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Apologise? No way!

Pink Humanist editor BARRY DUKE hits back at a Christian who criticised him for describing God as ‘a myth’

A FEW months back I was appointed by Round Town News, a weekly newspaper on the Costa Blanca in Spain, to write a regular, LGBT-slanted column, and in the Easter edition I reported on the death of Gilbert Baker, the San Francisco artist who, in 1978, created the rainbow for the LGBT community.

gilbert baker Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag

Within hours of the paper hitting the streets the editor, Sam Holliday, received a furious email from a reader. Without identifying the name or gender of the complainant, she asked me if I would care to respond to the angry Christian, who wrote: “Firstly, I must state that I usually enjoy reading your newspaper. However, this week I find that I must comment upon your column writer Barry Duke’s latest rant. Please note that I am writing this in the most polite fashion I can muster and am biting my tongue as I type!

“We are all entitled to our own opinions, of course. Barry Dukes (sic) is allowed to express his freely in your paper. However, this does NOT give him the right to insult the MANY Christians who read such publications. Yes, there are quite a lot of us out there; probably many more than Barry thinks.

“I realise that he was irritated by the comments of Bryan Fischer but he could have expressed this annoyance without resorting to calling God ‘mythical’. For Christians the world over God is very real indeed.”

I should point out here that I mentioned in my piece that, in the same week that Baker died, Fischer declared that “the worst example of cultural appropriation in history is the LGBT community stealing the rainbow from God.”

“The rainbow is God’s,” Fischer screeched. “God invented the rainbow – look at Genesis 9:11-17 – He invented it, it’s His thing.”


American hate preacher Bryan Fischer

The LGBT community, Fischer warned, “is using something that doesn’t belong to you. That’s cultural appropriation . . . You’ve culturally appropriated something that doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to God, it’s His idea and you need to give it back.”

I ended my column by saying, “well I have news for Fischer and hate-filled religious imbeciles like him. A talented, compassionate gay man, not some mythical god, conceived of the rainbow flag
to combat bigotry and intolerance and we’re not going to give it back. EVER!”

The person who took exception to my article continued: “For the record, I am not anti-gay and have a number of gay friends but this has gone beyond the pale. WHY did the Editor allow this to be published? Respect for people should work both ways. Mr Dukes (sic) makes enough fuss about gay rights. How about some courtesy being shown to those of Christian faith? An apology would be most welcome.”

I immediately fired back this response: “Christianity comes in many guises. I admire the forms of it that have ditched biblical literalism, thus becoming more tolerant and open to diversity, but I abhor the fanatical ideals of fundamentalists such as Bryan Fischer.

“It was Fischer, and his brand of hellfire rhetoric I was attacking in my latest column, not Christianity as a whole, which admittedly has some good bits in it. But these were stolen from far earlier cultures.

“In response to my stating that the rainbow flag was not created by ‘some mythical god’, your complainant said ‘for Christians the world over God is very real indeed’.

The Hindu God Ganesh

“My response to that is that Ganesh, the elephant-headed god is ‘very real indeed’ to Hindus the world over.

“Does the complainant think that this conviction actually makes Ganesh real?

“If your complainant answers no, she or he would be displaying breath-taking arrogance by insisting that her/his god is the only real one and all others are false.

“If she/he accepts that Ganesh is real, then the thousands of gods of all other religions, some now extinct, must be just as real. Which is an outlandish notion.”

I then threw in this quote from Professor Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion: “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

I continued: “I would rather stick to my lifelong belief that humans created gods to provide answers to mysteries science has since solved to an astonishing degree, and not the other way around, and that we would all be far better off by casting away silly supernatural ideas.

“Study after study has shown that the most prosperous and advanced societies in the world today are also the most godless. Theocracies, on the other hand, are the most under-educated, and are plagued by poverty and human rights abuses, especially against women, homosexuals and those of other faiths.”

And I threw in another quote: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime; give a man religion and he will die praying for a fish.”

I wound up by saying: “Your complainant tries to draw a comparison between those of the Christian faith and the gay community. These are two completely different issues. People get to choose their faith but not things like their gender, sexuality or the colour of their skin.

“All humans come into this world as atheists. But through indoctrination, or family or cultural pressures, far too many succumb to superstition.

