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Tuesday 13 October 2015


Not Our Enemies?

Posted in: Comment
By Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 25th September 2014

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Why is it that New Zealand LGBT communities tend to have better relationships with Kiwi Muslims than our counterparts elsewhere in the world?

Witness the situation in Australia at the moment. On September 17, there recent revelations of an alleged underground Islamist terrorist campaign that could have targeted anonymous individuals and significant public monuments, causing massive loss of life. Fortunately, this was prevented by Australian Federal Police raids in Brisbane and Sydney.Added to which, some radicalised British Muslims are reportedly fighting for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Yet, in New Zealand, when radical Islamist elements tried to take over one South Auckland mosque, they were rapidly expelled from the place of worship by moderate Muslims and the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. Granted, much of this may be because of the dominant quietist and devotional Barelvi brand of Sunni Islam that dominates New Zealand Islam, which doesn't emphasise political activity. However, it may also be due to the lack of rancor that surrounds Muslim co-existence with non-Muslim New Zealanders.

However, to provide context for readers who may be unaware of the situation related to ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), here's a brief backgrounder on the insurgent group. ISIS is a Sunni Muslim armed militia operating out of Eastern Syria and Northwestern Iraq. It has been able to exploit the post-Saddam factionalism, Shia/Sunni religious animosities and ethnic tensions within Iraq as well as Syria's ongoing civil war quagmire. Founded in 2006, ISIS wants a 'caliphate' that extends over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Israel. The term 'caliphate' refers to a unified Islamic territory which is ruled by Islamic law and which does not separate mosque and state. In occupied areas, it operates shariah law courts and schools. It has an estimated 30-100,000 volunteers. Although most of its members are Syrians and Iraqis, there are also believed to be Chechen, Pakistani, Afghan and Sunni Muslim European participants. In February 2014, al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri disavowed the group, condemning the 'excessive' brutality of its methods. Its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is Iraqi born and listed on US State Department records as a wanted terrorist. Its activities are believed to be funded by Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

ISIS is virulently anti-Shia and xenophobic. It has attacked several Shia mosques several times (2003, 2006, 2008) as well as Baghdad's heavily Shia Sadr City neighbourhoods (2007) and Kurdish territory in Karbala and Najaf (2004). Baghdad itself has been attacked by ISIS several times (October 2009: January, April and August 2010: July 2012). Despite the above atrocities, it is the threat to Australian citizens which have aroused reprehensible racist and sectarian anti-Muslim hysteria across the Tasman. In this context, much fearmongering goes on over shariah law, which is understood by moderate Muslims to refer predominantly to matters of family law and domestic relationships.

The violent response from Australian white supremacist agitators against innocent uninvolved Muslims has been unhelpful, as has the inflammatory, extremist grandstanding of Australian Palmers United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie about shariah law and Islamic modes of dress, as well as right-wing Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi- yes, thesameCory Bernardi who earlier compared homosexuality to zoophilia in the context of marriage equality. Notably, Prime Minister Abbott delayed a full day before distinguishing between the majority of mainstream, peaceful law-abiding Australian Muslims and unrepresentative radical Islamists.

One of the chief culprits is new Palmers United Party Senator Jacqui Lambie. Lambie is a Tasmanian and former Australian soldier. She was elected as a Tasmanian federal Senator for the populist Palmers United Party in 2011, and has had to fight recurrent battles with the Australian Defence Force over rehabilitation for combat-related injuries. She's an anti-environmentalist, opposes marriage equality, wants the reintroduction of compulsory military service and believes that China or Indonesia "could" invade Australia, despite the fact that China is Australia's largest trading partner.


New Zealand has tiny white supremacist groups, mostly consisting of violent alcoholics and drug addicts with minimal education and recurrent unemployment. They are not mainstream organisations, nor is their marginality conducive to mass recruitment. When they vandalise shops, places of worship or cemeteries, their actions are met with revulsion and disgust. Only conspiracist minded fundamentalist Christians share the perceptions of this reprehensible foetid corner of society that New Zealand Muslims are somehow a threat to our democratic, pluralist society. When idiot New Zealand First MP Richard Prosser parroted such sentiments, he was rightly treated with contempt by everyone except his party leader and caucus colleagues. This is a far cry from the United Kingdom, France and Australia, all of which have experienced large-scale displays of venomous racist and sectarian intolerance over the last two decades, which have often led to outbursts of organised racist violence in the case of the British National Party and French National Front. Both the Thatcher and Howard administrations co-opted and manipulated these pockets of populist racist antagonism for their own short-term political purposes- but it is the Cameron and Abbott administrations that now have to carry the fallout from their predecessors opportunism and short-sightedness for short-term political gain.


When it comes to opposing LGBT rights, New Zealand Muslims have been quite reserved. Granted, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand did make a parliamentary submission against marriage equality, but it took the matter no further than that. It did not engage in recurrent media releases, full page newspaper advertisements, large-scale parliamentary lobbying and other grandstanding against secular, civil marriage equality. Granted, same-sex marriages cannot be performed in mosques. However, many South Asian New Zealand LGBT community members identify as post-Muslim or post-Hindu and do not share the religious beliefs of their parents. That said, unlike Malaysia, there are no Muslim 'exgay' organisations, nor are there any New Zealand Muslims who want to adopt particular interpretations of shariah law amidst New Zealand's secular, pluralist and democratic society and who advocate flogging South Asian LGBT community members. I'm not sure how hijra fit into such communities, given that many hijra are also intersex or eunuchs, as well as what westerners would call transgender. Still, Iran, Indonesia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have all provided complex and nuanced environments for their hijra and waria communities and individuals. Gender diversity is viewed as 'indigenous' in a way that 'westernised' gay male (and lesbian) communities may not be.

Granted too, there may be problems with Iran, Iraq, Aceh (Indonesia), Malaysia and Brunei over abuse and threatened maltreatment of their LGBTI communities. Granted, gay sex is viewed as lutva ("sodomy") within Sunni and Shia hadith (religious commentary) and may be subjected to criminal sanctions, corporal punishment or capital punishment in some jurisdictions. In Lebanon and Indonesia, however, there is nuanced debate about decriminalisation, which should mean that we refrain from faulty, homogenising kneejerk responses. Islam is a world faith that has existed for the last fifteen hundred years, within a variety of ethnicities and political configurations.

Civil dialogue may be more possible within New Zealand than it is within western societies that have tolerated organised racist violence and large-scale political parties of such nature in the past. For the welfare of persecuted and oppressed LGBT inhabitants of Iran, Iraq, Aceh, Malaysia and Brunei, let us hope that is so. But certainly, encouraging or ignoring racist or sectarian violence against ordinary Muslims is no answer and should be condemned without reservation.

Recommended:
Benjamin Law: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East: Collingwood: Black Inc: 2012.
Martha Nussbaum: The New Religious Intolerance: Fighting the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age: Harvard: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press: 2012
Brian Whittaker: Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 2006.
Josh Lowe: "Iraq Crisis: Who and What is ISIS?" Prospect (12.06.2014): http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/politics/iraq-crisis-and-who-is-isis/#U54olPmSyPY
"Jacqui Lambie's comments on shariah law outrage Muslim leaders" Guardian: 22.09.2014:http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/22/jacquie-lambies-comments-on-sharia-law-outrage-muslim-leaders
Muslims for Progressive Values: http://www.mvpusa.org
Michael Koziol and Leila Abdullah: "We are the ones being terrorised, Muslims say" Melbourne Age: 22.09.2014:http://www.theage.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/we-are-the-ones-being-terrorised-muslims-say-20140920-10jdkw.html

Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 25th September 2014

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