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Can the West tolerate Muslims who hate gays?

Islam has a problem with homosexuality, but so do many conservatives in America and Europe.

Published: 14th June 2016 07:34 AM  |   Last Updated: 14th June 2016 07:34 AM   |  A+A-

Omar Mateen - who shot dead 50 people in an Orlando gay nightclub - was both an Islamist terrorist and a violent homophobe. These things are not mutually exclusive. They are concomitant. Mateen attacked the West in general but targeted gay people in particular.

Inevitably, some people say Islam is incompatible with Western life because it is incompatible with our attitudes towards sexuality. Are they right? Well, it's complicated. And on a matter as sensitive as this, there is nothing wrong with admitting that it's complicated.

Don't expect Donald Trump to do that, of course. He responded to the Orlando shootings by repeating his call for a ban on Muslim immigration. That would be unethical and wrong, but it's part of a popular backlash against political correctness. The fact that Barack Obama is reluctant to use the words "radical Islam" when talking about atrocities perpetrated by radical Islamists riles American conservatives. They see the politicians' constant refrain that "Islam is a religion of peace" as dishonest, even treacherous.

Liberals, say the Right, must find themselves in a terrible quandary. As supporters of both gay liberation and multiculturalism, how do they process the fact that many Muslims believe homosexuality is a crime? Conservatives insist that their confident defence of Western history and philosophy is more gay-friendly than liberal multiculturalism. Jens Spahn, the gay German conservative tipped as successor to Angela Merkel, electrified a political convention two years ago when he said that there must be no compromise with Islamism because "I don't ever want to experience another attack or insults when I walk through Berlin hand-in-hand with my boyfriend".

Liberals listening to Trump and Spahn might choke on their tofu. When, they would counter, did Western conservatives suddenly become fans of sexual freedom? Haven't they spent decades fighting gay rights? Marco Rubio, the Florida senator, was one of the first Republicans to say that Orlando was an attack on gay people - and good for him. But Left-wing critics argued that his outspoken opposition to gay marriage was part of the cultural environment in which Mateen's bigotry grew. Islam wasn't the only religious authority that Mateen would have encountered in Florida telling him that gay people are going to Hell. He could have tuned in to any evangelical radio show to hear that.

When we ask Muslims to interrogate attitudes towards sexuality in their community, we do so assuming that our own culture is 100 per cent gay?friendly. It is not. Polls suggest that around a third of Americans still believe that homosexuality should be discouraged. Homosexual acts have only been legal in the West since the Sixties. Gay marriage has only been on the agenda for a decade and is still bitterly resented by social conservatives.

Because TV is awash with the liberal values of its producers, it can appear as if our entire hemisphere has embraced sexual liberty. That's a conclusion that many conservative Muslims resent - but they're quite wrong: not everyone in the West sees homosexuality and heterosexuality as equal. The average Dominican friar has far more in common with a typical imam than he does with a liberal Conservative MP. And so long as neither Christian nor Muslim breaks the law, we probably wouldn't expect the state to go out of its way to challenge them. Sexual privacy is now widely regarded as a Western principle - but so is freedom of religious conscience.

Both those principles can be summed up as the freedom to be left alone by the state. And this is where radical Islamism really does clash with predominant Western values. It's taken us centuries to get here, but Westerners now generally concede that states and churches both benefit from some degree of separation - and that religious belief is stronger and purer when it is reached through education and reasoned debate, rather than forcible official indoctrination.

Islamists believe it is the command of Allah to remake the world in their own image, according to a reading of the Koran that the vast majority of Muslims do not recognise. Not Sufis, of whom Muhammad Ali was one. Not Ahmadiyya Muslims, one of whom, Asad Shah, was murdered in Glasgow in May simply because he wished his Christian friends a happy Easter. Not those Muslims who comprise the majority of victims of Islamist violence worldwide. And not almost three million American Muslims, whose near-invisibility as a community shows how well integrated they are.

The conservatives are right: Islam does have a problem with homosexuality. Yet so do many conservatives. And it would be an inversion of Western values to insist that any individual suddenly rethink their religious beliefs if they want to be accepted into society. But Muslims, I'm sure, would welcome a social contract requiring everyone to obey the law and respect the distinction between church and state. And, most of all, to live and let live.

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