Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Muslim Headspin in Britain

First they hate us, then they love us, then they hate us again, only moreso. And then they love us again? I'm so confused!

In January, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said that homosexuality is "harmful" and a "disease", according to the BBC. A quote:

"Asked if he believed homosexuality was harmful to society, he said: 'Certainly
it is a practice that in terms of health, in terms of the moral issues that
comes along in a society - it is. It is not acceptable.'"
In the vein of anti-gay statements from religious leaders, however, his remarks are quite tame and mature. While he does not agree with homosexuality, he believes strongly that gay activists deserve the right to free speech, and that everyone in society should be tolerant, and use peaceful, democratic methods to express their views. This quote is both eloquent and beautiful:

"We may not be happy with the views being expressed by others. But the
difficulty comes in that at the end of the day we are human beings."
Later, unfortunately, Sacranie faced a police investigation apropos his comments. This is a fantastic case of liberalism gone too far. While those who complained might have thought they were doing the right thing by protesting Sacranie's comments, they were in fact making a mockery of the gay movement, and perhaps damaging it. I understand why they would protest what he said, but not that he could say it. This protest was wrong on both an ideological level and a practical one.

First, no speech should be censored, as long as the speech is mature, and does not inspire violence. Even hate speech should be protected. If those who hate are silenced, they will only hate more because of their oppression. The last thing the world needs is people who are both hateful and oppressed.

Second, gay people, when it comes to free speech, currently have the lower hand. We are not the majority and we are not in power. When censorship arises, it always favors one of the two. If we call for censorship, we only hurt ourselves in the end.

Luckily, he was not charged.

Then, in early April, the MCB apparently made a u-turn, when its policy advisor, Muhammad Aziz, revealed a five-year plan to combat homphobia in an interview with Pinknews. Apparently the British Department of Trade and Industry was set to mediate the talks between the MCB and the gay community, for some reason.

"We have brought about a lot of change from five years ago when the MCB was behind issues such as section 28, and against gay adoption," Aziz is reported to have said. "The first part of the strategy was to tell the MCB, 'if you have nothing positive to say, keep your mouth shut.' Most of the negative statements now date back to 1999."

"In February, a gay Muslim asylum seeker from Sudan, Nahi Mudwai, committed suicide by jumping into the Thames after his family's homophobia drove him to despair. Thousands of young gay people from religious families, not only Muslim, of course, experience rejection and depression because of faith-inspired homophobia. We applauded the MCB for its decision to combat anti-gay attitudes," said Brett Lock, the campaign organizer for British gay-rights group OutRage!.

Sadly, in late April, the MCB was again accused of making a u-turn. rescinding its pledge to tackle homophobia, as reported in The Observer, Pinknews, and UK Gay News. In fact, the MCB seemed to completely disown Aziz, often saying that Aziz did not represent the organization. But wasn't representing the organization his job?

I find it hard to believe that Aziz was merely acting on his own. I imagine that in an organization such as the Muslim Council of Britain, Aziz's participation in talks with the Equality and Diversity Forum could not have happened without someone's approval. I bet that the MCB wanted to make amends for Sacranie's comments, for they created a lot of bad press. This is supported by the fact that it was noted in the minutes of the meeting that “Mohammed Aziz addressed the subject of remarks made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie in an interview on Radio 4. Part of what was said related to a real issue about the theological position of sexuality in Islam and this needs to be engaged with and a solution sought. Two comments were made that were particularly regrettable, about damage to society and about a possible danger to public health. While he cannot apologise for Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s comments, Mohammed would like to apologise on a personal level for the pain and hurt that they caused – he knows the pain and hurt that he would feel if such comments were made about Muslims.”

Perhaps, however, Aziz had gone further than the MCB would have wished by offering the five-year plan, and the MCB had to backpedal, thus sending Inyat Bunglawala, its media spokesperson, to deny the gay-positive talks and reassert the MCB's anti-gay stances. Nevertheless, note that this was not immediate, occurring more than a week after the fact. If Aziz were truly not representing the MCB in his discussions with the gay community, would not the MCB have responded immediately to correct the slander?

Anyway, everything is further confused by an article in the Socialist Worker detailing an April 29 carnival organized in Trafalgar Square by the group Love Music, Hate Racism. It states:

"Tahmina Saleem from the Muslim Council of Britain spoke at the carnival to
highlight the need for unity against the BNP to undermine the Nazis’ attempts to
appear 'respectable'. She said she was proud to be appearing on the same
platform as gay rights group Stonewall. 'Whatever our differences, we will unite
with anyone and stand together with anybody against the BNP and for respect and
tolerance,' she said."
What? Is the MCB making yet another u-turn? Maybe its car is stuck in one of Britain's famous roundabouts because the driver cannot decide whether to take the exit for "pro-gay" or "anti-gay".

The MCB needs to make up its mind, or at least rein in its members until it does. Regardless of where it ends up for the time being, the fact that there are members within it that disagree with Sacranie's ideology is heartening, for it signals positive change in the future.

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