A Gay Atheist's Response to Islamophobia

White paper boat onto world map with 'Help' sign on it.
White paper boat onto world map with 'Help' sign on it.

Here's why this gay atheist is so adamant in his refusal to marginalize those, who by dint of their religion, would marginalize me.

It's because I don't think inside their religion is where most people live.

What I mean is that almost everybody on the planet spends the vast majority of each day swimming in the very same psychological waters. We want to enjoy our work, and if we don't enjoy it, we want very much not to hate it. At the same time we don't want to work ourselves to exhaustion, or have no work at all. We want to be at least minimally prosperous.

We want to be good mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and sons and daughters. We want to feel intimacy with family and friends and usually a spouse of some kind. We want the respect of our peers and our community. We want a reasonably functioning government and we want to be thought of as good citizens. We want to breathe clean air and drink clean water and eat decent, healthy food. We want to laugh -- not ruefully, sarcastically, or ironically, but because we see genuinely funny things happen and know how to take a joke. We don't want to be violent, and certainly none of us ever want to be the object of violence.

Now clearly, very few us get to enjoy all of these things all the time, and an unfortunate number of us are deprived of many of these things for much or most of our lives. But the search for these things on a daily basis -- to whatever degree we are successful at finding them -- is common to us all. And I don't care if you're walking to Friday, Saturday or Sunday prayers in your temple of worship; lighting a candle for your ancestors, meditating with Buddha, Vishnu or Confucius; or just nursing a hangover -- this place of searching is where your brain spends most of its time.

And that's what the Islamophobes seem unable to grasp, (and Bill Maher to boot.) That all the dogmatic reportage around what "they" believe -- some of which may be true, at least as far as what people tell pollsters-doesn't hold a candle next to the emotional reasoning behind the day-to-day choices Muslim people make along with 99 percent of all people 99 percent of the time.

Human beings like that mother baking flatbread in Pakistan, that Indian 8th grader afraid of getting that math answer wrong, and that Brazilian recovering addict hoping he doesn't relapse today; that Canadian hockey player who can't believe he busted his knee, that Israeli taxi driver who wants a new job, and that Chinese grandmother enjoying her favorite soap opera. And on and on and on I could go, spinning 8 billion or so little novels, but you get the idea.

And then there are the others. Those born as innocently as the rest of us, whose natural instincts for all of the above get distorted by abuse or pathology or a dysfunctional culture into making choices that radiate outward with terrible negative consequences, making the pursuit of happiness unequal for everybody. We get unimaginable poverty and domestic violence and sex trafficking.

We get a shrinking Amazon rain forest and a choking Shanghai; slaves in Qatar and genital mutilation in Ethiopia; falling towers in New York and machete-wielding killers in the Congo. And we get the invasion of countries that should never have been invaded in the first place, and we get ISIS. Its members claim that their nightmare caliphate is somehow an expression of the will of the Prophet and of course it is no such thing. They are simply a collection of very angry and alienated young men whose ability to empathize has become hopelessly and perhaps irretrievably damaged, but their actions are no more about Islam or other Muslims than the Westboro Baptist Church is about the life of Christ or other Christians.

What I don't believe is that the vast majority of Muslims (or evangelical Christians, or devout Jews or Hindus, for that matter) spend a great deal of their time thinking about gay people -- certainly the women and children don't, and they constitute the majority in all groups. And what all of them have been culturally taught on this subject is curable ignorance. It has nothing to do with a separate reality that right now millions of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan civilians are victims of war, terror and torture and desperately need refuge. (And none of the terrorist-phobes seem to have considered that a great many of the 2 percent of military-aged unnattached men may be be fleeing gays desperately seeking asylum.)

If you see a woman clutching a baby on a life raft and what bothers you about the picture is her hijab and not the panicked look on her face, then you're probably like the majority of Americans who responded "no" in 1938 as to whether we should increase the quotas of Jews fleeing Nazis coming to the United States. Congress listened. The resulting holocaust was not only a tragedy in its own right, but a major element in the future psychology of Israel, which has used "never again" to justify the militant nationalism we see today, with its attendant effects.

The reason Syrian refugees are fleeing is because they have been marked as Sunni or Shi'a or Alawites, or Assadists, or Christian or Druse or just dissidents -- labels that blind the labellers to seeing them first as human beings who simple want to live in safety with their families and friends.

And those Americans who see life jackets as suicide vests are doing exactly the same thing: refusing to see people in extraordinary need simply as other human beings.