“In doing so they should not be surprised if their beliefs are exposed to vigorous critical analysis, something I have been doing for more than half-a-century. For that I shall never apologise.

“Finally, she/he has the cheek to call my column another “rant”. Two weeks ago I attacked xenophobia and racism. This week I deplored homophobia.

“By no stretch of the imagination can either be regarded as a rant. I’d rather leave the ranting to hate-preaching zealots like Fischer and ilk.

“Oh, and Jesus: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” – Luke 14.”

Life of Alan Turing celebrated in French graphic novel

BRETT HUMPHREYS reviews The Case of Alan Turing: The Extraordinary and Tragic Story of the Legendary Codebreaker by Éric Liberge (illustrations) and Arnaud Delalande (text), translated by David Homel (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016, hardback, 287mm x 231mm, 101 pages)

Few people will be familiar with the semi-detached Victorian house on the outskirts of Wilmslow where Alan Turing lived from the summer of 1950 until his death in June 1954. So it’s a sign of attention to detail that The Case of Alan Turing begins with a drawing of the actual house rather than just some generic representation of a house.

This graphic novel in comic strip format was first published in French as Le Cas Alan Turing: Histoire Extraordinaire et Tragique d’un Génie in 2015. The term “comic strip” hardly does justice to the quality of the artwork. People, buildings and scenes are generally realistically drawn from photographs, some in meticulous detail, including a magnificent aerial view of the Bletchley Park Mansion complex

Iconic buildings such as King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and the facade of the Mansion at Bletchley Park are immediately recognisable, and many less familiar images can be traced to original photographs available online.

There are some similarities to the 2014 film The Imitation Game. Firstly the story focuses primarily on the early years of the Second World War and specifically the decryption of the Enigma ciphers at Bletchley Park.

This accounts for around half of the book. Secondly, the main subplots concern Alan Turing’s relationships with his school friend Christopher Morcom, his wartime colleague Joan Clarke, and his later Manchester friend Arnold Murray and their subsequent prosecution for “gross indecency”.

Unlike the film, the book does, however, manage to weave in references to other aspects of Turing’s life. Thirdly, the narration is not chronological but jumps backwards and forwards in time.

According to the authors in a recent interview, they were about halfway through their work on the book when The Imitation Game was released in November 2014, but signs of the film’s influence are evident. The name “Bletchley Radio Manufacturing” on the main entrance to Bletchley Park is an invention of the film, for example.

Fortunately the book is more rigorous in its approach to historicity than the film, which took a good deal of flak for its distortions and inventions, including its fictional link between Alan Turing and the Soviet spy John Cairncross, and its portrayal of Alastair Denniston, the head of Bletchley Park, as hostile to Turing’s work when in reality he was supportive.

A recent study has reinforced this view with a scene-by-scene analysis of the accuracy of 14 Oscar contenders that purport to depict real-life stories. The Imitation Game came last by a long way.

By contrast, the biographical details in The Case of Alan Turing are largely accurate, although there are occasional slips, as when Turing’s famous cycle ride from Southampton at the start of the 1926 General Strike takes him to Westcott School near Oxford instead of Sherborne School in Dorset (where he was assigned to Westcott House, hence the confusion).

Despite the claim in publicity for the book that the details of Turing’s achievements were newly discovered in 2012, essentially all the known factual information presented about his life comes from the seminal biography by Andrew Hodges first published in 1983.

Most of the people and events in the story are real. The main exception is “Agent Morris”, who personifies the influence of the secret services in Turing’s life, recruiting him into codebreaking before the war and spying on him after it. There are added scenes, notably those involving Agent Morris, but they are there as surrogates for missing pieces of the jigsaw and not just to beef up the drama as in the film. However, the storyteller does sometimes condense or omit things for the sake of brevity.

For example, on showing Turing round Bletchley Park, Denniston tells him (and us) that 7,000 people live and work there. The number is true of later years (though many didn’t live on the site) but far from true when Turing first arrived at the start of the war.

Sara Turing, Alan Turing’s mother, enigmatically remarked in her 1959 biography that “Taken all round he presents a strange study in light and shade.” The phrase “study in light and shade” aptly describes the present book.

