Here’s something you may not have thought likely. A majority of American Muslims now believes that it’s 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, it’s 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 won’t be surprised by these numbers. I’m 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 and optimistic.
You’d 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 Donald Trump to the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, France’s Marine Le Pen and Ukip’s Anne Marie Waters, today’s 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.
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