We Call Out Homophobic Clerics, But What About The Rabbis?

jews _ homophobes torah
We Call Out Homophobic Clerics, But What About The Rabbis?

Murdoch based outlets have been chasing down Muslim clerics for their views, but leaders from other faiths with a poor history on LGBTI rights don’t draw the same attention.

In the week since the Iftar hosted by the Prime Minister, the Murdoch press has scoured the records of Muslim clerics in attendance. They have documented repulsive comments towards homosexuality, with Murdoch bloggers (and Media Watch) pursuing with great interest the question of Islam’s relation to homosexuality. The ABC’s Paul Barry says that this is “a subject our political leaders and the media will be forced to confront.”

Religion is never an excuse for homophobia. There is a need to challenge reactionary religious leaders with appalling views on homosexuality and LGBTQI communities. I’m sure that the Murdoch press has been challenging Muslim leaders because of its heartfelt concern for gay people in Australia.

Due to this touching concern, I thought I’d bring to their attention a few cases of homophobic rabbis, who have somehow escaped their exhaustive quest against prejudice.

Pictured below is a meeting of various leading rabbis associated with the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year. Rabbis present include Rabbi Yehoram Ulman, Rabbi Paul Lewin, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, Rabbi Meir Klugwant, Rabbi Pinchas Feldman, and Rabbi Chaim Ingram.

jews _ homophobes _Rabbis

Second from the right in that picture, face partially obscured by Abbott, is Rabbi Ingram.

Rabbi Ingram has repeatedly argued that gay Jewish people should commit suicide, rather than engage in homosexuality.

In the 20 July 2012 edition of the Australian Jewish News – two and a half years before meeting the Prime Minister – Rabbi Ingram argued in an article that Orthodox Judaism sees homosexuality “as a sin for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life as necessary”.

The following week, the AJN ran what it called an apology. It said “Rabbi Chaim Ingram expressed an opinion on homosexuality held by certain sections of the Jewish community. The AJN apologises for any offence caused.”

Not a minority opinion. Not an unpopular opinion, let alone a reprehensible one. Just an opinion held by “certain sections” of the Jewish community. Rabbi Ingram himself did not apologise. He continued to advocate his position. On October 19 that year, he wrote in one of his many letters to the AJN that “homosexuality is one of a handful of offences (and prawn-eating is not one of them), which one is bidden to resist even on pain of death.”

jews homo phobes letters-to-ajn

No “apology” was issued for that letter. Some letter writers harshly criticised Rabbi Ingram, and he responded by criticising one person’s “intolerant desire to silence me”.

Rabbi Ingram is among the more prominent rabbis in Australia, as shown by his inclusion in the ORA delegation. In March 2012, he was among the signatories of the Rabbinical Council of NSW’s submission to the Senate inquiry on marriage equality. Rabbis Ulman and Lewin also signed the submission, though inquiries were to be directed to Honorary Secretary, Rabbi Ingram. The submission argues that “all humankind remains bound by” the “universal moral code” of the Torah. “Central” to its “key universal values… are norms relating to human sexuality which endorse the stable sexual union of a man and a woman in a socially recognised relationship of mutual commitment whilst rejecting other sexual unions notably adultery, incest, bestiality and homosexuality.” (emphasis added)

That is, the submission of the RCNSW explicitly classed homosexual unions in the same category of rejected sexual unions as bestiality. Three of the four signatories to that submission met with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott within a few years. In December 2013 – over a year after Rabbi Ingram had repeatedly expressed his view about what weak-willed gay people should do – he launched a book. Warm speeches were given by other influential rabbis, like Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, the leader of Chabad in NSW.

During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Rabbi Feldman allegedly told a perpetrator of child sexual abuse that he should take steps to avoid it, but otherwise took no action. He also didn’t tell police of an alleged perpetrator leaving Australia because he “did not know there was any such obligation”. And before the Royal Commission, his son Rabbi Eli Feldman called a perpetrator, later convicted, to ask if he had had a conversation with Rabbi Feldman in the 1980s.

