Articles // By alQaws // “Interfaith Dialogue:” Faith in the a-political at the expense of social justice
We do not believe that an “interfaith” or “spiritual” journey that ignores questions of social justice and equity is possible. We do not believe that tourism in a zone of on-going conflict, occupation, and apartheid can ever be “apolitical

“Interfaith Dialogue:” Faith in the a-political at the expense of social justice

On Thursday November 3rd, an international coalition of 16 queer Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim groups and international allies issued a statement criticizing an “interfaith dialogue”  trip organized by three French LGBT organizations – Beit Haverim, David and Jonathan, and HM2F “to show solidarity with local movements against homophobia”. Indeed, numerous queer Arab activists were deeply disturbed by the framework of this trip, whose organisers emphasized was “not political,” and this motivated the groups to quickly release a statement opposing it.
I first heard about the French delegation from Renee, a French Israeli tour guide who called to invite me to speak with the group.  Renee had heard me speak several times and was aware of my politics and so felt it necessary to reiterate this point to me: “This is an apolitical trip.” I explained to her that the only condition on which I will speak  is if I can speak about the political situation and tell them directly that an “apolitical” journey of this kind is impossible in our context.

Interestingly, although alQaws works with a number of international queer groups since its founding, alQaws never interacted with HM2F or its annual conference about homosexuality and Islam. In fact, alQaws was only introduced to HM2F on Wednesday November 2nd, through an email they sent me two days before their arrival in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, other activists had raised serious concerns about this trip and began writing statements criticizing its problematic framework and urging HM2F, in particular, to withdraw their participation. Due to HM2F’s direct links to various Arab queer and Muslim groups, it was imperative to focus on them. HM2F has a moral commitment to avoid actions that harm others’ struggles; indeed, this is the basic meaning of solidarity.

On Thursday, November 3rd, inspired the queer groups who worked together to finalize this statement and its arguments, I wrote back to HM2F to cancel my appointment with them. I strongly urged them to cancel their trip, sending links to the new statements. I expressed my disappointment that they would list alQaws as an “LGBT Muslim” group on their website. What is another basic component of solidarity? Respecting everyone’s self-definition. Apparently, HM2F’s understanding of solidarity was quite different.

Only one hour after my email was sent did the three groups – Beit Haverim, David and Jonathan, and HM2F – issue a statement once again emphasizing the apolitical nature of their trip. In response to my email, they stated their disappointment that I was ‘choosing to ignore’ their trip.

It was only after this second statement that I realised how deeply out of touch HM2F is with the politics and activism of queer Arab and queer Muslim groups. HM2F’s role in this trip is reckless and disappointing.

So what is wrong with this sentence? “A process independent from political parties (In France and in Israel and Palestine), from religious leaders, from any public or private grant, or any form of ideology”. If I may reduce it to one word, I would say “EVERYTHING” though my favorite part would be “….or any form of ideology.”  Please, I would love to know how an LGBT Muslim group – any group – could be independent from ideology.  In other parts of their press release they even hint that alQaws is an Islamophobic group. I have to admit that I was kind of pleased. In other areas, we were only anti Semitic. Now we’re Islamophobes too.

Speaking of Islamophobia, what is more Islamophobic? A group that asks another organization to respect its self-definition? Or a group that assumes that any Palestinian queer group must be Muslim? Does “solidarity with local movements” mean ignoring the political situation and consciously choosing to be “apolitical”? Or does solidarity mean coming together as a coalition to oppose such a trip and show how the direct and indirect ways such trips pinkwash Israeli war crimes and ongoing human rights violations?

Real solidarity means recognizing ten years of activism on the part of 3 Palestinian queer groups. To reach out to LGBT individuals living in this area is one thing (and an easy one too) but to engage with our concerns in a mature and responsible way is something else completely. I understand that, when someone else hurts your ego and points out something you didn’t notice before, it is normal and human to feel insulted. But learning how to cope with this, in a way that shows self-respect and respect for others, is something completely different. Why would anyone would want to read a report drafted by a French group “about” Palestinian gays and lesbians when that same group refuses to face a crucial component of queer Palestinian life: Occupation, mobility restriction, discrimination and so forth. The list is endless.

HM2F and their partners in this “interfaith” trip can continue playing this name game – naming groups they assume are “Muslim groups”; changing their trip description after the critical statement by Arab queers, Muslims and international allies, from “Israel/Palestine” to “Holy-land/Palestine”;  and branding others “Islamophobic” when they are called to be accountable for their involvement. It is easy to define any criticism against a queer Muslim group as “Islamophobic,” but, does not hold water when it is meant to divert attention from HM2F’s role in supporting the apartheid state. Ultimately, HM2F’s actions and disappointing response constitute a new form of imperialism.

We issued this statement and we will continue to vocally oppose any event designed to pinkwash Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people.

We do not believe that an “interfaith” or “spiritual” journey that ignores questions of social justice and equity is possible.

We do not believe that tourism in a zone of on-going conflict, occupation, and apartheid can ever be “apolitical.”

We do not believe that “apolitical” queer politics exist.

We believe that solidarity means respecting others’ right and capacity to define themselves and help shape what an act of solidarity from others might look like.

We believe in building alliances, coalitions, and movements that recognise that other local organisations are experts of their own context, their own needs, and their own voice.

Beit Haverim, David and Jonathan, and HM2F can continue to send pretentious and opportunistic press releases that proactively disregard our concerns instead of addressing issues that are at the heart of our struggles.

- to continue the absurdity, this angry post was finalized while the “interfaith” groups were sitting in a meeting next door with the Jerusalem Open House staff, an organization alQaws grew out of mainly because of its “apolitical” approach

- Published in Bekhsoos