Saturday, February 18, 2006

Hyping the Muslim peril

I did say that this would be my last word on the Mohammed cartoons, but here's something that's more or less directly connected to that topic, and that deserves a response.

Andrew Sullivan, who ever since the start of the cartoon controversy has been beating the alarm about the threat posed by Muslims to liberties in the West, has a post titled "How Muslim Blackmail Works."

Moscow has now canceled its Gay Pride parade. It was canceled after the chief Muslim leader in Russia warned that marchers would be "bashed" if they dared to walk the streets. Money quote:

"Earlier this week Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin warned that Russia's Muslims would stage violent protests if the march went ahead. "If they come out on to the streets anyway they should be flogged. Any normal person would do that - Muslims and Orthodox Christians alike ... [The protests] might be even more intense than protests abroad against those controversial cartoons." The cleric said the Koran taught that homosexuals should be killed because their lifestyle spells the extinction of the human race and said that gays had no human rights."

Sullivan then laments "appeasement of these religious terrorists."

But when you read the article he references, from The Independent, a rather different picture emerges.

For one thing, the parade was not "canceled," which would imply that at one point it had been approved. Rather, it was preemptively vetoed by the city government. According to the story:

Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's administration said yesterday it would not even consider an application for a parade, prompting Russia's gay community to threaten legal action in the European Court of Human Rights.

Gay and lesbian activists have been campaigning for permission to stage the country's first gay pride event on Saturday 27 May.

The date marks the 13th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Russia in 1993.

After quoting the Mufti, the story continues:

The Russian Orthodox Church has called [the parade] "the propaganda of sin". Bishop Daniil of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk yesterday condemned the plans as a "cynical mockery" and likened homosexuality to leprosy.

The mayor's spokesman, Sergei Tsoi, said a parade would not be allowed. "[The plans] have caused outrage in society, particularly among religious leaders," he said.

In the Communist era Russian homosexuals were jailed for five years and their "condition" was classed as a mental disorder. In post-Soviet Russia public acceptance of homosexuality has been glacial. An opinion poll last year showed 43 per cent of Russians believed gay men should be incarcerated.

There is, in other words, a great deal more to this story than "Muslim blackmail." In fact, I would venture a guess that "Muslim blackmail," in this case, is not part of the story at all. We're talking about Moscow, where ethnics from mostly Muslim regions are routinely harassed and abused by the police; and about Russia, where the government would rather risk hostages' lives than negotiate with terrorists. That the government in Putin's Russia would capitulate to the threat of violent protests is unlikely to the point of being absurd. (In fact, many believe that Putin's government has often used extremist groups for its own purposes, to intimidate opponents.) It's just as absurd to think that the authorities needed any Muslim pressure to ban a gay pride parade. Russia is a deeply homophobic society (where, two years ago, the Russian Orthodox Church razed a chapel after it was "defiled" by a wedding ceremony between two men). It needs no help from Muslims in that regard.

I do agree, of course, that in many European countries, there is a genuine conflict between the conservative values of Muslim immigrants and the openness and pluralism of the societies around them. But this is simply not one of those cases. I also think that intimidation is definitely a factor in this conflict, and the sensibilities of Muslim immigrants are respected out of fear as well asmulticulturalist deference. But not everything is about the Muslim peril. If Amsterdam had canceled its gay pride parade in response to threats from Muslim leaders, that would have been a clearcut, and appalling, case of intimidation. In Moscow, there is little doubt that the ban reflected the authorities' true wishes.


Rainsborough said...

The matter is, as so often the case, more complicated than Sullivan imagines. Sullivan says he opposes self-censorship and favors us all boldly saying what we truly believe. But as Robert Wright points out in the New York Times yesterday, human beings censor themselves all time. It's called not being a horse's ass. Americans are extraordinariily good at it, and self-censorship has been perhaps the foremost element in our being among the most pluralist societies ever and yet also tolerably harmonious and adequately assimilationist.
Sullivan's simplicity put him at the forefront of the charge into the mire of Iraq. Now he again, as Ms. Young nicely shows, exaggerates the dimensions of the threat and distorts its nature. And does what he can to gratuitously insult and provoke the Islamists and discomfit the Muslim moderates who are best positioned to prevent fuel-laden planes targeted at innocent people taking off again.

