GLAAD is the Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation. The OIC is the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, a 56-state organization which constitutes the largest voting bloc in the UN. At first glance, the two groups would not seem to have much in common—particularly when one considers the general antipathy toward homosexuals in the Muslim world.
Upon further consideration, however, there are some interesting similarities between the two groups. For example, both are in the anti-defamation business. So as not to exclude bisexuals and transgenders, GLAAD no longer uses the full title, but its mission—to protect the gay community from derogatory criticism—remains unchanged. Likewise, the mission of the OIC is to protect Islam from criticism. Its main focus over the last ten years has been a campaign to create universal anti-blasphemy laws which, if passed, would make the defamation of a prophet a criminal offense not only in Riyadh and Islamabad, but also in London and New York.
GLAAD failed in its recent attempt to have Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson consigned to the outer darkness. And although the OIC has managed to pass several anti-defamation resolutions in the UN, it has not yet succeeded in making blasphemy a hate crime in the West. Nevertheless, both groups feel that time is on their side and both have exerted a powerful influence on what is considered acceptable discourse.
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How influential? Well, suppose someone told you a joke beginning with the words, “A priest, a rabbi, a minister, an imam, and a lesbian walked into a bar….” If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably thinking, “Whoa! Stop right there!” We’re all used to jokes about priests, rabbis, and ministers, but the addition of the Muslim and lesbian characters introduces an element of caution. We immediately realize that someone might take offense. Moreover, we understand that there could be negative consequences for laughing at such a joke.
We would be right to worry. For example, in British Columbia a stand-up comedian at a comedy club was fined $15,000 by the courts for making a joke at the expense of two drunken lesbian patrons who were heckling him. The owner of the club was made to pay a fine of $7,500. The consequences of making a joke about Islam are even more intimidating. Monty Python star Michael Palin recently admitted that he won’t parody Islam because “there are people out there without a sense of humor and they are heavily armed.” Molly Norris, a Seattle cartoonist, was a bit slower in grasping the new situation. When she tried to initiate an “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” contest a few years ago she was hit with a death fatwa issued from Yemen by the late Anwar al-Awlaki. On the advice of the FBI, Norris quit her newspaper job, changed her name, and went into hiding. Norris might have avoided her fate if only she had read what the Ayatollah Khomeini had to say about humor. To wit: “An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.”
Jokes are still allowed in PC America, but only if they conform to stringent—if unwritten—guidelines. In their own way, the public opinion enforcers in America are every bit as prudish as the virtue police in Saudi Arabia, and every bit as vigilant. One of the prime examples of the neo-Victorian censors is CNN’s Piers Morgan, a moral exhibitionist who loves to cloak himself in the trappings of “enlightened” virtue, and whose favorite put-down for those who disagree with him is “How dare you!”
“How dare you!” is not exactly an invitation to rational discussion. It means, rather, that certain ideas and opinions are not fit for public discussion and will not be tolerated. The response of GLAAD to Phil Robertson was essentially of this nature. They didn’t use the occasion of his remarks to open up the discussion on same-sex marriage, but to try and shut it down. Instead of asking for equal time in GQ magazine, they asked for Robertson’s head. They wanted to put Robertson’s opinions beyond the pale and their own opinions beyond discussion. In effect, they were saying “How dare you!”
Another similarity between activist pressure groups like GLAAD and activist Muslim groups like the OIC is that both are highly intolerant of diversity—diversity of opinions, that is. Before looking at the ways dissent is handled in Muslim countries, however, it’s important to realize that Robertson was not the only target of gay activist ire. The larger target is the belief system that informs his opinions. Gay pressure groups and their allies in the media and the courts do not simply object to one man’s views on homosexuality, they object to orthodox Christian teaching about homosexual behavior. And they plan to make those teachings every bit as unacceptable as an off-color joke told about lesbians in a Vancouver bar. If you doubt this, consider the case of Reverend Stephen Boissoin, a youth pastor in Alberta who in 2002 wrote a letter to the editor of a local newspaper that was critical of the “gay agenda.” He was sentenced by the Alberta Human Rights Commission to a lifetime speech ban prohibiting him from ever saying anything disparaging about gays again, whether in public or in private, in print or in a sermon. He was also required to write a false letter of apology renouncing his religious views on homosexuality.
Speaking of lifetime bans, columnist Mark Steyn narrowly missed having one imposed on him by the British Columbia Human Rights Commission—not for the crime of homophobia but for the crime of “flagrant Islamophobia.” The Canadian Islamic Congress filed complaints against Steyn in 2007 after excerpts from his book America Alone appeared in Maclean’s magazine. In consequence, Steyn was hauled before the Human Rights Commission. As he recounts it, the statutory penalty if he was convicted was that “Maclean’s … and by extension any other [Canadian] publication would be forbidden henceforth to publish anything by me about Islam, Europe, terrorism, demography, welfare, multiculturalism, and various related subjects. And that this prohibition would last forever….”
