Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Islam: the goody-two-shoes version

Like most people who grew up in the 1940s and 50s, I went to the movies a lot. One film I found absolutely riveting was the lavish Alexander Korda version of The Thief of Baghdad (1940), featuring the child actor Sabu. Subsequently, I never missed a chance to view other “Arabian” films. I was also intrigued by the story of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, which even now I go back to from time to time as a touchstone.

In some dim, childish way I imagined that medieval Islam was some sort of paradise of sensual enjoyment, including sexual freedom. Despite the disillusionment occasioned by the realities of politics in the Middle East, and Edward Said’s critique of Orientalism, some of this Arabian Nights romance clings to the contemporary wave of Islamophilia that is found almost everywhere in liberal circles.

Individuals who would be the first to condemn Biblical literalism in Christianity and Judaism are just fine with the exaltation of the Qur’an that is de rigueur among Muslims. Of course, few of these bien-pensant individuals have read the latter Holy Book, or attempted any serious study of Islamic history.

The central problem with Islam--all of Islam, and not just the “extremist” fringe--is as follows. More than the other Abrahamic traditions, Islam fuses spirituality and politics into a total system for life. Yet central to the liberal approach, I would have thought, is distrust of systematic views of the world--stand-alone systems of belief that purport to explain all of life through one prism. At one time Christianity aspired to this status in the West, but the time has long passed when it could do so.

The Muslim totalist approach that fuses spirituality and politics finds its fullest expression in the Sharia, Islamic law. The idea that there could be an entire body of law laid down by God for all eternity, able to provide answers to all of life's questions, is simply unconvincing.

Most Westerners are accustomed to the separation of church and state. Liberals in particular insist on this, and rightly so. Yet few of them seem willing to grapple with a very different reality, the fact that in a large part of the world the state enforces the idea that there is a correct “Islamic” way to approach all aspects of life, no matter how mundane.

In this country the conventional wisdom in PC circles is that Sharia law can never gain a foothold here. Yet in some urban districts in Britain--the source of our Common Law--vigilante imitators of the religious police of Saudi Arabia patrol the streets, looking for instances of non-Islamic behavior. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has even endorsed the introduction of Sharia law, in certain instances, in the United Kingdom.

No one in this country has heard of a certain Mohammed Hasnath. Apparently few in Britain have heard of his either, but his behavior, and the token punishment administered for it, are revealing. (I owe the following information to Peter Tatchell, the courageous gay activist who is based in London.)

In a court case, Hasnath, aged 18, was found guilty of posting homophobic stickers in London's East End. The stickers declared the area a "Gay Free Zone," advising "Arise and warn...And fear Allah: Verily Allah is severe in punishment." .

Clearly Hasnath was acting as a vigilante in the sense I described above.

It is not surprising that Hasnath has fundamentalist sympathies. On his Facebook page he lists Sheikh Khalid Yasin as one of his interests: Yasin is on record as abusing "homosexuals" and saying they should be put to death:

At all events Hasnath was fined a mere £100. Pertinently, Tatchell observes: “If the stickers had declared East London a Jewish, black, Catholic or Muslim free zone Hasnath would have been almost certainly convicted of a racially or religiously aggravated hate crime and jailed. Why the leniency? Why the double standards? It looks like judicial homophobia.”

Tatchell believes that the authorities dragged their feet in investigating the matter, deliberately ignoring the possibility that others, not apprehended, were behind Hasnath’s campaign.

To be sure, this conviction raises issues of freedom of speech. Still, if hate-crimes legislation exists, as it does in Britain, it needs to be enforced with an even hand.

This is not happening in the United Kingdom. As Tatchell further notes, “[t]his is what happened to members of OutRage! [a gay-rights group] when six of us protested against 6,000 members the Islamist group, Hizb ut Tahrir, outside their mass rally at Wembley Arena in 1994.

“They called for the killing of gays, apostates, Jews and unchaste women. They were not arrested but we were. Our crime? Displaying placards that condemned Hizb ut Tahrir's incitement to murder. Although our placards did nothing more than factually expose the fundamentalist's violent homophobic agenda, it was deemed that they were distressing and offensive.” 

Regardless of one’s opinion of the law that was used in this case, one would expect that the liberal media would at least denounce this bigoted behavior on the part of an Islamic zealot. Yet few signs of this critique have appeared in the mainstream media in the British Isles, and (needless to say) none in the United States. To be sure, some in the GLBT community did take notice. However, this is contrary to their usual custom, when far worse outbreaks of homophobia in the same area of East London have stirred hardly a murmur of protest. Again, Tatchell: “I don't recall any campaigns by LGBT groups or anti-fascist organisations in response to the wave of horrific queer-bashing attacks in the East End. Surely this actual physical violence - which left at least one gay man permanently disabled - is much more deserving of protests than a few stickers? Where is the LGBT outcry over homophobic assaults?

“Nor can I remember any protests when the East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre hosted a series of virulently homophobic speakers, including Uthman Lateef and Abdul Karim Hattim. The latter gave lecturers in which he invited young Muslims to "Spot the Fag."

“The East London Mosque / London Muslim Centre helped create the atmosphere of hatred that has poisoned the minds of many Muslim youths, probably including Hasnath  who worshipped there. They have never apologised for hosting homophobic hate preachers and have never given any assurances that they will not host them again in the future. Apart from OutRage!, no LGBT groups have publicly demanded that they do so. Why the silence from LGBT organisations that are supposedly dedicated to fighting homophobia?

“Equally, there were no protests when Abdul Muhid openly incited the murder of gay people in East London and when the Crown Prosecution Service refused to bring him to trial. In my opinion, encouraging murder is many times more serious and dangerous than calling for a Gay Free Zone. Again, no protests by LGBT groups.”

Tatchell rightly pinpoints why this is so. “Many LGBT campaigners are now terrified of . . . false, malicious allegations of racism or Islamophobia. To avoid such smears, they shy away from robust responses to homophobia when it comes from religious and racial minorities. This inaction is de facto collusion with homophobia.”

Well said.



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