Saturday, June 25, 2016

Three good articles in the wake of Orlando shootings - Terrorism, homosexuality, and Islamophobia

by Salman Hameed

The reactions in the US to Orlando shootings have been predictable. For sadistic reasons, I sometimes even watch Fox News, and there it was Sean Hannity blaming the start of the 11th century Crusades (yes - Crusades!) on Muslim aggression - and implying the continuation of that until today. So cutting through this kind of crap, here are three four good articles that address various related issues. Of course, there are gay imams and Muslim LGBT organizations, and they are part of the diverse Muslim communities. This does not mean that there is no homophobia amongst Muslims - but that there is no blanket position on homosexuality. So on this topic, here is an excellent article by Mehammed Amadeus Mack (he right here at Smith College!) in Newsweek that brings up the nuances associated with this topic:
What is Islam’s stance on homosexuality? This question is highly vexed and impossible to answer, as there are not one but many stances, not one but many Islamic schools of thought, and scholars have rightly offered much-needed criticism of the idea that there is one monolithic body called Islam that can be consistent over time and space, let alone have stances. 
An equally thorny and interesting question regards what we mean by “homosexuality.” Can we define it as same-sex desire, homosexual acts, or is homosexual identity more central to its meaning? 
The answer to this question greatly impacts whether this highly variable assembly of beliefs, practices, institutions and texts we call “Islam” actually condemns what we might think it condemns. 
Starting from the terrain of the obvious, we can get some misunderstandings out of the way. The word homosexual does not appear anywhere in the Koran, and indeed it couldn’t, because the word is an invention of the late 19th century, when medical societies in Europe tried to place groups of people who took part in similar sex acts under a common category, which they then labeled “homosexuality.” 
Later on, the community of people pathologized by this term rallied together under the term of their persecution and began to demand recognition, equality and, finally, rights. The passage from acts to identities is crucial here, as it also constitutes the greatest stumbling block in debates about whether or not “Islam” condemns same-sex desire. 
Since I am no theologian, I defer here to thinkers who have meditated deeply on the place of sexual diversity within Islamic cultures. As scholar Khaled el-Rouayheb explains in his historical survey of same-sex desire in the Islamic world from 1500 to 1800, sexual identity categories we use today have not been relevant Islamic categories. 
The human subjects he studies may have engaged in (copious amounts) of same-sex acts without ever speaking of what they were doing in terms of identity, or developing communities of like-minded individuals around these practices. 
With this understanding, el-Rouayheb titled his study “Before Homosexuality in the Arab-Muslim World” (emphasis mine) in a move that may have seemed to be erasing homosexuality from the historical record but was really just affirming that this modern term could not describe the same-sex eroticism of this Islamic period. 
As recently as last year, during a British televised debate on the subject of whether one could be both Muslim and gay, some Muslim guests claimed that this was a moot question because “Islam” does not ask Muslims to conform to a particular sexual orientation (another modern concept).
But the issues becomes entangled with new identities: 
Globalization has complicated the question because many (though certainly not all) of the Muslims who engage in same-sex sexuality have chosen to adopt LGBT identity markers in our era. 
Some of them, who have since emerged as imams or religious scholars like South Africa’s Muhsin Hendricks, France’s Ludovic Mohamed-Zahed or the U.S.’s Daiyiee Abdullah, have taken great pains to show that the Koran does not discuss let alone condemn homosexual identity explicitly. Rather, it talks about certain sinful acts (rape, violations of hospitality, lack of reproduction), many of which are related to the story of Lot. 
The Koran, however, is not the only source of legislation governing Muslims’ behavior: Many also put faith in the ahadith, sayings attributed to the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. They are grouped according to reliability (weak, strong), a factor judged differently according to the Islamic school of thought. 
Some Muslims, aligned in the Quranist school, prefer to reject all ahadith because they would violate the completeness and perfection of the Koran, because the Holy Book would be incomplete if the ahadith were allowed to exist as a competing authority.
