Johann Hari has an important and disturbing article about anti-gay violence in predominately Muslim communities in the UK:
Last autumn, mysterious posters began to appear all over the East End of London announcing it is now a “Gay-Free Zone.” They warned: “And Fear Allah: Verily Allah is Severe in Punishment.” One of them was plastered outside the apartment block I lived in for nearly ten years, next to adverts for club nights and classes at the local library, as if it was natural and normal. I’d like to say I’m shocked – but anybody who lives in Tower Hamlets knows this has been a long time coming.
Here’s a few portents from the East End that we have chosen to ignore. In May 2008, a 15 year old Muslim girl tells her teacher she thinks she might be gay, and the Muslim teacher in a state-funded comprehensive tells her “there are no gays round here” and she will “burn in hell” if she ever acts on it. (I know because she emailed me, suicidal and begging for help). In September 2008, a young gay man called Oliver Hemsley, is walking home from the gay pub the George and Dragon when a gang of young Muslims stabs him eight times, in the back, in the lungs, and in his spinal column. In January 2010, when the thug who did it is convicted, a gang of thirty Muslims storms the George and Dragon in revenge and violently attacks everybody there. All through, it was normal to see young men handing out leaflets outside the Whitechapel Ideas Store saying gays are “evil.” Most people accept them politely.
These are not isolated incidents. East London has seen the highest increase in homophobic attacks anywhere in Britain. Everybody knows why, and nobody wants to say it. It is because East London has the highest Muslim population in Britain, and we have allowed a fanatically intolerant attitude towards gay people to incubate there, in the name of “tolerance”. The most detailed opinion survey of British Muslims was carried out by Gallup, who correctly predicted the result of the last general election. In their extensive polling, they found literally no British Muslims who would say homosexuality is “morally acceptable.” Every one of the Muslims they polled objected to it. Even more worryingly, younger Muslims had more stridently anti-gay views than older Muslims. These attitudes have consequences – and they are worst of all for gay Muslims, who have to live a sham half-life of lies, or be shunned by their families.
Importantly, Hari does not make the same mistake that so many on the far right do and presume that all Muslims behave this way or that all Muslims are evil:
Why does nobody want to talk about this? No, it’s not because Muslims have “taken over” Europe, as ludicrous hysterics like Mark Steyn claim. I debunk that nonsense here: Muslims are 3 percent of the population of Europe.
So why the silence? It is true that British Muslims are themselves frequently the victims of bigotry. They are often harassed by the police, denied jobs, and abused in the street, and they are forced to watch as our government senselessly incinerates many Muslims abroad. (I have written many articles detailing and deploring these ugly facts.) So gay people are naturally reluctant to pile in onto minority who are being oppressed. We are rightly sympathetic. We know what it is like to be treated like this. We instinctively respond with solidarity, not suspicion.
But this can easily morph into excuse-making. When there was a wave of vicious gay-bashings in Amsterdam by Morroccan immigrants – ending the city’s easy, hand-holding culture – the gay spokesman for Human Rights Watch, Scott Long, said: “There’s still an extraordinary degree of racism in Dutch society. Gays often becomes victims of this when immigrants retaliate for the inequities they have had to suffer.” What? How is it a “retaliation” to beat up a gay couple? What have they done to Muslims? What other human rights abuse would Human Rights Watch make excuses for? Would they say the Burmese junta beats dissidents in order to “retaliate for the inequities they have had to suffer”?
When gay people were cruelly oppressed in Britain, we didn’t form gangs to beat up other minorities. We organized democratically and appealed to our fellow citizens’ sense of decency. It’s patronizing – and authentically racist – to treat Muslims as if they are children, or animals, who can only react to their oppression by jeering at or attacking people who have done them no harm, and who they object to because of a book written in the sixth century. Muslims are human beings who can choose not to this. The vast majority, of course, do not attack anyone. But they should go further. They should choose instead to see us as equal human beings, who live and love just like them, and do not deserve scorn and prejudice.
Yes, it is “Muslim culture” today to be bigoted against gay people. It was British culture to be anti-gay thirty years ago. Cultures change. They change all the time. They are not sacred and fixed. They are constantly in motion. But they only change if we admit there is a problem publicly and openly and search for solutions. We should not “respect” the bigotry of Muslims, any more than we would respect the bigotry of Christians or Jews or the Ku Klux Klan. The only consistent and reasonable position is to oppose bigotry against Muslims, and oppose bigotry by Muslims.
I would quibble a bit with the claim that this is “Muslim culture.” It is certainly the culture of some groups of Muslims, but not all. We have had little of this kind of problem in the US with Muslim immigrants. Surveys show that Muslim immigrants to America tend to be far more moderate than Muslim immigrants in Europe. That is likely because of the kind of immigration differs. In Europe, the immigration tends to be working class and often stuck in ghettos, whereas in the US the Muslim population tends to be highly educated and more integrated into society.
But I think Hari is exactly right when he says that we must criticize these reactionary elements of Islam and we must always prevent them from being carried out — at the same time that we also criticize anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination. That is why I will harshly criticize radical Islam as the barbaric ideology that it is while simultaneously criticizing those who want to ignore the constitution and discriminate against Muslims in this country by preventing them from building mosques, for example.
There is a balanced and rational approach here in between the two extremes.