US Muslims are now more tolerant than many Christian groups. If you listened to Trump, Le Pen and Anne Marie Waters, youd believe that was impossible, writes author and academic Moustafa Bayoumi
Heres something you may not have thought likely. A majority of American Muslims now believes that its fine to be gay. The latest Pew Research Centre survey, published on 26 July, tells us that most think homosexuality should be accepted by society. The poll further shows how dramatically acceptance has risen, nearly doubling from 27% to 52% since 2007 (among millennial Muslims, its 60%). Muslims may lag behind the general public, for whom the corresponding figure on this issue is 63%, but they poll at exactly the same percentage as Protestants and far above white evangelical Christians, a mere 34% of whom believe that homosexuality should be tolerated.
If you have actually spent some time with American Muslims you wont be surprised by these numbers. Im not. This is a multifaceted group of people, representing many different and sometimes conflicting tendencies and traditions. But the Pew data shows us that the overall tilt of the community, even while it is itself contending with high levels of discrimination, is progressive andoptimistic.
Youd never know it if you listened to populist leaders. Whether in the US, the UK, or on the European continent, the idea that Muslims represent a civilisational threat to the west because of an intrinsic ultra-conservatism, which includes a violent hatred of gay people, is so widespread that it is seen as a truism. Not only is this tidy titbit of political wisdom false, it also ends up obscuring the degree of homophobia in other parts of society, and in our politics.
Rightwing populism is especially devoted to this narrative. From DonaldTrump to the Netherlands Geert Wilders, Frances Marine Le Pen and Ukips Anne Marie Waters, todays demagogues seek to convince the public that they are the true defenders of freedom, courting LGBT votes by dangling the caricature of a dangerous, intolerant and homophobic Muslim in front of their eyes. But this apparent support for LGBT rights is often only skin-deep.
During the US presidential campaign, Trump frequently argued that he was the best candidate for LGBT voters because Hillary Clinton was soft on Muslim immigration. At the Republican convention, Trump stated: As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBT citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology. Now Trump is proposing to ban all transgender people from serving in the military.
During the French presidential election Marine Le Pen surrounded herself with gay advisers and claimed that she alone would protect LGBT people from the Muslim menace. France isnt burkinis on the beach. France is Brigitte Bardot, she said, and claimed during a televised debate that Emmanuel Macron was supported by a French Muslim organisation that sponsored speakers who hated Jews and homosexuals. (I think its terrific to see you speak words in defence of homosexuals and Jews, Macron cleverly responded.) But Le Pen also opposed gay marriage (and, just in case you wondered, not from a principled point of criticism of the bourgeois roots of marriage), legal in France only since 2013. The fact is, she isnot a true defender of LGBT rights, just an opportunist.
Geert Wilders animosity towards all things Muslim is so over the top that it appears to be turning his hair peroxide-blond. (It has been reported that he dyes his hair because his original dark curls drew racist jeers as a child.) Day after day, for years, we are experiencing the decay of our cherished values, he said in January. The equality of men and women, freedom of opinion and speech, tolerance of homosexuality all this is in retreat. Again, its hard not to conclude that the greatest threat to the Dutch tradition of tolerance isnt Islam but people such as Wilders. The good news is that neither he nor Le Pen succeeded in their campaigns.