Monday, June 13, 2016

On "The Muslim Silence on Gay Rights"

People in the West know that there is a need, nay a political necessity, for articles and books about the universal Muslim problem, that many Muslims are eager to join in with contributions that merely echo what is said by non-Muslims about Muslims.  But when Muslims say it, or even those who refer to themselves as "former Muslims", it attains false credibility.  Look at this article in the New York Times hours after the shooting in Orlando.  

1) with 1.6 billion Muslims of the world, there is really not much usefulness in analysis about Islam and Muslims.  (I am reading Shahab Ahmed's new book, What is Islam by Princeton University Press, and he wonders whether the label of Islamic carries meaning even from a scholarly point of view).  How could one speak about Muslims without regard to geography, social class, and nationality.  How could one not make distinctions between Arab Islam versus non-Arab Islam, between Islam in Beirut or even South Lebanon and Islam in the tribal areas of Pakistan.  There are communities of gay people in most cities of the Arab world, for example.  As one gay relative once told me (and he lived in Lebanon, London, and San Francisco): in the Arab world, you are mocked, and in the West you meet people who want to bash your head.  He recounted how he encountered people with homophobic aggression which he never encountered back home.  The crazy homophobia of the shooter in Orlando is home grown homophobia.  In Beirut you can be Muslim born and have open gay or lesbian relationships.  And this is not entirely unique to Beirut anymore.  

2) The writer of this article must be confined to Islamic-oriented individuals on social media.  On Arab social media, support for gay and lesbian rights is not taboo anymore and has not been a taboo for many years now.  Yes, there is an intense debate about gay and lesbian rights, but there is no one point of view, and there is no one dominant view.  In fact, among the intellectual elite, there is now accepted support for gay and lesbian rights.  The writer of the article must be stuck on conservative and religious pages of people.  Whenever I post something in Arabic supportive of gay and lesbian rights and anti-homophobic, there are still Middle East men who write in disagreement but there are also Middle East men and women who also write passionately in support.  But this the problem with Western writings about the Middle East: they don't carry the debate, and they don't bother to cover debates. It is more interesting and exotic--and certainly more prejudiced--to speak about a monolithic Arab world and a monolithic Islamic world.  There is one Arab and one Muslim.  Any discussion of diversity and debate deviates from the long established stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims.

3) Homophobia, like anti-Semitism, was nurtured and cuddled and sponsored with the Western church, and as a result those who speak homophonically among Arabs or Muslims merely reproduce Western homophobic statements or claims, just as Middle East anti-Semites (the most active among them happen to be active in local Middle East churches) also reproduce the anti-Semitic literature of Western anti-Semites. Not that there are no anti-gay elements in religion--or statement that can be interpreted as anti-gay by modern-day Western-influenced clerics of various religions, but there is no body of literature as there is in the West.  

4) Yet again, the infusion of fanatical and misogynistic elements into Islam, or what is being promoted and exported as Islam, is the work of Gulf regimes.  They are the ones who supply mosques and Islamic centers worldwide with the literature of hate and intolerance, and they do that under the eyes of Western governments and security agencies.  There is no debate that Gulf regimes (the so-called moderate Arab regimes) are the exporters and founders of the most fanatical brands of Islam.

5) the writer of this piece in the Times is comical here: "But for Muslims, this is also a moment to reflect more deeply on how we feel about living in a country where gay rights are central, where marriage equality is real and coexistence is the only way forward."  Which country is he talking about? US? Or some imaginary future republic of virtue? Is he implying here that there is a consensus in US, or even in the West, over issues like gay rights and marriage equality?  Or is he generalizing about the West (favorably) just as he is generalizing about Islam unfavorably?

6) Muslims are not silent but it is not their fault that the only voices you hear among them are either ISIS or the Gulf (and Jordan) potentates.