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The Limits of Tolerance

Johann Hari asks a very good question: “Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now? (h/t)”

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.

Johann brings up the point that because Muslims are so frequently targets of bigotry, harassment and violence themselves, there’s an understandable reluctance to speak out against their less-admirable acts.  It’s easy to get yourself branded Islamophobic for pointing out that Islam isn’t necessarily a religion of peace, and that strict adherence to Islam leads to despicable acts.  But, as Johann says,

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.

Giving people a pass to be bigoted, damaging jerks just because they’re a member of a despised minority doesn’t do any sector of society any good.  It normalizes dangerous behavior.  It doesn’t confront the intolerance before it gets wildly out of control.  And it only feeds cycles of oppression.  No one – not even atheists – are saying Muslims have to give up their religion.  But we expect Christians and Jews and members of other faiths to respect gay folks, even if they do think gays are icky.  It’s ridiculous to give homophobia a pass out of some misguided sense of fairness.  It’s not fair.  It’s not fair to Muslim people who are lesbians or gays or bisexuals or transgendered.  It’s not fair to those Muslims who might discover that their religion can accommodate gays just fine.  And it’s not fair to the wider community, LGBT and allies, who are sick to death of seeing people get harassed, hurt and killed because of the way they love.

There are limits to tolerance.  We can tolerate people of other faiths.  We can’t tolerate actual harm they do for the greater glory of God. Let’s do talk about Muslim homophobia, just as we talk about homophobia in all its many disgusting forms.  Let’s not stay silent about issues that are so critically important.