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Inclusive Islam: Lateral violence is not activism

Editor’s note: Recently, both the Edmonton Pride Festival Society and Pride Centre have seen controversy, and there have been many responses to this. Below, we’ve published Daze columnist Junaid Jahangir’s. We are open to hearing more perspectives from around the city on this matter. We’re available at Daze.editors@gmail.com

By: Junaid Jahangir

Recently, news surfaced that the Pride Festival will not hold the Parade. One of the main issues has been that LGBTQ2S+ members of the EPS and other agencies were not going to be allowed to march in uniform at the Pride Parade. Additionally, there have been outcries on social media regarding institutionalized racism at the Pride Centre of Edmonton. These divisions in the LGBTQ2S+ community are disconcerting in a time when right wing narrative against the community is imminent.  

I do not have a strong position on the police and military marching in the Parade. The reason is quite simple: I have no history of being hunted down by these groups. Yet others who have been negatively affected by these agencies do take strong positions on their inclusion in the Pride Parade.

There are many who feel the EPS persecuted them in the age of immense prejudice against LGBTQ2S+ people. These people worked tirelessly through the decades of ignorance and the AIDS crisis to bring the EPS to the table and to make progress by ensuring policy changes at the institutional level.

Their goal is to break the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mould through the presence of those at the intersections—openly out LGBTQ2S+ police officers. This is significant for ethnic communities as well. Last year, Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council (AMPAC) showcased Muslims in social media. One of them was a young Somali man who asserted that his happiest memory was that of the EPS recruiting five members of minority descent.

Muslims cannot afford to break ties with the EPS in a time of immense Islamophobia and the rise of right wing politics. For Muslims and other communities, ties are forged by hospitality through food. I distinctly recall going to a Black church in Edmonton that threw a generous banquet for the EPS community liaison committees. The Black religious leadership expressed the significance of working with the police to ensure the safety of their youth.

If anything, many ethnic communities proudly showcase Muslim, Black and other officers as a source of pride. They assert that they too contribute to the city. Additionally, the visibility of officers like Acting Deputy Chief Chad Tawfik is significant, as they offer support to the Muslim community in the aftermath of Christchurch and the rise of alt-right groups in Edmonton.

The same holds for the LGBTQ2S+ community.

This is why I do not understand activism that rests on dismantling and deconstructing instead of collaborating towards institutional changes and broaching conversations on LGBTQ2S+ issues in ethnic and religious community spaces. Too often, aggressive social media call outs result in lateral violence.

As queer Muslim author Irshad Manji writes in her book Don’t Label Me, “we glory in … a culture of shrieking rather than speaking, a protocol of sanctimony and an arsenal of exclusionary tactics.”

I recall back in 2004 when I came out there were hardly any visible LGBTQ2S+ South Asians. Alone in the city, I started volunteering when the Pride Centre shifted to the 109 Street location. Now, I am dismayed by how the centre has been projected as a place of institutionalized racism.

I recall a Pakistani gentleman used to discreetly visit the centre to meet the counsellor. Manning the reception desk, I did not find any hint of racism or discrimination at the centre. A bisexual person with Indigenous background ran the centre. The newly hired executive director (ED) then was actually straight!

After a few months of volunteering, the centre offered me the job of office manager. I used to boss around three white boys!

We partnered with gay seniors to initiate monthly potlucks. I told the boys to ensure that everybody was made to feel welcome in contrast to other spaces where pretty boys indulged in snooty attitudes. The centre became a family place.

I started work on the Salam Edmonton group for LGBTQ2S+ Muslims. The straight ED told me he would even get funds for that group. I recall putting posters at the local bars and even the “gayedmonton” chat line site.  

I received a couple of racist remarks at the “gayedmonton” chat line site but I shrugged them off as the outpourings of those deeply troubled and closeted.

Yet, back then the group did not continue, as Muslim closet cases were predominately seeking secret liaisons. I tried to resuscitate the group again a few years later, but there is only so much you can do when people feel compelled to fulfill cultural norms.

With age and time, I moved on to my academic work on LGBTQ2S+ affirming scholarship in Islam. Yet, I retain fond memories of the Pride Centre.

I recognize the Canadian milieu is changing. Nineteen years ago when I landed in Edmonton, the West Edmonton Mall was a sea of white faces. Today, it is full of ethnically diverse people. The same holds true for clothing store posters and food choices. I recall yearning for South Asian and Arab cuisines, which today are readily available in many places.

But with diversity comes challenges. I myself have been targeted with obnoxious messages. Yet, I refuse to give into victimhood for it envelops us in negativity and when we are unable to do much against our oppressors, we end up attacking our own through lateral violence.

Irshad Manji writes, “Unless we transform trauma, we’ll transmit it,” and that “A lot of people who think of themselves as marginalized actually wield power. … As a result, power’s exercised poorly, even destructively.”

In essence, I do not want fear-based trauma to be transmitted to LGBTQ2S+ Muslims. I would hope they remain unafraid to call the police when they receive the brunt of Islamophobia and transphobia/homophobia. I hope they reject destructive anger and divisiveness and instead rely on inner strength, patience, humility, and contribution.  

In this regard, they have great role models in Chevi Rabbit (founder of Hate to Hope) and Manwar Khan (founder of Don’t Be a Bystander), both of whom responded to hateful incidents not by antagonizing but by drawing people together. Indeed, they have me, who will continue to nurture their inner strength by reminding them that Allah loves us all.

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