Rabbi Klugwant resigned as President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, and as executive member of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, in the wake of damaging revelations. Specifically, in response to one victim of child sexual abuse urging victims in an email to come forward, Rabbi Klugwant told the victim he shouldn’t have sent the email. When the father of another victim gave evidence, Rabbi Klugwant called the father a “maniac” who was “attacking Chabad”. Again, Rabbi Klugwant met with the Prime Minister.

As for the Rabbinical Council of NSW, its President, Rabbi Yossi Feldman, remained President in 2011 after emails leaked, in which he urged rabbis to tell victims of child sexual abuse not to go to the police, but to only report the crimes to rabbis. He stepped aside for several weeks, but was then reinstated until the 2012 AGM. He also argued that complaining to the police would hurt his “friend”, later convicted as a child sexual abuser, and that victims don’t know if the perpetrator will re-offend anyway. Other highlights include his position that media attention merely encourages “fake victims”, apparently including “phony attention seeker” Manny Waks.

Or take another luminary of the religious Jewish establishment. Rabbi Shimon Cowen doesn’t give popular lectures on YouTube, but writes complex essays in sophisticated language. In July 2011, he argued that it was “Stalinist” how “opposition to homosexual behaviour” was treated as an illness, instead of homosexuality itself. In an article devoted to criticising the Safe Schools Coalition program in Victoria, he argued against teaching children that homosexuality was normal or acceptable, but was merely an abnormal urge which could be overcome with therapy:

“From a religious standpoint, if a person felt an overwhelming homosexual impulse of the deepest nature, that would be viewed with compassion but it would not constitute permission to indulge homosexual activity in practice. It is an abnormality, which as far as possible should be treated. However, there is a wide spectrum of children and persons who experience sexual identity confusion and can yet prevail upon themselves to accept what for the world religious cultures is the normative model of heterosexual behaviour. The homosexual lobby has a stake in rejecting therapy and the idea that humans can change and take control of their impulses. Paradoxically, it can be argued, their attempt to block this change and drive children deeper into malaise is the potential cause of great suffering. Those who insist that a child is homosexual and should embrace a homosexual lifestyle can compound the psychological malaise. They compound an illness.”

Rabbi Cowen is the Founding Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation, an Associate at Monash University when he published his essay. In June 2012, a year after the above essay was published, his Institute received a $20,000 grant from the government. It was part of the Federal Government’s Building Community Resilience, to resist “intolerant ideologies”. Other contributors to his forums include Coalition MP Cory Bernardi and Labor MP Michael Danby.

In May 2012 – not long before Rabbi Cowen received his generous government grant – he once again advocated at length for his position, which he also attributed to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that gay people, “with the exercise of free will and the help of educators, therapists and counsellors, individuals can overcome these drives”. Sadly, the current day American Psychiatric Association “rejects freedom, choice and cure in homosexuality.”

The peak body for Jews in Australia responded to Rabbi Cowen’s 2011 essay in February 2012. It supported anti-bullying programs in schools. As for the Rabbi, they wrote: “Rabbi Dr Cowen is highly respected in our community but that does not mean that his views on any subject are representative. We note also that in his recent article, Rabbi Cowen fully condemns bullying of any child inter alia on the grounds of homosexual behaviour.”

It’s a miracle the Rabbi survived such a vicious rebuke. Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, at the time President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia, defended Rabbi Cowen’s essay on the Safe Schools program.

Back in 2011, the Jewish News criticised an “alarmist” report which Rabbi Cowen said “misquoted” him, to the effect that Jewish schools and hospitals wouldn’t hire gay people. Rabbi Cowen clarified: “I did not say that a Jewish school must necessarily make a close examination of the background and private lives of its teachers… But where it is evident that a teacher models, in a known and outward manner, sexual practices which run contrary to Judaism, a school has every right not to hire that teacher.”

So there you have it, our community’s “highly respected” rabbi doesn’t think all gay people should be barred from employment at Jewish schools. Just the ones who are noticeably gay. His view was naturally supported by the then President of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, Rabbi Yaakov Glasman. He thought religious institutions should be able to hire people who adhere to religious values.

About four years later, he also met with the Prime Minister. He’s also in the picture at the top of this article.

