Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lyin' Ayaan and the Moderate Muslims

On the New York Times' Op-Ed page of Dec. 7, 2007 Ayaan Hirsi Ali asks "where are the moderate Muslims?" accusing us of silence in the face of various atrocities committed in the name of our religion. My answer to Ayaan:

(and yes, a short version of this was sent to their letters page!)


There are, in fact, many Muslim individuals (myself and many friends included) and organizations (CAIR, Muslims for Progressive Values, Al-Fatiha GLBT Muslims, etc....) who stand up against such travesties as Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes. We are not silent; we are ignored. The press loves to build up sensationalist stories, and neo-con hacks like Ayaan are promoted well-funded and highly organized "think-tanks."


While Ayaan is describing real crimes that do take place, these do not reflect attitudes or laws that are universal throughout Islam. Like many American "recovering Catholics" she has taken her own personal experiences from one terrible milieu and generalized that erroneously to the entire religion.


Her Qur'anic quote is taken out of context. Following the terrifying 24:2, ayah 24:4 sets a very high standard of evidence and a nearly equal punishment for those who bring accusations without four eye witnesses to the act of adultury. Then 24:5 offers clemency for all who repent and correct the situation. In Islam divorce and re-marriage are very easy. By these standards, someone really has to want a beating to get one!

In effect a much harsher pre-Islamic patriarchal society in 7th C. Arabia was being told that yes, adultery is terrible, but careless accusations are as bad, and there is plenty of room for mercy to absolve the adulterer.

God and Islam are merciful. Would that more Muslims paid more attention as they invoked "God who is all compassion and mercy."


Unfortunately, when we look at "Muslim" governments today we are looking at repressive feudal societies or military dictatorships propped up by petro-dollars or American aid (plus a very few radical regimes reacting against western exploitation) These repressive regimes invoke the Qur'an selectively with harsh punishments, but ignore the context and the mercy that fuller readings make obvious. Lacking any legitimacy they claim religious authority, but this is an old trick that "Christian" governments in the West pulled for centuries. These are not "Muslim" governments so much as they are neo-colonial dictatorships. Economics, militarism, and corruption are much more in evidence than any practice of Islam. But --uh-oh -- admitting that in the Western press would implicate the US, UK, and French governments (among other Western political and commercial powers) in propping up these self-described "Islamic" regimes.

As with most religions, the problem is not the religion itself, but self-styled leaders who abuse it to justify their own quest for power and wealth. As the Islamic world consists largely of once-colonized nations now under neo-colonial regimes, it is too easy to avoid issues of economic and social justice by blaming the religion.


A careful reading of the Qur'an and an understanding of Muslim culture and thinking through history shows that we have the capacity to solve these problems within our religion, our cultures, and history.

Denying the potential that Muslims have to heal our own problems serves to legitimize foreign intervention, but intervention and colonialism are the source of many problems in the Muslim world, they are certainly not solutions to anything.
There are moderates and progressives, faithful Muslims working within the Muslim community, using our faith as a key to the many problems that plague our community. People like Mike Ghouse, Pamela Taylor, El-Farouk Khaki, Omid Safi, Ani Zonnenveld, and Faisal Alam are speaking up, and addressing the same issues that we are taken to task for ignoring. But they are not ignoring the issues; they are ignored. Ayaan makes a dramatic and polarizing figure, very mediagenic to be sure, but a distraction from the answer to the question she asks: Where are the moderate muslims? We are everywhere. If reporters would look past neo-con press releases and go looking for the real story we are easily found.

Friday, October 12, 2007

"How the T got into GLBT."

In his blogs Gay lawyer John Aravosis asked "how the T got into GLBT." He should study some GLBT history.

They're the ones who started our movement. It would be more accurate to ask how butch fags and lipstick lesbians overtook the movement started by radical trannies.

A drag queen, José Sarria ("The Widdow Norton") ran for San Francisco County Supervisor in 1962 as perhaps the first openly queer candidate for public office in the USA

Trannies at Compton's Cafeteria in San Francisco in 1966 started demonstrations that made huge strides in raising awareness of GLBT issues.

Trannies were part of the Stonewall uprising.

The pre-stonewall GLBT movement owes much to Magnus Hirschfield's "Scientific Humanitarian Committee" which pioneered our movement in Germany from the early 20th century to the beginning of the "Reich." Hirschfield was a transvestite who advocated for "third sex" gender variant men and women.

Trannies have ALWAYS been at the forefront of the queer rights movement.

Now some "incrementalists" think we can more easily win some rights by jettisoning our transgendered brothers and sisters. We'd never be where we are today without their courage, and this non-TG gay man would not want to be a party to the betrayal that is being advocated.

