Opinion | Muslims Vs Queer people? Maybe it’s not so simple
In recent months, there has been furore in an inner-city area of Birmingham. Alum Rock, Saltley and the surrounding areas where the Trojan Horse scandal (aptly renamed ‘Trojan Hoax’) took place.
Protests broke out by parents in front of Parkfield Primary School, at its height hosting over a hundred parents. 600 pupils were later pulled from school. The cause of this contention? The ‘No Outsiders’ programme which aims to make education more inclusive of LGBT+ people. As a consequence of this, LGBT+ Education has been stopped in Birmingham indefinitely.
Narratives have been drawn up. Reactionaries in the community have drawn on existing pain of State sanctioned islamophobia and conflated this with queerness. Myths that are not new, seen at the time of (partial) decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, during the implementation of Section 28 in 1988 and its collapse in 2004, are being regurgitated.
No less reactionary is the reductionist and sensationalist media, entrenching the ‘Muslim Vs Queer’ binary as if these are mutually exclusive ‘communities’. Calls for ‘diversifying’ voices have not improved the situation with ‘tolerant’ Muslims going up into the media and furthering this idea that Muslim children ‘are here’ and therefore must ‘learn about alternative lifestyles’. The idea that queerness belongs to the White West is not only a myth, it erases the reality of Queer Liberation consistently fighting the State.
Groups organising against these protestors have become consumed by this reductionism. Homophobia should be sent to the dustbin. But to assume that one should embrace a simple narrative and remove material reality is a deeply misguided position in the search for liberation. It allows people to produce their own myths and then pretend this is about saving others. Often this forms a narrative in which the State is a neutral background rather than playing an active role here. The answer becomes a zero-sum game, brought on by a void of collective nurturing and ‘fast food’ culture that assumes there is a fix right now. This can only lead to continued bitterness and antagonism which doesn’t help anyone, certainly not the children who are stuck between the two sides of this antagonism. Taking such a position is also reactionary.
To gauge the material reality of what is happening, one must survey the situation on the ground and question one’s own assumptions.Irrespective of what you think such an engagement means – to build a socialist education system we need to at least start with the school being linked to the community. If we cannot have these discussions then we are in no state to create community centred systems.
‘No Outsiders’ has existed in this school since 2016, why are protests happening now in 2019? The ‘Stop RSE’ campaign, which existed long before it entered into this area, had held ‘seminars’ locally with these textbook myths and conspiracy theory.
The campaign, which says it is geared against ‘sexualising children’, referring to the element of sex education, and against a ‘homosexuality agenda’ referring to the element of queer-inclusive relationship education in the new SRE legislation, adds a heavy dosage of lies which conflates all three together to paint a conspiratorial picture. This made the ‘No Outsiders’ programme an easy target to have community members rally around.
Conspiracy theory has thrived because it has found the conditions to do so. Firstly, the campaign uses children which invokes vulnerability. Parents move to counter anything if it is sold to them as ‘protection’. Secondly you are more likely to believe a myth if information you should have is taken away. This absence has almost single-handedly been caused by academisation. This business ethic of boards replacing community consultation – which is an opportunity to not only consult, but to inform, to explain, to educate – has only caused schools, children and communities to suffer. Reversing this ridiculous Tory policy is important to ensuring communities are well informed and well engaged in the education system.
Finally, when someone says there is an attack ‘on the community’, it may sound melodramatic, but for this community this is a reality.
The history of the States islamophobia is on record by some of the greatest thinkers of our time, long before this form of racism got it’s name. (‘‘A Black perspective on the War’’ by Sivanandan is an essay that highlights islamophobia during the first gulf war, before this word was ever used). Specifically for this geographical community, the Trojan Hoax was a State led attack that was used to bolster the Prevent agenda, something that is still fresh in their minds. Is it any surprise that reactionaries can co-opt this?
Islamophobia and the British State
Britain’s imperialist wars, support for vicious regimes and apartheid States are part and parcel of it’s past and its present. As antiracists, anti-imperialists and antifascists it is our responsibility to stop this. For this acute islamophobia of the current age there is brilliant literature.
Arun Kundnani’s “The Muslims Are Coming” describes well how the State facilitates the ‘radicalisation’ (by violent vanguardist groups ‘in the name of Islam’). Gareth Pierce’s “Dispatches from the Dark Side” and Nisha Kapoor’s “Deport, Deprive, Extradite” paint vivid pictures of the States treatment of British Muslims. The recent revelation that the Home Office is willing to use ‘heritage’ as a border demonstrates how easy it is to produce a new tier of people with a demotion of rights – already existing for anyone facing the border. “Violent Borders” is a brilliant book by Reece Jones on this topic.
A letter known as ‘Trojan Horse’ was received by Birmingham City Council in 2013 claiming that Birmingham schools, within the vicinity of Parkfield, were in the grip of a ‘Hard Line Muslim plot’. Criminal investigations revealed nothing of the sort, yet ‘experts’ continued this line. A generation of local Muslims had grown up to become staff and teachers in their schools. One school, Parkview, had an incredibly high percentage of students achieving 5 A*- C grades in their GCSE’s. Today, since the Hoax, this has halved.
