A Note to the Gay Communityin the global northOn Islamophobia
Shahmir Sanni argues that too many selectively use homophobia to justify prejudice against Muslims, who are themselves a unique focus of global hatred.
Just because you got called a f*ggot once in school, doesn’t mean you get to dictate how communities handle critiques, especially if that critique is based on no reading and is directed toward communities that are victims of state-sponsored violence on a scale this world hasn’t seen in decades.
Trump is not Christianity, Netanyahu is not Judaism, Modi is not Hinduism. But Osama Bin Laden is Islam, Gaddafi is Islam, Saddam Hussein is Islam.
Islamophobia is systemic. It has been around since Napoleon ran amok in what is now Turkey. It is embedded in the history of Britain and America, where ‘Muhammedans’ were massacred and the violence justified because of their barbarism. And, to this very day, they are being put in internment camps, ethnically cleansed and facing an internationally-backed campaign to derail their lives.
Whether that be in Iraq or Pakistan, the Uighurs or the Rohingya, Donald Trump or Narenda Modi. If for one moment you would extend your viewpoint outside of your own city, let alone your own home, you would realise that your experience at the hands of the state, and henceforth your ‘oppression’, is not the same as that faced by the Muslim community. And so you do not get to speak on the oppression of Muslims who are queer when we ourselves are met with that same, debilitating violence; when we are being deported from our home countries and sent to far-off states that want us dead.
You are not being blown to bits. Your child is not being left, face-first, dead in the sand on a beach in Europe. Your parents are not being kept in an internment camp where they are indoctrinated and tortured, like the Uighurs. You are not being uprooted from your homes and massacred like the Rohingyas. You are not being outlawed as human beings worthy of refuge by Modi. You are not being kidnapped, raped and jailed for fighting against oppressive states. Most of all, you are not at risk from Islamic extremism in the way that cis, straight Muslim men are, let alone queer Muslims, Ahmedis and Shias in the global south.
Justifying Islamophobia through the lens of homophobia is exactly what it is. Why is it that we do not extend the same level of accountability to Jews or Christians, when the Torah and the Bible say the same thing as the Quran? Why is it that the worst of Islam is used to describe the entire Muslim community, but this doesn’t happen to others?
All religious groups oppress LGBTQ communities. Recently, the US President allowed doctors to decline helping trans communities, but somehow that is not associated with evangelical Christian beliefs. The issue here is not that Islamic countries are more ‘backward’, but that you do not extend the same complexity and nuance to Muslims as you do to white people.
Islamophobia is based around a history of violence and damnation of ‘Muhammedans’ because, many times throughout history, they were the opposition. Whether that be the Mughals to the British, the Ottomans to the French, or the Arabs to the Americans: Islamophobia is deep and sinister and, because it disallows Muslims from being unique, it inhibits them from being different.
Every Muslim is seen through the same lens because the worst of Islamic texts and people is applied to them. This generalisation is never, ever extended to white Christians, or Israeli jews, and rightfully. Trump is not Christianity, Netanyahu is not Judaism, Modi is not Hinduism. But Osama Bin Laden is Islam, Muammar Gaddafi is Islam, Saddam Hussein is Islam. The white shooter is not all white young men, but Shamima Begum is all Bangladeshi Muslims.
Criticism of even the ‘good Muslim’ is nearly always tainted if they make any association with Islam or choose to engage with their own communities. Fundamentally, racism is rooted in the abolition of complexity, nuance and self-determination. It is the white gaze that encompasses all of a group as one characteristic and, often, that characteristic is ‘barbarism’. Black people, Muslim people, trans people, whomever.
Not Just a White Problem
Islamophobia is not just a white problem, however. It infects all those within a state that benefits and profits from the obliteration of Muslim people.
Indian Hindus, Black Christians, Asian Buddhists all are prone to holding Islamophobic beliefs because the ‘Mohammedan’ is always the savage.
Black Muslims face demonisation from their own communities in Britain – compare the socio-economic position of Somalis to their counterparts. Pakistani/Bangladeshi Muslims are seen as less than by Indian Hindus and Sikhs. This is tied in with anti-blackness, misogyny and a myriad of other systemic problems that nearly always lead to violence, state-sponsored violence. A lack of empathy for Muslim bodies has allowed great violence to occur, an apathy that would never be extended if the same were to happen to communities in the global north today.
So, as a queer Muslim who faces violence from his own people and from the LGBTQ community, I say this: you cannot tackle homophobia within Muslim countries by damning us and justifying genocide or ethnic cleansing. Or by saying ‘yes well Islam throws us off buildings’. This is disingenuous and violent. Fighting Islamophobia is integral to dismantling systems that affect queer people.
Trump didn’t get elected because he said he hated you, the f*ggot. He got into power because he said he hated us and trans people. And, most importantly, understanding that state violence against Muslims is much worse than many marginalised communities here in the West is integral to including the oppression of Muslim communities (queer Muslims included) in the global fight against the far-right.
They are all building their platforms on Islamophobia as its bedrock. Islamophobia is getting fascists elected. So engage with Muslim communities by looking outside the lens of white supremacy, by making room for those that do not have the privileges you have, even if you might be gay.