So there you have it. Rabbis who oppose hiring gay teachers, who think gay people should be treated so that they can overcome their illness, who compare homosexuality to bestiality, a rabbi who thinks weak-willed gay people should commit suicide, and a sample of the sorry record of leading rabbis on the sexual abuse of children.

It’s all public record, and it’s all pretty awful. What will this achieve? Maybe nothing. I’m not sure that a Jewish atheist associated with harsh criticisms of Israel calling out this or that Rabbi will have much constructive effect.

Yet the last week has shown us that the media believes deeply in the value of calling out reactionary religious clerics. Surely, I have now done my bit, and lent a helping hand. Consider the above my contribution to the stories that I am sure are on the way.

I contacted a journalist at the Australian, asking if they would report on homophobic rabbis. I haven’t heard back yet. I’m sure it’s coming. They’re opposed to all homophobia, right?

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Why Islam Doesn’t Explain The Orlando Mass Shooting

Why Islam Doesn’t Explain The Orlando Mass Shooting



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Looking at the history of Omar Mateen, as well as the religion itself, throws into doubt the gunman’s understanding of the faith he claimed to represent. The same goes for larger terror cells, writes Michael Brull.

In the aftermath of the massacre in a gay nightclub in Orlando, many LGBTQI people and groups expressed solidarity with Muslims, urging that this attack not be used to demonise Muslims or Islam. Muslim intellectuals and groups have reciprocated the sentiment, expressing solidarity with the victims and LGBTQI people generally. Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia, responded to the massacre immediately with condemnation on moral and religious grounds. On Wednesday, a similar statement was released by Muslim organisations and prominent figures.

Brull1 Statment

Regardless, right-wing politicians and commentators have hurried to link the attack to Islam and Muslims generally, using the massacre to promote goals like banning Muslim immigration.

While others have responded with critiques of the overt racism of some of these voices, in this article, I want to explain why these claims about the responsibility of Islam for this massacre are substantively wrong.

Early Muslim Culture Was Often Warm To Homosexuality

The University of Chicago Press published John Boswell’s National Book Award winning study, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality 16 years ago. In his landmark book, Boswell discusses early Muslim attitudes to homosexuality. In this passage, he discusses the aftermath of the Muslim invasion of Spain in the eighth century (I omit the footnotes). He explores at length the extent to which homosexuality was regarded “with indifference, if not admiration”, and widely featured in contemporary poetry:



Boswell then gives various examples of cultural expressions of homosexual relationships:


Boswell concludes that acceptance of homosexuality was pervasive, even as it was ruled by rigid Muslim jurists who were regarded as “fanatics in the rest of the Islamic world”:


In a 1997 essay in Feminist Issues, As’ad AbuKhalil argues that current Islamic opposition to homosexuality is a result of Western influence. AbuKhalil wrote that the “regularity and apparent legitimacy of homosexual relations” in the Muslim world “were seen by Medieval Christians as evidence of the moral decadence of Muslims”:

What passes as Islamic mores and conduct in much of the Islamic countries is in fact the impact of Westernization. ‘Puritanical Islam,’ which people from the past like medieval Christian polemicists or even Max Weber would never associate with the religion of Muhammad, owes much to European Protestantism. This change in Islamic treatment of the sexual question came about after centuries of Christian criticisms of Islamic moral permissiveness.

Whereas Christianity “stood for a puritanical morality and strict ethical code, Islam was ridiculed as the religion of sexual permissiveness and ethical laxity. Short of polytheism, all is forgiven in Islam. Medieval Christians found the God that Muslims worshipped too forgiving for their taste.”

AbuKhalil concludes that homophobia, “an ideology of hostility against men who are homosexuals, came out of the Christian tradition and has no counterpart in the Islamic tradition despite the homophobic inclination of individual Muslims, like ‘Ali or Abu Bakr in early Islam.” Furthermore, “violence against homosexuals, which is still common in Western societies, is quite rare among the Arabs”.

The point of revisiting this history is to illustrate a simple but important point. Religion, like culture, is not static. It develops over time, and is influenced by a variety of factors, just as religion can influence individuals and societies in complex ways. Blaming “Islam” for anything is simplistic, because it is not monolithic, it does not have one essence, and it is not consistent.