Interestingly for this topic, the clearest and most explicit condemnations and punishments of homosexuality exist in these ahadith, and it is thus no wonder that many Muslims who identify as LGBT take the Quranist position and reject them. 
Some Muslims reject the rejection of ahadith and accuse LGBT Muslims of picking and choosing what they want to follow. But the reality is that many LGBT imams have strong semantic and textual arguments that provide at the very least grounds for debate.
These imams underline the importance of another Islamic cornerstone—interpretation (ijtihad)—pointing to the fact that Muslims, throughout their history, have lived in or at the intersection with non-Muslim societies, and have had to adapt their beliefs and practices to foreign restrictions, novel circumstances and inventions. 
They insist that one has to view homosexual identity (which is not the same thing as homosexual activity) as one such novel circumstance not governed by the Koran. Muslims who are queer have often turned to one another, or neutral academic scholars, for edifying arguments and interpretations that could help secure their place in the community of believers, when local imams were unsympathetic. 
And yet the perception of Islamic homophobia persists. This would have to do, in my argument, with a double standard in our perception of the great monotheistic religions and the degree to which we must literally follow them: We expect that Muslims will obey the literal word of the Koran and especially the ahadith, while Christians and Jews are free to interpret their holy texts figuratively, take it or leave it. 
It is my experience that many Muslims more exemplary than myself do not follow the word to the letter, and remain actively engaged in interpretation every day, especially when it comes to the Koran’s more abstract or poetic passages. 
The Pew Research Center, in its study of Muslim American attitudes over time, reinforces this view and finds that U.S. Muslims’ acceptance of homosexuality is increasing (perhaps slower than some of us would like), especially among the young, with tolerance levels comparable to other monotheistic religious communities. 
One must remember that many Muslims in the Diaspora are immigrants or descended from them. The experience of being cut off from a home culture can strengthen attachments to religious identity markers, sometimes with the misguided result of entrenching homophobic beliefs, even if they are sometimes erroneously formed, as I’ve tried to show. 
The perception that Muslims are homophobic has far-reaching consequences, already evident in the way political contenders have made promises to halt Muslim immigration or redouble their efforts to bomb ISIS in the wake of the Orlando tragedy. 
As a researcher of immigration debates in Europe and how gay-friendliness is politicized within them, I am deeply aware of the way that perceptions of Islamic homophobia have been used to argue against engagement with Muslims, replacing outright racism against Muslims with a sophisticated form of sexual demonization targeting the Islamic faith.
Immediately after the mass shooting in Orlando, media outlets made sure to mention Omar Mateen’s history of wife-beating, macho bodybuilding and his father’s anecdote about his revulsion at men kissing in the same breath as Mateen’s Islamic heritage.
These allegations of a generalized Muslim homophobia often conceal more than they reveal, in terms of historical evidence. 
From the earliest contact points between the Christian and Muslim civilizations, Muslims were faulted not so much for their sexual intolerance as they were for their sexual permissiveness. Orientalism and colonialism both presented Muslims as perverts, prone to bisexuality, and were thought to have untamable sex drives. 
Sex tourism in the permissive “lands of Islam” was born of this fantasy, and was practiced by a whole generation of the Euro-American gay intelligentsia, remnants of which continue in North Africa today. 
However, it is in the last 20 to 25 years that perceptions of the Middle East as a homophobic inferno have really taken hold, changing the character of “us vs. them” arguments about Western influence in the Middle East into a “sexual clash of civilizations,” to borrow an unfortunate phrase. 
Some critics, like Joseph Massad, have argued that the laws and ideologies restricting sexual freedom in the Arab world are often the result of conserved colonial-era laws, or emerged from a complex evolution which saw Arab societies (that had previously been judged as “perverse” in Western eyes) attempt to erase same-sex desire from Arabic heritage, a process which often happened in elite circles. 
It is telling, as a widely shared article has shown, that the five Islamic countries with no anti-homosexual laws on the books were those never colonized by the British. Article 534 in Lebanon, which criminalizes “sexual intercourse contrary to nature,” was derived from the French colonial Mandate period.
Read the full article here

