Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Queers Must Challenge Islamaphobia

Filed By Lisa Weiner-Mahfuz | September 01, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: racial justice

My great-grandfather was one of the founders of the mosque in solidarity.jpegQuincy, 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.

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Thanks for writing about this important topic, Lisa. I noticed that Ken Mehlman, in his coming out interview, was suggesting that gays should make common cause with "anti-Jihadist" Rebublicans. It didn't take him long to switch wedge issues, did it?

So what do you want the queers to do? The LGBT people I know in real life and that I'm reading on the internet are speaking out against this nonsense, but I guess that's not enough.

Should orgs come out with a statement? Saying... that Muslims should have a right to build the center? I don't think there's a serious legal battle underway to stop it. Maybe to ask Fox News and Rush Limbaugh to stop spouting nonsense? I don't think they'd stop just because HRC tells them to.

I agree with most of your post, but the framing of "LGBT people aren't doing enough to stop Islamaphobia and that's why we're seeing bad things happen" doesn't ring true to me.

What we should be doing (everyone, not just LGBT people) is countering the lies with facts every time we come across them. Someone forwards an Islamaphobic email? Hit "reply all" and set the record straight. A neighbor is talking about how the mosque is a monument to terrorism? Push the conversation in an uncomfortable, but needed, direction. Read an Islamaphobic letter to the editor in your local paper? Write one yourself and tell everyone you know in town to do the same. Etc.

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?

Because there is. The best way to fight that system is to keep people focused on important issues instead of wedge issues. But some people have too much invested in keeping the rest of us distracted.

Islamophobia is about more than a zoning spat over a cultural center/mosque. It's about mass murder. Islamophobia is woven into the bipartisan wars to steal oil and other resources from muslims and Arabs.

Islamophobia is a cover to steal oil and Palestinian land but once unleashed it fed on itself and developed a life of its own like the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. The result is mass murder and genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are dead. The genocidal fury of Islamophobes was expressed during the first oil war by American generals chortling and smirking because they'd killed tens of thousands of retreating conscripts in the 'Kill Box."

It was expressed in the refusal of NATO to stop the genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Bush's invasions and in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was expressed in all its coldly calculated brutality by the murder of half a million children by Bill Clintons embargo of food, medical and sanitary supplies to Iraq.

The best way to combat Islamophobia is to join the civilian and antiwar movements to demand the total and immediate withdrawal of US forces from the entire region, cut the US purse strings that finance zionist apartheid and ethnic cleansing and to fight to free PFC Bradley Manning, a hero of the LGBT and antiwar movements.

I always find this issue very difficult. Well, maybe not this issue exactly.

Absolutely they have the right to build the center where they would like. As with all things Republican the irony rises to apoplectic levels- the same Republicans throwing this hissy fit are the ones who passed the Religious Liberties Protection Act of 2000 to stop governments, both federal, state, and local from having too much of a say (through zoning ordinances and the likes) in restricting religious communities right to build places of worship.

That said, this conversation always gets back to that uncomfortable conversation around tolerance: how do you tolerate someone, or a group of people, who if, they had their way, would make you "illegal" at best, and at worst call for your death.

The threat of that reality in this country is much more a fundamentalist christian threat. But in Northern Europe it is something that many countries are really struggling with. Alex I'd be curious your take.

Oppression / Xenophobia / etc is the same regardless of who it is directed at - and should be rejected.

At the same time, I'd like to see ways that non-Muslims could help create the space and dialogue for a liberalizing of Islam analogous to the changes we have seen in Christianity.

I guess the first way to do that- is to allow the community center to be built...

This is primarily about RELIGION. Ironically, Christians, both Democrats and Republicans, have created this story. The average American doesn't care much about this issue, but the religious ones do.

