Who or what is to blame for the massacre at Pulse, a gay night club in Orlando, Florida (June 12, 2016)? Muslims? Religious people in general? Islam? Religion in general? Or just the twisted mindset of a troubled individual?
Omar Mateen, a 29 year old American Muslim of Afghan descent leaves 49 people dead and 53 injured after opening fire at Pulse, the gay night club he allegedly visited himself on a regular basis. He was eventually shot by the police. Being a regular visitor of the club, as well as his use of gay dating sites, suggest Mateen was gay himself. His ex-wife also made the claim that he was gay. So maybe it was ressentiment that drove him (for similar examples, click here)?
Whatever the case, there is no doubt that religion often advocates intolerance and hatred against LGBT people. Religious leaders past and present have discriminated against LGBT people. For instance, two days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Christian evangelicals Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed gays and lesbians, among other people, for the attacks (which they interpreted as “the wrath of God”). Jerry Falwell stated (for more on this, click here):
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way – all of them who have tried to secularize America – I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.”
In other words, some religious people hold LGBT people themselves responsible for the oppression and violence they have to endure, allegedly “because they don’t respect God and His laws”. Seen from the perspective of René Girard’s mimetic theory, this is a form of scapegoating: instead of taking responsibility for their own intolerant and sometimes violent attitude, the perpetrators of hate crimes blame the victims and even God for their own terrorist behavior.
The aversion to LGBT people and their sexuality by certain religious people is sometimes mirrored by an aversion to religion by certain “anti-theists”. In the words of Girard, this makes the latter doubles of their theist counterparts. Because religion is seen as one of the main causes of evil, hatred and violence in the world, certain people would rather eradicate religion, blaming religious people for fostering one of the main breeding grounds for evil, and thus start scapegoating themselves. Bill Maher, for example, in the mockumentary Religulous:
This is why rational people, anti-religionists, must end their timidity and come out of the closet and assert themselves. And those who consider themselves only moderately religious really need to look in the mirror and realize that the solace and comfort that religion brings you actually comes at a terrible price. […] If you belonged to a political party or a social club that was tied to as much bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, violence and sheer ignorance as religion is, you’d resign in protest. To do otherwise is to be an enabler, a Mafia wife, with the true devils of extremism that draw their legitimacy from the billions of their fellow travelers. If the world does come to an end here or wherever, or if it limps into the future, decimated by the effects of a religion-inspired nuclear terrorism, let’s remember what the real problem was: That we learned how to precipitate mass death before we got past the neurological disorder of wishing for it. That’s it. Grow up or die.
Well, seen from Bill Maher’s perspective, you’re in big trouble if you are gay and Muslim. You shouldn’t be surprised that you experience violence because being a Muslim, being religious is, in the words of Bill Maher, being “an enabler of homophobia and violence”. Once again the (potential) victim, in this case the gay Muslim, is held responsible, this time by so-called anti-religionists, for the violence the victim might have to endure.
In short, some people scapegoat people for being gay, others scapegoat people for being religious. Being gay and muslim means running the risk of being twice the scapegoat.
From a spiritual perspective we are challenged to criticize ourselves by listening to the Voice of our (potential) Victim, by listening to the voice of the scapegoat, in order to become “the change we want to see”. Maybe “true Islam” is not a religion of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and violence. Maybe “true Islam” is the religion of a “radical minority” that testifies to the Love of “the Merciful One”.
In the words of a gay Muslim man from the documentary I am Gay and Muslim:
No one has the right to tell me whether I’m a good Muslim or not.
To put things in perspective, an overview of mass shootings in the US of the last decades shows that most of the murderers didn’t need religion to get them to kill people. Some even hated religion. All they needed was easy access to guns and all too human characteristics played out in the wrong circumstances:
July 18, 1984: unemployed security guard James Oliver Huberty kills 21 people at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California. He is killed himself by a police sniper.
