This is a guest post by @MehrdadAmanpour
In a world where stupid generalisations are frowned upon, it is depressing that generalising about ‘Muslims’ is standard fare for non-Muslims – both ‘Islamophobic’ chauvinists and their equally irrational, ‘Islamophilic’ opposites.
It is as unintelligent to assert Islam is inherently peaceful and tolerant as it is to assert the opposite. From US presidents to Guardian writers, so many make claims of what ‘real’ Islam is. Yet this denies the truth apparent – this massively diverse ideology, drawn from vast, complicated and often disputed texts, has no single interpretation. What’s more, there is no universally accepted hierarchy in Islam. We don’t have the equivalent of the Pope, Archbishop or Chief Rabbi.
Therefore, to all practical purposes, Islam is whatever the individual Muslim believes it is.
Those beliefs will be shaped by what that individual is told, taught and shown. They are moulded by the individual’s ancestral culture, their parents, their mosque and/or madrassa, their Islamic society, their peers, their ‘community’ and the Islamic channels they watch at home. The prominent Muslim figures they listen to. The blogs and internet forums they access online.
That’s why focusing on what Muslims actually believe is so much more pertinent than the usual ‘verse-quoting’ and quibbling over what is, and is not, ‘real’ Islam.
And here, the important issue is the numbers who share particular beliefs. If an isolated Muslim, Christian or Jew believes that the ideal punishment for homosexuality is death, then that’s not going to affect the attitudes within his or her society very much. If it’s 1%, 10%, 30% or more, the effect will become exponentially more pronounced.
Similarly, the status of the person promoting the ‘interpretation’ will give those ideas a perceived legitimacy. So a hundred uneducated goat-herders advocating the death penalty for gays will carry much less weight than one UK imam doing so.
And that’s where Muslims have a big problem. Not only do alarmingly high numbers of us believe that the death penalty should ‘ideally’ apply to homosexuality, far too many of our prominent Muslim figures advocate it as an Islamic ‘ideal’. Within societies where we are in a majority, homosexuals are routinely imprisoned and killed – either by the state or extra-judicially. Even when we find this abhorrent, too few of us are willing to condemn openly such savagery
This must end. It’s time for Muslims living in the West to take a position. Which side are you on? The side that ‘tolerates’ liberal, secular democracy or the side that values and defends it. The side that believes Muslims and non-Muslims should ideally be governed by sharia or the side that supports Universal Human Rights. The side that believes the ‘ideal’ punishments for gays, ‘apostates’ and ‘blasphemers’ should be death or the side that believes in the right to live freely, in the sexuality you’re born into, the religion (or none) you choose with the right to say whatever one wants about your religion, even if it might be hurtful or offensive to you.
It’s unrealistic to imagine Islam can be ‘reformed’ for the reasons I’ve already given – which Islam? But our Western societies’ views on which interpretations of Islam constitute a religion entitled to the tolerance and respect given to other religions and which interpretations do not, can be reformed.
Given the overwhelming evidence of the existence of brutal, homophobic views within Muslim societies, the “don’t ask don’t tell” option is no longer a viable. If Western Muslims want to be treated with the respect and tolerance given to other religious groups, they must differentiate themselves from those Muslims for whom Islam is a fascistic, totalitarian and political ideology. The latter must be exposed and isolated.
That will only happen when Western Muslims are willing to speak out – not just against a deranged gunmen killing gays in nightclubs but also against the idea that somehow killing gays (in an ‘Islamic way’) is what God wants.
Of course other religious groups contain people for whom homosexuality is considered a sin. However, all other religious fundamentalists believe that any punishment may only be meted-out by God. Only within Muslim society is there any significant support for punishment to be ideally inflicted in this life.
That’s why non-Muslims must reject the bogus ‘oppressed victim’ narrative being promoted incessantly and treat us exactly as they treat any group. Our public and religious figures must be challenged – not only is it reasonable to condemn attacks (as many do) such as the one carried out in Orlando but they must also demonstrate their support for the right of gay people to live their lives freely and securely – and here’s the crux – they (and all of us) must assert that those rights should exist here, abroad as well as in some ‘ideal’ Islamic society.
Because when we don’t, our platitudes of sympathy and solidarity become worthless and disingenuous. We are not disagreeing with killing gays – but only in the technically ‘un-Islamic’ manner their death penalty was served in Orlando
This is what people like Owen Jones don’t understand and urgently need to grasp. They are not helping themselves nor genuinely liberal Muslims with their denial, moral equivalence and apologism. Yes, this attack was clearly “homophobic” in the same way that the attack on the Jewish bakery was clearly “antisemitic”.
But the principle reason for either attack was not to wipe out ‘the LGBT people’ or ‘the Jews’ – they were intended as a strike at the secular West (and of course Israel). The victims simply had the misfortune of belonging to groups that are particularly despised by the followers of fundamentalist and extremist Islam.
Islamic State (even if they didn’t directly control the operation) confirmed this: “One of the Caliphate’s soldiers in America carried out a security invasion where he was able to enter a crusader gathering at a nightclub for homosexuals in Orlando, Florida … where he killed and injured more than a hundred of them before he was killed” (My emphasis).
Omar Mateen wasn’t born hating LBGT people. He didn’t one day decide he’d like to kill some then afterwards, fit that desire into a “twisted view of Islamic fundamentalism to justify his view” as Jones claimed in his infamous Sky News interview – the “twisted view” came first. It had to.
It came from Mateen’s ancestral culture, his parents, his mosque and/or madrassa, his Islamic society, his peers, his ‘community’ and the Islamic channels he watched at home. The prominent Muslim figures he listened to. The blogs and internet forums he accessed online.
It’s past time the Owen Joneses of this world grasped this reality.