In the U.S., the post-attack Muslim community could go either "left" and reformist, or "right" and fundamentalist.
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A Filipino Muslim woman holds a picture of Osama Bin Laden while shouting anti-American slogans, Manila, Oct. 26, 2001. Romeo Ranoco
by Kelly Cogswell
OCTOBER 27, 2001. Al-Fatiha, the first organization for gay Muslims, grew out of Faisal Alam's 1997 plea on the Internet, Is there anybody out there like me? Is anyone out there a gay Muslim? The response was tremendous, and after a year the small Internet community grew into an international foundation managed by volunteers, with six chapters in the U.S., two in Canada, another in London, and more on the way.
Since September 11, Al-Fatiha has spent less time helping lgbt Muslims and their straight friends and families come to grips with sexual identity, than educating the gay community and gay media about Islam, and the historical and political context of the attack.
When I spoke with Alam, recently, in New York City, the young Pakistani-American AIDS activist was in the midst of a speaking tour decrying as simplistic rhetoric the views of some gay writers like Paul Varnell, who in "The New Culture War," characterized the attack as a conflict of East versus West, and medieval Islam versus modernity. Alam's refrain: Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance. Don't blame all Muslims for what a very, very few did.
Like other Muslims, Al-Fatiha members have had to deal with a surge in hate crimes. Alam, who lives in D.C., said, "After September 11, almost everybody I knew that was not white was getting harassed. Most of it was verbal, go back where you came from, things like that. One of our members in New York called the police when his door was graffitied. They hauled him in for questioning."
Alam's main concern is the erosion of civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad, and how it will affect gay people. In some places it can't get any worse. In Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia "homosexuals" are executed. "In Egypt [where homosexuality is supposedly not illegal] gay people are already defined as a threat to the state."
The 52 Egyptian men on trial for "obscene behavior" and "contempt for religion," code language for being gay, are being tried in Egypt's Special Emergency Court, set up to deal with terrorists. Prior to the attack, Al-Fatiha, working with gay Egyptians, brought world-wide attention to the case before the attack erased it from the media's attention.
In the closing arguments of the case on October 10, the main defendant, Sherif Hassan Farahat, was accused of being a member of Jihad, the Egyptian fundamentalist terrorist network, which closely related to Bin Laden's terrorist organization. How he can be both an obvious "homosexual," and a follower of the intensely homophobic fundamentalist group remains a mystery.
Given the Bush administration's uncritical quest for allies, a number of dictatorships and sham democracies will be emboldened to use the current political upheaval to crack down on anyone they don't like. U.S. security, now, more than ever before, has become equated with our unsavory allies' stability. At the same time, fundamentalist Muslims are using the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan to recruit new anti-American, pro-Islamist members who will be sure to indulge in further anti-gay campaigns.
In the U.S., the post-attack Muslim community could go either "left" and reformist, or "right" and fundamentalist, according to Alam. Until recently, the mainstream community, which by U.S. standards is overwhelmingly conservative, has been in denial about the existence of gay Muslims. Some are also struggling with the role of women. The first time "homosexuality" was addressed openly in the U.S. Muslim world was after gay Muslims marched for the first time last June in San Francisco's Gay Pride. Members reported that at least six mosques had anti-queer sermons the following Friday.
Al-Fatiha also got some attention after picking up a "fatwa," or religious edict, from a fundamentalist Islamic group in Britain. "The very existence of Al-Fatiha is illegitimate and the members of this organization are apostates," the decree said. "Never will such an organization be tolerated in Islam and never will the disease which it calls for be affiliated with a true Islamic society or individual. The Islamic ruling for such acts is death."
Nevertheless, Alam is hopeful that U.S. Muslims will reject the fundamentalist trend. "We're trying to make this our home. We like the freedom here. And we don't want to seem like a foreign entity. Change will happen in the next few years," he said, "when the second generation takes leadership positions. That's when it will be interesting to see if we go right or left. I think that, after September 11, it'll be left."
The attacks have spurred at least a few U.S. Muslims to assess their own culture. In his essay "A Memo to American Muslims," Dr. Muqtedar Khan, of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, and a professor at Adrian College in Michigan, questions those Muslim Americans who "love to live in the U.S., but also love to hate it," who condemn Israel for anti-Muslim abuses, but not Muslim regimes like Saddam Hussein's who slaughter thousands of their own people. He calls for U.S. Muslims to examine themselves, and rededicate their efforts to "harmony, peace, and tolerance," instead of to "the culture of hate and killing."
A few hardline Muslim voices in the U.S. can be heard justifying the attacks, some subtly, others overtly. However, most are like homegrown post-Columbine observers who distanced themselves and America from that massacre, declaring it an aberration, absolutely nothing to do with the larger culture, or even that of American high schools. Fundamentalist Christians, if forced to comment on the bombing of abortion clinics and gay bars, will only say that it is not very nice, but has nothing to do with them, before they launch into a tirade against godless baby-killers and queers. For blind-folded believers, there are no thorns in the rosebushes of Islam, or American culture, or Christianity.
Aside from self-examination, a significant factor determining the future of American Islam may be how that community responds to the increased anti-Muslim social pressures. An embattled community may become more conservative, rather than less, as Faisal Alam acknowledged. Before the attack, he said, the pressures of living as a cultural and religious minority in the U.S. were already visible on second generation immigrants.
"There's a large segment that is even more conservative than their parents. In fact many of their parents when they came were secular, and got more religious when they came here. Their children are far more hard-core religious than they would have been if they had stayed in a place like Pakistan, where Islam is not just exclusively religious, but cultural. They turn to it here, where they have no cultural influence."
Faisal Alam was in Miami Beach preparing for the U.S. Conference on AIDS, when the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "I was stuck in this resort on Miami Beach, seeing it on CNN. It was really surreal. At the same time, there was this hurricane coming."
For the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha, which means "the opening," in Arabic. It is also the title of the first chapter of the Koran.
For The New Culture War, by Paul Varnell.
For A Memo to American Muslims, by M. A. Muqtedar Khan.
For the site Women Living Under Muslim Law.
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