• Mohamad Tabbaa

Interview: Sexuality, Oppression and Human Rights

Earlier in the year I was invited for a second interview on Boys in the Cave.

It’s quite a long and broad discussion, going from questions of sexuality/identity and politics, to Countering Violent Extremism and deradicalization and the final hour or so moves into Human Rights.

I’ve mentioned before that I prefer not to speak on gender/sexuality as it’s not really my field, and I think this shows in the way I discuss it and the fact that I’m not as precise with my language on these topics as I am with the latter topics in the podcast. Nevertheless, I feel it’s important to continue raising these questions and troubling our simplistic understandings of these phenomena as they have quite serious implications and I'm not seeing them addressed with the nuance they require.

For example, one section was brought to my attention where I over-state the definition of heterosexuality as linked to monogamy. My point here, which I clarify shortly afterwards, is that the discourse within which heterosexuality is considered ‘normal’ and alternative sexualities ‘abnormal’ is the same discourse that considers monogamy normal and polygany abnormal. My point is not to discuss whether these identities are good or bad, right or wrong (that’s a different discussion), but to point out that none of these identities are from our tradition, and neither is the notion of anchoring one’s identity in their sexual orientation. One can be critical of the entire discourse (I certainly am), but to be critical of one aspect of the discourse (homosexuality) while propagating another aspect of the same problematic discourse (heterosexuality) is not a defence of the tradition. It’s ignorant, it’s confused and is simply mimicking the concerns of modern conservatives, i.e. it’s modernist and obviously ironic coming from people claiming to defend tradition.

Aside from that, the focus of concern (in the case of homosexuality, outright panic and outrage) is also a form of mimicry and disproportionate to its status. As a simple example, the fact that we have a number of leaders who are enmeshed in the banking sector and yet still respected as leaders, despite Riba being considered by some to be the worst sin after shirk, is further evidence that we’re not taking our priorities exclusively from the tradition as we imagine we are..

This is why I regularly distinguish between conservatism and orthodoxy.

My use of the term ‘Islamist’ was also questioned. I’m aware it can be used in a derogatory way, however it’s also more generally used as a shorthand to describe Muslim groups whose main mission is to re-implement Islam as a system. I use it in a similar way I use ‘the West’ as shorthand, knowing full well (and expecting my audience to know as well) that obviously the west is not monolithic. This was clarified in the episode. In the same way the ‘West’ is not considered a derogatory term for those who support the West, I believe the same to be true of the term Islamist; there’s nothing (or shouldn’t be anything) derogatory for a Muslim about the pursuit to cultivate an Islamic society. These definitions have been discussed and challenged for many years, and I myself have been involved in many of these discussions. In hindsight, a simple definition or disclaimer may have been useful, but I do also believe we can’t remain mired in these simple discussions that have been happening for so long if we’re to progress more pressing discussions.

I've also been asked by a number of people to share some reading lists, so will try to start developing and sharing these soon.