Sometimes you have to look back to know how to go forward. The Muslim Andalucian philosopher Averroes once said that there were two ways of implanting virtue in citizens: by persuasion or coercion. Persuasion was the more natural method of dialogue and transformation of virtue, but sometimes coercion was a necessity to force those who refused change.
Averroes discussed it in context of peace and war, but history is precisely a tale of those willingly persuaded and those coerced into it. It is applicable when it comes to tackling bigotry. And it is that belief in the occasionally necessary imposition of virtue which is needed with the current moral crisis greeting our education system regarding LGBT lessons.
Many decades ago in America, in what is now known as the Little Rock Nine, nine black students were enrolled into a racially segregated school in 1957. Initially prevented, they were inducted in after President Eisenhower intervened. It didn’t end bigotry that day, but it was an important step towards making society recognise that it had to recognise the rights and freedoms of another group of people. This was law used like an iron fist for the morally just thing.
Right now in England, against the pressure of parents with homophobic prejudices, some schools are dropping the “No Outsider” programme, which includes teaching children about LGBT rights. It began in Birmingham, in Parkland School, and whipped into a vicious frenzy of a mob outside the school, bitterly protesting, pulling their children out of classes – about 600 Muslim children.
The parents who led this insisted that they were not homophobic but rather believed in age-appropriate lessons. Life was complex and the world of adulthood should not be forced on children, so they said. This however was based on the assumption that sexuality is a learned choice and not an innate essence of who someone is. People are born gay, and finding out who they are is a part of childhood. Why should the experiences and feelings of someone who is gay be erased?
Do not be deceived by the nonsensical argument that this is about age-appropriate education. Had this been taught later, there would have been the same uproar. This is the homophobia of, in all likelihood, the same group of people who would have, rightly, protested if Christian parents pulled their children out of R.E lessons because one of the topics was about Islam. One parent told told BBC News: “Morally we do not accept homosexuality as a valid sexual relationship to have.”
Further proof is that it has gone from being about age to now family values. The slippery shift of the justifications points to the very fundamental reality that these people do not see homosexuality as something correct. They will not say it but they see it as an abominable Western lifestyle, something they may tolerate as a right of others but would never see in their own children.
Such a viewpoint only damages LGBT Muslims who deserve our support and solidarity after they have had their existence attacked in every way over the last few weeks. To hear Muslims families disparage homosexuality surely must have felt like an erasure of their own existence, their own lives, and confirmed that they could not come out to their parents. But they can never change who they are. The only people who can, should and must change, are the parents. It is the people who have forced schools to suspend a programme that would have taught children that love, tolerance, acceptance and empathy were important, that no-one should feel marginalised for their sexuality.
Now the government must intervene. LGBT freedom is a human right which should be part of a transcendent ethical code system in our country, unhindered by the religious bigotry of any group. We have already seen this bigoted protest spread to Manchester. It has to be contained.
I am quietly optimistic that my generation of Muslims are far more tolerant on homosexuality. I suspect the discomfort exists but is overridden largely by a refusal to judge someone on anything but their character, and believing that what someone does in their private life, is their decision alone.
But that optimism is the hope for tomorrow. Today, we are faced with the bigotry that can only go if it is given no space to thrive in. The government must intervene and force schools to teach these lessons, with punishment for parents who force their children to opt out.
The rest of us should hope that tolerance prevails bigotry. If we want to contribute in anyway, we should consider donating to the Inclusive Mosque Initiative in solidarity with LGBT Muslims.