Today, there are many Muslims who regard homosexuality as sinful. There are also many people of other faiths who are opposed to homosexuality, including Jews and Christians. As noted by Glenn Greenwald, a US poll found American Muslims have comparable levels of approval (45 per cent) of societal acceptance of homosexuality as American Protestants (48 per cent). Among ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel (Charedim), only 8 per cent expressed support for gay people having full equality, as opposed to 89 per cent of secular Israelis.

The overwhelming majority of people of all faiths who object to homosexuality do so without that hatred manifesting in murder. There is a passage in the Torah that calls homosexuality an abomination, explicitly urging the execution of a man who lies with another man as with a woman. This is ignored, just as Jews ignore the passage ordering the execution of disobedient sons.

This is because the way people interpret their religious texts is complex. While fundamentalists and Islamophobes may insist that Islam is one thing, now and forever, that is not really how religions work.

The Complex Motives Of Omar Mateen

While the usual suspects were eager to blame Islam (or “radical Islam”) for the Orlando shooting, it is hard to take this too seriously. The murderer was apparently a regular at the gay nightclub he attacked, and was also a long time user of an app for gay dating called Jack’d. Much has been made of his statement of support for ISIS. Yet he has also declared support for Hezbollah and the Al Nusra Front. All three groups have killed each other’s members in Syria. It seems his understanding of these groups was about as sophisticated as that of Australian Islamophobes.

The murderer used to talk “about killing people all the time”, according to a former co-worker. He used to beat his ex-wife, who said he wasn’t very religious. She also claimed that he was “mentally unstable and mentally ill”. She said he had bipolar, and used steroids. His father, an admirer of the Taliban, commented that the murderer “doesn’t have a beard even”.

At this point, we just don’t know why he murdered so many people. Several factors may have contributed. It may have been some form of twisted revenge. As many have argued, it may have been a homophobic attack. If he was gay, it may have been the act of a man experiencing a great deal of inner turmoil. Without wishing to diminish the horrors of the massacre, he too may have been a victim of homophobia, who acted out the hatred he learned and internalised on others.

Calling This Islam Validates Terrorists

A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)
A delegate reads the Koran at an anti-extremism conference. (IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information, Flickr)

When someone commits an atrocity, and claims that they do it in the name of a religion followed by a great number of people, that claim is made to legitimise their act.

Trying to legitimise an immoral action with reference to ideals is not something unique to Muslims. When no WMDs were found in Iraq, suddenly Western politicians and intellectuals claimed the war on Iraq was a war for democracy and freedom. This doesn’t delegitimise democracy or freedom, because that’s not what the war was about. The point of using that rhetoric was to transfer the social currency of those concepts to an unjust war waged on fraudulent pretexts.

Likewise, the shooter in Orlando claimed he was part of a greater cause. Being an angry and hateful bigot is less glamorous, and would not garner the same public attention.

When hateful murderers claim Islam legitimises their actions, we should remember that they are trying to bring themselves under the legitimating umbrella of a faith practiced by about 1.7 billion people. No one has ever appointed any of these people as their spokesperson. While Westerners often call for Muslims to condemn these actions, they never pause to ask who has praised them. Terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS have never received the blessing of any prominent Muslim theologians, and have often been condemned even by other salafi-jihadists.

Though people in the West continue to take seriously the credentials of these groups, many Muslims regard them as theologically dubious or theologically illiterate. Take this interview with Osama Bin Laden, from October 2001. The interviewer from Al Jazeera pointed out that the “killing of innocent civilians” is banned under Islam. Bin Laden responded by agreeing that “the Prophet Mohammed forbade the killing of babies and women. That is true, but this is not absolute.” He then argued inconsistently that the Twin Towers wasn’t really a civilian target, and that anyway, “If they kill our women and our innocent people, we will kill their women and their innocent people until they stop.” He called this “the good terrorism which stops them from killing our children in Palestine and elsewhere”.

Note: this is not a religious argument. And as Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University Akbar Ahmed argued in The Thistle and the Drone, revenge is hardly an Islamic response.



