Monday, January 23, 2017

CRIKEY: The real reason so many conservatives are suddenly standing up for the queer community



They fought it for years. Until they realised it could be leveraged to malign an even greater foe.

Last week the Prime Minister hosted a dinner for a bunch of Muslims at Kirribilli House. I didn’t get an invite. But I do know a fair few people who did go, as they plastered their Facebook walls with photos of them sitting and standing with the PM.

Now I’m glad I didn’t get an invite. Since the dinner, News Corp papers have been picking off the names of a host of invitees, linking them to something that might be linked to something that might be linked to some event overseas.

Overnight, columnists for The Australian, Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph etc have suddenly discovered the evils of homophobia. Why? Because somehow they feel the urge to link the PM hosting a Ramadan Iftar dinner to Omar Mateen, the security guard who shot dead 50 people in an Orlando gay night club.

But reading through the reports and op-eds leads me to wonder whether the ideological crime of homophobic Muslims is that they are treading on the territory that should be reserved for Australian conservatives.



Imams are being accused of spreading teachings on the evils of homosexuality that you can regularly hear if you attend a service of Fred Nile, Rise Up Australia’s Danny Nalliah or some other clergyman with whom the Coalition regularly shares preferences and who is defended by Peter Costello or Andrew Bolt. Or if you attend the kinds of conferences that Tony Abbott attends or Kevin Andrews almost attended.

Then the Oz lambastes a Sydney psychologist who signed a recent press release supporting LGBTI communities. The Oz effectively denounces her as a hypocrite for backing LGBTI people now. Hanan Dover is a controversial figure in Muslim circles — at best. It is true that she did once promote “gay conversion” therapies, something very dangerous for a practitioner to do. The unfortunate thing is that the Oz cites her words from 2002. That’s 14 years ago. And what the paper does not say is that the types of therapies she promoted were not from Iran or Turkey or Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. They were from the United States,

They were developed by conservative Christian groups. Has Dover changed her mind? I’m not sure. She did sign the anti-homophobia press release. But then so did regular Crikey writer Shakira Hussein (who has written and tweeted against Dover’s homophobia). But when was the last time we saw Gerard Henderson or Janet Albrechtsen or Piers Akerman (who has been known to refer to David Marr as a “homosexual activist” and who repeated “rumours” on national TV about Julia Gillard’s partner) or Andrew Bolt sign a document supporting the rights of LGBTI communities in Australia?

I’m not aware of prominent imams opposing same-sex marriage. I’m not aware of Muslim leaders opposing the Safe Schools program in the manner former Iranian refugee Rita Panahi has. The allegedly conservative commentariat have been defending the homophobia that exists among them and also in the churches and the Australian Christian Lobby in the name of “freedom of speech” and “freedom of religion”.

“But aah, Mr Yusuf, we don’t see conservatives or Christian clergy or ACL saying that homosexuals should be put to death,” you might say as you point to this article published in the Oz about imams and homosexuality. And as you point to reports of a British Shia Muslim scholar who left Australia of his own accord.

Indeed. But let me put these points to you:

* Imams Shady Soliman and Yusuf Peer play leading roles in the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC);

* This bombastically named body consists only of a minority of Sunni Muslim imams;

* This council does not include imams of the Cypriot and Turkish communities, which make up one of the largest and oldest ethno-religious bloc;

* There are no women in ANIC despite there being female religious scholars in Australia;

* The idea of what makes a person an “imam” and what his/her role should be is contested across different cultures;

* Unlike the church, there is no agreed hierarchy of imams; and

* To get some idea of how influential ANIC is, its announcements on the beginning and end of sacred months such as Ramadan are largely ignored.

Your average Muslim knows what silly and ridiculous attitudes many imams have. It reminds me of the story of a sheikh in India who was asked a businessman who regularly donated to his mosque: “Sheikh, why do our religious scholars talk such crap?” The sheikh responded with a question: “Imagine you have two sons. One is very intelligent, the other is a buffoon. Which would you send to London to study to become a barrister and which would you send to my madressa to study to become an imam?”