In some parts of the world such as Canada and Sweden, it is now a crime to criticize homosexual behavior. It has long been a crime in many Muslim countries to criticize Islam or Muhammad, and numerous Christians languish in jail for violation of the blasphemy laws. De facto blasphemy laws are now in effect in parts of Europe. Lars Hedegaard, president of the Danish Free Press Society, was put on trial for the crime of offending Muslims because of remarks he made in a private conversation about widespread sexual abuse in Muslim families. He was found guilty and fined approximately $1,000. In Austria, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, a member of Pax Europa, was convicted by a court for the crime of “denigration of the teachings of a legally recognized religion.” The specific denigration was to refer to Muhammad as a pedophile during the course of a seminar presentation. There have been numerous similar “heresy” trials throughout Europe.
Most of us do not wait for a court summons before learning to curb our tongues. We quickly sense what can and cannot be said about topics such as Islam and same-sex marriage. Most of us, in short, begin to practice self-censorship at the first sign of jeopardy. In Orwell’s 1984 this is called “Crimestop”: “Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought.” Thus, even among those who were willing to defend Phil Robertson’s right to freedom of expression, many felt obliged to make a gesture of submission to the reigning orthodoxy by registering their disapproval of his “crudity.” Have they never seen videos of a gay pride parade? Have they ever remarked on the crudity thereof? Probably not. There are some crudities it’s safe to talk about and some it is better not to notice. An efficient police state is not one in which the police stand at every corner, but rather one in which people learn to police their own words and thoughts. And this is the direction in which our society is headed if it continues to make obeisance to the extremist demands of gay activists and Muslim activists.
In retrospect, it is clear that gay activists have always wanted much more than tolerance or a “place at the table.” They want to be at the head of the table and they want you to submit your values to theirs. The game is no longer about gays being allowed to come out of the closet, it is about putting Christians into the closet. Christians can believe what they want as long as they keep quiet about it, but they must not be permitted to bring their antiquated ideas about sexuality into the public square.
Christians who mistakenly believed that gay rights advocates were only seeking parity would be just as mistaken to believe that Muslim activist organizations such as the OIC, CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, and other “civil rights” groups are merely asking for equal treatment or that they will be satisfied once their current demands are met. The word Islam, after all, means “submission,” and one of the central tenets of Islam is that non-Muslims must submit to Muslims (see, for instance, verse 9:29 of the Koran). Those who think that Islam has progressed beyond this ancient view should consult historian Bat Yeor’s book The Dhimmi—her account of the subordinate condition to which Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands have been forced to submit over the centuries. The dhimmitude laws are similar to the Jim Crow laws in the South before the civil rights era except that they are based on faith, not race. Christians and Jews are not required to renounce their faith under dhimmitude, but they are required to keep it to themselves. In practice, however, the rule of dhimmitude is so onerous and oppressive that the Jewish population of the Muslim Middle East has almost entirely disappeared, while the Christian population has decreased from 20 percent in 1900 to 2 percent today. Much of that decrease has taken place in recent years due to a revival of traditionalist Islam and along with it an attitude of disdain for Christians.
Eventually, Christians in the West will discover that, as with the ever-expanding demands of the GLAAD activists, there is more than meets the eye when Muslim activists request that their prophet be accorded a little more respect. It is not just criticism of Islam that is offensive, but the public espousal of any competing creed. While Christians in American may think that they have little to worry about because of the small size of the Muslim population in the U.S., it’s worth reflecting on the fact that gays make up only two to three percent of the population, and gay activists only a sliver of that. Nevertheless, gay activists are close to controlling the national agenda in certain key areas. This is in large part because they have the backing of left-leaning educators, bureaucrats, and opinion-makers. But these powerful forces have given every indication that they will throw their full support behind the Islamist agenda as well.
It goes without saying (or it should, anyway) that this is not an indictment of all gays or all Muslims. Not every gay feels compelled to follow the extremist party line set down by GLAAD and similar groups. Likewise, not every Muslim welcomes a world where the OIC calls the shots on freedom of speech and religion. If blame must be assigned for the current atmosphere of intolerance, it should fall most heavily on the shoulders of the relativists in the courts, media, entertainment, and academia who have smoothed the way for the extremists.
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared January 20, 2014 in Aleteia and is reprinted with permission of the author.