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’Islamo-Fascism Awareness’ Speeches Prompt Gays, Muslims to Connect

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday November 8, 2007

The so-called "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" (as, among others, called it, referring to Santorum's own term for fundamentalist Islam's oppression), a series of speeches by right-wing leaders at college campuses across the U.S., has had an unexpected result at Penn State: gays and Muslims getting together to talk.

As part of the series of speeches by right-wing figures such as Ann Coulter and David Horowitz, Penn State alum and former Penn. State Senator Rick Santorum gave an address notable for, among other things, disparaging progressives for their accepting attitude toward Muslims despite Muslim fundamentalism's condemnation of homosexuality.

But in an unexpected side effect to the talk, the former senator, a famously anti-gay conservative who has likened same-sex marriage equality to bestiality, and who was defeated in last year's elections, inspired students to bring Muslims and gays together for a collegial conversation, reported the Daily Pennsylvanian today.

The speech, and the response it garnered, touch upon a difficult point of contention within the Muslim world. Can a person be devout in his or her Islamic faith and also be gay?

It's a question that has gained cultural currency as GLBT Iraqis suffer the depredations of religiously driven Shia death squads and filmmakers like Parvez Sharma, a native of India and a Muslim and director of the multi-national documentary A Jihad for Love, explore the plight of gays driven into hiding, or forced to flee their home countries under threat of persecution.

Even in relatively free nations such as the UK or the U.S., Islamic gays have a hard time balancing their sexuality and their faith.

The New York Times examined the issue in some depth, looking at how Muslims in San Francisco attended a gay parade: walking along with a Muslim themed float, but with their faces obscured.

the New York Times article quoted a man called Ayman, a Jordanian asylee who came to the States to escape persecution.

Said Ayman of the gay Muslims at the event, "They're afraid of the rest of the community here."

Added Ayman, "It's such a big wrong in the Koran that it is impossible to be accepted."

But, as has been happening among gay Christians and Jews, gay Muslims are now looking at the Koran's condemnation of homosexuality with a new spirit of scholarly inquiry and spiritual inclusiveness.

But in Muslim-ruled countries, where strict theological doctrine and the law of the land are essentially one and the same, such inquiry is tantamount to blasphemy.

Indeed, some religious leaders in Muslim countries say that homosexuality is a Western concept that has contaminated the Middle East, according to the Times story.

Others see the issue in exactly opposite terms; they point out that Sufi mystical tradition is full of poetry the celebrates passionate love between men. The perception of homosexuality as a crime or a sin, they say, is a relic of Western colonialism.

The Times story reported that passages from the Koran that condemn same-sex encounters seem to be condemning forcible sex, rather than an affectionate relationship.

Said Islamic Studies professor Omid Safi, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, "They are talking about an 'abomination,' but what an abomination is remains open to interpretation."

An American Muslim named Scott Kugle, who is also a university professor, was cited by the Times as offering the interpretation that it was not love or relationships between men that Koran condemns, but domination through sex.

According to the Times story, Kugle says that such arguments are not simply the invention of the modern world. Rather, some aspects of this interpretation are rooted in scholarship from mediaeval Andalusia which was, centuries ago, a cosmopolitan center of Muslim power.

In today's world, the debate continues, as it did when Penn state student groups Queer People of Color sat down for a discussion with the Muslim Student Association, in order to have exactly the kind of discussion that Santorum claims the political left is trying to quash.

As quoted in today's Daily Pennsylvanian, Muslim student Artina Sheikh said, "There's a lot of value in having these discussions."

Sheikh praised the meeting of the groups as a "great first step to breaking down preconceptions," while a fellow student, Alec Webley, said of the discussion, "This is what a university thrives on."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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