W.B. Reeves said...

Sullivan is deserving of criticism for many things, but he's quite correct about Islamic homophobia. There are very, very few non-gay Muslims who speak out for gay rights.

Of course this wasn't Sullivan's point. He claimed, falsely as Cathy has amply illustrated, that Government officials had caved in to threats of violence by the Islamic comunity. The reality of Islamic homophobia is no more justification for such distortion and falsehood than is the manifest homophobia of the Religious Right here at home.

Anonymous said...

But one has to wonder, when the chief Muslim religious leader in Russia was calling for violent attacks on gays, where were those "moderate Muslims"? Oh yes... "distancing themselves from his remarks". How nice of them. I suppose actual condemnation of calls for religious violence would be too much to ask for.

Given the situation in Russia, I'd be highly surprised if anyone explicitly condemned violence, especially if those calls for violence were implicitly backed by Russian authorities, as these undoubtably were. To paint this as a situation where Russian authorities "caved in" to Muslim extremists is as phony as Putin's painting of his government's horrendous Chechnyan policies as part of the "War on Terror."

Revenant said...

Given the situation in Russia, I'd be highly surprised if anyone explicitly condemned violence, especially if those calls for violence were implicitly backed by Russian authorities, as these undoubtably were.

The gay rights activists condemned the calls for violence. The government doesn't seem to have punished them for doing so. Nor is the Russian government likely to crack down on people who criticize violent Muslims, given their domestic problems in that area.

The reason there isn't a Muslim outcry against the calls for anti-gay violence is that few Muslims are in disagreement with the underlying idea that homosexuality is evil and sinful. So even though they don't approve of violence, they sympathize with the underlying motive. That's why they don't stir themselves to openly defend the gay activists; at the end of the day, they're happier when the gays don't get to march.

To paint this as a situation where Russian authorities "caved in" to Muslim extremists is as phony as

Given Sullivan's long history of reacting emotionally and leaping to conclusions, it seems more likely that he was simply unaware of the Russian poltics involved, rather than actually trying to be deceptive.

Muslim Unity said...

Please let us just try and work together to live in peace. Let us get rid of all type of racists and extremists my dear friends.
Everybody needs to learn to respect the religion of love and peace- Islam

Inshallah this will be possible with the help of Allah.

My aim is to spread love and peace!

W.B. Reeves said...

Given Sullivan's long history of reacting emotionally and leaping to conclusions, it seems more likely that he was simply unaware of the Russian poltics involved, rather than actually trying to be deceptive.

Which, if true, is a far worse indictment of a writer than conscious duplicity. According to this reasoning, Sullivan is incompetent, rather than overly partisan, in matters of fact.

Cathy Young said...

As far as I know, the Christian and Jewish religious leaders in Russia who have expressed their horror at the idea of a gay pride parade have not condemned the calls for violence, either.

Btw, I don't think it was right for authorities in Moscow to veto the parade and give in to intolerance.

Lori Heine said...

Perhaps the authorities' ruling WAS only the latest excuse to squelch a pride parade.

I suppose the general populace needs to determine which they fear more: queers having rights like everybody else or fanatical religious zealots (of any stripe) turning their country into a medieval theocracy.

Here in America, we used to understand that once we began taking rights away from certain people -- however unpopular they might be -- eventually we would erode the foundation of rights for everybody. I can understand why a country with a history like Russia's might have trouble comprehending that, but it's a disgrace that so many people here are so stupidly ignoring their own heritage.

Those in the Middle East have no such heritage. Which is why it's so incomprehensible that we're spending billions of dollars (and thousands of lives) over in Iraq to force freedom and democracy on folks to whom the concepts are alien at best and threatening at worst.

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