October 16, 1991: George Jo Hennard crashes his pickup into a Luby’s cafetaria and begins firing, killing 22 people before taking his own life.
April 20, 1999: Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 13 people before taking their own lives.
April 16, 2007: student Seung-hui Cho kills 32 people on Virginia Tech campus and eventually commits suicide.
April 3, 2009: Jiverly Voong kills 13 people when attacking Binghampton immigration center in New York state.
November 5, 2009: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, attacks Fort Hood in Texas and kills 13 people.
July 20, 2012: James Holmes kills 12 people in what became known as the Colorado cinema shooting, during the screening of the new Batman movie.
December 14, 2012: Adam Lanza kills 27 people, including himself, during an attack on Newtown school in Connecticut.
September 16, 2013: Aaron Alexis, a Navy contractor, kills 12 people at Washington Navy Yard.
June 18, 2015: Dylann Roof kills 9 people at Charleston prayer meeting.
December 2, 2015: Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik kill 14 people at a community centre in San Bernardino. They die in police shootout.
June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen kills 49 people and injures another 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
I am a gay Muslim who is also a fan of Bill Maher (yes, we exist too). Frankly, I know of no other person on the left today who is a greater ally to gay Muslims like me than he is. Calling out Abrahamic religions for their long tradition of homophobia is not scapegoating; it’s intellectual honesty and moral courage. Whether it’s Russia or Uganda, Italy or America, ISIS (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/25/inside-isis-training-camps) or Britain (https://youtu.be/fMB2sK5ChvE?t=4m56s), Morocco (http://observers.france24.com/en/20160331-video-gay-couple-morocco-attack) or Pakistan (https://youtu.be/XBrC_4m9NvM?t=1m23s), Malaysia (https://www.malaysiakini.com/news/340023) or Indonesia (http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/05/hanura-calls-law-against-lgbt-people.html), indisputably it is religion that is spreading and spearheading hatred and violence against sexual minorities like me. “Maybe “true Islam” is not a religion of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and violence,” you said. Well, Erik, here’s what a man dubbed the most influential Muslim scholar in America has to say about homosexuality (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/14/living/orlando-muslims-statement/index.html?sr=twcnni061516orlando-muslims-statement0433AMVODtopLink&linkId=25553587). And here’s his counterpart in Cambridge, England on the question of gender (https://youtu.be/3kDbqABvEN0?t=10m53s). And here’s their counterpart in Oxford, England in a debate with a gay Muslim woman (https://youtu.be/84w-MAOyHFE?t=25s). “Maybe,” indeed.
To call someone an “enabler” of homophobia because he believes in God is a form of scapegoating.
He clearly does not mean it literally. The man is a satirist, after all. You would think that a sophisticated, Bible-reading believer like you would understand that.
He clearly does mean that. It’s in line with his general views on religion and religious people. It’s easy to track those views in all kinds of interviews. He’s a satirist. Doesn’t mean he’s joking all the time. Or maybe I’m not ‘sophisticated’ enough.
He’s had numerous religious people on his show, from members of religious organizations like Sister Simone Campbell and Ralph Reed to members of religious intelligentsia like Cornel West and Jim Wallis. If they can humor him, surely you can, too. But hey, if you prefer to take yourself way too seriously, more power to you. It’s just odd, really. I’m a Muslim and I’m not the least bit offended. Because I get that when he (goes off the) rails against religion he’s not talking about me or, for that matter, you.
When religious people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson talk to gay people, however friendly, it is very unlikely that they change their views on homosexuality and gay people. You might say that they consider gays as “enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world. I strongly disagree with them and this type of scapegoating, but they are entitled to their opinion.
When self-proclaimed anti-religionists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins talk to religious people, however friendly or “humorous”, it is very unlikely that they change their views on religion and religious people. They consider religious people as “enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world (they have defended this view in various ways and in different contexts; the way a statement is made – satirical or otherwise – doesn’t change its content). I strongly disagree with them and this type of scapegoating, but they are entitled to their opinion.