It begins and ends on the night of his death, June 7, 1954, which is naturally portrayed as dark and foreboding. Much of the intervening narrative is drawn in sombre colours, especially the Bletchley scenes – perhaps symbolising the secrecy that shrouded the whole operation there. Lighter shades are mainly reserved for reveries and flashbacks, and also the intriguing collages of wartime images sprinkled through the story.

The book poses a little enigma of its own. In the opening scene Alan Turing is surprised to see a shadowy figure appear in his bedroom. The shadowy figure holds out an apple and urges him to “dip the apple in the brew”, words from the Disney animated film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which had fascinated him since he first saw it in Cambridge in 1938. Who is the shadowy figure? In true whodunit tradition, the answer is revealed at the end.

A coda to the story takes us forward to the founding of Apple Computer, Inc in 1977, and the urban legend that the company’s famous logo was based on Alan Turing’s apple. Sadly this is untrue, as Rob Janoff, the designer of the logo, has repeatedly explained. The book ends with a short essay on the history of cryptography by Bruno Fuligni.

Read this book for its interest not just as an introduction to Alan Turing’s life – particularly his involvement in the Enigma codebreaking – but also for its speculative exploration of what might have been going on inside his head. Then read it again to appreciate the full detail and subtle juxtapositions of the imagery.

A sad month: four well-known gay rights activists died last December

TED MCFADYEN was the first to go, followed by ANNE DEVESON, RABBI LIONEL BLUE and LORD JENKIN. Report by JOHN HARRIS.

Ted McFadyen was a former journalist and broadcaster who contributed reviews to Gay News and The Gay and Lesbian Humanist. In the 1970s and 1980s he worked for a number of organisations including CHE, the NUJ Lesbian and Gay Group and the National Council of Civil Liberties’ Gay Rights Committee. From 1993 to 1996 he was secretary of the Brighton Lesbian and Gay Switchboard.

Ted McFadyen

McFadyen was also a long-time sponsor of the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra, which said on its website that there will be a gathering towards the end of January to remember and celebrate his life.

A couple of years before his death at the age of 88 on December 2 2016, McFadyen was interviewed by Queer in Brighton, a gay history organisation.

He pointed out that, back in the 1970s, Brighton was not always the tolerant city it is today. In 1975 kissing or hugging a friend in public was “quite a dangerous thing to do.”

He vowed to help change things and applied to join CHE (the Campaign for Homosexual Equality) which had a branch in Brighton . He then became involved with a group called Gay Rights at Work.

McFadyen recalled that, when he lived in London the 1950s, the city was not a pleasant place to be gay. “There was an evil Home Secretary called Maxwell Fife who gave instructions to police to be as tough as they possibly could and he really hounded gays. It was a terrible time . . . It affected lots of people psychologically. It was an awful period.”

He later joined the National Union of Journalists’ gay group and was involved in producing a couple of booklets. One was on HIV and Aids which was aimed at setting out the basic facts for journalists about HIV and Aids “because there was so much distortion and lies told about it at the time and we felt they needed to be told what was what.”

After he moved to Brighton in the early 1970s he became very actively involved with Brighton Gay Switchboard.

From left, Anne Deveson, who died on December 12, 2016, Rabbi Lionel Blue, who died on December 19, and Lord Jenkin, who died a day later.

Anne Deveson

Shortly after his death, “Out in Perth” carried the news on December 13 that Australian journalist, documentarian and passionate LGBT and mental health advocate Anne Deveson had died at the age of 86. Deveson’s died just days after the loss of her daughter Georgia Blain, who lost her battle with brain cancer.

Deveson is perhaps best known for her account of her son’s real life struggle with schizophrenia, entitled Tell Me I’m Here. The memoir was awarded the 1992 Human Rights Award for Non-fiction, and later filmed as the documentary Spinning Out.

Between 1974 and 1977, Deveson sat on the Royal Commission on Human Relationships – a turning point for the gay community in Australia.

Established by the Whitlam Labor government, the commission was a catalyst for legislation that would establish protections for LGBT people, decriminalisation of homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights and other social changes. Deveson was honoured as a Member of the Order of Australia for her service to the media in 1983, and an Officer of the Order of Australia for her work in community health ten years later.

