Sunday, November 1, 2015

Sunday Reading

Finding Safe Space — Jordan Alam in The Atlantic explores the question of where gay Muslims can go to pray.

In the media, being queer and Muslim often seems to amount to being a victim. In articles on violence against LGBTQ people in Muslim-majority countries, or pieces on the challenges of coming out, the queer person’s connection to Islam is often used to imply that these cultures are especially intolerant. With this narrow focus on tragedy, it can be hard to understand the day-to-day lived experiences of queer people who identify religiously or culturally with Islam—particularly the difficulty they face in trying to find communities that embrace their multiple identities.

Even within the gay community, “I am markedly different in these spaces and unable to hide the difference that I wear on my body: My brownness, my hijab, my not drinking are lightbeams signaling my otherness,” writes one queer South Asian writer in an essay for the online magazine Black Girl Dangerous. She describes feeling “saved” by groups like the NYC queer Muslim book club, where she does not have to make compromises. “I think it’s less about a similarity of experience and more about supporting each other,” she said in an interview. “To be able to talk about these things without feeling defensive or without feeling like I need to explain things … was really important to me. To have space to talk … without feeling ‘too Muslim for the queers’ or ‘too queer for the Muslims.’”

Across the country, queer Muslims have formed groups, trying to offset feelings of isolation and provide support to those who don’t “fit” into other communities. Participants share some parts of their identities, but come from different races, cultures, and class backgrounds; they’re of all ages, and some are longtime Americans, while others are immigrants. People also vary in their relationship to Islam. They may come for communal iftars (the fast-breaking meal at the end of each day of Ramadan), to study the Koran, or to take part in secular gatherings about everything from family violence to the latest gender-studies books.

One of the largest spaces for queer and trans Muslims is the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat. Once a year for the past five years, the retreat has hosted Muslims and their partners in Pennsylvania. 2015 was the largest gathering yet, with more than 100 people attending from multiple countries and states. For some attendees, these retreats are the first time they’ve met another queer Muslim. “The programming tries to address identities, emerging issues within the community, and questions of theology,” said Urooj Arshad, a 2011 retreat organizer, “with some talent/no talent [shows], flower making, etc. thrown in there.”

The retreat also challenges some more conservative Muslim practices, such as gender-segregated prayer spaces. “Mixed-gender congregational prayer is another aspect of the retreat that revolutionizes people’s practice of Islam,” Arshad said. This experience is especially significant for trans and genderqueer Muslims who have to navigate gender-segregated mosques—it can be stressful to choose where and when they pray, whether to wear hijab, and how to observe other customs. As one woman of trans experience, who writes under the pen name Mahdia Lynn, wrote in an essay for the website “Sisters from the masjid (the very same women who invited me into their homes and shared in iftars that Ramadan) talked about how disgusting these men-who-want-to-be-women are, swearing they’d never be allowed in our prayer spaces … Suddenly it became apparent that all that love and security I felt was entirely conditional.” At times, communities reject trans worshippers outright—as in recent cases in Arizona and the U.K.

Many regional groups try to offer a sense of safety and belonging beyond this annual meet-up. Kaamila Mohamed, a black, queer woman who cofounded the group Queer Muslims of Boston, said her organization isn’t just for traditionally practicing Muslims. “For some folks it means, ‘I feel safe praying again, within this space.’ For other folks, it can mean, ‘It’s okay for me not to pray. This is a space in which I can be Muslim in the way that I am Muslim.’ And for other people, it’s a place to process relationships with family or with other Muslim spaces.” She said the group also welcomes converts and reverts, or people who may not have a family or cultural history with Islam but have felt it was always their spiritual path.

Tough Questions — Joshua Holland in The Nation compares the questions the Democrats got in their first debate to the ones the Republicans got in Boulder.

The Republican candidates took a number of swipes at the moderators of Wednesday night’s debate on CNBC for their supposedly biased and substance-free questions. They were picking the lowest of low-hanging fruit, going for an easy way to endear themselves to a conservative audience. Texas Senator Ted Cruz probably got the biggest round of applause of the evening when he said, “The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don’t trust the media.” And the crowd really went nuts when he added that “every fawning question” asked of the Democratic candidates during their October 13 debate on CNN amounted to, “Which of you is more handsome and why?” After the show, Donald Trump echoed that sentiment, musing that perhaps the Democrats had somehow “negotiated a better deal” with CNN.

Judging by conservative reactions on social media, it’s now become an article of faith that, while the CNBC moderators were out for blood, CNN’s moderators had “lobbed softball questions” at the Democrats. After Wednesday’s debate, Ben Carson’s campaign called for a “revolt” against… someone, and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Prebius was forced to issue a statement that read: “The performance by the CNBC moderators was extremely disappointing and did a disservice to their network, our candidates, and voters.”

But it’s not true that the Democrats were given an easy ride. Here’s the very first question Anderson Cooper posed to Hillary Clinton during the Democratic debate:

“Secretary Clinton, I want to start with you. Plenty of politicians evolve on issues, but even some Democrats believe you change your positions based on political expediency.

