Equality and Diversity: All Strands
30th July 2014
A few years ago ILGA-Europe’s annual conference was held at the Hague, and many keynote speakers justly praised the equality that LGBT people had achieved in the Netherlands. I noticed an odd direction to the speeches of many of the Dutch politicians: they tended to contrast ‘religious opposition’ to ‘LGBT human rights’. One speaker said explicitly that the problem was Muslims versus LGBT people. I happened to have lunch that day with Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, a French delegate, who was the founder of HM2F, the association for gay Muslims in France. (A year or two later, Zahed was to found the first LGBT-friendly mosque in France.) I wasn’t aware of who he was: we were simply talking over lunch in English when he asked what I had thought of that last speaker. I said truthfully that he was obviously an enthusiastic supporter of LGBT rights – but he had spoken as if Muslim and LGBT were two exclusive categories, whereas of course there are LGBT Muslims
At the Opening Ceremony of the Commonwealth Games, John Barrowman kissed another performer – and while this was said in mainstream media to be a “snub” to the majority of Commonwealth nations who discriminate against homosexuality, it received open support from many – including a Uganda team coach, Grace Eriyo, who said:
‘Where we come from it is illegal to kiss a man, but here you can have it on the TV, right in front of the Queen. To me that is so great.’
If mainstream media were hoping for an angry response from the countries with laws against LGBT rights, they didn’t get it.
Three days ago in The Malay Mail, Datuk Ibrahim Ali, the leader of a Malay rights group Perkasa, announced that he had spoken to the Daily Telegraph to tell them his views about the Scottie dogs at the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Glasgow. Perkasa is described as a ‘conservative, extreme-right, ethnic Malay organisation’ which has called for the burning of Christian Bibles that use the word ‘allah’ for ‘god‘: this has horrified the vast majority of Malaysians, who are proud of their country’s cultural diversity and who, if Muslim, would regard the Bible as a sacred text.
(In Islam, keeping dogs as pets is regarded as not quite proper – dogs are to be kept as working animals only, ideally outside of the house: and there are hadiths requiring Muslims to wash vessels, clothing, or themselves, if a dog licks them. There is nothing in the Qu’ran that forbids a Muslim from picking up a tired or bored Scottie dog and walking the length of the stadium carrying it: though culturally, a person who is unused to pet dogs might find this distasteful or unwelcome.)
On Monday, a day or so after they had been contacted by the leader of Perkasa, the Daily Telegraph published a story about the Scottie dogs at the Opening Ceremony, giving the impression that the use of dogs to lead the teams had given offence to Muslims.
In their story, The Telegraph first quoted Mohamad Sabu, who is deputy president of a minority party that does not enjoy widespread support in Malaysia: the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has 21 out of 222 seats in Malaysia’s Parliament, and 85 out of 576 seats n state assemblies, with support focussed mostly in northern rural states. A faction in he Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party even supports the view of Perkasa that the word ‘allah’ or ‘god’ should be banned from use in Malay translations of the Bible. Nonetheless, the Telegraph describes this as an ‘opposition party’, and while not claiming that any other Malaysian politician objected, gives the impression that this is a widespread view among Muslims and in Malaysia. (Comments on the earlier story in the Malay Times strongly suggest otherwise.) At the end of their story The Telegraph also mentioned Datuk Ibrahim Ali Dato Ibrahim Bin Ali) saying he had ‘also called for an apology’.
What is the obvious, immediate reaction of most people who thought the Scottie dogs ere adorable, which was the majority response on Twitter to that part of the Opening Ceremony? Annoyance. Anger.
Or indeed the obvious, immediate reaction of anyone who has got the understandable impression that this is an official Malaysian criticism of Glasgow 2014, or a spontaneous reaction obligingly documented by the Telegraph? Irritation. Anger.
There’s a word for what the Telegraph is doing. It’s called being a stirrer.
Datuk Ibrahim Ali is no more representative of mainstream Muslim opinion even in his own country than Nigel Griffiths is representative of mainstream Christian opinion in Scotland. Interviewed at Pride House Glasgow, Alex Salmond said that Scotland stands for equality and diversity – required since the earliest days of the Scottish Parliament to consider the seven equality strands: race, disability, age, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion/faith. There’s no conflict between equality and diversity unless stirrers make it for us.
A story like the Telegraph’s is trying to stir up trouble for Muslims: given a foothold, a stirrer would equally have tried to make trouble for LGBT people. Pride House has an open door or LGBTQI people from across the Commonwealth, regardless of religion, ethnic or racial identity: we oppose stirrers and troublemakers, whatever their identity.
Jane Carnall is Pride House Glasgow's social media manager, and blogs at EdinburghEye.