Anti-Islam, but pro-gay? How mosque opponents tie themselves in knots

October 2014

“The left seem to be very stupid, I suppose,” Mike Holt says. The Queensland-based former One Nation candidate is bemused when I ask him why he believes some progressives support both the expansion of rights to LGBT people, and the building of mosques in regional Australian centres.

Holt is one of the key figures in the anti-mosque campaign. He takes credit for launching the Concerned Citizens of Bendigo organisation that emerged to fight the construction of a mosque in that town, but denies any involvement with the near-identical Facebook pages that have cropped up in the wake of announcements to build mosques in Maroochydore, Kalgoorlie Boulder, Kalgoorlie, and Currumbin.

I contacted him about an image on his Islam 4 Infidels website: a photo of a dreadlocked protester run through an online meme generator. “SUPPORTS MUSLIMS AND GAYS; MUSLIMS KILL GAYS” is superimposed on top in chunky white Impact. On Holt’s site, the image appears alongside a Photoshopped picture of Hitler wearing a Palestine tee.

The image from Islam 4 Infidels
 The image from Islam 4 Infidels. Photograph: Islam4infidels

“It’s more like a dig,” Holt explains, when I ask whether the protester image is designed to encourage people to modify their views about Islam. “The left have a very strange worldview: they support the gay lobby and also support Islam!”

Holt is not the only one eager to point this out. Repeatedly drawing attention to the inimical position much of the Muslim world has on LGBT rights appears to be part of a broader rhetorical strategy used by the anti-Islamic rightwing in Australia.

In the lead-up to an anti-mosque meeting in Bendigo earlier this year, the Q Society – “Australia’s leading Islam-critical organisation” – distributed a pamphletin which they suggested that “wherever Islam spreads … misogyny, sectarian violence and homophobia increases”.

When I contacted Debbie Robinson, president of the Q Society, she suggested that, “the Muslim mainstream attitude towards what the Sharia considers to be a severe crime of sexual perversion is potentially a dangerous liaison [for LGBT people that align with Islamists]”.

As others have suggested, adopting the moral causes and language of the left is a neat way to “disguise Islamophobia”. When an Islamic event was held at Melbourne University last year and the seating was gender segregated, for example, then-opposition leader Tony Abbott argued that he “would expect members of parliament who want to see a fair and decent and passionate society which treats women equally … to be up in arms about this”.

This was a curious statement coming from Abbott, who has for over 30 years held tight to a belief in fairly rigid gender essentialism. His faux-progressive posture could be seen as as a cynical attempt to wedge his leftwing detractors into taking a stance against Islam.

It could be said that resisting the building of mosques in Australia because Islam is a “homophobic ideology” has at least some cogency; traditional schools of Islamic law criminalise homosexuality, and LGBT-friendly interpretations of Islam are still nascent.

But in the case of the Australian anti-mosquers the real issue is whether those suggesting that Islam is inherently misogynistic or homophobic genuinely believe these are reasons why Islam should be resisted. If this were the case, and these issues were truly significant, you’d probably expect the anti-mosquers to adopt a broader, internally consistent feminist or pro-LGBT stance.

This would seem particularly important given the anti-mosquers repeatedly draw attention to the ideological inconsistency of progressives.

While Robinson stressed to me that the Q Society simply provides “information about Islam”, and “has no interest or position on the question of sexual orientation”, I decided to dig a little deeper. Recent presenters at Q Society events have included Babette Francis, founder of the “counter feminism” Endeavour Forum, and Bernard Gaynor, who recently published an article on his websitetitled “Laws allowing discrimination against homosexuals are good”.

Neither Francis nor Gaynor represent the Q Society itself. That said, it seems strange to print agitprop arguing that the spread of Islam should be resisted because it is misogynistic and homophobic, while simultaneously programming anti-feminist, anti-LGBT speakers at your anti-Islam organisation’s events.

Mike Holt recommended I read a piece by David Donaldson titled “Why the Left has trouble talking about Islam”. In it, Donaldson makes the point that “the Left tends to become hamstrung between its secular, egalitarian beliefs and its desire to support the underdog”.

In this case, of course, the rightwing is similarly hamstrung, eager to protect the status quo even if it means resisting the spread of a religion that appears to promote precisely the conservative ideas of gender and sexual identity they themselves support.

While attempting to present themselves as LGBT allies is clearly a deliberate rhetorical strategy, it must make anti-mosquers feel uncomfortable to have to adopt this kind of posture, even if only implicitly. On the one hand, looking at the composition of the Q Society’s speaker roster, many want to roll back LGBT rights; on the other, the idea that the LGBT community could potentially become anti-Islam allies seems too irresistible an opportunity for anti-mosquers to fully pass on.

Gaynor found himself so sick of receiving complaints on the topic of whether LGBT folk could be allies against Islam that he felt compelled to publish a screed against the “Rainbow/Crescent alliance”, arguing that:

hoping that the LGBT movement is going to ride in like a knight in shining armour to save the day is exactly that: wishful thinking … it also fails to recognise the seemingly bizarre alliance between Islam and homosexuality that is fostered by political correctness.

Wishful thinking? It almost certainly is. And Gaynor’s advice to anti-mosquers to drop the faux-pro-LGBT rhetoric is wise, if only because it will force those campaigning on the rise of Islam in Australia to clarify exactly what it is they’re against.