I was shocked and horrified to read in the pages of the Inauguration Day issue of the Blade a crude Islamophobic screed that could have come from the pen of any number of far-right nationalist bigots. Yet the author, Professor Shannon Gilreath, proclaims that he is a leftist bearing a message that “American liberals don’t want to hear.” We must tighten restrictions on Muslim immigration, he argues, because “Islam is endemically antithetical to the well-being of gay people.” Liberals close their eyes to the “evidence” because of their “unreflective commitment to the defense of religion at all costs.” According to Gilreath, liberals think the answer to everything “is simply more religion.”
Gilreath’s claims are absurd. I don’t know any liberal who thinks the answer to everything is “simply more religion.” But liberals do believe strongly in freedom of speech and religious belief. On Jan. 20, a psychopathic charlatan who made hatred of Muslims and other immigrants the centerpiece of his campaign took power in our country, as his designated victims watched in horror and despair. No one who cares about human rights should take this moment to cheer the new regime’s anti-Muslim immigration policy.
What is Gilreath’s “evidence” that Islam must be singled out from all other religions for special discriminatory treatment? He catalogues a list of recent terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists. Of course, Islamic extremist terrorism is a serious problem that must be condemned and fought. But we must also condemn Christian terrorist atrocities in the Central African Republic, India, Lebanon and Uganda, as well as the United States, where Christian terrorists have bombed abortion clinics and murdered doctors. Likewise, we must condemn Jewish terrorists who have murdered Muslims and a prime minister of Israel; Hindu pogroms against Muslims in India; and Buddhist pogroms in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. But we must not tar all religious people as terrorists, much less single out only Muslims for special discriminatory treatment.
Gilreath is tired of hearing that most Muslims are peaceful and tolerant; most of them, he states, “participate in an Islam that is openly hostile to gays” and many Islamic regimes, he notes, punish homosexuality severely. But Putin’s Christian nationalist regime in Russia also persecutes gay people horrifically, as do Christian extremist regimes in Uganda and many other countries in Africa. Three-fourths of the Russian public does not think society should tolerate gay people; sentiment in much of Christian Africa is similar. In addition to his Muslim ban, why does Gilreath not also call for a ban on Russian Orthodox and African Christians?
Gilreath also attacks the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an, which he claims to have “read cover to cover.” It “calls unequivocally,” he writes, “for conquest and colonization.” Perhaps he was speed-reading. There are also endless glorifications of conquest and colonization in the Bible. But in both books, there are also valuable moral precepts and stirring poetry. Believers may reconcile these passages as they will, but there is no warrant for singling out the Qur’an for special abuse.
We would do well to remember that our recent civil rights achievements in the West are no more than a few decades old, and that for most of its history Islam has been more tolerant of homosexuality than Christendom. While Muslim Sufi poets were composing masterpieces of mystical homoerotic verse, gay people in Europe were being tortured, hanged, drowned and burned at the stake. It is important to keep a little historical perspective.
Today our democracy is failing and our representative institutions do not represent. Across the world, liberalism, tolerance and reason are in retreat while religious nationalists and authoritarian strongmen are ascendant. Gays, lesbians, transgender people and others who have suffered their own histories of repression must not join in the ugly demonization of other marginalized groups. Already Muslims arriving at airports across the county, including brilliant students, refugees fleeing persecution, and people who risked their lives to help Americans, are being taken into custody without due process or access to counsel, detained indefinitely or deported. The principal effect of this cruel policy will be to further discredit the United States and increase alienation and radicalization worldwide. In this perilous moment, liberals, leftists and all who care about human rights must defend our Muslim brothers and sisters, not join their attackers.
Bret Boyce is a D.C. attorney and scholar.