Thursday, 26 May 2016

Israel Cured Me of Islamophobia

Today I was waiting for a bus in Hamilton and a Muslim family walked by. I noticed because she was wearing the hijab. He was looking quite hip, and they had two children as well as a baby on the way. And my usual internal reaction would have been — ‘There they go, those Muslims.  Just like the Catholics — all they do is reproduce like crazy so they can take over the world.’
But then, uncharacteristically, I quashed these Islamophobic thoughts.
I am acknowledging my own Islamophobia here, hoping this acknowledgement of my own prejudice might help eradicate it in others. Because honestly, how could one live in North America — with the anti-Muslim rhetoric at full blast — without it turning you against Muslims just a bit? 
But having just returned from Israel, it occurred to me that the family I saw on the street in Hamilton were not Muslims. They were just people. I think Jaffa, Israel was the origin of my revelation — an ancient city where Muslims and Jews have lived together in peace for centuries. And why shouldn’t they? There are Iots of Muslims all over Israel (not just in Palestine) co-existing quite happily with Jews. And there are lots of Muslims in Israel who would rather live in Tel Aviv than Palestine. In other words there are lots of Muslims who are tolerant of other religions. Muslims are just people, like you and me.
And you might ask ‘What about this Muslim suicide bombers?’ Or, if you are coming from the other side — ‘What about the Muslim folks pushed out of their homes by the Israeli settlements?’
But let me tell you, those are only the fundamentalists.
In case you haven’t guessed, although I no longer consider myself Islamophobic, I am a confirmed ‘fundamentalist-phobe.’ I hate and fear all fundamentalist religions. I don’t think hate is too strong a word if one considers the appalling violence done in the name of religion. If fundamentalism didn’t exist, if people stopped trying to convert others to their religious beliefs, if people didn’t try to follow rules inscribed in centuries old books — rules probably translated inaccurately, which should be open to interpretation, which are nevertheless held to be the word of God — well, the world would be a much happier place.
And I’m afraid what I really don’t understand (as a gay man) is why so many queers hate Israel. 
Sure, Israel is being run by a sort of Jewish Donald Trump right now (Netanyahu) who has just appointed a particularly fascistic defence minister named Liberman who has said that Arabs not loyal to Israel should be beheaded. But blaming Israel for electing the wrong person ignores all the sensible people who voted against him. (Was Stephen Harper my fault? I voted for  Jack Layton!)
Israel is a very tolerant, pro-feminist, pro-queer country. Though gays cannot marry because civil marriage doesn’t exist, queer married couples arriving from elsewhere are considered legally married by the government. Tel Aviv has a thriving gay scene, gays are welcome in the military, right now there are rainbow flags all over Tel Aviv for their sexy pride.
Why can’t left-wing queers celebrate Israel’s tolerance for queers, and stand behind a country that (despite it’s colonialist beginnings) has its origins in love? Israel is a great, terribly important experiment. If Jews and Muslims can learn to live there without killing each other, then religions can live together anywhere in the world.
It’s time to support Israel. Because all Israelis don’t hate Muslims — only extremists like Liberman do.
And similarly, most Muslims in Israel don’t hate Jews.
Well, a trip to Israel sure cured me of my Islamophobia.
Now I have to work on my feelings about Catholics……