Rabbi Lionel Blue

On December 19, Lionel Blue, the gay rabbi who was one of the very few sensible contributors to BBC Radio 4’s ghastly god slot, Thought for the Day, died.

I remember some years back telling a co-member of the National Secular Society that if NSS were ever to award its Secularist of the Year prize to people attached to the world of faith, Blue and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu ought to be considered for the accolade because both were rare examples of humanism in action, despite their affiliation to Judaism on the one hand, and the Anglican Church on the other.

In 1994 Blue said: “I went on an oldies holiday to Portugal, I prayed in restored synagogues and meditated at shrines. But in a bar in Fatima, I had to admit in all honesty that the oomph had gone out of my prayers. My personal relationship with God had gone cold, but why? To be honest, perhaps I no longer needed a divine father to make up for the one I’d lost, nor a divine brother to replace the one I’d never had, or as a stand-in for the lover I longed for. I’d grown up and heaven no longer had to make up for any family deficiencies. Was anything religious left in me, I wondered? What would life be like as a humanist?”

Reporting on Blue’s passing, the BBC said that he was the first openly gay British rabbi and was known for his liberal teachings and supporting other gay members of his faith.
Representatives from the liberal synagogue Beit Klal Yisrael described him as “an inspirational man” and the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Jonathan Arkush, said he was “a pioneer in many senses”.

Death didn’t put an end to that pioneering. The day after his death, Radio 4 broadcast Blue presenting his own obituary programme.

Blue had struggled with his sexuality through his teens, leading to a nervous breakdown that saw him leave the Army. But after attending university, he rediscovered his faith and became a rabbi in 1960.

Soon after, he came out publicly and throughout his life lent his support to organisations including Liberal Judaism UK and the World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews.

Lord Jenkin

On December 20, 90-year-old Lord Jenkin of Roding, a former member of the Thatcher cabinet died. He won acclaim during the passage of same-sex marriage legislation in 2013 for a passionate speech in favour of equality.

In the speech he defended equality from critics, saying: “Last year, my wife and I celebrated our diamond wedding anniversary, and I have to say that it has been a marriage with mutual comfort and support. Is this Bill going to redefine that marriage? I cannot see how that could possibly happen.”

His backing was influential in winning support for the law among Conservative peers.

Lord Jenkin was nominated for Speech of the Year at the 2013 PinkNews Awards. His son Bernard Jenkin, himself a Tory MP, also voted in favour of equal marriage.

Writing for PinkNews at the time, the peer hailed the passage of same-sex marriage as a victory for common decency.

He wrote: “Perhaps the most important consequence will be that in the longer term we are seeing the end of discrimination against gays and lesbians in our society.

“In part, this is due to the leadership of the Prime Minister and of parliamentarians; but in part because it must also be accompanied by recognition of the gay and lesbian community that they must try to avoid provocative confrontations.

“There are still many people out there who will find it quite difficult to accept gay marriages; they must be given time to get used to it, so that they too come to regard it simply as part of a tolerant and civilised community.”

Islam: Pathway to Perversity

Little has changed since BARRY DUKE first wrote an article for the Freethinker magazine about Islam’s persecution of homosexuals. This is an updated version of his 2004 feature.

Trawl Google images for “gay Christians”, and you will find thousands of pictures of that fit the criteria. Do the same for “gay Muslims” and the results are incredibly sparse; those that do show up are often extremely disturbing because they depict homosexuals being brutalised or killed. Our cover photo, obtained from Shutterstock, was the only one available of a gay man who had the courage to show his face to the camera during the Milan Pride parade in June 1016.

Why is this? Islam’s condemnation of homosexuality is unambiguous – “It is a disease in need of curing,” insists the contentious Muslim cleric, Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi

Islam’s attitude towards lesbian and gay people can also be pathologically hostile, as demonstrated by the now banned fanatical Islamic group Al-Muhajiroun.

In a tirade against the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association (GALHA), the group issued a statement saying: “Know that one of the most sinful acts known to humankind is what is termed homosexuality. This sin, the impact of which makes one’s skin crawl, which words cannot describe, is evidence of perverted instincts, total collapse of shame and honour, and extreme filthiness of character and soul. It is truly a sin disbelieved by healthy minds and violently rejected by natural instinct. Even animals and other creatures are repulsed by this action. Have you ever seen an animal exhibit homosexual behaviour. The answer is an emphatic NO!