One of the world’s leading scholars on jihadis and Islamists is Professor Fawaz Gerges, from the London School of Economics. In his book on ISIS, he argues that ISIS has even less theological credibility than Al Qaeda. Gerges argues that Abu Musab al “Zarqawi and [ISIS leader Abu Bakr al] Baghdadi are theologically illiterate… What distinguishes the post-al Qaeda wave from its predecessors is its poverty of ideas.” In one telling instance, Islamists in Syria challenged ISIS to submit to a sharia court to resolve a dispute between them. ISIS responded by saying that “The only law I subscribe to is the law of the jungle”. On another occasion, when criticised theologically, ISIS replied that those scholars should spend less time on “writing and authorship”, when they “have never fired a single bullet”.


In the West, ISIS is treated as though they are sophisticated and authoritative Islamic theologians, rather than hyper-violent thugs with a thin veneer of legitimising rhetoric. Gerges observes that ISIS could not have made the strides it has made without “the breakdown of state institutions in Syria and Iraq and rising sectarianism. It is a result of decades of dictatorship, failed governance and development, and abject poverty, made worse by ongoing foreign intervention and the Palestinian tragedy.”

The ‘Radical Islam’ The West Doesn’t Talk About

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.26.08 pmAustralian right-wingers lament the fall of Tony Abbott, and the rise of Malcolm Turnbull, fearing the latter is too soft on “radical Islam”. Yet their beloved Tony grieved the loss of the dead tyrant of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. He offered his “deepest condolences” for this tragic loss, praising the King’s “many achievements”, and flying the flags at half-mast.

Saudi Arabia beheads dozens of people each year, and practices many of the same punishments as ISIS for “crimes” like blasphemy and adultery. As observed by Gerges, ISIS school education guidelines “seem to borrow heavily from Saudi Arabia’s ultraconservative Salafi curriculum”.

The extreme sect of Islam that is closely allied to the ruling house of Saud is a strain of Salafism called Wahhabism. The outstanding Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn observed that “Wahhabi beliefs are close to the Salafi-jihadi ideology and over the last fifty years Wahhabism has become an increasing influence over mainstream Sunni Islam… Supported by the vast oil wealth of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf those trained to preach and oversee mosques have become increasingly extreme and, while they may not support terrorist attacks, their beliefs provides fertile soil for those who do.” He concludes that until Western states are willing to “confront their Sunni allies in the Middle East… Orlando will only be the latest in a string of atrocities.”

Yet it is not just the governments that refuse to do so. While anti-Muslim ideologues often attack Islam, urge bans on Muslims, or otherwise decry the failure of Western liberals to oppose “radical Islam”, they rarely seem to have any interest in Wahhabism. Whether it’s right-wing politicians, right-wing anti-Muslim movements, or Murdoch columnists, this form of “militant” and “extreme” Islam always gets off the hook.

Because their concern isn’t “radical” Islam at all. Their concern is Muslims. And that tells you all you need to know.

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Fuelling Hate: The Structural And Cultural Violence Behind The Orlando Massacre

Fuelling Hate: The Structural And Cultural Violence Behind The Orlando Massacre


Though it’s easy to focus on a specific calamity, the violence faced by LGBTQI people goes far beyond the direct and disturbing manifestation witnessed in Orlando, writes Liam McLoughlin.

In 2008, a poor African-American transgender woman named Duanna Johnson was arrested by police in Memphis, Tennessee. In a city with a history of black protest against racially motivated police abuse, Johnson was baselessly charged with prostitution. When she refused to answer to homophobic and transphobic slurs in custody, she was severely beaten and pepper-sprayed. Although the incident was captured by surveillance cameras, local authorities refused to charge the officers involved.

Johnson spoke out about the brutality and according to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, she became the “public face of our community’s campaign against racism, homophobia and transphobia”. Nine months later she was murdered in downtown Memphis with a single bullet to the head. The police found no suspects and no motive for the murder.

