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‘We can’t allow events in Birmingham to turn LGBTQ people and Muslims against each other’

Building bridges - not walls - is the only way to fight bigotry, writes Mobeen Azhar.

By Will Stroude

This article first appeared in Attitude issue 309, June 2019

What do the Sultan of Brunei and the parents who pulled their children out of school in Birmingham have in common? Bigotry.

Hundreds of students missed classes at Parkfield Community School after their parents said lessons about LGBTQ inclusion were “confusing” for children.

Meanwhile, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah introduced an ultra-conservative penal code in his Southeast Asian nation, which could see people found guilty of engaging in anal sex being stoned to death.

As a Muslim who happens to be gay, I am pissed off by what is going on in Birmingham.The “we are not homophobic, we just don’t want our children to be confused” argument is bullshit. And we should all speak out against archaic laws. Gay sex is not criminal. Intolerance must not be tolerated.

In Birmingham and Brunei, conservative values attributed to religion generally, and Islam specifically, are the justification. And in both instances, the English Defence League, Britain First and, more broadly, the Far Right, have jumped on the chance to push their agenda: that these examples are further proof that Muslim life is not compatible with the modern world.

The Right seems to have developed an ability to home in on any story that features Muslims being intolerant while tuning out stories that exemplify bigotry inspired by those who profess to be Christian, Jewish, Hindu or of no faith at all. They ask: “How can we be racist when Islam isn’t a race?”

Muslims in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand are overwhelmingly non-white, so of course Muslim-bashing has a racial element. In the Trumpian, Britain First/ Tommy Robinson dystopia we see online, everything is divided into camps of “good” and “bad” and “our values” and “their values”, “black” and “white.”

But life doesn’t work that way. Humans are complicated and that includes people who profess to follow a faith.

The American Values Atlas, published by the Public Religion Research Institute in April 2018, shows more American Muslims now back same-sex marriage than their white, evangelical Christian counterparts.

Fifty-one per cent of American Muslims support same-sex couples getting married, while 58 per cent of white evangelical Christians oppose that.

The New York Times collated data identifying nearly 350 white extremist terrorism attacks in Europe, North America and Australia between 2011 and 2017. Earlier this year, 50 Muslims were murdered in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The killer championed the idea that Muslims were taking over “white” spaces. He said he was inspired by Anders Breivik, the Norwegian who killed 77 people in 2011 as part of a “Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination.”

The point is: no one community has a monopoly on righteousness or fucked up ideas. The more we talk to each other and have conversations about commonalities, the more we will grow together.

Focus on building bridges and don’t allow those with a nasty agenda to build walls between us.