Teachers lost their livelihoods. Of all of this came a WhatsApp group where teachers made comments that they shouldn’t have. However, while accountability is necessary’ this does not justify what the State did. Emergency investigations by Ofsted peddling myths about musical instruments and unusual segregation were rife with inspectors, apparently seeing ‘signs of radicalisation’ in four-year-olds.
After this, the Prevent Agenda, already imbedded into law since 2006 as part a ‘Counter Terror’ strategy, was expanded leading to the public duty under the ‘Counter Terror and Security Act 2015’ (CTSA).
There has been endless critique of the agenda, the ‘Students Not Suspects’ and ‘Educators not Informants’ campaigns set up across Universities where the Prevent guidance has been found unlawful. Teaching unions have expressed concerns. The Home Affairs Committee called an independent review into it. The main criticism is it’s racial profiling.
Just like the State, unable to detach concepts of ‘extremism’ from the profile of Muslims and the justification of its own actions, like extradition, incarceration and the devastation of war (discussed in the books mentioned above) – the continuous pursuit of the ‘radicalised’ necessarily becomes the ‘enemy within’. A White Nationalist vision of a country that needs protection, the State successfully entrenches racist sentiments and provides the platform of surveillance. The profile allows any anti-State sentiment to be captured as ‘radicalisation’ and therefore expanding the surveillance to any dissent – to anyone. Prevent is the police state, emotionally engaging its citizens into giving away their own civil liberties.
Funding for counter-radicalisation programmes became more and more available and started filling roles that the youth centres, drug and alcohol support and other services, including mental health services, would do – as they were cut back. This not only concentrated funding in a particular area but ensured that the most vulnerable are used by the surveillance state.
Using this pain, reactionaries could portray the introduction of LGBT+ Education as part of the several waves of Islamophobic violence towards the community thereby conflating queerness with the States racist agenda. Any reality to this could devastate any attempt at finding a way forward and without a detailed analysis, could lead to ‘pro-LGBT’ projects to be seen as inherently racist.
Hence there will be no way forward if we only have a simple view of one possible solution, particularly as the status quo which assumes the ‘neutrality’ of the State. We do need to take this back to principle and the outcome of this may not be an attachment to ‘No Outsiders’ – but an understanding of it’s flaws and a greater vision for a collective, Queer – liberated future.
Queerphobia, Faith and the State
Firstly, there’s Sex Education. Sex Education is central to the myths being stirred up because Sex is such a taboo. Discussing sexual health is something embarrassing for people even today. “We are socially conservative” someone responded to my challenging their assertions on the new legislation having brought it up in a community meeting.
I pointed out that this silence is dangerous. We live in a country where there are 85,000 rapes a year and around half a million sexual assaults with adult victims. 40% of all of these are committed by someone the victim knows. We don’t even know the full extent of what children endure. Unplanned pregnancies, STI’s and a lack of sexual safety are other problems in societies where SRE has failed. We live in a country where domestic violence is rife and 2 women a week, in England and Wales, are killed by a partner or former partner.
There is a need for change in policy, and yes there needs to be explicit discussion to ensure we can correct this. Learning about one’s own body and one’s right to control it is the beginning of understanding consent. By removing the taboo around their own bodies, it would make it easier to discuss for children and young people and challenge abuse, rather than keep it hidden. Consent and safety are vital lessons for people throughout the country for a future safe for everyone.
The second principle is the need for LGBT+ Education. We live in a society, a country governed by the Cishetpatriarchy. This was acute in the past. We can go back to 1967, decriminalisation of homosexuality was hailed as a victory for queer people in . Yet, public decency laws followed that continued the criminalisation of Queer people (decriminalisation did not occur for Navy personnel until early 2017).
In 1988, Thatcher introduced Section 28 – forbidding schools and public services from discussing anything LGBT+. This was a structural pillar in dehumanising queer people, exacerbating social violence and forcing queer people out of safety and underground. When the AIDS crisis broke out, instead of providing sexual health support and medicine the State turned to moral chastising. The labelling of AIDS as a ‘gay disease’ further exacerbated this othering and justifying the States’ act of mass murder towards queer people. By binding public services into Section 28 the State enforced institutional violence in housing, education and everyday life.
We still live in a country where gay men cannot give blood like straight men. Queer people have disproportionate mental health issues. LGBT+ people are disproportionately homeless. Half of trans pupils have considered suicide. So why do we need ‘LGBT+ Education’? If we want to build a safe future for our children and if we want to them to build a harmonious society, then one that sees queer people as a lower stratum of society, a stratum against whom violence, of society or the State is justified is not that society.
LGBT+ Education is not simply about creating a backdrop of queer normalisation, but one of struggle for a new society and a new world. This is precisely why LGBT+ Education is important. Parents protesting its presence must ask themselves, will they want their children to grow up and participate in the violence of a State enacting Section 28?
