My great-grandfather was one of the founders of the mosque in Quincy, Massachusetts. My grandfather, his son, was also a practicing Muslim. Although I was raised as a Jew, I have not forgotten the fact that many members of my family were/are practicing Muslims. As someone who is committed to being an ally to the Muslim community, I continue to be outraged by the venom-filled hate that is spewing from many parts of the United States towards Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim.
As a queer person, I am keenly aware that this kind of vicious targeting of any marginalized community is yet another reminder that we share space on the right wing target list with Muslims, Jews, women, People of Color, immigrants and people with disabilities. So why don't I hear more from the LGBT community and our leadership about the targeting of Muslims, mosques and Islam?
So let's review the facts:
The United States Constitution was founded on several principles including the freedom of religion. This means that anyone is free to practice their religion or spirituality free from discrimination or state control. Islam, like many other religions, has a long history in the United States. For example, it is believed that one of the first mosques was built in North America on Kent Island, MD, between 1731 and 1733. For some very basic facts (and myth busting) around mosques in America check out a recent article by Edward E. Curtis in The Washington Post entitled "5 Myths about mosques in America."
As a community that has had constitutional amendments and ballot measures used to control and vilify every aspect of our lives, I would think that the LGBT community and our national leadership might have something to say about the gross violation of the First Amendment as it pertains to the Muslim community. Yet what I hear is mostly silence. Shouldn't we be outraged or is this an LGBT movement that is so single issue that we haven't yet made the connection between our liberation and the liberation of other communities on the same target list?
Let's consider another fact. Queer Muslims are an integral part of the LGBT community and movement. Mind you, this is not a recent development. Over a decade ago, several queer Muslim activists came together to found Al-Fatiha Foundation. The mission of Al-Fatiha is as follows:
Al-Fatiha is dedicated to Muslims of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, and questioning or exploring their sexual orientation and/or gender identity (LGBTIQQ), and their families, friends and allies. 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 families, faith and communities.
Al-Fatiha is not the only place where queer Muslims gather to practice their faith, build community and organize for justice. However, it is an important example of how diverse the LGBT community is along the lines of race and faith. This also means that our community cannot ignore the prevalence of Islamaphobia in the United States because members of our community are being impacted by it daily.
To ignore this means that we are abdicating responsibility for our interdependence and furthering Islamaphobia by denying the realities of our LGBT Muslim brothers and sisters. To ignore this means that we aren't actively doing all that we can to ensure that Islamaphobia, along with all other forms of oppression, is not dividing us. Islamaphobia is a queer issue, one that is undoubtedly here to stay. As such, our LGBT movement must get on board with the issues of our time, including immigration, Islamaphobia, economic and disability justice, environmental justice and global peace in order to remain relevant to an increasingly complex world.
If you do not believe that Islamaphobia is an issue for our time, check out the numbers from the latest national Time magazine poll. These numbers should get us all moving around challenging Islamaphobia wherever and whenever we see it:
Sixty-one percent of respondents said they oppose the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. 70 percent of respondents said they agreed with the premise building a mosque so close to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks would insult the victims. The survey also indicated many Americans harbor animosity toward Muslims: 28 percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court and about a third of respondents said followers of Islam should be barred from running for president.