Between 2007 and 2008, the incidences of reported American police violence against LGBT people increased by 150 per cent. The Southern Poverty Law Center found LBGT people in the US suffer twice the rate of violent hate crime compared to Jews or African-Americans, four times that of Muslims and 14 times that of Latinos. In 2014, a majority of Americans thought gay sex was morally unacceptable and 14 per cent believed AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual activity. More than half of LGBT-identified people reported concern about falling victim of a hate crime. Between 2004 and 2014 the share of hate crimes based on sexual orientation grew.

In the first 10 weeks of 2016 the Human Rights Campaign fought nearly 200 anti-LGBT bills across 34 US states, including Florida.

And in the early hours of June 12 at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando called Pulse, 29 year-old Omar Mateen killed 49 people and injured 53 more in the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

According to establishment media and politicians, Mateen was inspired by ISIS to engage in a gruesome act of Islamic terrorism which was an attack on freedom and “an assault on every one of us”. This narrative has taken hold, despite his father’s comments that “this had nothing to do with religion” and everything to do with homophobia.

Opportunistic politicians and media outlets across the West have descended like vultures to frame this as yet more damning evidence against Islam and further justification for intensified militarism, police powers, and surveillance.

Malcolm Turnbull’s response was typical: “We stand in solidarity with the people of the United States as they stand up to this terrorist, violent, hate-filled attack, whether it is in the skies above Syria and Iraq, in Afghanistan or on our borders”.

Refugee survivor and ex-detainee organisation RISE articulated the crass and cynical inaccuracy of this typical establishment line.

“Similar to his response after the Brussels attack, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has used the tragic events of Orlando to make a ridiculous link between refugees and terrorism. To use the murder of innocent people as an opportunity to demonise innocent refugees and justify bombings and militarised border control is pathetic, desperate and utterly racist.”

Yet again the government/media nexus is using the murder of innocent people to justify yet more violence against other innocent people.

Understanding the distinction between the highly visible direct violence of Orlando and the less visible cultural and structural violence at the root of such attacks is vital if we are ever going to escape this cycle of horror.

The Violence Triangle: Direct, Structural And Cultural Violence

Norwegian sociologist and peace researcher Johan Galtung’s “Violence Triangle” is a useful tool to help us understand Orlando and its aftermath. Galtung distinguishes three kinds of violence and they are causally linked.

The first is direct violence. This includes mass shootings, murder, rape, and assault – highly visible forms of violence in which the perpetrators are clearly identifiable individuals. The Orlando shooting is the latest and worst example of the prevalent direct violence which is directed at LGBTQI communities.

This form of violence dominates media coverage for several reasons. It accords with the doctrine of individual responsibility which prevails under neoliberalism and deflects responsibility from structures of power. It’s also a simple and compelling story which is big business for the media.

This is where mainstream coverage of Orlando begins and ends. At worst the homophobic nature of the attacks is erased and drowned out by the drum beat of Islamophobic rhetoric. At best the violence is described as a homophobic “act of hate” by a deeply disturbed individual.

The media wilfully ignores the structural and cultural violence upon which direct violence depends. These are more complex and less visible types of violence.

Structural violence is the exploitation and injustice built into our society. Galtung writes that structural violence “shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances”. It’s the violence which generates extreme wealth for the 1 per cent, poverty for the many and privileges some classes, genders, nationalities, religions and ethnicities over others. It’s about institutionalised forms of discrimination and exclusion and ingrained inequalities in access to education, resources and respect. The 200 anti-LGBT bills proposed in states across America this year would entrench structural violence against queer communities.

In responding to the Orlando massacre, the establishment avoids linking direct LGBTQI violence to structural violence at all costs. Blame Mateen, blame ISIS, blame Islam, blame anything but the homophobia, discrimination, and disrespect towards LGBTQI people actively fostered by institutions of power right across the United States.

new matilda, lgbti
A vigil for those killed in Orlando. (IMAGE: Fibonacci Blue, flickr).

The ruling classes just as steadfastly ignore the role of cultural violence in contributing to Mateen’s heinous actions. Galtung defines cultural violence as the attitudes and beliefs which “can be used to justify or legitimise direct or structural violence”. Religion, ideology, art, science, education and the media can all be responsible for cultural violence. It’s not hard to see connections between the homophobic rhetoric of the Christian right, the structural violence of anti-LGBTQI laws, and the direct homophobic violence of Omar Mateen.