“You were against same-sex marriage. Now you’re for it. You defended President Obama’s immigration policies. Now you say they’re too harsh. You supported his trade deal dozen of times. You even called it the ‘gold standard.’ Now, suddenly, last week, you’re against it.

“Will you say anything to get elected?”

As questions go, that was more dagger than softball. After Clinton claimed that her positions had been consistent, Cooper followed up:

“Secretary Clinton, though, with all due respect, the question is really about political expediency. Just in July, New Hampshire, you told the crowd you’d, quote, ‘take a back seat to no one when it comes to progressive values.’

“Last month in Ohio, you said you plead guilty to, quote, ‘being kind of moderate and center.’ Do you change your political identity based on who you’re talking to?”

Later, Cooper asked her about e-mail-gate: “For the last eight months, you haven’t been able to put this issue behind you. You dismissed it; you joked about it; you called it a mistake. What does that say about your ability to handle far more challenging crises as president?”

Contrast that with the question that set off Ted Cruz’s rant:

“Congressional Republicans, Democrats and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown and calm financial markets that fear of—another Washington-created crisis is on the way.

“Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?”

In response to that substantive question about an issue a lot of people care about, Cruz used up his entire time lamenting that they weren’t “talking about the substantive issues people care about,” and didn’t bother to answer.

In the Democratic debate, Cooper homed in on what many see as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s Achilles heel: “A Gallup poll says half the country would not put a socialist in the White House. You call yourself a democratic socialist. How can any kind of socialist win a general election in the United States?”

After Sanders talked briefly about inequality and universal healthcare, Cooper followed up with this “softball”:

“The question is really about electability here, and that’s what I’m trying to get at. You—the—the Republican attack ad against you in a general election—it writes itself. You supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. You honeymooned in the Soviet Union. And just this weekend, you said you’re not a capitalist.

“Doesn’t—doesn’t that ad write itself?”

On Wednesday night, Florida Senator Marco Rubio accused moderator Carl Quintanilla of reciting “a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents” as he dodged a question about some of his well-publicized financial management problems.

It was a tough question, but no tougher than this question to Jim Webb during the October 13 debate: “Senator Webb, in 2006, you called affirmative action ‘state-sponsored racism.’ In 2010, you wrote an op/ed saying it discriminates against whites. Given that nearly half the Democratic Party is non-white, aren’t you out of step with where the Democratic Party is now?”

I could go on. Sanders, who had a high-profile clash with Black Lives Matter activists earlier in the campaign was asked, “Do black lives matter, or do all lives matter?” Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was forced to defend the “zero tolerance” police policies he pushed as mayor of Baltimore. Anderson Cooper came close to demanding to know what former Republican Lincoln Chaffee was even doing on the stage.

All of these questions probed the candidates’ greatest perceived weaknesses. The CNBC moderators did the same thing Wednesday night when they asked Carly Fiorina about her disastrous stint at Hewlett-Packard. It’s what moderators should do.

But the tough questions that marked the Democratic debate were immediately forgotten when the Republican candidates started working the referees with cries of media bias. Which might be expected, given that it reinforced one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in American politics: that members of the media–like academics and scientists–are hopelessly biased against Republicans.

It’s true that mainstream journalists, like all humans, have various biases. But it’s a big group, with diverse and complex biases. How they tend to help or hinder the two major parties on specific issues can make for hours of interesting debate. But the simplistic narrative that the media are in the tank for Democrats doesn’t. It just dumbs down the discourse and convinces Republican voters that their candidates’ facile charges that all of society’s ills are the fault of the federal government might seem sensible if not for the media’s pernicious influence. In that view, conservatism can never fail—it can only be failed by poor messengers and a tilted playing field.

Repeatedly calling out the moderators for their ostensible bias might have offered some tasty red meat for the base, but as John Nichols put it, for everyone else it made for “an empty night of whining about the media, petty squabbling, and lost opportunities for the Republicans who would be president.”

“Mission Accomplished” — Andy Borowitz on Jeb!’s exit.

MIAMI (The Borowitz Report)—Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush announced that he was dropping out of the race for the Republican Presidential nomination, while standing in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner draped over the façade of his campaign headquarters, in Miami.

Speaking to his remaining staff members who were seated in a dozen folding chairs, Bush thanked them for the hard work that led to the triumphant completion of their mission.

“Our work is done,” Bush said. “Thanks to you, we have prevailed.”

While acknowledging that he took pride in the impressive success of his campaign, Bush stressed that victory did not belong to him alone. “This is a great day for America,” he said.

Upon the conclusion of his remarks, Bush bade farewell to his staffers with a military-style salute before stepping into a waiting helicopter and ascending to the skies.

Minutes after Bush flew away, however, reporters asked senior Bush staffers to define more clearly the mission that Bush had deemed accomplished.

“We feel really good about the work we did, our ground game, getting the word out about Jeb’s accomplishments as a conservative Governor in Florida,” said Bush’s campaign manager, Danny Diaz, who added, “Please, just leave me alone.”

Doonesbury — Take the shot.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.