Finally, regardless of how ridiculous the views of some imams (or some clergy or some rabbis or some other religious figures) are, to suggest they in any way reflect the opinions of any sector of mainstream Australia is ridiculous.

Unless, of course, you don’t regard Australians who identify as Muslim as being part of mainstream Australia.



First published in Crikey on 20 June 2016.

CRIKEY: Why are conservatives so damn obsessed with Islam?


From what we know about Omar Mateen, this massacre was not an act of Islamic State-sponsored terrorism. 

When it comes to fighting nasty brown-skinned Muslim terrorists with unpronounceable names, you really don’t want to look like Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler. Hence, when introducing counter-terrorism law number 56 (or was it 57? I’ve lost count) in September 2014, then-PM Tony Abbott invoked Winston Churchill and declared: “I refuse to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”

Hitler and Churchill are long gone. But Hitler’s rhetorical and ideological legacy arguably live on in the person of the US Republican Party’s likely presidential nominee, Donald Trump. True, Trump hasn’t called for Hispanics and Muslims to be thrown into gas chambers. But then, neither had Hitler called for such treatment for Jews, disabled people, homosexuals, etc, when negotiating with Britain.


When it comes to the obvious danger arising from the election of Donald Trump, Australia’s conservative side of politics — its pollies and its media — are looking a lot like Chamberlain. Should Americans elect a President with xenophobic tendencies, it’ll just be a case of peace in our time for Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop. Meanwhile, these same conservatives are attacking Bill Shorten for sounding more like Winston Churchill in alerting voters to the dangers of a Trump presidency. 

Nowhere has this been clearer than in the recent Orlando shooting. In case you’ve been asleep for the past 72 hours, here’s just a little of what we know so far about the killer Omar Mateen:

* He was born in New York, not in the mysterious nation of “Afghan” as Trump suggested;

* He dialled 911 and allegedly told the operator he was acting on behalf of the violently homophobic terrorist group Islamic State;

* Witnesses say he frequently attended the Pulse nightclub, approached men for sex, identified himself to friends as gay and used multiple gay apps such as Grindr;

*He occasionally went to the mosque with his son and performed congregational prayers. He did not attend the Friday prayer during which sermons were delivered; and

* He was violent and vicious toward his first wife.



Yet from Donald Trump to Andrew Bolt to Rita Panahi to Greg Sheridan to the editorial writer for The Australian to even Emma-Kate Symons, the message is that this is about the Islam, the whole Islam and nothing but the Islam.

And notwithstanding their almost constant linkages of terrorism to Islam, radical Islam, Islamism, Muslims, Islamists (and perhaps even those awful nasty pus-filled islamicysts), many of these same pundits allege that there is a conspiracy of political correctness stopping them from linking terrorism to Islam, radical Islam, Islamism etc etc. And when someone at the front line of fighting terrorism — say, for example, the ASIO chief — tells them that their rhetoric isn’t helpful, they go completely nuts.



This fixation with anything remotely Islam says more about alleged conservatives than it does about your average Yusuf Blow who buys halal/kosher certified products at the supermarket. Conservatives seem to have lost the ideological plot, more so than their most paranoid anti-communist forebears. Seriously, communism was an international threat with nuclear weapons and the ability to send men and dogs into space. Can we really compare groups like Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Jemaah Islamiyah and Boko Haram to the combined super power of the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies?

First published in Crikey on 16 July 2016.

TERRORISM: Orlando massacre: for a minority of a minority, two worlds collide


Barely a few days after Americans of all faiths and backgrounds came together to celebrate the life of the great American Muhammad Ali, the unifying spirit of that event has been spoiled by the spilling of blood. Early on Sunday morning at an LGBTQI venue in Orlando, some 50 people were gunned down. While shocking, news of a mass shooting in the US is not new. The fact that the gunman proclaimed to be Muslim, the weapons he used, the ease with which he could procure them, is also not new. Attacks on people because of their sexuality, again not new.