I don't think the LGBT Community has any role in this fight. Let religion solve it, they started it. Their battle continues to marginalize their beliefs. That actually helps us.

infulleffect | September 1, 2010 2:53 PM

Thanks for the article. LGBTs are able to ignore the oppression of others for the same reason that everyone is able to: because we are taught to categorize and stratify life itself, including human beings, and to judge some as better than others. And, just because we become aware to more options within one category, i.e. sexual orientation, it does not mean that we stop believing in the existence of all the other categories and the superiority of some over others. Exclusion has a framework and it looks roughly like this: us vs. them. GLBTs do not discard this framework upon coming out, they just adjust the definitions of who is 'us' and 'them.'

The answer is to throw away the framework of categorization/exclusion and its resulting dynamic of identity politics. Organizing around an ideology, such as Social Justice, would require an organization and its members to call out injustice wherever it exists. Individuals could still have their specific areas of interest, but the organizing principle is Justice, period.

polargirl360 | September 1, 2010 3:11 PM

I'll support Islam and denounce bigotry against it when they are willing to do the same for me and not until then!

Homophobia and transphobia is worse with Muslims than it is with Christians. Ask any queer or trans person who grew up Muslim.

While I'll fully admit that there are many violently homophobic Muslims out there, they aren't all bad.
Maybe the Muslim raised folks you know had a bad time of it and that is horrible, but not all of us did.
My Muslim family is lovely, and I'm totally out as queer and trans to all of them, even my grandma.

Islam world-wide is a powerful patriarchal system that oppresses gays, women and apostates. The *MAINSTREAM* interpretation in Islam is that homosexuality is an abomination.

You whiny PC liberals are shooting yourself in the foot every time you leap to the defense of Islam instead of merely focusing on human rights and the Christian right's hypocrisy. Islam is no friend to LGBT people. And religions are not people, they are not entitled to human rights. Focus on the PEOPLE. Stop defending ideologies and elevating them to sacred status. It's not "Islamophobic" to object to the core tenets and teachings of Islam. It's sanity.

Defense of islam, one of the three cult groups from Abrahams little house of religious horrors, is not the question here.

Any honest activist for LGBT rights, especially the right not be murdered by US armed jihadist pigs in Iraq, christian thug killers in Uganda, the EU and the US and the killer ayatollahs of Iran has to be opposed to the three abrahamic religions on principle.

The differences between anti-LGBT islamists, christers and judaists is not how much they want to harm us but what they can get away with.

That said, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are two forms of racism currently embraced by fascists in Europe and Teabagger racists in the US. You can be for human rights or you can be a racist, but not both.

As Peter Tatchell, an international hero of our movement who has the scars to prove it, unlike armchair academics, points out we have to unstintingly support our brothers and sisters and Iran and Iraq and the Palestinian fight for independence with the same fervor. He exactly right about that.

So this has me wondering... You speak of a splinter group of gay Muslims that started their own sect. Does the group wanting to build this mosque in NYC support this sect? I doubt it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for diversity. But I keep seeing the rally for gay folks to help all these other groups, be they race or religion based. But when it comes time for them to help us, they often are the worst oppressors. Many gay and lesbian people helped in the rallies and protests to stop segregation, but many of the black leadership (like Jesse Jackson) still stand strongly against gay marriage and basic equal rights for people that "choose to be gay".

This is a religious war, between two large religious groups. No matter which "wins", both wants to destroy us in the end. I say let them duke it out. Divide and conquer. While they fight with each other, we can make real progress in places they're not paying attention to.

This is not a religious war anymore than the struggle in the English occupied north of Ireland is a fight between catholics and prots. In the larger picture the fight against Islamophobia is the fight to end the war and support people struggling against becoming a US colony.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't denounce islamists, christers and judaists for their homohating campaings against. We have to be clear that all these cults are our enemies.

Not a religious war huh? Seem religion is playing a role in this "community center", and that the imam in charge isn't exactly pro-gay. (And it only took 4 months...)

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | January 28, 2011 2:56 PM

Religion is the enemy.


Islamophobia is racism.

Racist in the sense that judging all muslims based on the actions of homohaters and pogromists is unscientific and prejudiced.

Before we all start getting all hot and bothered about the homophobia of Islamic people (oh, yes, and of course, Black people and South Asians and all the rest - I'm sure the list will continue to grow, because we all know how perfect teh gayz are), let's remember that teh gayz have not, historically been the most progressive on Islam.