Normalising Violence

If we want to understand how structural and cultural violence impact LGBTQI communities, it’s worth reading activist and writer Kay Whitlock.

The book she wrote in 2011 with Andrea Ritchie and Joey Mogul called Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalisation of LGBT People in the United States showed a feedback loop between the criminalisation of queer people and societal homophobia and transphobia. It shows in detail how media archetypes of the “queer killer”, the “sexually degraded predator”, the “disease spreader” and the “queer security threat” inform the ways sexuality is policed, prosecuted and punished. Its study of police harassment and brutality towards queers, especially transgender women of colour like Duanna Johnson, highlights the intersection of structural, cultural and direct violence.

Whitlock’s comments in subsequent papers and interviews are especially enlightening when thinking about how structural and cultural factors may have influenced Mateen. In a 2012 discussion paper called Reconsidering Hate: Policy and Politics at the Intersection, Whitlock writes:

“Hate violence is portrayed as individualised, ignorant, and aberrant, a criminal departure by individuals and extremist groups from the norms of society, necessitating intensified policing to produce safety. The fact is many of the individuals who engage in such violence are encouraged to do so by mainstream society through promotion of laws, practices, generally accepted prejudices, and religious views. In other words, behaviour that is racist, homophobic, transphobic, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant…does not occur in a political vacuum.”

Her explanation for this focus on direct violence is succinct.

“It’s so much easier to place the blame for violence directed against entire groups on criminal misfits, loners, and crackpots than to challenge the unspoken public consensus that permits broader cultures and structures of violence to exist.”

In a 2015 interview for The Public Eye, Whitlock shows us how these cultures and structures normalise violence.

“What is called “hate violence”—violence directed at vulnerable and marginalised groups—is not abhorrent to respectable society. On the contrary, respectable society has provided the models, policies, and practices that marginalise people of colour, queers, disabled people, and in many respects, women.

We fixate on spree killings and assassinations because they’re so visibly terrifying…but regardless of who’s in power, we also have these structural forms of violence that continue year after year in the most respectable civic and private arenas. The violence is steadfast, consistent, and it’s absolutely massive. I’m talking about the violence of prisons, detention centres, psychiatric hospitals, and public schools with school officers who are armed to the teeth and who have absolute discretionary power to send kids into the criminal/legal system for minor infractions. We have lots of violence against people with disabilities who are penned up in institutions where someone has absolute power over them.”

Tackling these ingrained cultures and structures of violence is the only chance we have of escaping the recurring nightmare of direct violence.

From Islamophobia To Queer Justice

Barring Donald Trump and Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Turnbull gave the worst possible response to the Orlando shooting. He mobilised the Islamophobic frame when he linked refugees to terrorism in showing “solidarity with the people of the United States”.

No Malcolm. Solidarity is not ramping up the “War on Terror” with more militarism and greater police powers. Solidarity is not dog-whistling to bolster your poll numbers in the marginals. Solidarity is not using the deaths of people from a persecuted minority to justify your persecution of another minority on Nauru and Manus.

Solidarity means resisting the erasure of LGBTI communities. It means accurately describing the causes of violence and offering historical, economic and social context for such events. It means highlighting structural and cultural violence and debating ways to dismantle violent policies and attitudes to LGBTI communities. It means confronting the gun lobby and opposing the corruption of our political systems. It means investigating community-based approaches to reducing violence. It means exploring ways to create more just, compassionate, equitable, kind, and loving societies.

It also means really listening to LGBTQI voices, like that of Duanna Johnson, whose courageous resistance to racism, homophobia and transphobia came at the cost of her life.

Or that of Steven W Thrasher, who wrote this in The Guardian.

“In this moment, let us not become nationalistic, or prejudiced, or vengeful. Let us not perpetuate the American cycle of violence. Let us interrupt this nightmare as the creative, loving, justice-seeking American queers that we are, who know well how to look death in the eye and still imagine a new, better living world.”
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