There has been plenty of conversation about whether this was an indiscriminate act of violence or a deliberate terrorist attack. The gunman's religious heritage, his marital discord and his family background were the subject of speculation even before all the victims had been identified. But the real elephant in the room was in fact the victims. Whether orchestrated by Islamic State or not, this was a targeted attack on people from the LGBTQI community in a place that was theirs, a space they believed was a safe one.

This event is fast becoming a moment for LGBTQI people who grew up in Western Muslim communities when their two worlds could collide. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally appreciate and speak about homophobia among them with the vigour they speak about Islamophobia directed against them. Perhaps Western Muslim communities would finally understand that LGBTQI Muslims are part of their community, albeit marginalised from within as well as from without.

Will Western mosques, imams, leaders and those claiming to speak for the faith and the believers recognise that all sinners are equal and none of more equal than others? Or will Western (including Australian) Muslim communities be too busy trying to deflect the inevitable hatred from themselves? 

Or at least from their straight selves. In this respect, Muslims won't be alone in effectively airbrushing the pain of their LGBTQI minority.

Remarks by so many public figures in the US and Australia almost ignored the fact that the victims of the Orlando attacks for killed because they were LGBTQI people. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mentioned the direct victims of this atrocity, the LGBTQI community of Orlando, but described the incident as an attack on all, arguably diluting recognition of the essentially homophobic nature of the crime. Commentators and pundits even question whether this was in fact a homophobic act. Worse still, some even pointed fingers at the mourning LGBTQI community and accusing them of "hijacking" the pain and horror of what happened in Orlando for their "own" purposes.

Let's be honest about this. The attack on the Orlando club was primarily a homophobic attack. The gunman's family have described his homophobia. The gunman went to a nightclub at 2 am with an assault rifle and he stayed there for three hours, killing gay people during the heavily publicised Pride Month – a time and in a place where they not only felt safe but so safe they felt that they could celebrate their identity and the community they had built around them. There should be no question about this and yet in the minds of so many of our leaders and our media, this central fact has had to compete with speculations and prejudices and frivolous punditry.

Discussion has naturally turned to the possibility of a similar incident happening here. Experts speculate on law enforcement arrangements, on intelligence and on the strength of "radical Islamists". Yes, this is all important. But please, let's not forget the many ways in which LGBTQI victims are affected. Imagine if an LGBTQI venue was attacked in Sydney or Melbourne or Canberra. What if, among those killed, was a same-sex couple from Britain celebrating their honeymoon?

What if one survived, but had to be faced with the prospect of their spouse's Australian death certificate stating the words "never married"? At a time when the survivor should be mourning, s/he would find her/himself fighting for legal recognition of their relationship, for rights to the deceased loved one's body, and their funeral arrangements.

Should we use the Orlando shootings as an excuse to patronise and lecture our Muslim minorities about the homophobia in Muslim tradition, we might be prepared to acknowledge that our own Western attitudes and laws and even our (allegedly) Christian heritage aren't exactly lacking in similar traditions and attitudes. It's easy for some in our broader community to say with pride that only "those" Muslims have sufficient hatred to commit such an attack, as if the average American or Australian Muslim can only be seen as a potential IS fighter. Would our lectures be so stern if the Indiana man apprehended by police around the same time as the Orlando massacre had used his weapons to carry out a deadly attach at the LA Pride Festival in West Hollywood? And why do we persist in the fantasy that Muslims have a monopoly on homophobic violence and terrorism?

When our social attitudes and laws are stripped of homophobia, we can then point the finger with some confidence at minority attitudes. Although one wonders if pointing fingers ever achieved anything. Finger-pointing and blame are the strategies favoured by those unable to overcome hatred and rage, those who cannot handle difference. In this time of mourning, please spare us your superiority complex.

Haneefa Buckley works at a brand development and consumer insights agency based in Sydney and is a gay Muslim. Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer, author and PhD scholar at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship & Globalisation, Deakin University. First published in the Canberra Times on 14 June 2016.