Let our TG friends wait for rights later? How much later? And will the gays and lesbians really remember the trannies later after we have been divided against each other for the larger group to take a moderate gain?

And when nelly men and butch women are fired for their gender non-conformity, will bosses say they weren't axed for being gay, but for gender variant behavior? If protection for gays only extends to the gays who can pass for straight, that's not much protection.

It is unfortunate that this issue did not get widespread attention sooner and that people who worked hard on ENDA are getting blindsided at the last minute, but "better late than never." We must never tell our TG brothers and sisters who have included both the most heroic and the most vulnerable among us that their rights are any less urgent than our own. Indeed without assurance of their rights, there is little assurance of ours.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Include Transgenders in ENDA!

Dear Rep. Pelosi,

As a gay man and a longtime activist I am as eager as anyone to see civil rights legislation such as ENDA in place, but I am not willing to tell my transgendered brothers and sister s that they are any less entitled to job protection than I. Not only do they need the protection so much more than I do, but they have always been at the forefront of the GLBT movement. Cutting them out of this legislation would be a terrible betrayal.

As a longtime activist I have seen transmen and transwomen put their lives on the line for our larger community. In August of 1966 transgendered women at Compton’s Cafeteria in San Francisco’s Tenderloin rebelled against harassment in an incident that rallied the nascent queer community to new heights of activism. This was echoed in New York three years later at the Stonewall uprising, also started by trannies.

If we betray these sisters and brothers who have done so much and risked so much for us all, saying, later, later, when would that “later” be? If gay men and lesbians are willing to cast off our transgendered comrades now, when will they be willing to welcome them back in to the struggle for equality? And what perverse logic makes them even temporarily expendible?

The old logic of community organization is to include everyone. I have to wonder about the gays and lesbians who think that we should work for transgenders’ rights later. Later when? Will these “incrementalist” homosexuals be any more willing to fight for others’ rights later than they are now? Or will the protections afforded by civil rights for gays and lesbians satisfy them so that they forget our tranny friends as easily as they are willing to now?

I’ve seen enough transphobia in the gay community, not to mention just plain old self-satisfied complacency that I have little faith in this sort of incrementalism. I know politics often requires long treks by baby steps, but let us take those steps together, and never leave our brothers, our sisters, and often in this case, our heroes and pioneers behind.

Yours truly,

Jack Fertig

Republican Love

An acquaintance has said that anyone who refuses to date members of a particular political party is being intolerant. This point has otherwise been raised, and on the surface it seems reasonable. Scratch a little deeper and it provokes what is in reality a more important question. What should we tolerate?

"Intolerance" is one of those words that depends much on context. My friends, family, and lovers have pretty well covered the world of colors, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, genders, ages, shapes and sizes. (Granted, friends and family cover a wider range than lovers, especially on the last half of that list.) With firm belief in Dr. King's famous dream, I do indeed judge people not by any of those factors, but by the measure of their character.

Still, the bedroom is no place to be PC. We accept without question that it is quite all right to be sexually attracted only to certain physical types, even – if expressed respectfully – men or women only of a particular color, and we expect people generally to favor their own age group. And would our "tolerant" friend criticize specifying character traits? And what says more about a person's character than his politics?

The Republican Party has so exploited homophobia in its recent campaigns that when someone tells me that he doesn't support that, but votes for them for other reasons, it sounds too much like, "Please understand, Mr. Rabinowitz, I'm not anti-Semitic. I just support the National Socialists because they represent the best hope for Germany's future." And what are these other reasons? Despite their talk of fiscal prudence, from Nixon on, the Republicans have consistently erased government surpluses and/or plunged our country deeper and deeper into debt. When they talk about "getting government off your back," they are clearly only talking to the industrialists while workers, consumers, and our environment suffer from de-regulation, but the GOP scrambles to erode basic civil rights, further criminalize recreational drugs, and to stigmatize queers. As much as they rail against "bloated government bureaucracy" they continue to build ludicrously inefficient bureaucracies in the security sector while starving essential services like schools and hospitals.

Even if one accepts the military policies of our government, the Pentagon is obscenely wasteful and top heavy. And the machisto posturing of the Republican chickenhawks in the White House adds insult to injury while our youngsters are being sent to die for Carlyle, Halliburton, and Bechtel in Iraq.

