Alex Blaze

Islamophobia is alive and well at the Blades

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 03, 2007 5:49 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Charles Merrill, colonialism, Islamophobia, James Kirchick, London car bombings, Michael Lucas, New York Blade, Washington Blade

Remember Charles Merrill? Last week, the millionaire burned a Koran to protest Muslim homophobia. I was a bit desperate for content that day so I posted from the press release he sent out and made fun of him.

Well, pornster Michael Lucas is all atwitter because he just really liked that performance art piece he didn't see. He's so excited about a rich, white Westerner burning a book important to hundreds of millions survivors of colonialism that he took to the NY Blade to write an op-ed in Merrill's defense:

More recently, Merrill took ink and scissors to a copy of a Bible, editing out the anti-gay passages. He followed that up by burning a rare copy of the Koran with a reported value of $60,000 that had been given to his late wife by the King of Jordan. You can hardly find a reference to Jordan that doesn’t claim it is a “moderate Muslim” country. Funny, though, that you don’t just as often get a reminder that no Jew may be a citizen of Jordan, or buy land there. There are elements in Jordanian society that regularly assert the notion that all homosexuality in the Middle East is Israel’s “fault.”

Ah, yes, those undefined "elements". I'm always worried about them....

Lucas never shows how this Koran burning actually did a bit of good for any queer anywhere in the world, but he's still defending it:

There’s a very important point to be made here. Islam by its nature as defined in the Koran is a religion that demands to be an integral part of human political organization. People following what the Koran says believe that the laws of a land and indeed the world should be Islamic laws, the original Islamic laws as dictated by Mohammed. If they don’t believe that, they aren’t following the Koran. Muslims are engaged in a struggle—a jihad, sometimes violent, sometimes political—to bring about a worldwide Islamic system. Never mind that they will enthusiastically slaughter each other in the fight over whether that system should be Sunni or Shia. Non-Islamic countries, by contrast, do not base their laws on religious texts. They are, rather, pluralistic, and tolerate people of all religions, with the understanding that all must follow the society’s civil laws.

One would hope that our society didn't base it's laws on religious texts, but not if the very people who have the biggest problems with Muslims could have their way.

Of course, blaming religion, and only one religion, for homophobia, is pretty much a whole bunch of misdirection. There is a difference between religion read through the lens of Western Rationalist epistemology and pre-industrial Islam, as there was a lot of same-sex lovin' going on in the currently Islamic world before colonialism imposed a whole bunch of sodomy laws on those countries. And saying that Islam is defined only by the Koran is pretty much saying that Islam has to be the former....

I suppose what I really don't like is the struggle for sexual autonomy being used as a site for bashing on non-Western cultures. Sure, there are things that can be done to improve the lives of queers in Islamic countries, but this isn't the way to go about affecting change. Consider:

Between the Koran and the Hadith there is no question but that Mohammed, fatuously and ridiculously claiming to be speaking the thoughts and words of a Supreme Nincompoop called “Allah,” believed that two men caught having sex with each other should be put to death. The Koran and the Hadith continue in our day to inspire Muslims to murder gay people. So in the name of reason, how could any gay person criticize Charles Merrill for burning a Koran in protest of that?

The Koran is today’s “Mein Kampf.” By the way, “Kampf” and “jihad” are, respectively, the German and Arabic words for “struggle.” If enough Germans had burned Hitler’s book before the Nazis overpowered Germany, perhaps the Germans wouldn’t have wound up having to rebuild their entire country over the ashes of countless millions of dead.

I'm sure history would have turned out very differently if only a rich gay guy had burned a copy of Mein Kampf in private before the Nazis came to power! Gawsh! And the worst part about the Holocaust was that Germany was destroyed!

Oh, well. I'm not going to really care about the fact that Michael Lucas is Islamophobic. That's not really the point - the point is that the NY Blade decided to run it. They even had a little disclaimer at the bottom, but they do leave out certain opinions, and I just don't see what's productive about this one.

The Washington Blade's James Kirchick, on the other hand, demands that you don't take him seriously with a disclaimer-less anti-Islamic editorial. He claims that the attempted London car-bombings show that there needs to be a security pat-down in front of every gay bar. Seriously:

In light of the more recent thwarted attacks — in which Islamist terrorists hoped to detonate massive bombs outside a London club featuring a “Ladies’ Night” — can anyone seriously doubt that a gay nightclub or bar is on the Islamofascists’ agenda? Indeed, London’s gay district, Soho, is just blocks from where police found the car bombs.

Yes, because an attempted attack, the only one noticeable in two years, on a bar down the street from a gay district, means that we all have to be scared shitless of Islam the Western world over. Forget the fact that these sorts always seem to be able to forget about the homeless queer people dying in the streets without anyone to turn to or poor queer people unable to afford health care or elderly queers who can't find a place to live as they age without going back into the closet, all of which are bigger threats to gay well-being than the possibility of another attempted attack somewhere in the West, and forget as well about the fact that money on security could be much better spent here, and forget as well about the fact that they didn't even go after a gay bar here, we should all be demanding the pat-down.

