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What makes Muslims speak out against Christchurch but ignore Brunei?

By Junaid Jahangir

The Sultanate of Brunei recently legislated draconian punishments of amputations and stoning for crimes including theft, adultery and sodomy. The strongest voice against such barbarian legislation came from George Clooney, who called for a boycott of the hotels operated by Brunei.

I did not come across mainstream Muslim institutions in the West condemning barbaric laws enacted in the name of their religion. Such Muslim stakeholders often argue that foreign issues of Muslim countries do not concern them—even as they advocate for Palestinians or the Rohingya Muslims.

Likewise, not a fraction of the zeal and zest that is often shown against the ills of corporations, Israeli apartheid, or white man’s racism in queer spaces has been expressed by LGBTQ2S+ Muslim activists.

There were hardly any protests outside the Brunei embassies and consulates or outside mainstream Muslim institutions to nudge them to put an end to such berberiyat (barbarism). Some activists rail against white privilege and the ills of colonialism but ignore leading conversations in their own ethnic and religious communities, where they not only remain but also justify their being closeted.

In contrast, many mainstream Muslim institutions held vigils and prayers across Western cities, including Edmonton, in the aftermath of the dastardly Christchurch incident. Many allies in activist circles rallied around Muslim communities to comfort them and to express their solidarity. My Christian friends Gary Simpson and Lindsey Jorgensen-Skakum reached out to me as well.

Such a stark difference in response reminds me of the Humboldt tragedy. I recall a white activist Nora Loreto assert that white Canadians responded strongly for “young, white men,” but do not show the same vigour in response to other tragedies. Back then, writing for Vue Weekly, I highlighted that people respond most strongly when they see themselves mirrored in the tragedy—and this is precisely the reason for the disparity in Muslim response towards Christchurch as opposed to Brunei.

However, there is more to the Muslim silence on Brunei. The problem is less about their complicity through silence, and more about them actively condoning such barbaric punishments. I distinctly recall many years ago how many Muslims actively resisted Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s suggestion to put a moratorium on such harsh punishments. There is a video from Norway that depicts how many Muslim men raise their hands in support of punishments including stoning.

I also recall how a couple of years ago, at my panel talk with Reverend Mark Chiang and Priel Buzny who presented the Christian and Jewish perspectives on LGBTQ2S+ issues at the University of Alberta, a young Muslim student supported such punishments. She adamantly stated that were the conditions met under Islamic law, the punishment was justified. Technically, she was simply regurgitating the party line espoused by speakers like Bilal Philips, Hakim Quick and Abdullah Andalusi, who enjoy incredible support amongst Muslim masses and students.

Such Muslims hold such views even as they strongly tout that “Islam means peace” or that “Islam gave human rights 1,400 years ago.” This is why Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) organizer in Columbus, Ohio, Frank Parmir, asks what is then the difference between cruel hearts that support such punishments and ISIS that obtained the means to enact them. Indeed, MPV and veteran LGBTQ2S+ Muslim leaders like Imam Daayiee Abdullah, founder of the MECCA Institute, continue to assert their voices against many odds.

Often Muslims who support such punishments are highly educated, like Dr. Jonathan Brown from Georgetown University, a white convert, whose book Misquoting Muhammad has been available at Chapters. He wrote a long paper resuscitating texts on such punishments for sodomy, even as past Muslim experts rejected those texts. My co-author, Dr. Hussein Abdullatif, and I took great pains to discredit all such texts that prescribe death for sodomy. But what can we do against so much hate that is justified in the defence of Islam against Western fahisha (indecency).

The Norway video, and popular Muslim speakers and academics like Dr. Brown indicate that living in prosperity and being highly educated are no safeguards against views that support barbaric punishments. If anything, such Muslims often downplay Western punishments like imprisonment as cruel and present Islamic medieval punishments as better alternatives. They often argue that Islamic punishments are rarely implemented, as the standards for proof are quite high and that it is next to impossible to implement such punishments.

Yet, so many people in Iran and Saudi Arabia are meted out such punishments year after year. Such Muslims then claim that Iran and Saudi Arabia are not entirely Islamic. This is the same rhetoric as that of Marxists when they claim that Lenin never really implemented true Marxism.

Regardless, Dr. Ramadan, who despite arguing for the moratorium still insisted that homosexuality is at odds with Islam. Currently, he faces sexual assault and rape charges. Indeed, those who take strong positions against affirmation of human beings unlike them, often have skeletons in their own closets. The lavish lifestyle and misconduct of the princes of Brunei, as in the case of Saudi princes, is a far outcry from the simple living standard proposed by Islam.

In essence, the reason Muslim institutions have been vocal against the Christchurch horror is because they find themselves mirrored in those poor victims. However, they have dehumanized LGBTQ2S+ to such an extent that instead of challenging draconian laws, they actively condone them and respond to any critique with charges of Islamophobia. On their part, many LGBTQ2S+ Muslim “activists” are still “healing” from their internal wounds and are so consumed by rife infighting and lateral violence to do much needed internal work in mainstream Muslim communities.

Kudos then to George Clooney who has taken a firm stand despite all his ‘straight, cisgender, white, male privilege.’

On our part, despite facing stiff opposition, MPV, Imam Daayiee Abdullah, my co-author and I, along with other Muslims, will continue to say again and again that Allah loves us all.

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