Wednesday, 15 June 2016

LGBT & Islam - The Test of Tolerance

When news of the Orlando shooting came, it shook the world. To put it into context, it was the 136th mass shooting incident in the USA in 2016, a fact that I worry we've become desensitised to. What made it stand out was the horrifying body count: 50 dead, 49 wounded. Add on top that it was targeting the LGBT community, a group that has made such leaps and bounds in acceptance and societal equity in the past decade, and it becomes a gaping wound in the efforts to make a tolerant and diverse civilisation.

This could be dismissed as a lone wolf incident, mainly because it is. This is, however, a reminder that, in Western society, we are trying to blend collectives that have very opposed ideologies and cultural roots. That causes friction. A tension found in people's habits, behaviours, beliefs and characters. Such things won't be easily harmonised.

We have recognised the manner in which LGBT people were treated was unfair and we're on the path to redressing that imbalance. As such, the LGBT community enjoy far more freedom and, with that, an increased presence, voice and visibility.

We have also recognised the plight of thousands of Muslim migrants and refugees. These people have been chased from their homes. Their countries have been ravaged by war. The West is the only place they can flee and we stand as the only people who can truly help them.

That means the West, a largely Christian/Atheist collective is due to get a huge influx of Islam into the mix. That doesn't mean we're inviting fundamentalists or radicals into our lands en masse. The extremist elements of ISIS et al have been dismissed as just that. To call all Muslims ISIS would be to call all Christians the KKK; a frankly ridiculous notion. Yet, Islam brings with it an uncomfortable reality in light of the Orlando shootings.

The fact is that homophobia and Islam are bedfellows. Tolerance is not part of that mix. Nine Islamic countries attach the death penalty to homosexuality. Those nine being Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In 57 Islamic countries, homosexuality is a crime in 37 of them.

To further illustrate the point, in 2013 the Pew Research Center conducted an investigation into opinions on whether homosexuality should be accepted among Islamic nations. The outcomes were pretty clear on where the consensus is. Taking one country in the study, Malaysian people over the age of 50 scored the highest, with 11% thinking that homosexuality should be accepted. When the same question was put to the 18-29 year olds of Malaysia that figure dropped to 7%. No Islamic country scored higher than that and the patterns suggested that attitudes did not necessarily improve with the younger generations.

Now we have a real test of tolerance in society. We are tearing down the barriers for LGBT people, while opening our doors to more and more Muslim migrants. Western society has prided itself on being progressive, bringing groups that stood in opposition together and finding some kind of harmony. It's certainly not perfect but, for example, relations between opposing genders and different races have improved from where they were a century ago. For those who say we have a long way to go, I'd remind them of how far we have come.

I say all this because I want to warn people. Orlando will not be the last time we see an assault on the LGBT community by an Islamic radical individual or fundamentalist group. People fear change and plenty are willing to kill in an effort to stop it. Lincoln was killed because he wanted to change slavery. Martin Luther King was killed because he wanted to end racial segregation and oppression. Every worthy cause has come at the cost of innocent blood.

Does that mean we should back down from the test? No. Absolutely not. Shoving every Muslim we can find back into Islamic nations would only breed extremism. We're certainly not going to tell gay people to dial it down. We've come too far to be taking backwards steps now.

What we have to do is show tolerance to all that keep the law. Islam may condemn homosexuality but they have the right to not like it, as long as they allow others to live it and love it. The two sides can have completely opposing views. That is the liberty and right of citizens in Western society. We can condemn with words and ideas, not bullets. We can support with love and compassion, not hate. If we can do that, one day, we might have a harmonised society.

The uncomfortable truth is such change can't be done by hashtags and memes. History has taught us that it will cost blood and tears. But every principle worth living for is also worth dying for. Hopefully, our children and children's children will look back in years to come and see how we stood firm with the LGBT and moderate, tolerant Muslim communities, saying to those who would use violence and death to polarise us that nothing unifies like a common enemy: the enemy of a tolerant society.

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