The instant exploitation of this attack is part of a more general trend ofexploiting liberal social issues to glorify agendas of militarism, tribal conflicts, and aggressive foreign policies. Decorate the GCHQ headquarters or the Tel Aviv city hall with the LGBT’s rainbow flag colors and suddenly mass surveillance and decadeslong military occupation seem pretty and liberal. Choose militaristic U.S. presidents who represent social milestones of race and gender and suddenly their militarism seems to liberals to be more tolerable and even inspiring. Pretend that the war on Afghanistan is about feminism, and aggression toward Iran is about protecting LGBTs, and watchliberals melt with appreciation. Disguise anti-Muslim animus as pro-LGBT activism and one can quickly expand support for a neocon mentality and agenda into large sectors of Western liberalism.
Depicting anti-LGBT hatred as the exclusive (or even predominant) province of Islam is not only defamatory toward Muslims but does a massive disservice to the millions of LGBTs who have been — and continue to be — seriously oppressed, targeted, and attacked by people who have nothing to do with Islam. The struggle of LGBTs around the world is difficult enough without having them cynically used as some sort of prop to bash a groupthat itself is already being bashed from multiple directions.
He also points to the 2015 Pew poll that shows that US Muslims are as much likely to support same sex marriage as Christians:

Read the full article here.

And to understand the Orlando attacks (and many other that connect to Islamic State), here is Olivier Roy, where he is talking about Islamization of radicalization rather than the other way around:

Isaac Chotiner: How does Omar Mateen fit into your thinking about radicalization? 
Olivier Roy: The first point is that the guy is second-generation, which is the most common pattern for terrorists. The second point is that, to the extent we know—and every day we learn something new about him—he was not very religious: He was an angry man without a precise cause. One thing that is interesting is that his family was Afghan, and his father has made political statements. But he never mentioned Afghanistan during the killing. He could have said he was attacking the American people in revenge for Mullah Mansour, the Taliban leader killed by an American drone. He could have justified his anti-American stance by referring to events in Afghanistan. He didn’t. 
This is a very common pattern among terrorists. Terrorists almost never refer to their own country or the country of origin of their parents. They usually refer to global jihad, not to concrete situations. You can be angry at the United States government for good reasons, or at least real reasons: drones, the invasion of Iraq, and so on. But these guys always refer to virtual, global jihad. 
What does that signify to you? 
They are not reacting to a real situation. They are not reacting to a real conflict. They are in a virtual war. The key thing about Daesh is that it has evolved to promote a narrative of global or virtual jihad: Daesh almost never mentions real conflicts. It attracts these types of guys who are what I call de-culturated and who never adjust to any society, whether it is American society or any society. It is not the revenge of the Afghans against the Americans. It is not connected to real struggles. They live in an imaginary world. 
It sounds like you think this guy was on a path to some sort of radicalization or violence, whether or not it was through Islam. 
I think that these guys do not become radicalized because they become more and more religious. It is not religious radicalization that leads to political radicalization. When they became radical, they are religious. They frame their wrath in a religious narrative. They think they will go to paradise. It is Islamization of radicalization. I think Islam is the framework of the radicalization; it is not the primary cause. What I am saying, which there is a lot of misunderstanding about: It is not because they pray more and more, or go more and more to a mosque, that they become radicals. When they became radicals, they choose the religious narrative and believe in it. 
These guys are not Salafi. The idea that this is the Salafization of Islam does not make sense because their approach to salvation is not the Salafi approach. The Salafis do not believe in suicide. They think that suicide is a sin against God, like the Jews and the Christians. If you kill yourself or put yourself in a position where you will necessarily be killed, you preempt the will of God. But in the mind of the suicide bombers, the idea is that you don’t need to be a good Muslim, you don’t need to pray five times a day, you don’t need to go for hajj. If you make a supreme sacrifice, you will go directly to paradise and there is no need to be strict believer. 
If what you are saying is true, how do we stop these attacks? We often hear that the solution is to “moderate” Islam, but that wouldn’t seem to be the solution in the narrative you just laid out.
These guys are attracted by the narrative of Daesh. And Daesh today is the only international anti-society, anti–world order group. There is no more global international extreme left. If you take [left-wing parties] Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, these movements are now anti-globalization. The only global movement now is radical Islam, which explains the number of converts—which is extraordinary. The number of converts who have joined the jihad is between 20 percent and 30 percent. 
The issue now is to debunk the narrative of Daesh. We should penalize Daesh by not depicting it as the biggest threat to Western civilization—that condones their propaganda. The second point is that we should not allow radical Islam to have a monopoly on Islam. For that, we should let rise a normal Islam, not a moderate Islam. The concept of moderate Islam is totally misleading: You do not have moderate religion. Calvinism is not moderate. Calvin and Luther were not moderates. They were radicals. But you can have moderate believers who are not necessarily moderately believing. We should let normal Islam emerge as a religion in the public sphere. In the United States, this is easier because religion is accepted. But in Europe it is a problem. The trend in Europe is to consider any religion as a potential problem. 
Is this why you think countries like France tend to have a bigger problem with radicalization than the United States? 
Yes. Because the answer to radicalism in France is to marginalize religion more and more. It is to expel religion from the public space. And if you expel religion from the public space, then you give religion to the extremes and the radicals. 
 I am guessing you don’t like Donald Trump’s approach to Islam.
It is interesting because Trump is not a religious guy. His Islamophobia is linked with some sort of contempt of religion. That’s the ambiguity of it. It isn’t a Christian Islamophobia. Trump does not pay lip service to religion when he attacks Islam. He doesn’t say you can be a nice believer or anything like that. He rejects Islam as a rule and he never speaks about good religion, even Christianity.
Read the full interview here.

