Sheik Khalid Yasin’s recent homophobic outburst on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes created a predictable stir in Sydney’s gay community. Alex Day, President of the Canterbury-Bankstown District Gay and Lesbian Social Group (CBD) spent the better part of a morning fielding calls - not only from the gay press but from mainstream media outlets as well. The Canterbury-Bankstown area is home to much of Sydney’s Muslim community.
Since the interview, Yasin has complained his words were taken out of context. But according to the 60 Minutes transcript, this is what he had to say:
If you prefer the name of somebody on your clothes other than the name of the Muslims, if you prefer the clothing of the Kaffers (sic) other than the clothing of the Muslims, most of the names that's on most of those clothing is faggots, homosexuals and lesbians. God is very straightforward about this - not we Muslims, not subjective, the Sharia is very clear about it, the punishment for homosexuality, bestiality or anything like that is death. We don't make any excuses about that, it's not our law - it's the Koran.
It is hard to interpret equating homosexuality with bestiality or asserting homosexuality should be punished by death, in line with the teachings of the Koran, as anything but homophobic, whatever the context.
Yasin is no doubt aiming to shore up support for himself and his allies in the Muslim religious community. Islam, much like Christianity in Australia, is a battleground for conservative and liberal religious leaders. Unfortunately, one of the consequences of these turf wars is victimisation of lesbians and gay men. Day argued in one of Sydney’s gay newspapers, SX News, that Yasin’s comments will make it harder for gay Muslims to feel comfortable with their sexuality. And it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that fundamentalists in the Muslim community will be inspired to commit acts of violence against gays. Harsh words are often matched by harsh deeds - especially when the words are justified by the use of religious doctrine.
Yasin and his supporters have provided us with a timely reminder that fundamentalist Islam, like fundamentalist Christianity, is vehemently anti-gay. In countries such as Iran, where Islamic fundamentalists are in power, anyone suspected of being homosexual is at risk of the death penalty. Two youths were recently tortured and hanged in Mashhad in northeast Iran for “disrupting public order” - a euphemism which covers homosexuality. They were only 16-years-old when they were arrested.
How many people in the wider Australian community actually realise “Islamo-fascism” - as American political commentator Andrew Sullivan, among others, calls al-Qaida’s brand of Islam - is anti-gay? In the wake of terrorist attacks in Bali in 2002, London in July this year, and of course on New York and Washington DC in September 2001, the leaders of the Western World have asserted Islamic fundamentalist terrorists will not destroy “our freedoms” or “our way of life”. But these statements, much as I agree with them (or at least my interpretation of them) raise the question - what exactly are our freedoms and our way of life? On the list would be representative democracy, freedom of speech and the right to vote. But these are ill-defined, proverbial motherhood statements. And because they are ill-defined they are already in danger of erosion.
I am going to be more specific. “Our freedoms” must include the right to our sexual identity. This means the right to be openly gay without being assaulted or discriminated against, and with full relationship recognition before the law. The Australian Government faces the difficulty of already being seriously compromised on gay rights. The ruling Coalition (with help from the ALP) amended marriage legislation in August 2004 to specifically prohibit same-sex marriage. Neither side (and especially the Coalition) wishes to get the burgeoning Christian fundamentalist constituency offside. It is much more electorally palatable for politicians to keep mouthing the word “freedom” without discussing its actual content.
Andrew Sullivan and other commentators at the Independent Gay Forum condemn Islamic extremists specifically for their anti-gay ideology. But Sullivan et al are themselves gay. Will we see non-gay Australians - particularly Australians like John Howard, who have gone out of their way to support the "War on Terror" - focus on the homophobia of Islamic terrorists and their apologists?
Not in the near future. To effectively confront the anti-gay bigotry of Islamic fundamentalists, the Prime Minister and other senior politicians would have to start by expressing open acceptance of people of all sexualities and condemning comments by people like Yasin. Anything less may give support to radical Islamists’ views on homosexuality - and their more violent outcomes. However, mainstream Australia is less concerned with anti-gay violence and more worried about general security issues. And general security issues, not gay acceptance, win votes. In other words, it is better all round not to touch the subject. As usual, the gay community will have to deal with this problem on its own.
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