Dissent Dispatch: volume 6
Unbelief Brief
June 13, 2024
Contention in Turkey and Quebec, and an honor killing in the Netherlands

Welcome back!

This week in The Unbelief Brief, we bring you updates from Turkey's controversial new curriculum, Quebec's debate on religious head coverings, and a tragic honor killing in the Netherlands.

We also take a moment to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, marking eight years since the tragedy.

The Unbelief Brief

A new curriculum for public schools in Turkey, spearheaded by the Recep Tayyip Erdogan government, has come under fire from secular activists and the political opposition. The groups claim the curriculum is antithetical to Turkey’s secular roots and wrongly emphasizes religious values at the expense of critical thinking skills. This is not at all out of character for Erdogan’s government, which has long sought to increase the presence of prayer rooms in Turkish schools, as well as religiosity in general—from replacing evolutionary theory with creationism to greatly increasing the number of Islamic schools in the country. It is a concerted and coordinated attack on the guardrails of secularism with the aim of creating, as Erdogan puts it, a “pious generation” of Turks. Erdogan counters criticisms of the new curriculum by asserting that his government is inculcating “national values” in its students. However, as the Istanbul Bar Association points out: “No space is given to national values like Ataturk, secularism and the republic.”

Another conflict revolving around religion’s role in private life is taking place in Quebec, this time with religionists playing defense. The government of Quebec is facing pushback from a Muslim advocacy group over a proposed law that would ban religious head coverings for “public sector employees” while they are working. While there may be a reasonable conversation to be had about religious freedom, the law applies only to government employees while on the job, and the notion that it amounts to “a form of hatred that literally targets minorities and seeks to remove citizens' rights” (as one representative for the National Council of Canadian Muslims called it) seems a bit of a stretch.

Finally, we have more information on the tragic and horrible death of an 18-year-old woman in the Netherlands: it was reportedly an honor killing on the grounds that she had become “too Westernized” and no longer wished to wear a headscarf. Ryan Al Najjar was found dead last month, and investigators have confirmed that she was murdered by her father, Khaled Al Najjar. Only after fleeing to Turkey did Mr. Al Najjar reveal the location of his daughter’s body to family members. Mr. Al Najjar also reportedly confessed his crime in writing to a Dutch newspaper, asking the paper to publish that he had killed his daughter because he had been “very angry with her.” However, he refused to elaborate on a motive until he could do so before a judge in court. Other acquaintances of Ryan’s family told the press that “the very religious family could not tolerate her lifestyle” and that this may have been a possible reason for her murder. It is very difficult to imagine any other scenario given the information we do have about the case: a young Muslim woman, murdered by her own family for, presumably, living too freely and enjoying life too much—a crime we see all too often.

EXMNA Insights

Eight years ago, 49 people were tragically killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The perpetrator was 29-year-old Omar Mateen. During the attack, Mateen called 911 and, while speaking to a hostage negotiator, pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claiming the attack was revenge for US airstrikes killing ISIS military commanders. It is unclear whether Pulse was targeted due to its popularity as a dance club with lax security or because it was frequented specifically by the LGBTQ+ community. While we may never fully understand Mateen's motives, we know he became self-radicalized on the internet and was particularly susceptible to Islamist propaganda due to his reported unstable emotional and psychological state. At the time, the Pulse nightclub shooting was the deadliest terror attack in the U.S. since 9/11.

In the following days and weeks, Muslim American organizations publicly disavowed the senseless violence of that day and offered support to the LGBTQ+ community through fundraising campaigns and organizing vigils. Despite Islam’s condemnation of homosexuality and its directives on the punishment for homosexual behaviors, many in the Muslim community were able to set aside their complicated beliefs to offer support to the LGBTQ+ community in the aftermath of the tragedy.

This show of support is just one example of the cognitive dissonance Muslims engage in to prioritize humanity over ideology.

Another interesting example of an ideological conflict occurred at this year’s Philadelphia Pride celebration. On Sunday, June 2, marchers were confronted mid-parade by pro-Palestine demonstrators chanting, “no pride in genocide”.

A protest leader allegedly stated, “Pride as we know it cannot be separated from our current political and economic climate. Pride celebrations have merely become a public relations instrument”. Many of the demonstrators were themselves members of the LGBTQ+ community and expressed that advocating for "freeing Palestine'' was a more urgent message.

However, one cannot forget that under a Hamas-led government, same-sex relations in Gaza currently remain illegal, as is the case in much of the Muslim world. In the West Bank, this religious prejudice has repeatedly resulted in violence, including murders with gruesome beheadings.

Thank you for joining us in remembering those in the LGBTQ+ community affected by extremist Islamic ideology. May we all continue to fight for a world where everyone can feel safe to love who they love and follow their conscience.

If you have a story you’d like to share related to Pride Month, please send it to [email protected] with “Pride Month” in the subject line.

Until next week,

The Team at Ex-Muslims of North America

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