It has been fifteen years since the fall of Section 28 and yet we are only just bringing in statutory SRE that is inclusive. The State has not had the political will to make the difference we need in society. We still live in a State adamant to know your gender because of its obsession to impose it’s biologically-essentialist gender-binarist construct that attempts to define your life.
And that’s before a trans person applies for gender recognition – which in itself defines how obsessed the State is with gender. We live a State that imposes the ‘Nuclear Family’ – a structure the State pursues to induce the Cishetpatriarchy, through financial dependence, housework and reproduction of the class. Most evidently by expanding marriage to a small group of queer people (‘same-sex couples’) – an act of assimilation rather than abolishing the institution all together.
Yet, the sensationalism that surrounds Muslims, faith and queerphobia is astounding. The liberal cooption of queerness (and literally every other marginalisation) by the State allows it to pretend to be queer (or any other marginalised group) – saviour. Obfuscation is the projection of the oppression, from the actual structure doing it, to someone’s belief.
As Stokely Carmichael said: “If a White man wants to lynch me, that’s his problem. If he has the power to lynch me, that’s my problem. Racism, is not a question of attitude; it’s a question of power.”
I would argue queerphobia is a question of power. The State creates a successful distraction from power to what people believe. Associating people with regimes in a different part of the world, and using their reactionary justification, is in itself a justification of stereotyping and defending racist State violence towards those communities – in the name of queer people. This is known as homonationalism. This doesn’t actually help queer people as a distraction from power works against all marginalised groups taking on power.
Conclusions with a Future Vision
In this piece, Mehdi Hassan brings home why it doesn’t matter what people believe. What people seem to forget in this haze of belief is that those homophobic States’ behaviour is due to the implementation of policy, an act of power – not of belief . By making this about ‘belief’ the battle against homophobia moves from a material terrain where we challenge the State producing all the problems mentioned above, to a philosophical terrain that produces the racial stereotyping mentioned above.
This makes the State look ‘neutral’ when it is the power of the State that produces the actual problems we see in society, from violence to homelessness – exactly like the country where the finger is being pointed at. Those parents protesting ‘No Outsiders’ are products of the British State, products of Section 28, which set precedent for a cisgendered heterosexuality agenda in schools, under which they grew up. Even if they justify it through religious belief, it is the State that set the formation of public policy on discriminatory, faith-leaning grounds.
This has to be about the future we aim to create, and this will rely on the public policy we make. This brings us to address one last myth. A reactionary is telling parents that school is demanding a ‘pledge of allegiance’ chanting ‘it’s okay to be Muslim and gay’. While this is clearly false, the issue may have come up with a question. But if we recognise that we need to bring children up to fight for the public policy of freedoms for everyone and that it is not individual belief that matters, then the statement has no meaning. A teacher should not be saying it, or its reverse.
The danger of a school, and by extension the State, taking a theological position is the production of the ‘good Muslim/bad Muslim’ myth. The State is not a theologian of any faith. By picking a theological interpretation the State is deciding what Muslims can and cannot believe – thereby reproducing racialised stereotypes of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ Muslim that only furthers the ‘inside enemy’ image, justifying more violations of civil liberties.
The question could easily be answered with ‘Some Muslims do, some Muslims don’t, you will grow up to have your own understanding.’ Such empowerment of personal theological conviction will go a long way if anyone tries to put their beliefs in a box simply by claiming similarity. Much like violent vanguardist groomers do.
If the ‘Muslims Vs Queer people’ binary is a false one then we must recognise the structural problems each group faces and fight it all. Queer Liberation cannot be built on Islamophobia, and that means homonationalism will not work. The framework of the ‘ No Outsiders’ programme – using fiction to humanise queer people is great. However, Birmingham City Council mandating LGBT+ Education as a consequence of Trojan Horse, under the guise of counter-radicalisation demonstrates how the State has coopted queering curricula and schooling – by making it look like part of a civilising mission and thereby, once again, wiping its own hands of responsibility and pinning homophobia on a particular racialised community.
The idea that LGBT+ Education, to build a positive future for queer people, can be built on institutional islamophobia is fundamentally flawed. Not only does it demand that, for such a future one must pursue a racist agenda – regurgitating the States binary – but it creates false hope. It forgets queer Muslims who exist and will continue to be othered and it pretends that a utopia can be built while maintaining antagonism. Worst of all it positions Queer Liberation as fighting against those fighting against institutional racism.
LGBT+ Education that builds a positive future will also need to fight racism. We, as people fighting for justice, as socialists, should not be in anyway looking to pander to the States narrative. We know too well how the State co-opts our voices. Our LGBT+ Education cannot be built out of the onslaught in schooling on racialised communities. It must be built to help fight the violence of the State, not only to fight against Queerphobic policies but policies that oppress anyone.
As Audre Lorde the black lesbian writer once wrote, ‘There is no such thing as a single issue struggle, for we do not live single issue lives.’ LGBT+ Education must accompany proper funding for schools, the reversal of academisation, resourcing community engagement and the felling of the Prevent agenda. We must not forget that it is the State that has produced these instruments of violence. And we have a responsibility to speak this truth to power.