Despite the fact that Nazi David Duke was a Republican candidate for Governor of Louisiana, and Prescott Bush was a big supporter of Hitler, it is true that generally comparing Republicans to Nazis confuses all proportion and perspective. So I'm not really comparing them when I say "Would it be ˜intolerant" to refuse to kiss a Nazi? I'm just saying you have to draw the line somewhere. Sure the Republican Party is better than the Nazis, but "better than the Nazis" is a mighty low standard, not nearly good enough. The GOP has done such damage that, while I am willing to discuss politics and argue points with people from nearly any political perspective, I don't feel ethically required to get snuggly with people who are collusive in destroying our civil liberties, environment, and economy.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A Queer Muslim Resource List

Having discovered that that the Outlook Weekly in Columbus, Ohio carries my column, I checked out the paper and saw the May 2 issue had a series of articles on Gays and Religion. Seeing nothing about Gay Muslims I wrote in my disappointment and lack of surprise. Resources for GLBT Muslims are extremely meager. How, where would they find a story or someone to write it?

There are actually a number of resources -- organizations, yahoo groups, webpages with information and resources, but it takes some digging, as I've done over the years to put it all together, so I put up a GLBT Muslim Resource Guide on my website.

Making contact with others can be the most important thing we do. What I hear time and again from others is just what I experienced: The one really horrible thing about being queer is the loneliness and isolation that almost all of us have grown up with, and how that feeds the shame of just being who and what we are. I don't think anyone who hasn't experienced it can really understand how imprisoning and miserable that can be. The suicide rate among gay youth is extremely high. (Been there, hated it!) Just making contact with "People Like Us" can be so incredibly freeing. It is actually even humanizing.

I grew up isolated and miserable, even in an agnostic household! Coming to religion as an adult I've found it very empowering, but too many people grow up experiencing religion as a form of oppression. I've always known many "Catholic School Survivors" "Recovering Baptists" and now Muslims who grew up as queer, not just thinking that they were sick, disgusting, unloveable perverts, but also that they were hated by God (who is all love, compassion, and mercy!) and doomed to eternal damnation after enduring hell on earth. While a lot of gays have rejected religion, the sad truth is that religion rejected them first. Religious people have driven gays out of their faith communities and then accuse us of being anti-religious, selfish, hedonistic, and materialistic. Excuse me?????

It is not for me to tell anyone to come back to their religion or to emulate mine. Faith has to be a carefully thought out, personal decision. To choose or to reject faith out of fear or coercion is to miss the point of it altogether.

Our Abrahamite religions offer strong images of exile, stories of Abraham, Moses, Jesus wandering in the desert; Muhammed fleeing Mecca. Many of us have endured exile and each in his or her own way may come to a peaceful resolution with God -- or without. May God's peace be upon all the prophets, and may we all find God's peace whether or not we think we have found God. I don't know that anyone is capable of finding God, but do believe that God has found all of us and that our scriptures tell us that He honors our efforts.

So for Muslims struggling with being queer; for gays, lesbians, trannies, bis, etc... struggling with being Muslim, and for those who seek a more honest understanding of who we are, I hope -- InshaAllah -- this list will be of service.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Doing God's Work?

Strange how -- in all the Abrahamite religions -- our sacred texts tell us to struggle withour own impurities, to love and accept others as they are, and to leave judgment to God. Yet so many seem to measure the power of their faith by whom and how stridently they can hate and condemn. As I understand Muslim, Christian and Jewish teaching, we are here to do God's work, and there is to be a strict division of labour:

Our duties are charity, generosity, prayer, educating ourselves and others; and judgment is to be left to God. Isn't that what it says in the noble Qur'an, the Gospels, and the Torah? But if we are indeed to do God's work, perhaps those who take on the duties of judgment see that there are more than enough people to do the human side of the task and have decided to help God more directly with His portion of the labor. The trouble is... when you strive to practice humility and non-judgment, it seems you have to at least act like you're not absolutely sure of any of these things. It looks much easier to be sure of your religious practices when you put judgmental contempt of others at the heart of it.

The paradox on my side of the argument is that being strong in my faith is being able to admit that I really know nothing and am stumbling about in hopes of doing the right thing. On the other side, being “strong in one’s faith” is easily expressed in the “strength” of machismo and combativeness. The appeal of being assertive and confident, strong in the old-fashioned sense of virile assurance is obvious. Pat Robertson and Osama bin-Laden at that rate have an easy sell, just like the old Charles Atlas ads in the comic books… Tired of looking like a wimp? Flex your muscles and be guaranteed a place in heaven! Do humility and charity have a chance against that? They can peddle a faith that looks like Schwartznegger in the role of divine savior. The best I can do looks more like Woody Allen in drag as Mother Theresa.

But the scriptures do counsel introspection, humility, and charity. We’re told that whoever judges or presumes to know whom God will favor is sure to be condemned. And another paradox: Just quoting scripture on the subject seems to presume that I know the final criteria, even when I admit that I can’t.

No wonder it looks so much easier to hate, and to be sure of one’s place in heaven for hating the right people.