“This kind of sexual activity between men was not known on Earth since creation until the time of the people of Lot. They were the people whose men began this practice amongst themselves, instead of having normal relations with women ... The crime of homosexuality has many serious consequences and harms. One such serious consequence of homosexual activity is the birth of serious diseases that plague the Earth. The AIDS virus claims millions of lives every year and this kind of sexual deviance is among its main causes.

“We therefore call on all sexually deviant groups to embrace Islam as a means of expiation of your sins. And know that the door of repentance is open to everyone with Allah until his life span ends. May Allah guide us to the straight path and make us die as Muslims and avoid a horrible and shameful death.”

Apart from exposing the writer’s deplorable ignorance of biology – he has clearly never heard of the exuberant carryings-on of the bonobos (miniature chimpanzees), one of around 450 species of mammals and birds known to engage in homosexual behaviour – this rant suggests that homosexuality is completely alien to Muslims, and is solely the disease of the infidel. In fact, the opposite is true. Whereas, in all probability, there are no fewer – or more – naturally gay and lesbian people in Islamic societies than in any other, a far greater proportion of Muslims overall engage in homosexual activities.

The reason for this is that Islam unnaturally skews human sexuality. Because it demands strict segregation of the sexes in all aspects of life, it is inevitable that men and women – who are not necessarily gay by nature – will seek sexual gratification with people of the same sex. This phenomenon is well recognised in the West. In institutions where the sexes are segregated, for example, prisons, public schools, and the military, homosexual acts do take place – again, among people who are not always naturally homosexual.

In one of the most illuminating essays I have ever read concerning Islam and homosexuality, Dr Serge Trifkovic, in his book The Sword of the Prophet: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam, wrote:

“In Muslim nations, the suppression of liaison between men and women outside pre-arranged wedlock has produced frustrated sexual tension that has sought and found release in homosexual intercourse through the centuries. Those denied access to licit sexuality have sought and obtained outlets that have produced a chronic contradiction between normative morality and social realities. Male and female prostitution and same-sex practices – including abuse of young boys by their older male relatives – have been rampant in Islamic societies from the medieval to the modern period. It should be emphasised that those societies stress a distinction between the sexual act itself, which was deemed acceptable, and emotional attachment, which was unpardonable.

“A Muslim who is the active partner in sexual relations with other men is not considered a ‘homosexual’ (the word has no pre-modern Arabic equivalent); quite the contrary, his sexual domination of another man may even confer a status of hyper-masculinity. He may use other men as substitutes for women, and at the same time have great contempt for them. This depraved view of sex, common in mainstream Muslim societies, is commonly found in the West only in prisons. In all cases it is the presence of love, affection, or equality among sexual partners that is intolerable.

“Equality in sexual relations is unimaginable in Islam, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Sex in Islamic societies has never been about mutuality between partners, but about the adult male’s achievement of pleasure through domination.”

Trifkovic concluded: “Men and women have been created different, and the recognition of those differences is essential in any society that does not want to follow the path of post-modern depravity. Islam has found the opposite extreme of the modem West’s bed-hopping unisex feminism. The traditional Western view, a balance between sexual equality and sexual difference, between freedom and restraint, is the best answer. Islam’s problem of homosexuality, a reflection of the deeper psychosis endemic to the Islamic world view, illustrates a problem that cannot be solved short of Islam’s thorough and comprehensive reform and revision.”

Having created the conditions which make social and sexual deviation inevitable, the paranoid-schizophrenic world of Islam then treats those deemed guilty of such deviation with the utmost cruelty. For example, in ten Islamic countries the “crime” of homosexuality carries the death sentence and in other states, shariah (Islamic law) insists on a variety of harsh and barbaric punishment for transgressors.

So where does this leave lesbian and gay Muslims? By all accounts, in a world of fear, isolation and denial – not only in hard-line Islamic states, but also in the much more tolerant West.

Around 18 years ago, Faisal Alam, a once devout Muslim who, having found it impossible to reconcile his faith with his homosexuality, established the Al-Fatiha foundation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Muslims, saying “We are about 200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues. Islamic attitudes toward homosexuality are barbaric. That’s the only way to put it. It’s an issue that has not even begun to be discussed. It’s still viewed as a Western disease that infiltrates Muslim minds and societies. If you tell most straight Muslims you are gay and Muslim, they will tell you it’s an oxymoron – you cannot be both.”

Faisal Alam

In 1998, Alam organised Al-Fatiha’s first convention. Almost 40 people participated – a pitifully small attendance, but nonetheless a significant number considering how terrified most Muslims are of “coming out”.

Sceptical gays who first heard of Alam’s group worried that it might be a fundamentalist front intent on “outing” gay Muslims. “One woman thought the fundamentalists were going to line us up and shoot us,” Alam said in an interview with David Gold.

“That picture”, wrote Gold in an article published in 1999 in the US publication Southern Voice, “isn’t too far from the reality gays face in some some parts of the Muslim world. And yet this is the same Islamic world, observers say, where strict segregation of the sexes routinely leads men and women alike to turn to their own gender for love and physical companionship – the same Islamic world from which Western gay men sometimes return with head-spinning stories of wild homosexual adventures.

“Ponder this seemingly irreconcilable contradiction, and you begin to glimpse the enormous spiritual conflict with which gay Muslims wrestle every day. The first thing Most gay Muslims say when they hear of another gay Muslim is, ‘My God, I thought I was the only one’.

“A desire to combat that withering isolation led Alam, in November 1997, to launch an Internet list service for gay and lesbian Muslims. That list has now grown to include 250 people in 20 countries.”
Those who attended Al-Fatiha’s first convention came from the US, Canada, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. A second gathering, held Memorial Day weekend in New York City, attracted 60 people.

A third took place in London in 2000. under conditions of utmost secrecy – for it was discovered that Al Muhajiroun, an international organisation seeking the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate, was planning to wreck the event by beating drums loudly and throwing eggs and bricks at the participants.

“Given this condemnation and the fact that some Islamic countries continue to impose the death penalty for sodomy, why do gay people remain in the Islamic faith? Their answers are as complex as the ancient religion itself,” wrote Gold.

“For each of us. it is a struggle,” Alam said. “Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslims who have accepted their sexuality leave the faith. They don’t see a chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive.

“Islam has been such an important part of mv life since I was a teenager that I cannot see myself living without it. But I am the last person on earth to say I have reconciled it with my sexuality”.

Though he still considers himself a Muslim, Alam is no longer now religiously observant.

Because Islam lacks a central hierarchy, gay and lesbian Muslims are left in the position of having to appeal to Islamic scholars for a more tolerant attitude towards homosexuality.

Alam says Al-Fatiha had identified several “progressive and open-minded” Islamic scholars in the hope of encouraging them to break with hard-liners. “If one of two of them will say something on this issue, we will have gotten somewhere.” But such an attitudinal sea- change would surely come slowly.

In the meantime, Gold wrote, Muslims like Alam are left coping with an often hostile environment. Alam now feels “ostracised” by the larger Muslim community. He was asked to leave a Muslim youth group when it was learned he was gay. And when his parents found out, they cut off his school money.

Alam is not blind to the danger he faces – even in the United States. “A lot of people have asked me, ‘Are you afraid for your life? Are you afraid of being killed?’ I’m not worried, but I do take precautions,” he says He described himself as “very out – but not in the Muslim community.”

At its height, Al-Fatiha had 14 chapters in the United States, as well as offices in England, Canada, Spain, Turkey, and South Africa and was one of the largest gay rights organisation in the world. But in 2001, Al-Muhajiroun issued a fatwa declaring that all members of Al-Fatiha were murtadd, or apostates, and condemned them to death. As a result Alam stepped down, and subsequent leaders failed to sustain the organisation. It began a process of legal dissolution in 2011.

Alam, a native of Pakistan, says that forced segregation of the sexes leads to the impression that “sexuality is something very fluid. It’s much easier for two guys to express their love toward one another and be accepted than it is for a male and a female.” He recalled seeing men holding hands and kissing in public, all the while followed by wives completely veiled in the Islamic tradition.

