Why are we afraid to talk about Islam?


If a white, homophobic Christian fundamentalist had murdered 49 people in a gay nightclub, would we go out of our way not to mention his religion for fear of offending all Christians?

Mass murderer Omar Mateen, the man who went on a rampage in an Orlando nightclub, is not just a “hater” or a “homegrown extremist,” as President Barack Obama characterized him. He’s a Muslim terrorist who called 911 and pledged allegiance to an Islamic terror group while committing his slaughter.

As FBI Director James Comey told reporters on Monday, “There are strong indications of radicalization by this killer and of potential inspiration by foreign terrorist organizations.”

But if these “foreign terrorist organizations” are indeed Islamic, as we all know they are, why can’t Comey just come out and say it? What is he afraid of?

Since 9/11, according to the website Jihad Watch, 28,589 deadly terrorist acts have been committed around the world in the name of Islam. Why can’t we talk about that? How can we treat a disease if we don’t identify it?

Omar Mateen was radicalized by Islamists like Abu Taubah, a man whose teachings are described in the Daily Beast as “virulently homophobic.”

Of course, if Mateen needed any Islamic inspiration for his homophobic act, all he had to do was watch a video of gays being thrown off rooftops in Iraq by ISIS terrorists, or one of Shiek Farrokh Sekaleshfar, a Muslim preacher who has given sermons in the Orlando area and has called for gays to be executed.

“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this,” the shiek says in one of the videos. “We have to have compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them.”

It’s easy to dismiss all this hate speech as a “perversion” of Islam, as the president and many others have done. But the holy texts of Islam contain some genuine bile against homosexuals and even specify the punishment: “Execute the one who does it and the one to whom it is done.”

This may help explain why homosexuality is so reviled in Muslim-dominated countries. As a 2013 Pew study reported, over 90 percent of people surveyed in predominantly Muslim countries like Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Indonesia and Pakistan say homosexuality should be rejected.

When such religious-based homophobia leads to violence, our politically correct reflex is to separate the religion from the interpretation, and say, “This is not Islam, it’s only a twisted interpretation.” This helps us move on and talk about things more in our comfort zone, such as gun control.

But if the twisted interpretation leads to violence, why should we dismiss it? Why should an instrument (guns) be taken more seriously than a motivation (religious hate speech)? If we condemn a Christian or Jewish preacher for inciting violence, why not a Muslim preacher?

Judaism frowns on separating interpretation of text from religion.

“Interpretation is as fundamental to any text-based religion as is the act of revelation itself,” Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks writes in his book, “The Great Partnership.”

“No word, especially the word of God, is self-explanatory. Exegetes and commentators are to religion what judges are to law. They are essential to the system, and they can make all the difference between justice and injustice, right and wrong.”

Instead of dismissing the hateful interpretations of Islam, we must confront them directly and candidly and counter them with humane and scholarly interpretations that would distinguish right from wrong and bring honor to the faith.

Fortunately, such a movement exists — it's called the Muslim Reform Movement.

This is an initiative started in late 2015 by a dozen Muslim scholars and religious leaders in the United States to spawn a more liberal and tolerant Islam for the next century. The movement, which I wrote about last December after the terror attack in San Bernardino, has yet to gain traction with the mainstream media. I hope that changes.

The group’s manifesto reinterprets Islamic texts and calls for many things we take for granted, such as “secular governance, democracy and liberty.” It also asserts that “every individual has the right to publicly express criticism of Islam.”

It rejects “bigotry, oppression and violence against all people based on any prejudice, including ethnicity, gender, language, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression.”

Most importantly, the authors call on the Muslim world and others to sign on and help the movement grow and flourish globally.

Everyone on the planet who believes in freedom and human rights should sign on. Every Muslim preacher and leader who believes Islam is a religion of peace should get behind the movement.

We need to create a world where all present and future Omar Mateens will enter their favorite mosque and hear about an Islam that doesn’t tolerate homophobia or bigotry or misoginy of any sort. An Islam that brings honor to Islam.  

That world would be good for the LGBTQ community, and for all of humanity.

Italian soccer chief: ‘Nothing against’ Jews and gays, just keep them away from me


The president of the Italian Football Federation said he has “nothing against” Jews and gays, but that he prefers to keep such people at a distance.

The comments by Carlo Tavecchio were recorded for an interview with the online magazine Soccer Life and published on the website of the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Tavecchio made the remarks while talking about a Jewish-Italian businessman Cesere Anticoli.

“It was bought by that Jew, Anticoli,” Tavecchio said in the recording. “I have nothing against the Jews, but better to keep them at bay.”

He used the Italian term “ebreaccio,” a pejorative for “ebreo,” or Jew.

He also said: “I don’t have anything against gays – but keep them away from me.”

Tavecchio said in response to the publication of the recording: “It’s blackmail; retaliation from someone to whom I denied funding, who recorded me without my knowledge, not as part of an interview. What’s more, the audio file could have been tampered with.

He added: “If you listen to the recording, my words are clear: I have had long personal and professional relationships with Jews. The charges of homophobia are also groundless.”

Tavecchio was elected president of the Italian Football Federation in August 2014. He has made racist comments in the past.

Rabbi who allegedly made homophobic remarks remains police chaplain


A Toronto-area police force will not remove a rabbi as its Jewish chaplain following complaints that he made homophobic remarks.

