Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/424/4972
Reviews: Gay Muslims Channel 4
Homophobia isn't the exclusive preserve of any religion
THE EXPERIENCE of British gay and lesbian Muslims was the subject for the Channel 4 documentary Gay Muslims. One of the aims of the programme was to illustrate the diversity within Islam and how different Muslim communities deal with homosexuality.
Marc Vallée, Socialist Party national LGBT group convenor
There has been a huge increase in anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination for the two million Muslims in Britain over the last decade and particularly since 9/11. Working-class Muslims are one of the poorest sections of British society. In 1999, 28% of white families lived below the poverty line compared with 41% of Afro-Caribbean and 84% of Bangladeshi families.
At the beginning of this year on Radio 4's PM programme, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, leader of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that homosexuality was "harmful" and "not acceptable." He also suggested it was immoral and spread disease. Implying that being gay is a sickness, he said homosexuality is linked to "other illnesses and diseases". He is in the same homophobic company as many leading figures from other religious groups. As Sir Iqbal said, "It [homosexuality] is something which is not acceptable in Islam the same way it is not acceptable under Christianity or Judaism or other divine religion".
Peter Tatchell of the gay human rights group OutRage! has correctly challenged this type of homophobia, at times in a crude way, but has been condemned by some on the Left for being Islamaphobic. Tatchell's and OutRage's record of taking on homophobia in other religions including the Vatican and the General Synod of the Church of England clearly shows that this is unfounded.
At the beginning of the programme, to a sinister soundtrack, the presenter Sonia Deol says: "Islam is fierce in its condemnation of homosexuality". But homophobia is in no way exclusive to Islam. The homophobia of right-wing Christians in the Bush White House and the bile that comes from the new Pope is just as unacceptable and is used in the same way by capitalism to prop up a system which promotes the interests of a super-rich elite at the expense of all workers whether religious or not.
Around 200 lesbian and gay Muslims were contacted by the programme makers but only a handful were willing to be interviewed. Only one, Adnan Ali, an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) Muslim activist, was prepared to show his face on camera and give his true name. He described how when he first came out in Pakistan he was physically and verbally abused.
In the present climate, a programme about gay Muslims should attract attention and debate. Unfortunately, it restricted itself to showing its participants living passively in the face of oppression.
The human interest style of the programme relied on artificial set pieces. At one point the makers arranged a consultation with an Imam to (purportedly) help a gay man establish contact with his children, denied to him by his wife since he came out.
This became a confrontation, with the cleric condemning homosexuality, as he was clearly expected to do by the programme makers. Almost the only interesting idea offered was when a member of Imaan, a UK Muslims' LGBT group, disagreed with the concept of gay pride, which she felt to be by its very nature immodest and therefore un-Islamic. As a muslim she also condemned the perceived hedonism of LGBT culture. What could have been an interesting debate was swiftly glossed over. Presumably Channel 4 don't think viewers are ready to digest intellectual solids. Imaan have publicly condemned the programme as casting gay Muslims in a "negative and inaccurate light" and as "wretched and weak".
Reflecting the wider LGBT community, LGBT Muslims in Britain are not one homogenous block. Factors such as class and gender divide LGBT people, although you wouldn't know it from this documentary.
The Socialist Party believes that prejudice is an intrinsic part of the capitalist system. Capitalism's ideology is advanced to justify the privileged existence of an elite at the expense of the majority and thrives on the inequalities that it creates in society.
A socialist society would end discrimination regardless of sex, sexual orientation, and personal faith and allow people the right to determine how they lived their own personal lives. It would promote personal expression and allow prejudice and repression to be ended for all. It would also produce better television programmes than this, not insult the intelligence of its audience.
In The Socialist 26 January 2006: