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Islam and the Orlando Pulse club atrocity

Pink Humanist editor BARRY DUKE hits out at those who insist that terrorists such as Omar Mateen, above, who killed 49 people at the gay club, are ‘aberrant’ Muslims, and who flatly refuse to acknowledge the fact that Islam itself is an aberration, a ghastly, inhumane ideology bent on destroying everything in its path.

I HONESTLY don’t know what angered me more: the slaughter in a gay club Orlando of 49 people by Omar Mateen, or the words of sympathy directed at those affected by the tragedy by Farrokh Sekaleshfa, described by the Daily Mail as “a British-born doctor and Muslim scholar.”

A day after the shooting, on Monday, June 13, Sekaleshfar offered his “sincere condolences to the friends and families of those massacred” and added: “The killing of innocent life is never justified by religion. The perpetrator of this shooting has directly violated this holy commandment and displayed a complete disregard for the sanctity of human life and divine values.”

Why does this fill me fury? Because Sekaleshfar is well-known for his hatred of homosexuals, and has publicly called for their execution. In videos posted online, he has been seen saying that the way to “deal with the phenomenon of homosexuality” was to “get rid of them”.

Farrokh Sekaleshfar and Omar Mateen (inset)

“Death is the sentence. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about this. Death is the sentence,” Sekaleshfar says in one sermon, delivered in 2013. “We have to have that compassion for people. With homosexuals, it’s the same. Out of compassion, let’s get rid of them now.”

Is there a connection between Sekaleshfar and the shooting at the Pulse nightclub? We don’t know. But what we do know is that he made similar comments during his visit to Orlando in March.

Playing the victim card, he went on to claim that he has been the subject of abuse since the shooting and that he has received death threats by people attempting to link his sermon with the shooter’s motives. “Such a connection is impossible, because had the shooter listened to my lecture, he would have clearly heard me condemn hate and violence multiple times and endorse compassion towards all humankind. I invite my friends to help in supporting the humanitarian needs of the families of the victims of the shooting during such a period and share with their grief.

“This is an Islamic value in all cases where people are being oppressed –whoever they are.”

Marcus Dwayne Robertson

After the shooting, another Islamic hate preacher was named as a figure who may well have inspired the killer: Marcus Dwayne Robertson, above. The 47-year-old firebrand is known to his thousands of followers as Abu Taubah.

Michelle Jesse, associate editor at Allen, reported that Robertson is known for openly and vigorously preaching against homosexuality. She quoted from a Fox News report that said: “It is no coincidence that this happened in Orlando. Mateen was enrolled in [Robertson’s online] Fundamental Islamic Knowledge Seminary.”

The school was recently rebranded as the Timbuktu Seminary.

The report added: “Robertson’s school may not have been the only source of Mateen’s spiritual guidance. The gunman was at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce with Imam Shafiq Rahman two days before the nightclub attack, according to The Washington Post. That mosque was frequented by American-born suicide bomber Monar abu Salha, who blew himself up in Syria in 2014, and the two knew each other, according to officials.”

Robertson recently spent four years in prison in Florida on illegal weapons and tax fraud charges before being released by a Florida judge a year ago.

But despite the clear connection between religion and this latest atrocity, there are people – world leaders among them – who insist that killers such as Mateen are “aberrant” Muslims, and flatly refuse acknowledge the fact that Islam itself is an aberration, a ghastly ideology bent on destroying everything it disapproves of.

Just before massacre, for example, on May 13, David Petraeus, a retired US Army general, wrote a piece in the The Washington Post expressing his concern “about inflammatory political discourse that has become far too common both at home and abroad against Muslims and Islam, including proposals from various quarters for blanket discrimination against people on the basis of their religion.

“Setting aside moral considerations, those who flirt with hate speech against Muslims should realise they are playing directly into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. The terrorists’ explicit hope has been to try to provoke a clash of civilizations – telling Muslims that the United States is at war with them and their religion. When Western politicians propose blanket discrimination against Islam, they bolster the terrorists’ propaganda.”

In short, please don’t tell the ugly truth about Islam because if you do they’ll throw more of their toys out the pram . . . and more homosexuals off high buildings.

Writing for The Spectator, in the aftermath of the Orlando atrocity, Douglas Murray slammed this mindset under the headline “We can’t ignore the religion of the Orlando gay club gunman” and predicted that “law enforcement will play down the ideological component. Meantime US and other political leaders will try to deny the ideological connection or say – at the most – that it is important not to single out any one ideology. Almost every single Imam in America and elsewhere will deny that there is any connection between the gunman’s beliefs and theirs.

“If any journalists do look into which mosques or groups the gunman was associated with the entirety of the American Muslim community leadership will insist that any identification of the gunman’s beliefs is in fact ‘Islamophobic’. And so the hatred that propelled the gunman will not just live on, but grow. Which the rest of us might end up assuming was the aim all along.

“It is just two months since we learned that 52 per cent of British Muslims believe that being gay should be made illegal in the UK. When that poll was released very nearly the entirety of the UK’s Muslim leadership and spokespeople attacked not the bigotry of their own community, but the poll. It is always the same story. And yet there is a perfectly straight line from that belief to what happened in Florida last night. With any other religious community we – and they – would admit that. But not with Islam.”

George Broadhead, Secretary of the UK charity, the Pink Triangle Trust, said that The Spectator article was “spot on” and added: “This vicious attack on gays is another ghastly example of Islamic homophobia. Islamic holy texts, the Koran and the Hadith, clearly condemn homosexual practices and its sharia law provides for the most barbaric penalties.

“These are put into practice in Islamic theocracies like Iran and Saudi Arabia where gays are publicly beheaded, hanged and stoned. Five other Muslim countries also have the death penalty on their books. These facts are totally ignored by those like the US President and the media for fear of offending Muslim sensibilities.”


BBC sidesteps gay writer’s contempt for Christianity, by Colin Smythe


THE BBC doesn’t do atheism – unless it’s forced to. And then only through gritted teeth. This again became apparent a few weeks back during an edition of Radio 4’s Great Lives devoted to the celebrated US essayist and novelist, James Baldwin, above, who died in 1987.

Baldwin was nominated by “financial guru” Alvin Hall, the guest on Matthew Parris’s programme. At the outset he said he’d been inspired by Baldwin’s conversion to Christianity when he was 14 years old. Hall himself had “a religious experience” at a revivalist meeting when he was the same age.

“Apparently the Holy Spirit descended on me and a conversion had taken place . . . this is almost exactly what happened to Baldwin in his church in Harlem.”

This immediately gave the impression that Baldwin was a man of faith. In fact, Baldwin claimed to have been “hurled into the church” by a strict stepfather who was a Pentecostal preacher, and he grew to became an outspoken critic of Christianity. But Hall, later in the programme, merely said “he became sceptical about religion”, and it infuriated me that some of Baldwin’s choicest quotes were never aired.

Quotes like “Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty – necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels” and “If the concept of God has any validity or use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of him.”

Most of Baldwin’s work deals with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. His novels are notable for the personal way in which they explore questions of identity as well as for the way in which they mine complex social and psychological pressures related to being black and homosexual. After earning a scholarship in 1945 and publishing his first major essay, The Harlem Ghetto, Baldwin moved to Paris, where he spent most of his life.

He published his best-known work, Go Tell It on the Mountain, in 1953, and wrote numerous novels, essays, and poetry during his life, including Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Giovanni’s Room (1956), a novel noteworthy for bringing complex representations of homosexuality and bisexuality to a reading public with empathy and artistry.
He also wrote the plays The Amen Corner (1955) and Blues for Mister Charlie (1964), both well received.

Much of his work was inspired by 20th-century social movements as well as his experiences living as a poor, black, and homosexual man in a country that largely shunned these characteristics.

For a while, Baldwin returned to the United States to assist the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement, for which he became a voice, and he gained international prominence as a writer and civil rights activist.

He earned the George Polk Award in 1963 and was inducted into La Légion D’Honneur, the prestigious French order, in 1986. He continued writing and maintained a professorship at Hampshire College and the University of Massachusetts until his untimely death from stomach cancer at the age of 63.

Buy Harold and Maude, and help gay charities, by Barry Duke

ONE of my favourite black comedies is Harold and Maude, a movie based on a book written by the late gay screenwriter and activist Colin Higgins and I was delighted to learn that Higgins’s novel has been re-released, and that the royalties will benefit a host of LGBT charities.

harold and maude 2The Advocate reports that “a whole new generation of fans discovered Harold and Maude when Netflix recently added it. A must-read (or watch), this 1971 dark romantic comedy follows the unlikely but wonderful relationship that develops between Maude, a quirky 81-year-old optimist, and death-obsessed 19-year-old Harold.”

Higgins, who was also writer-director of the movies Nine to Five and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, died in 1988, shortly after his 47th birthday, of complications related to AIDS. His legacies, however, will be lasting. Two years before he died, he established the Colin Higgins Foundation to support LGBTQ youth in underserved communities.

The foundation has given $3 million over the years to numerous LGBTQ organisations, including the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, youth outreach efforts, and AIDS prevention programmes. With the book’s re-release, all royalties will go to the foundation, which recently gave out $10,000 each to three Youth Courage Award winners: Victoria, 19, an undocumented queer transgender immigrant who first came to the US at age 3; Alex, 20, a queer transgender man was raised Muslim and battled drug addiction, and like Victoria, he endured homelessness and bullying; and AJ, 20, a bisexual man raised in a poor black Southern neighbourhood, who’s a staunch advocate for workers’ rights, including an increase in the minimum wage.

“Do the Courage Award winners have anything to do with the book?” asks Diane Anderson-Minshall, who writes for The Advocate. “Maybe so. Like them, Harold and Maude handle themselves with grace and dignity in the face of overwhelming hardship. And, if you buy this book, you help put money in the pockets of great LGBT kids like these.”
Harold and Maude is available from Amazon.

A good read

STUART HARTILL reviews TERRY SANDERSON’S The Adventures of a Happy Homosexual: Memoirs of an Unlikely activist

TERRY Sanderson, right, was born into a close, loving Rotherham mining family just as the Welfare State was being established. He is known throughout the British gay and secular Terrycommunities, amongst many other things as a CHE campaigner since the early days, writer of the “Mediawatch” column in Gay Times since 1982 and as President of the National Secular Society since 2006. This, his autobiography, is a fascinating insight into over four decades of crucial campaigns and cultural change.

It is hardly his first foray into print. As publisher of The Other Way Press he has produced advice books on gay relationships, building self-esteem and helping parents to support a gay child, and elsewhere has documented coverage of male and female homosexuality in the British media. This time it’s personal though, but even so he covers a lot of ground.

For reasons that become clear later, the early chapters dwell at length on Sanderson’s humble Yorkshire roots. Like nutty slack, this means it takes a while for the tale to catch fire, but it is worth persevering.

The added difficulty is that the Yorkshire “script” has already been copyrighted by J B Priestley, Keith Waterhouse and Michael Parkinson, and then parodied mercilessly by Michael Palin, so that it’s impossible to read any variant on “Ee, but we had it hard” without thinking of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch. This is a shame, because if you can get past Terry’s joyous description of childhood dressing up in jumble sale frocks and hats to “rehearse for a panto” without hearing Julie Walters crying “Dance, Terry, dance” off-screen, or teen Terry madly channelling Noël Coward and Marlene Dietrich in a coal-mining town, there is – seriously – something there that needs to be shared with every frightened little small-town gay kid.

Some might also question the extended section on Rotherham campaigns that follows and the – by comparison – briefer coverage of events once he ups sticks for London, but not I. In fact, I found the long (and frequently hilarious) tussles between Our Hero and a really, really Old School Labour council over weighty issues like Rotherham CHE trying to hire the Assembly Rooms for a gay disco, or getting a copy of Gay News into Rotherham Library, the most inspiring part of the book.

One reason is that, just as Sanderson’s introductory chapters enable him to later take down the myth of working class homophobia, his life story doesn’t follow a clichéd gay script either. This would be the one where Gay Boy escapes small-town prejudice, discovers SoHo/Greenwich Village/Castro District, in the process escaping a place where people “know” him all too well and finding/re-inventing his “true” self in a safer place where they don’t. It might well be a true story for many, but I’m always left asking the question “What about the ones who didn’t (or couldn’t) run, does it ever work out all right for them?” Seems to me that until it does, and you can be Carmen Miranda without hassle in, say, Scunthorpe then nobody really wins. So in Sanderson’s case it matters that he plods away at prejudice in his birthplace, and builds a life there. The move to London comes much later, via the happy accident of a new relationship with a Londoner and not by design.

But we do need to know about the great campaigns, who fought them, and why and how they had to be fought, and Terry’s book is good on that too. Good, particularly, at stressing that those who fought them are never the ideal people, never armed with the best tools – and that they are never fought in the ideal place or time either, to be honest.

When Terry portrays himself as an “unlikely activist” this is not cloying false modesty, just the way things are. Stuff happens, and in response you make it up as you go along.
The final section covers his move to London and bigger things, which came later in life than I had imagined as, until reading this book, I only really knew Terry from his NSS work and had him pegged as a “London” activist. He explains how he came to work on Woman’s Own as an agony aunt, how this, in turn, led to an unlikely commission from an offshoot of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to write a book on “coping with homosexuality” and, when the resultant text frightened too many horses for SPCK to publish, he discovered self-publishing and set up The Other Way Press.

His “Mediawatch” documenting of tabloid attitudes to gays during the 1980s is also briefly covered, but there is less than I would have expected on the grimmest years of the AIDS crisis. In fairness though, having already produced a book based on “Mediawatch” and reasoning that many good ones have been written on AIDS, perhaps he felt there was little new he could add from personal experience.

I am also surprised there wasn’t more on his work at the NSS, the abolition of the blasphemy law, battles up to European court level over Christians determined to retain the privileges of manifesting prejudice in the workplace etc.

Given how recently some of the new UK challenges have arisen (and are increasingly used as ammunition by other faiths), the more discussion and analysis the better, I would have thought, but maybe that’s another project for another audience. As for who this book is for . . . Possibly the primary audience is gays who want a personal account of UK gay struggles in the mid to late 20th century, especially younger ones who are hardly aware how much had to be done. A secondary is a more general audience who have lived through the same times and seen or been involved in other social change, but never experienced it from the gay perspective.

While one book can never be all things to all people, this one has a good go at covering material of particular interest to gay readers while trying to be accessible to anyone else. I would happily lend it to any churchgoing granny – once I could get them past the Day-Glo magenta cover with rainbow motif to see the interesting human story within.