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    Muslim refusenik

    I bumped the mouse while I was over at Eric‘s and happened to land on this site. It turned out to be a felicitous accident, because he (I think it’s a he) has what looks like an author profile/review of a book posted. The book is by a Muslim lesbian, born in Uganda and brought up in Toronto. I could seriously learn to like this woman:

    “[Gay Muslim activists] say, ‘Don’t confuse me with being anti-Jewish, I’m just anti-Israel,'” Manji says. “I say, ‘Hold on sister. I oppose that premise and so should you.’ I have never said that Israel has a perfect human rights record. Neither does America. I make the case that Israel’s existence does not lie at the heart of what’s wrong with the Muslim world.

    “I say, yes, feel free to criticize the IDF [Israeli Defense Force] and their policies. There absolutely is an occupation but there is also a political occupation inflicted by the Palestinian leaders,” she says. “They have rejected every proposal for an independent state. They have always been rejected without the consultation of the Palestinian people. The last one, the Oslo Accords, was not translated into Arabic. This should burn every human rights activist.”

    That’s something I’ve always found it difficult to get my head around. On the one hand, it annoys me to see people wringing sacred texts like dishcloths to squeeze out meanings that they happen to want to be there. I find it much easier to deal with Biblical literalists (like those I grew up around) than, like, Unitarians. On the other hand, debate (including that over meanings) is how you learn that strong, vibrant personalities are going to disagree, that you’re not always right, and that the only thinking and behavior you can reliably change is your own.

    Come to think of it, maybe it’s the lack of self-criticism and constant finger-pointing at the same bugbear that makes gay activists feel such an affinity for, say, Palestinian activists:

    “The fact that the neo-con right and preachers have called Muslims on their hypocrisy makes it difficult for the political left to condemn it,” Manji says. “To criticize, they say, says you are only feeding into the so-called fear of Islam. It’s the same thing if someone were to say, ‘Oh, I think we need to overthrow Hussein because of his atrocious record on human rights.’

    “To criticize the gross human rights violations of Hussein means that you support the Bush administration,” she says. “I long to see the day when gay and lesbian leaders will attend Muslim speak-outs and ask the Muslims in those protests if they in turn will speak out against gay homophobia. I don’t hear too many queer activists hammering that.”

    Manji contends that Islam is the only religion that has no sense of moderation. Even Christianity has moderate factions, she says, despite the loud, mouthy rhetoric of apocalyptic social conservatives.

    “Whenever I would air anti-gay remarks from Christian leaders on my television show, Christian viewers would flood our lines with tolerant biblical interpretations,” she says. “But when I expose anti-gay feedback from Muslim leaders, not once did other leaders offer other interpretations. It is as if these bigots spoke for Islam. Even those who don’t share mainstream Islam’s prejudices against homosexuality won’t speak up.”

    Manji says she hears from many Muslims on her Web site, www.muslim-refusenik.com, and face-to-face that they can’t be public with their support of diversity because they fear persecution. She believes this is because literalism has gone mainstream.

    “Every religion has its fair share of literalists but in Islam, literalism is worldwide. Even moderate Muslims believe that the holy Koran is God 3.0,” she says. “Most Muslims still don’t know how to debate because they have never been taught to. The same cannot be said of moderate Christians and Jews.”

    If their moderation is in conflict with their beliefs about God, I don’t really see what the moderate Muslims Manji is describing can do except pick one. That doesn’t make it much easier to explain why they bother offering her secretive shows of solidarity and support, though.

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