A few years ago, Al-Fateha (which is, sadly, currently a rather moribund and static organisation, although for reasons that have nothing to do with either Islam or queerness) marched for the first time at DC's Pride parade. How were they greeted? The official M.C introduced them with words to this effect: "This is the most popular with Al-Quaeda ." In other words, Muslim=terrorist, and screw the idea of forming solidarity with queer muslims.

That being said, I'd also caution against the kind of tepid, no-risk, politics articulated in this piece. For instance, I'd strongly caution against: "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."

No, it's not. And the fact that such a sentiment was echoed by an African American Muslim doesn't make it more resonant. I don't want to begin - or continue - a narrative that prioritises some oppressions over others, but the fact remains that this is as problematic a view as the idea that gays now face the same problems as African Americans.

For one thing, this ignores the fact that racism against Black Americans is a continuing fact, not a historical one. And it ignores the kinds of racism that have existed and still exist in many segments of the Muslim non-Black communities. Obviously, these are all immensely complicated matters - and I will devote more time to it than just here in a comment thread. For now, I'd like us all to confront head-on the fact that such instances, like the Islamic Centre, reveal the complications of our racial and cultural history.

Rather than resort to such easy messages about "bridges" and somewhat problematic ideas about "the soul of America" as articulated in this post (really - we're going there now, into some notion of a unified "America" with a soul?), we'd be better off taking the harder road of looking at the deeper and prevailing reasons for such phobia. That means, as Alex suggests, acknowledging the economic and political gains of the same. It means considering the link between the "war on terror" and Islamaphobia and the global concerns articulated in such moments. I could go on, but I'll do that later.

I found this link and found it quite interesting:

As far as gays having to stick up for muslims, I think we have enough of a burden to carry already. How about we ditch the organized religion fiasco and support protecting the environment instead?

Oh, but they left out the best and most important part: Muslims have many children because their god ordained that every family must eat one of its own every five years.

You know what never ceases to surprise me about teh gayz? That the same people who decry the screeds of Dr. Laura and will try to shut down movies they haven't seen because of some perceived (if entirely fictional) nasty stereotypes about gays also have no problem circulating this sort of meaningless, racist, tripe.

You don't have to like Muslims or agree with the tenets of Islam - but can you at least see the parallels between this b.s and this:

A political alliance between Muslim America and LGBT America would be problematic for obvious reasons.

However, there is no reason that LGBT Americans should think twice about supporting and defending the First Amendment. We need the First Amendment every bit as much as Muslim-Americans and other minority religions do. So I would encourage that this issue be framed in terms of supporting Freedom of Speech and Religion and opposing bigotry rather than focusing on defending a particular religion.

For example, if the Wiccans can afford to buy a major piece of real estate in downtown Manhattan, then they have a right to build a worship center there, too, IMHO. We do not need to make this about Islam specifically, and in fact, we complicate matters if we do.

Wolfgang E. B. Wolfgang E. B. | September 5, 2010 6:08 AM

Islamophobia? Is that like Christophobia?

Okay, I'm going to be blunt. Religion is a choice. When one announces that he or she is a member of "X religion," it is a statement of allegiance to a specific set of ideals, traditions, and practices, laid out in the "holy" book associated with that religion.

It's great that some members of the three main Abrahamic religions have chosen to mentally edit out the anti-gay/anti-trans text present in their "holy books," but I have a really hard time with calls to stand in solidarity with a religion's larger community when that community is oppressing LGBT people. Seriously, how many Muslim countries are accepting of their LGBT citizens? How many Muslims sincerely believe that LGBT people deserve full equality with non-LGBT people?

I absolutely stand in solidarity with LGBT Muslims. But, in all honesty, whenever a non-LGBT Muslim victim of violent crime makes the news, I have the same reaction that I have toward a Christian victim: I wonder if he or she was an anti-LGBT bigot. If the answer is "yes," well--One word: Karma.