Jerry Falwell nor Bill Maher are cowards concerning their beliefs. They are clear about their views and what they stand for. I just pointed out the parallels between their reasoning.
I understand that you are somewhat emotionally attached to Bill Maher in a positive way since you are a fan of his. So I also understand that you don’t like the comparison with people like Jerry Falwell (who speak out against homosexuality and gay people like yourself). But I’m not responsible for Bill Maher’s views. He doesn’t have the opinion he has because I would take myself too seriously. Actually, I don’t know why you say that I’m taking myself too seriously in this matter. I guess I’m not “sophisticated” enough to know where that comes from ;). Anyways, I’m not personally offended by Jerry Falwell because I’m not gay, but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about the scapegoating. I’m also not personally offended by Bill Maher because I’m not at all homophobic as a religious person, but that doesn’t mean I can’t talk about the scapegoating.
One question for you, though: if you believe homophobia to be an integral part of “true Islam”, why then would you still be a Muslim like yourself (being gay and Muslim)?
Maybe we shouldn’t take our idols and their humour too seriously, as this makes us nasty and humourless?
To the best of my knowledge, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have never been friendly towards gay people. No, Erik, I think you’re describing your Holy Father Francis in Rome. He’s the friendly homophobe, who goes on and on about love and mercy and yet whose views on homosexuality and gay people nevertheless remain more or less the same. I should know. My boyfriend and his family were Catholics. They’re happily Episcopalian now, like so many others (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/06/fashion/weddings/a-relationship-where-marriage-is-freedom.html, http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/fashion/weddings/bill-clegg-and-van-scott-jr-weddings.html, etc.).
It is patently untrue that atheists like Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins consider every single religious people, without exception, “as “enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world.” As recently as two weeks ago he warned people not to romanticize socialism, which is hardly a religious system (https://youtu.be/jrfbWtMgyk8?t=39s). Yes, they speak in generalities and they know it. “It’s a silly proposition,” Bill Maher once said, “because all knowledge is based on generalities. You cannot interview 1.5 billion Muslims. And this idea that you can’t say the term “Muslim World” is so silly. Read any history book. They always use the term Christendom. They didn’t interview every Christian. You have to make generalities to advance knowledge.” As the American Muslim intellectual Mazen El Makkouk once said: “Sometimes it helps to boil things down. In my field of “religion and literature,” you can’t even think unless you’ve done some boiling down first: otherwise, how do you know what it is that you’re dealing with? What matters about these generalizations is how productive they are: do they make you understand something else?” That is to say, when they talk critically about religious people, they are plainly not talking about people like us. It is simply absurd — bad faith, really — for you to claim otherwise. Cornel West, for instance, is his longtime friend. How could you possibly think that he would ever consider him one of those religious ““enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world”? Honestly, I’ve lost count how many times he’s told his progressive religious guests — yes, even Muslim ones — to keep up their good work, thereby discrediting your claim that he thinks all religious people are ““enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world.” It’s funny, really, how you respond to his generalizations by making your own generalizations about his generalizations. How mimetic!
