and reduce deadly homophobia in the Islamic world.” And ”In fact, [their] accusations of Islamophobia are meant to hide [their] cowardice concerning gay rights. Think about it – I’m putting gay rights front and center, before an ideology that condemns homosexuality. No one on the left has the balls to do that…Why would you side with those who would kill you – instead of a guy who just wants to open a gay bar?”
Philosopher and LGBT rights activist Judith Butler addressed the issue of Islamaphobia at this summer's Pride celebration in Berlin, where she refused to accept a Civic Courage award she was offered on the premise that she would not stand alongside what she considered racism and what would later be referred to as Homo-nationalism.
Butler criticized the European LGBT community for collaborating with the conservative nationalist agenda by embracing Islamaphobia (an extension of racial, religious and cultural discrimination) as a form of LGBT rights activism. Stating:
“It is this tendency of white gay politics, to replace a politics of solidarity, coalitions and radical transformation with one of criminalization, militarization and border enforcement.”The European mainstream media shows Muslims as inherently homophobic folks who are mostly interested in either denying homosexuality, or destroying it. But is it based in truth? I would argue no; Islam is no more homophobic than any other religion. Unfortunately, people in Europe are buying into the hype as the Nationalist sentiment is rising, and the LGBT community is beginning to internalize the fight against Islam as a fight to protect freedoms they have already been provided by the majority. This type of ideology is extremely dangerous.
The first gay Muslim I met grew up in the same city I did, in a community of which I knew nothing. Hearing his stories, and finding out the dynamic position he was in, opened my eyes to a new world. He told me about his family, and the tight-knit community in which he grew up; he described it as if a small piece of the country he was from had been imported into a big American city.
I remember hearing about this sizable Muslim community in New York, and being surprised, wondering what September 11th might have been like for them, and what the aftermath feels like. At the same time I felt a sense of disconnection and shame that I had not known more about this community before.
I also remember talking to him about his sexuality within that setting, wondering how alienating it must have been to grow up in a conservative home, knowing that your identity must be hidden. There is only so much I know about the Muslim experience first-hand. One of my best friends growing up was raised Muslim, and after 9/11 she was followed and her family harassed; this was during a time when new laws like the Patriot Act made it so that one could be “disappeared” without even knowing the reason, or being entitled to a phone call. I connected with the fear she lived with on a daily basis, and the injustice she felt, knowing her family, a group of Muslims who treated me well.
Creating a discussion about religious intolerance based on the premise of gay rights is the best way to alienate a part of the LGBT community that might need solidarity now more than ever. Looking at 9/11 terror attacks and the war on terror as if they are about Islam to the point that Muslims can’t even build a mosque where they want only denies the reality of LGBT Muslims in the U.S.
Unable to ask for acceptance of their sexuality from the Muslim community out of fear of being traitors to their religion, and unable to speak to a desire for religious acceptance (or at least recognition that Muslims aren’t the only ones in the world killing LGBT folks in the name of religion) out of fear of sounding anti-American. Advocating for their rights as Muslims, while at the same time participating in a discussion built around the painful intolerance nearly all religious or raised religious people have to face, is nearly impossible for many Muslims.
To give a taste of what the queer Muslim experience is like, Adnan Ali founder of British Al-Fatih, an organization for Muslim Gays, describes some of the hardships Muslims face within the gay community in an article he wrote about being gay in Islam:
“The first thing that comes into people’s minds when you mention Islam is terrorism… The second is fundamentalism…There’s a lot of Islamophobia; to them, everyone is like the Taliban”
”Right now, most of the gay South Asians* I know live in some form of the closet, while the gay community at large is ranting and raving about how important our gay rights are. However, it leads me to question: how do Gaysis** expect the South Asian community to grant us our rights and acknowledge our existence if the majority of us live our most private spaces (our homes, our offices, etc.) in the closet and behind a cloak of shame?”
It’s time for the LGBT community in the U.S. to counter Islamaphobia, and spend energy working with LGBT Muslims to cope with the unique issues that face them. Learn about Islam and the LGBT Muslim experience so that all members of the LGBT community can be fully who they are, and enrich the LGBT community itself.
The goal of folks like Greg Gutefield is to fragment and disenfranchise the LGBT community, while the goal of LGBT organizers is to create a real resource for everyone. Solidarity is needed, and we all benefit when we are be able to tell our stories, and feel heard.
* Although all South Asian people are not Muslim, a good amount of them are.
**Gaysi is a South Asian (Desi) Gay man.