As much of the Muslim world rioted over the disrespect to the Prophet Muhammad by some Danish cartoonists, the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha entered the fray with postings to its e-mail news list. One such posting featured blogger Tony Murphy, who stated, "The U.S. media and European editors have the same goal: To equate resistance with fanaticism." Yes, resistance. In the view of Mr. Murphy, the rioting, arson, and murder being done in the name of the Prophet are acts of liberation.
Let me provide some background. Founded in the United States in 1998, Al-Fatiha is a non-profit foundation which, according to its mission statement, is "dedicated to Muslims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, questioning, those exploring their sexual orientation or gender
identity, and their allies, families and friends." This long litany, with initials that spell LGBTIQTETSOOGIATAFAF, is a good sign that you are dealing with silly leftists. Twenty years ago, when gay rights groups began yielding to pressures to switch their labeling to "gay and lesbian" and then to "GLBT" or "LGBT" (one mustn't oppress lesbians by putting them second), some of us warned that there would be no end to the politically correct insistence on explicitly mentioning every conceivable subgroup and ally, and we have been more than vindicated by the comically balkanized results. Al-Fatiha's mission statement continues, "Al-Fatiha promotes the progressive Islamic notions of peace, equality and justice. We envision a world that is free from prejudice, injustice and discrimination, where all people are fully embraced and accepted into their faith, their families and their communities."
Setting aside that statement's Cloud Cuckooland overtones, I certainly prefer Al-Fatiha's "progressive Muslim values" to the ones that have inspired the torching of embassies and assorted other mayhem. And as someone who has dated gay Muslims and seen firsthand the pressures they endure even in a haven of freedom like the U.S., I am glad that Al-Fatiha establishes local support and discussion groups for them, holds meetings from the local to the international level, and does Internet outreach. My problem with Al-Fatiha is that its advocacy is consistently of the self-defeating leftist variety.
On February 5, for example, in response to an appeal by gay blogger Michael Petrelis to "Buy Danish," Al-Fatiha founder Faisal Alam wrote, "Instead of going out so quickly and 'buying' Danish products, maybe we should reflect on why the Muslim world is so angry at the depiction of its most revered religious figure. Here is an excellent Op-Ed from the Guardian, a renowned paper in the UK. There is so much historical bias here on both sides of the issue that we have to look at the current challenge in that historical perspective. ... Let's reflect on our own history as a people - from the West and how our domination of the Muslim world for centuries is now leading to this mass uprising against us."
Here is the left's idea of egalitarianism: if we attack others, it's our fault, and if others attack us, it's our fault.
Getting back to blogger Tony Murphy, whose comments Al-Fatiha posted approvingly to its email list: When he wrote of Muslim immigrants in Europe "whose lives are increasingly marked by oppression," he referred not to the murder of Muslim women by their fathers and brothers in so-called honor killings, but to oppressive European governments. When he wrote of the Muslim demonstrations that "some of the fiercest have occurred where large populations of Muslim people are under the gun," he referred not to the brutal regimes of Iran and Syria, but to the guns of the United States and Israel. All the sufferings of Muslims, you see, are the result of European colonialism, which apparently entitles Muslims to commit whatever crimes they like with impunity.
The history of colonialism has certainly left lasting scars. What Mr. Murphy appears not to realize is that one of those scars is the politics of victimhood, by which Muslims (in this case) are infantilized and robbed of any responsibility for their own lives. He further overlooks the fact that Muslims have sometimes been oppressors, and Westerners have sometimes been liberators.
In 1807, Britain banned the slave trade and sent ships to patrol the west coast of Africa to stop it. The trade, however, was not so easily suppressed. In 1871, for example, Scottish explorer and missionary Dr. David Livingstone witnessed the massacre of hundreds of villagers by Arab slavers at a riverside market in Nyangwe, in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His horrified reports caused a furor when they appeared in the British press.
In 1870, Livingstone had written, "The way in which these ... Zanzibar Mohammedans murder the men and seize the women and children makes me sick at heart. It is not slave-trade. It is murdering free people to make slaves." In 1873, under British pressure, the sultan of Zanzibar banned the slave trade on the east African coast. But the trade persisted in the interior.
Fast-forwarding to the present, one difference between the West and the Islamic world that comes to mind is that the West has substantially repented of its past wrongs. One can talk of economic colonialism continuing today (although the familiar Marxist alternative amounts to sharing the misery
instead of the wealth); but one can hardly blame the West for Islamic countries' continued oppression of gays and women, intolerance of dissent, and lack of religious freedom. Proponents of moral equivalence, including Al-Fatiha, are so determined to see Muslims as victims that they make
excuses for people who would push walls over on them.
The eagerness of leftists to blame the West for every iniquity has reached its inevitable farcical conclusion in the cartoon controversy. The advocates of social-justice utopianism are so reluctant to acknowledge the West's mere progress (since it always falls short of their ever-receding goal) that they end up embracing non-Western enemies of social justice. Since the West's reforms can never make up for its past sins, it is apparently preferable for it to be plowed under and all those reforms lost. This topsy-turvy logic resembles that of the U.S. State Department in voting with the likes of Zimbabwe to oppose the International Lesbian and Gay Association's application for consultative status at the United Nations. ILGA is deemed illegitimate because of its past association with pedophile organizations. Since ILGA delegates (myself included) voted overwhelmingly to expel pedophile groups in 1994, continuing to punish it is an odd way of encouraging people to do the right thing.
The French paper Le Monde on February 2 printed a cartoon showing a cartoonist writing dozens of times the sentence, "Je ne dois pas dessiner Mahomet" (I must not draw Muhammad), but arranging the sentences so as to draw the head of the Prophet. This wittily illustrates the impossibility of the West ever satisfying the Islamists' demands. The rioters and their instigators, after all, do not just object to cartoons, they object to all of Western culture.
One defense of the Muslim rioters involves blaming President Bush's Middle Eastern military adventures for the unrest. The idea here is that the Danish cartoons were merely the final straw. While I dread the prospect of three more years under this reckless and unreflective president, I don't see how anyone is served by laying all the world's thuggery at his doorstep. Then again, the leftists were even opposed to the war in Afghanistan, in which Bush freed Muslims from the Taliban. Blind dogmatism is something leftists have in common with the Islamist inciters.
Multiculturalism defeats itself when it tolerates the intolerant. If we fail to appreciate and defend our cherished and hard-won Western liberties, we will lose them - and Muslims who dream of those same liberties will lose all hope of them. To paraphrase a memorable ad campaign from thirty years ago: Anyone who favors censoring blasphemy should be beheaded. Am I kidding? Of course. Unfortunately, the other side isn't.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist whose work has appeared on Salon.com and the Independent Gay Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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