Dec 7, 2021
The LGBT Rights Divide
The state of LGBT rights in most Muslim-majority countries is disastrous, and it is not a coincidence that most of these countries are either fully theocratic or at least assign Islam as the state religion. For the most part, nobody needs to be told these plainly obvious things. But sometimes particularly instructive contrasts surface which remind us: the respect for human rights that defines the liberal societies of the West did not merely come about in tandem with secularism. It came about because of secularism.
So is the case with recent events pertinent to LGBT rights in Iran and France.
The Islamic world
The usual illiberal destruction of lives in Islamic theocracies and semi-theocracies is always continuing apace, and it is our unhappy responsibility to continue to watch it.
In Pakistan, a man accused of insulting one of the companions of the Prophet Muhammad has been arrested. Pakistan is—as readers of this brief or our Persecution Tracker will know—among the worst and most blatant offenders with regard to blasphemy prosecutions.
Like many other cases of this kind, details are scant as to what the accused actually said here, but this is irrelevant. To be accosted and punished by the state for speech is something no one should ever have to endure, and this case should arouse unique indignation among those of use who care about human rights—only it will not be unique, because events like this occur almost daily in Pakistan. (Not to mention throughout the rest of the Muslim world—here is a recent piece from the AP largely devoted to the case of Mubarak Bala, who remains unconscionably incarcerated in Nigeria.)
Then there is the case of Sareh, an Iranian woman currently facing a possible death sentence for the “crime” of “supporting homosexuality.” A lesbian herself, she apparently first drew attention from authorities “after she gave an interview to BBC Persian about the treatment of people within the LGBT+ community in the region.” Detained, released, and re-arrested after attempting to flee into Turkey, her future fate is unclear. NGOs including Amnesty and ILGA have joined in a chorus demanding her immediate release, a chorus EXMNA is glad to place its voice into.
Sareh’s case is an especially poignant reminder of the tragedy of this moment: the right to safely love as one pleases enjoys historic acceptance in the West (not to imply that it is void of serious threats to or shortcomings regarding LGBT rights). But at this same instant, much of the rest of the world is either making little improvement on this issue or even backsliding.
To reiterate a point made earlier: respect for human rights is a result of secularism.
Ask France, among the greatest bastions of faith-state separation. The country’s parliament has voted to formally ban conversion therapy with legislation that punishes the practice with two years in prison and/or fines of up to 30,000 euros.
Or you can ask Canada, which formalized a similar ban only days before the French parliament’s vote.
While a prominent lobbyist in (heavily-Christian) Ghana can suggest that LGBT people go either to mandatory conversion therapy or to jail, such suggestions are political anathema in the West—and increasingly legally impossible. To state the obvious, this is a good thing. Of course, it is of small comfort to people like Sareh, who suffer for who they are under illiberal, authoritarian, and most importantly religious regimes.
One wonders if the steady decline in religiosity that has been happening in the West for decades has played any part in the similarly steady uptick in LGBT acceptance. It “really makes one think,” as the expression goes.