Whatevs. Consider this, the heart of the issue:

In Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority, I asked a young, cosmopolitan Palestinian girl who follows Paris Hilton’s every move what would happen if a gay club were to open in the Palestinian Territories. “You’d see the flames in the states!” she laughed. The Palestinians, as we are frequently told, are the most secular and educated Arabs of the Middle East.

And here we have it: "secular" is synonymous with "gay-friendly"; "educated" is the opposite of "homophobic". Of course, this denies the history of homophobia in Rationalist thought and creation of systems of laws around such homophobia by those very same secularists. It also repeats the same power-dynamic between the West and the East that's been in play since the Enlightenment: we're the educated, aware ones, they're the uneducated ones who have to be turned into replicas of us, sometimes violently. A hundred years ago they were uneducated barbarians because they didn't have laws against the practice of homosexuality; today they're the uneducated barbarians because they do have such laws.

The editorial closes with:

Gay people have fought long and hard against domestic political opponents in the battle for civic equality. We have not apologized about our way of life or equivocated about the continuing injustices we face. Likewise, the medieval adversary of Islamofascism is one that we must stare down with even greater fervor.

Honestly I'll let Kirchick worry about the "Islamofascists" bombing Talbott Street. Those "domestic political opponents" are the ones that worry me and the ones that actually let thousands of homeless queers die in the streets.

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A. J. Lopp | August 3, 2007 8:25 PM

In short: Gay men can be just as bigoted, narrow-minded, and hateful as anyone else.

Years ago, I'm afraid I would hardly have minded if someone bombed Talbott Street. I thought all gay men ought to be macho Castro clones. It took me decades to figure out that effeminate gay men and drag queens and transgendered people and, in general, men that are more feminine than I thought they ought to be, have the same right to exist as everyone else.

So, Alex, yes, these editorials are saddening ... but there, but for the grace of God, go I.

A. J. Lopp | August 3, 2007 8:28 PM

Note to readers outside Indianapolis: "Talbott Street" is the name of the premier gay bar in Indy that hosts drag shows.

Well, some tact and less absolutist language would go a long way. Many Americans are struggling with the whirlpool of injustices: how to reconcile criticism of our war in Iraq and the kind of intolerance that can be found in predominantly Islamic nations? Is our culture so superior because we only kill a small number of people for their sexual orientation per year, while they kill more per capita?

Injustices must always be pointed out. I'm glad to a point that Islam isn't given a free pass just because we're perpetrating an injustice in Iraq. The parallel injustices can, and should, have the light of truth shone upon them.

Agreed, Mike. And I'm trying to reconcile that, I don't think anyone deserves a free pass, especially if they're killing gays. But I'm also not going to give people a pass for blatant prejudice, even if they are gay.

So what to do? There has to be another solution to all these problems, and someone more creative and knowledgeable than I will have to come up with it. But I'm thinking that a non-homophobic Middle East isn't going to look like a non-Homophobic West, they might not even want to create an identity around sexuality, who knows, so a vision for change is going to have to come from them, not us.

And especially not Michael Lucas.

Alex, I totally agree with what you are saying about the editorials... how the smack of blatant prejudice and ignorance of history and reality... how they attempt to paint all Muslims and Middle Easterners as evil. On that point, the editorials are just as bad as any editorial that Dr. Dobson may have written against our community.

On the other hand, however, I think Charles Merrill does have a right to what he did, that is burning the Koran. We may not totally agree with why he did it but it was done as part art, part political statement and for a reason. As a Christian, taking ink and blotting out portions of the Scripture is just as offensive to me as I'm sure the burning of the Koran would be to Muslims. I have a feeling, however, that Merrill should be given his space to make artistic and political statements, which were not necessarily based on hateful, blanket statements about all Muslims but rather a direct response to the vicious, murderous anti-gay statements of one person.

I don't know really... correct me if I'm wrong or if I'm missing something.

Well, Matt, I suppose the only place where I would disagree is with the phrase "On the other hand". I don't think anyone was trying to ban people like Merrill from being idiots or that he should be thrown in prison for what he did. There's nothing mutually exclusive about bigoted speech and free speech - it's protected, should be protected, and it's pretty ignorant at the same time.

Oh well. I suppose it's just that I'm annoyed every time someone defends this sort of speech by saying that "they have a right to say it", they always seem to imply that if it's legally protected that it's somehow beyond reproach.

And I'm just annoyed also with Merrill. I mean, the dude doesn't do anything to help anyone, but sends out a press release about burning a Koran - I can burn a cross and send out a press release but it won't stop anyone who calls him/herself Christian from being homophobic if they're doing that. And when he burns a Koran, I'm thinking that's a blanket statement. Not that I care as much about Merrill as I do about the Blades running those pieces, b/c people will actually read those.

So, yeah, dude, we pretty much agree. No religion isn't inherently homophobic, it's how people interpret it.