“I was raised a liberal by two liberal parents,” he once said, “and liberalism springs from one thing above all: compassion. In my family we were always on the side of the underdog and those being treated unfairly. I grew up in an all-white town in New Jersey in the 1960s, but my parents made sure I knew even as a little kid whose side we were on in the civil rights battles. We were with Kennedy and against Southern governors standing in the doorways of schools to prevent black kids from going. What they taught me has stayed with me my whole life, be it blacks, gays, the poor, veterans, immigrants, women, people who are bullied, the disabled, people getting raped in the military, victims of police brutality—you name it, the only thing I don’t have tolerance for is intolerance. I saw on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show a story about a kid in Pakistan saying to his father, “Please don’t send me to school; the Taliban will kill me,” and I thought of blacks in our South getting killed back then for trying to go to school. My point is, there is a civil war going on in the Muslim world, and liberals can’t be so worried about multiculturalism that they come off as equivocal in this fight.” In that respect — in his proud, unapologetic liberalism — he is actually very much akin to Marilynne Robinson, minus, of course, her Christian faith (https://www.thenation.com/article/conversation-marilynne-robinson/). Obviously, therefore, Bill Maher is nothing like Jerry Falwell (http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390667.001.0001/acprof-9780195390667). The former hates religion because of what religion has so often done, both historically and today. The latter hates gay people because of what his religion tells him about gay people, thereby proving the former’s point. After all, without his religion, would Jerry Falwell even hate gay people? Now, I can’t speak for him, but I know for a fact that my own father would never have disowned me if it weren’t for his religious beliefs. He told me so himself, as doubtless so many conservative religious parents have told their gay children who are now homeless and suffering on the streets. Trust me, I know. I volunteer sometimes at the local homeless LGBT youth center. I’ve been doing it for years and it still breaks my heart every time. Now, that’s in America. Can you imagine what it’s like for gay kids in Muslim countries, in Christian parts of Africa, in Orthodox Russia and Eastern Europe? And that’s just one thing — the anti-gay part — that religion is traditionally atrocious at. Knowing this, can you still honestly say that religion has not been ““enablers” of all kinds of evil in the world”? Can you really begrudge him for that?
As for taking yourself too seriously, well, my point is that even the religious guests on his show know better than to take his anti-religious rants personally. And I don’t, either. Neither does my boyfriend, for that matter. It’s not that we think he’s just kidding and unserious about his critiques; it’s just that we know that we are not the religious people that he’s denouncing, hence my caution about taking him literally. As for me, honestly, I don’t know why I have remained a Muslim. Maybe it’s because I actually like praying five times a day (I personally find that it gives my life a certain structure). Maybe it’s because I see what the faith can be, rather than what it has so often been. But I can’t say that I will always be a Muslim. Maybe I’ll lose all faith one day. Maybe I’ll find Jesus — or he’ll find me — when I marry my boyfriend in an Episcopal church someday (he’s been floating the idea ever since our first date; the man is nothing if not confident, I tell you). Who knows, really? “Wallahualam,” as we Muslims like to say after a discourse. “And God knows best.” 🙂
If you take a look at the scene from Religulous where Bill Maher is talking about “the moderately religious” as “enabler” or “Mafia wife”, you will see that he is not joking. He’s serious about that statement, however funny the documentary has been. I’m sorry, Ra. Maher is not talking about “religion” as the enabler. He’s talking about people who are so-called “moderately religious”. And when he speaks about the moderately religious he means people like you and me. Still, that doesn’t offend me personally because indeed I know where his hatred of religion comes from. His intentions are noble. Maher’s personal friendships don’t change his paternalistic final message in Religulous one bit. He made that documentary “for the world to see”, not just for his fans.
I never said Bill Maher and the like consider religion to be the only breeding ground for all kinds of evil in the world. So it doesn’t surprise me that he warns against romanticizing socialism.
Talking about Pope Francis … It is quite likely that he has long lasting friendships with gay people. After all, he’s working in the Vatican :). But indeed, his statements about homosexuality to the world remain what they are, even after he said that he wasn’t in the position to judge people. As hard as it is to understand, like Bill Maher and many others believe it would be better for ourselves to leave all religion behind, many religious people believe it would be better for ourselves to leave homosexuality behind. I’ve met religious people who are very kind to gay people in their personal relationships, yet are very paternalistic in their views on homosexuality. It makes for tragic comic situations sometimes, but it often makes me quite sad and even angry. After all, what the heck is the problem with being gay? None, whatsoever!
As for your question on Jerry Falwell’s homophobia, of course it doesn’t take religion to be homophobic. A couple of years ago one of my students was anti-religious as well as anti-gay. So I don’t know what came first to Falwell, homophobia that seeks religious justifications or religious beliefs enhancing homophobia.