And here is a bonus article by Aziz Ansari on Why Trump Makes Me Scared for My Family:
I am the son of Muslim immigrants. As I sent that text, in the aftermath of the horrible attack in Orlando, Fla., I realized how awful it was to tell an American citizen to be careful about how she worshiped. 
Being Muslim American already carries a decent amount of baggage. In our culture, when people think “Muslim,” the picture in their heads is not usually of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the kid who left the boy band One Direction. It’s of a scary terrorist character from “Homeland” or some monster from the news. 
Today, with the presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and others like him spewing hate speech, prejudice is reaching new levels. It’s visceral, and scary, and it affects how people live, work and pray. It makes me afraid for my family. It also makes no sense.
...
Xenophobic rhetoric was central to Mr. Trump’s campaign long before the attack in Orlando. This is a guy who kicked off his presidential run by calling Mexicans “rapists” who were “bringing drugs” to this country. Numerous times, he has said that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering in the streets on Sept. 11, 2001. This has been continually disproved, but he stands by it. I don’t know what every Muslim American was doing that day, but I can tell you what my family was doing. I was studying at N.Y.U., and I lived near the World Trade Center. When the second plane hit, I was on the phone with my mother, who called to tell me to leave my dorm building. 
The haunting sound of the second plane hitting the towers is forever ingrained in my head. My building was close enough that it shook upon impact. I was scared for my life as my fellow students and I trekked the panicked streets of Manhattan. My family, unable to reach me on my cellphone, was terrified about my safety as they watched the towers collapse. There was absolutely no cheering. Only sadness, horror and fear. 
Mr. Trump, in response to the attack in Orlando, began a tweet with these words: “Appreciate the congrats.” It appears that day he was the one who was celebrating after an attack.
Read the full article here

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