It is clear that Muslims, along with mosque building projects throughout the country, will be used by the right wing and the Republican Party as a wedge issue in the upcoming election cycle. The strategic vilification and disinformation campaign about the Islamic community center in Manhattan is just the latest approach the right wing is using to target Muslims who have the constitutional right to buy property, practice their faith and build community. The following video by Sam Seder highlights the depths of the misinformation campaign underway along with how the right wing is framing Islam, Muslim identity and mosques in order to galvanize their base:
Rachel Maddow, a lesbian by trade, further amplifies this analysis by actively making connections across issues, communities and identities that our national movement leadership is not making. Check out this clip from Maddow's show. It's an analysis of how and why the Republicans and the right wing intend to use Islamaphobia, along with racism and other forms of oppression, to fire up their base by targeting a whole community of Muslims for political gain. She refers to the latest focus of the right on mosques as yet another tactic used by them to "scare white people for political profit":
Rightfully so, Maddow connects the "scare white people" tactics employed the right around this latest hate filled mosque campaign to the attacks on Shirley Sherrod, Van Jones and ACORN. This is an important point friends! Maddow is not only highlighting the interdependent narrative that the right is using, but she is also pointing to their use of a master frame. A master frame equates immigrants, People of Color, LGBT people, women and Muslims (just to name a few) with being "un-American." This is a values based argument that the right is using to define what is a "good" American body and what is a "bad" American body. It is clear that in the right's narrative brown, black, queer, immigrant and female bodies are "bad" bodies and they need to be used to scare white people into believing the white supremacist lies that have been constructed throughout US history about these communities.
Given that our bodies and relationships as LGBT people have been used as wedge issues in national campaigns, I would think that we might be motivated to take a page from Rachel Maddow's playbook and get busy doing some serious organizing around Islamaphobia. Yeah, not so much... I'm not seeing the LGBT community mobilize around this issue even though there are clear connections between homo/bi/transphobia and Islamaphobia.
Joining with other voices for peace to challenging Islamaphobia is an important first step in stopping this hate filled campaign. LGBT people, Jews, immigrants, women--essentially all progressively minded people must come together to prevent this insidious discrimination from going any further. Our mutual survival depends upon speaking up and speaking out when these seeds of hate are getting planted in relationship to any community.
Important examples of this include Imam Johari Abdul-Malik who was the first Muslim chaplain of Howard University in Washington DC. He is currently the director of outreach for the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center and part of a group of national leaders providing strategic guidance to Park51 and other organizations building Islamic centers and mosques in America. In a recent article entitled "Islamic center's struggle echoes that of African-Americans," Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, an African-American Muslim, articulates the relationship between the discrimination faced by the Black and Muslim communities.
As a bridge person whose identity is located at the intersection of Blackness and Islam, he is able to amplify the interconnected nature of the discrimination being faced by both communities without diluting the specific nature of each communities struggle. He states:
The struggle for equal access, for the right to build mosques in America -- not just in lower Manhattan -- is reminiscent of the pain and struggle of black Americans for churches, housing, employment and, actually, public acceptance. By the letter of the law, blacks had the right to live or work anywhere, but they were often segregated to certain areas and specific jobs. Similarly, American Muslims have the right to worship anywhere, but some Americans say we're not ready yet for mosques being built in certain areas.
Another example of how we must speak up and speak out recently took place in Los Angeles. A group of more than 30 religious leaders, including about half a dozen local Jewish leaders, Roman Catholics, Quakers, Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Muslims gathered to express their solidarity for the Islamic community center in Manhattan. Rabbi Steven Jacobs of Temple Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, made the following statement in reference to another instance of public opposition to building plans for a mosque in Los Angeles:
You may talk about New York, but in our own vast city of Los Angeles, there are religious leaders standing up and saying the same thing about a mosque being built in the midst of their city. How tragic. It is not about New York. It's about the soul of America.
I agree with Rabbi Jacobs. This is about the soul of America. The question at hand is do we want to live in a country that continues to perpetuate hate against individuals and communities that don't fit narrow definitions of what it supposedly means to be "American" or do we want to live in a country that continues to expand its commitment to beloved community, inclusion and interdependence? Why is it that we live in a country that operates on the premise that there is something economically and politically gained by targeting the most marginal among us from generation to generation?
Are these the values we want to live by... build community by? I know for damn sure these are not my values. I also know that I want to be part of an LGBT movement that also holds the values of interdependence and beloved community near and dear. So this is your call to action LGBT movement! Let's start working on the critical issues of our time, including challenging Islamaphobia.