LGBTQ Politics And Gaza

The bogeyman of Islamic sharia has been wielded by racist xenophobes and hardcore Islamists alike. But this is political opportunism.

Xtra Magazine is one of Canada’s LGBTQ news outlets. It recently published an article that pushed back at pinkwashing. The context was that of an Israeli soldier waving a rainbow flag in Gaza. 

Pinkwashing is the strategic use of LGBTQ rights to distract from racism and violence. It has been used by states for their political purposes. However, the Xtra article showcased the voices of LGBTQ Palestinians and Jews that resist the political misuse of LGBTQ rights to deflect from human rights abuses in Gaza. They argued that bombing Gaza does not differentiate between straight and LGBTQ Palestinians. Moreover, the LGBTQ community and specifically the trans community faces discrimination in Israel as well. 

Often those who engage in pinkwashing are conservatives themselves whose hatred of Muslims eclipses their contempt for the LGBTQ community. They use the LGBTQ issue to demonize the Muslim community as a den of homophobia and transphobia. They do this even though homophobia and transphobia are rife in conservative Western spaces. More recently, they appropriated conservative Muslims to put down the LGBTQ community through the 1 Million March 4 Children in Canada. Politics makes for strange bedfellows. 

There is no doubt that there are pockets of conservative Muslims in North America that are homophobic and transphobic. The video of Dr. Shadee El Massry is an illustration of this grim reality. However, Islam is not a monolith just as the LGBTQ community is not a monolith. 

Many LGBTQ people have openly spoken against Israeli occupation and violence in Palestine. These include journalist Owen Jones, who has consistently projected his voice through his YouTube videos. There is veteran LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell, who critiques Islamism as much as he critiques Israeli occupation. His tweet shows him holding the sign, “Free Palestine, End Israeli Occupation”. 

There is the academic Judith Butler, who is Jewish, uses they/them pronouns, and who condemns Israel’s “genocide” in Gaza.  Likewise, another academic, Yuval Noah Harari, who is Jewish and gay, has been critical of the Netanyahu government and has written about “safe havens in Israel” to protect Palestinian civilians from Gaza. 

It is clear from these four voices that there is a difference of opinion even amongst LGBTQ individuals. Where some take a left approach, others are more centrist in their outlook. 

Similarly, there is no united Muslim voice on Palestine either. Where many Muslims express solidarity with Palestine, the Gulf Arab states have a very different perspective. Weekly marches for Palestine have taken place not in Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. but in Western cities with hundreds of thousands of people, white, LGBTQ, Jews, alike.

On homophobia and transphobia, it is rightly argued that these fears were exacerbated with colonialism. It is stated that the Ottomans decriminalized homosexuality in 1858. Though, even without such a legal move, private same-sex activity remains decriminalized under Islamic law. This is because of the sanctity accorded to the private sphere and the impossibly high evidentiary requirements failing to produce which would invite slander charges upon moral busybodies. 

It should also be noted that men holding hands, kissing on the cheeks, and engaging in public displays of non-sexual affection remain part of Arab and Muslim cultures. Hyper masculine behaviour of men withholding affection or emotion is more Western than it is Arab or Muslim. 

Similarly, the display of non-binary mannerisms by the third gender including the khanith or the hijra communities has been part of Arab and Muslim societies. The udhri poetry tradition where the poet would describe chaste love for a male youth has been part of the Ottoman period. Similar examples can be found in India through the works of poets like Mir Taqi Mir. 

The bogeyman of Islamic sharia has been wielded by racist xenophobes and hardcore Islamists alike. But this is political opportunism. Both parties strip rulings found in dusty old manuals and superimpose them upon the world in a simplistic fashion. Yet, Islamic scholars distinguish between sin and crime, where only the latter is meted out punishment. Nuance is not a forte of those who stereotype all Muslims with a label or a box of their convenient and simplistic thinking. 

To recapitulate, Islam is not a monolith, and neither is the LGBTQ community. Many LGBTQ activists, despite their diverse worldviews, have spoken out against Israeli occupation. And many find pinkwashing nothing more than political opportunism where the pride flag is appropriated to justify self-serving narratives.