Queering the “World Trade Center Mosque” Issue


Posted on September 14th, 2010 by Katherine Franke
 9 comments  

From real-e-works.com

What a difference a few years makes.  It feels like only yesterday that gay-bashing generally, and “gay-marriage” bashing specifically, were the best way for conservative candidates to get out the red-meat base.  In 2004 it was all the rage to have run a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, and 13 states passed them.  “Gay marriage was a key part of Karl Rove’s turnout strategy, and stood out as one of the cultural fault lines dividing the two Americas,” noted a Newsweek article reflecting on the success of gay-bashing as a get out the vote strategy in 2004.  2006 wasn’t a whole heck of a lot better when it came to using homophobia as a wedge issue.

But today, primary day in many states, nary a Republican is campaigning on an anti-gay platform and same-sex marriage is nowhere to be seen in campaign literature.  In fact, gays have become kind of “in”, indeed so “in” that its safe enough for the likes of Ken Mehlman to finally come out of the closet.  Mehlman managed George W. Bush’s reelection (sic) campaign in 2004 and was Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2005 to 2007.  I fully expect to see his wedding announcement in the Sunday New York Times sometime soon.  It’s been quite a fast-paced turn around for this set of issues, with former McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt arguing recently that there was a “strong conservative case to be made in favor of gay marriage” and that more and more Republicans are dropping their opposition to the cause.

But it isn’t as if the extreme precincts of the republican party have given up on using hate and intolerance as a campaign leitmotif.  Quite to the contrary and quite tragically, Muslims are the new gays this election cycle.  While Islamophobia isn’t explicitly on the ballot this year in the way the same-sex marriage bans were, the issue of the “Ground Zero Mosque” has marshaled the politics of hate in a way that gay men and lesbians in this country should find all too familiar.

Once again we are witnessing a kind of nation-wide scapegoating whereby the “American way of life” (whatever the heck that might be) is seen under threat from a group whose claim on full membership in the nation is put in question.  Sexual minorities in this country have always been treated as a kind of unassimilable other who posed a moral and physical threat to real Americans.  Maybe marriage will change this, we’ll see.  Muslims, particularly after September 11th, have lived in this country under a similar eye of suspicion.   The Cordoba House controversy has merely brought it more to the surface.

While we’re on the subject of the Cordoba House – the Islamic community center modeled on the YMCA, planned to be built several blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center – let me add one more voice to the otherwise crazy, ignorant and hateful discussion of the appropriateness of such a venture so close to the site of enormous human suffering 9 years ago.  I live just a few blocks from the World Trade Center site (I abhor the term “ground zero”), and my neighbors and I have been invaded by roaming bands of crazy people over the last weeks making pilgrimages to the area to oppose the building of the Cordoba House.  One of the principle arguments they make is that the area surrounding the former World Trade Center is hallowed ground, and having a mosque near that site of the attacks would be an affront to the sacredness of this place.  Hallowed ground?  Let me share with you a few photos I took this morning on my way to the subway.  All of these places are closer to the World Trade Center site, and thus more hallowed-er, than would be the Cordoba House.

First, there’s the Gee Whiz Diner:

Then there’s New York Dolls Gentleman’s Club, a strip club:

Who doesn’t love Manhattan Beauty Supply, featuring 100% human hair and electrical supplies:

And finally, there’s Dunkin’ Donuts, which I know really is sacred to some people, especially cops – a couple of whom seem to have dropped by to pick up a cruller or two when I snapped this shot this morning:

If you aren’t yet convinced, please take a moment to read Feisal Abdul Rauf’s thoughtful Op Ed in the New York Times from last Saturday on the issue.  Meanwhile, I hope the lgbt community steps up in solidarity with Imam Rauf and with the larger Muslim population in the US who find themselves in a situation with which we are all too familiar.

9 comments

  1. US: Queering the "World Trade Center Mosque" Issue http://bit.ly/c1owue

  2. Thank you for your sensitive, insightful and timely read on the situation at the 51 Park Place Mosque. Having been familiar with Imam Faisal’s work what disappoints me is not just the opposition to the mosque, but as you rightly stated the political manipulation of the situation during the elections and the extent of negativity manifested towards not just the ‘Cordoba Initiative’ but Muslims themselves as a result of this endeavor. Last week we were at a small creperie in the Lower East side having brunch with my two kids. My daughter complemented the server’s shirt and the corresponding message of peace that it invoked. His shirt had the “Coexist” sign with the different peace images from various religions. And he answered,” I’m scared to wear it in case a crazy Muslim comes over to me in a turban and wants to kill me.” I did inform him that unlike current depictions of Muslims in the media not all Muslims, including my family fall into his stereotype. Yet stereotypical generated images of Muslims, create real ways of relating to, thinking about, and speaking of individual people in this case Muslims, rather than representing the way an individual that belongs to a group of people truly is. Perpetuating in Deluzean term a meta-identity of the Muslim, subsuming all groups into one image of ‘The Muslim’. Unfortunately Islamophobia has become a political tool used by the Eastern and Western discourses to justify opposing ideologies stemming from a common motive-that of normalizing identities to represent a skewed viewpoint. Which is why I particularly like your comparison of the LGBT movement to that of what Muslims are currently experiencing. When reading your article a question that comes to my mind is how do we understand sexualities in Islam within a normalized Western context? What role does queer theory play in such a dialogue? Horitaworn, Tauqir and Ersdem’s article “Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror,” focuses on the situation in Britain, where Muslims and ‘homophobics’ are increasingly treated as interchangeable signifiers. Paraphrasing Leslie Feinberg, the writers state the interest in Muslim women, gays and lesbians has emerged from a global context of violent Islamophobia. Reflecting a transformation of European identities, which besides democracy, now claim ‘women’s equality’ and ‘gay rights’ as symbols of their superior ‘modernity’ and ‘civilization.’ This as you correctly articulate elevates gender and sexuality to mainstream political status. While we welcome this development, we find it is vital to note that its main basis is not a progress in gender and sexual politics but as you show us in your blog a question of ‘scapegoating’. I whole-heartedly agree with you that resistant identities are often the result of a recognition and critique of oppressions, and these identities often emerge out of solidarity and through relational meanings with others and in this case an alliance of the Muslim and the LGBT community is what just might be the answer.

  3. RT @danwibg: US: Queering the "World Trade Center Mosque" Issue http://bit.ly/c1owue

  4. great article. thank you very much Katherine.

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