York Regional Police, north of Toronto, said Rabbi Mendel Kaplan remains a chaplain “in good standing” after a five-month probe by the force.

The investigation was prompted by a complaint last August by Kulanu Toronto, a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Jews, alleging that Kaplan, spiritual leader of a Chabad synagogue, wrote a “homophobic” e-mail to Toronto rabbis.

The controversy arose in the wake of last summer’s Gay Pride Parade in Toronto in which the Canadian Jewish Congress urged communitywide support for gay Jews to counter an anti-Israel group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

Kulanu also cited a “vile” sermon allegedly offered by Kaplan “in which he attacked the LGBTQ community in a more than hateful and disgusting manner.” The group asked for a review of his status as a police chaplain.

In a Jan. 11 response to Kulanu, York Region Police said that after speaking with “experts,” it has determined that Kaplan’s statements were a “technically correct interpretation of scripture through his role as a rabbi” and “were not viewed as hateful.”

Kaplan told JTA that he was “very pleased” with the police decision.

“It was nothing unexpected,” the rabbi said. “All of the accusations were hearsay [and] untrue, and for that reason I have no concern.”

Kulanu Executive Director Justine Apple said although the police probe “seems fair,” she is disappointed with the decision. Apple said Kulanu is seeking an apology from Kaplan to his congregation and “perhaps even make a statement to the general Jewish LGBTQ in Toronto apologizing.”

Apple added that Kulanu may ask for a meeting with Kaplan.

Jews should oppose Senator Craig’s ouster


Long before Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, American Jewish groups harbored serious doubts about the Idaho Republican. In June 1990, when Craig, then a congressman, was running for an open Senate seat, the Jerusalem Post bemoaned his “miserable” record on Israel. Pro-Israel political action committees raised more than $55,000 for Craig’s Democratic opponent in the race.

Now Craig, who over the weekend announced that he will step down later this month, is a man with very few friends.

One of his few outspoken defenders in recent days has been a gay, pro-Israel Jewish Democrat from Massachusetts, Rep. Barney Frank. While acknowledging that Craig’s conduct was “hypocritical,” given the Idahoan’s anti-gay rights record, Frank said his crime was “not an abuse of office” and does not warrant resignation.

Frank seemed to be speaking from his experience as an openly gay man, not from his experience as a Jew. But the American Jewish community as a whole should be upset over the Republican rush to drive Craig from office, and not just because as a senator he ended up being a pleasant surprise for pro-Israel activists.

As the late Yale historian John Boswell showed, where there is homophobia, anti-Semitism very often lurks around the corner.

“The same laws which oppressed Jews oppressed gay people; the same groups bent on eliminating Jews tried to wipe out homosexuality,” Boswell wrote.

While his study was based on medieval Europe, his words ring true in modern America. Jews may disagree about the status of homosexuals within our own religious communities, but when there is an upsurge of homophobia in society at large, all Jews should take note.

Craig, even though he insists he is not gay, appears to be a victim of homophobia.

Republicans in the Senate and the House of Representatives have long tolerated members in their midst who carried on extramarital affairs – with women. Craig’s crime in the court of law is that he allegedly sought to have sex in an airport bathroom, but his sentence in the court of public opinion is so severe because he allegedly sought to have sex with a man.

A double standard is being invoked here, and Jews, as the historical victims of double standards, have a duty to speak up.

The National Jewish Democratic Council is fulfilling that duty, at least in part. In an Aug. 30 statement, the council noted the discrepancy between the GOP’s lenient treatment of Republican Sen. David Vitter, the first-term Louisianan whose name appeared in a female prostitute’s Rolodex, and its swift punishment of Craig, who lost his major committee assignments after the sex scandal surfaced and was pressured into announcing his resignation.

Yet it is one thing to assail the Republican leadership and quite another to put in a good word for Craig himself. We may condemn Craig’s apparent attempt at adultery; we may disagree with Craig’s views on almost every topic; we may support the idea of a Democrat winning his Senate seat in 2008. But the fact remains that in the first year after his election to the Senate, Craig underwent a remarkable evolution from isolationist to Israel supporter. While his colleagues condemn Craig’s “conduct unbecoming a senator,” American Jews should remember Craig’s conduct on becoming a senator.

By 1990, Idaho’s senior senator, the Republican James McClure, had amassed, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “one of the most anti-Israel records.” Craig, who voted in the House against aid to Israel, seemed likely to follow in the retiring McClure’s footsteps.

As a freshman senator, however, Craig reconsidered his views. He visited Israel and spoke out on the Senate floor in favor of a $10 billion package of loan guarantees to pay for the absorption of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants. Though he is unlikely to appear on any list of the “most pro-Israel senators,” Craig has consistently cautioned his colleagues about the threats posed to Israel’s security by global jihadists and a nuclear-armed Iran.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us: “Do not forsake your friend.” Craig has been forsaken by his own party, but as Craig has shown concern for the fate of the Jews, we should likewise show concern for him.

Of course, Craig’s pro-Israel stance is not the only reason why American Jews ought to oppose Craig’s ouster. We ought to oppose his ouster because it would signal a victory for forces of hate within the Republican Party.

Seventeen years ago, American Jews tried to prevent Craig from becoming a senator, but now we should be outraged over how he lost his job.

Daniel Hemel is a 2007 Marshall Scholar and is studying international relations at the Oxford University.

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