Sexual roles, too, play an important part. In Arab culture, Alam says, the male who takes the active role is not considered gay. Teens and younger men take the active role in sex with older men.

Alam said that old accounts exist of British soldiers on duty in the Arab world who wrote home ecstatic about the willingness of Arab men to play the active role.

Even so, those caught at it risk being thrown into quicksand. And the situation is “100 times worse” for lesbians, because of the oppressed status of women in most Islamic states.

So what has changed since I wrote the article for the Freethinker back in 2004? Precious little. Virulent homophobia remains entrenched in Muslim countries, which continue to impose harsh punishments for homosexuality. Add to that despicable acts of violence perpetrated by groups like Islamic State and the picture that emerges from places such as Pakistan, Yemen, Iran and Saudi Arabia is unremittingly grim.

Meanwhile, in the West, homophobia in Muslim communities shows little sign of abating, and gay Muslims lack the resources non-Muslims have to combat this hatred. LGBT Muslims, which provides “information on sexual diversity in Islam”, lists just five Western organisations, including Imaan, which is based in the UK. The group says its founding happened to “coincide with a coming-of-age of a particular generation of gay people from Muslim backgrounds born in this country that had witnessed the growth of a gay culture in England.”

According to Imaan’s website, 2016 “has been a whopper for Imaan’s visibility at various Pride events across the UK with appearances at London, Leeds and Manchester Prides. We hope that a visible self-led LGBTQ Muslim presence at Pride sends a strong message to those who cannot march because of fear that they are not alone. We look forward to a growing presence at future Pride events.”

 Another UK organisation is British Muslims for Secular Democracy launched in 2006 by Nasreen Rehman and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

Its current director, Tehmina Kazi, has written positively on the issues of Islam and homosexuality for the Guardian newspaper, appeared on television, and has spoken at varies conferences.

In a piece written for The New Stateman in 2013, Muslim columnist Mehdi Hasan confessed his own youthful homophobia which ceased when he “grew up”. But he suggested this is not true of many other Muslims in the UK. He wrote: “A 2009 poll by Gallup found that British Muslims have zero tolerance towards homosexuality. ‘None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable,’ the Guardian reported.”

He then pointed out that, in his 2011 book Reading the Quran, the British Muslim intellectual and writer Ziauddin Sardar argued that “there is abso-lutely no evidence that the Prophet punished anyone for homosexuality”.

Sardar says “the demonisation of homosexuality in Muslim history is based largely on fabricated traditions and the unreconstituted prejudice harboured by most Muslim societies”. Hasan added that people like Sardar “are in a tiny minority, as are the members of gay Muslim groups such as Imaan. Most mainstream Muslim scholars – even self-identified progressives and moderates such as Imam Hamza Yusuf in the United States and Professor Tariq Ramadan in the UK – consider homosexuality to be a grave sin.

“What about me? Where do I stand on this? For years I’ve been reluctant to answer questions on the subject. I was afraid of the ‘homophobe’ tag. I didn’t want my gay friends and colleagues to look at me with horror, suspicion or disdain.

“So let me be clear: yes, I’m a progressive who supports a secular society in which you don’t impose your faith on others – and in which the government, no matter how big or small, must always stay out of the bedroom. But I am also (to Richard Dawkins’s continuing disappointment) a believing Muslim.

“And, as a result, I really do struggle with this issue of homosexuality. As a supporter of secularism, I am willing to accept same-sex weddings in a state-sanctioned register office, on grounds of equity. As a believer in Islam, however, I insist that no mosque be forced to hold one against its wishes.

“If you’re gay, that doesn’t mean I want to discriminate against you, belittle or bully you, abuse or offend you. Not at all. I don’t want to go back to the dark days of criminalisation and the imprisonment of gay men and women; of Section 28 and legalised discrimination. I’m disgusted by the violent repression and persecution of gay people across the Muslim-majority world.

“I cringe as I watch footage of the buffoonish Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claiming: “In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals . . . we do not have this phenomenon.” I feel sick to my stomach when I read accounts of how, in the late 1990s, the Taliban in Afghanistan buried gay men alive and then toppled brick walls on top of them.”