I respect both Bill Maher and Jerry Falwell for the good they’ve done in their lives. But I will also debate certain statements they’ve made. I’m not debunking everything Bill Maher says or does. I’m not generalizing him to be a scapegoater per se. But we all scapegoat from time to time. Bill Maher is no exception to the human race. That’s a generalization I do make.
I’m grateful that we’re having this conversation. It’s making clear that there’s more to Bill Maher than the statements where he’s paternalistic about “the moderately religious”. I can only hope that there’s more to Pope Francis than a paternalistic attitude towards gay people as well.
Yes, Erik, I’ve seen Religulous. But he made that movie almost a decade ago. Surely you can concede that even militant atheists like him are capable of moral growth? Because as someone who’s been watching him for the longest time, that’s exactly what I’ve seen. When he says “we need more people like you” to his progressive religious guests — the people who less than a decade ago would likely fall under his “moderately religious” category — he means just that, because he knows now that these people are not enablers of evil; on the contrary, they are good people who do good things in places he could never go as an outspoken non-religious person: in mosques, in churches, and so on. Now, of course, as an atheist he would never understand why these good people even need religion in the first place. He’s probably always going to find it ridiculous — religulous! — for otherwise rational people to believe in a virgin birth, or a talking snake, or a triune god. So what? That’s not the part of religion that really bothers him. As you’ve alluded to yourself, it’s the evil things that people do — that otherwise good people do — because of religion that really infuriate him to no end. I also take issue with your contention that “of course it doesn’t take religion to be homophobic. A couple of years ago one of my students was anti-religious as well as anti-gay.” Yes, it doesn’t take religion for humans to do bad things. But as a gay intellectual once observed: “Religions [not only] have rituals and doctrines: mechanisms of participation and belief. They also engender moral sensibilities that provide ways of normatively framing the world regarding people, places, social arrangements. Most Swedes, for example, are not believing or actively participating Lutherans, yet centuries of Lutheranism being the overwhelmingly dominant flavour of religion has deeply influenced Swedish moral sensibility” (http://skepticlawyer.com.au/2015/12/17/moral-sensibility-and-modernity/). That is to say, that student of yours did not become anti-gay in a vacuum. He might very well have grown to be anti-religious while perfectly retaining the anti-gay remnants of his religious upbringing. I’ve had that kind of students, too. But the thing is, without religious justification, homophobia has nothing to stand on. All manners of reason, empirical evidence, moral philosophies, and just your basic human decency are squarely on the side of the gays. That is why after Orlando, eleven of my former students took the time and effort to contact me and apologize for their past homophobia, some of whom I didn’t even know were homophobic. Basic human decency. Not so the deeply religious. Their sense of decency is divine, not human. “I definitely have sympathy for people who are struggling,” says that most influential Muslim scholar in America. “But I’m not sure they want our sympathies; they want full recognition of their lifestyle, and my religion tells me that I can’t accept that.” He can’t accept that, you see. Not even after a massacre. What will it take, I wonder? A genocide? But the gays already had a genocide. The Holocaust targeted us, too! Another genocide perhaps? Well, we have that actually. Right now as we speak. ISIS. But of course, unlike the Yazidis, my people are much harder to target (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genocide_of_Yazidis_by_ISIL). That is one of the blessings of being a people without genealogy: we don’t all hail from the same family, live in the same community, work in the same town; like mutants in X-Men, our survival is thus all but ensured by Mother Nature. But that does not mean that we don’t suffer. Plainly we do (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/25/islamic-state-has-killed-at-least-30-people-for-sodomy-un-told). But hey, what can those poor religious leaders do, right? It is God’s will, as made manifest in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, after all. My point is surely obvious by now. Thank you, all the same, Erik, for your patience and solidarity (https://vt.tumblr.com/tumblr_o8ou5843Z51s9p6kt.mp4).