Oppression Jousting: Why We Pit Minorities against Each Other

Carrying on from my last post, I want to talk some more about the ICM survey of “What Muslims Think” (in Britain).  First, it looks like the survey is no longer available on ICM’s website; however, I did find a cached version of the raw PDFs of the data here, for anyone who wants to check it out.  There’s also a good discussion of why pollsters pick limited sample sizes and how that skews results over on UK Polling Results.

The survey result that’s gotten the most attention by far is that more than half of respondents said that they disagreed with the statements, “homosexuality should be legal in the UK” and “gay marriage should be legal in the UK” (52% for the former and 56% for the latter).  While it’s certainly an interesting result, in some ways, it’s actually a more interesting question.  It’s one of very few ‘special interest’ questions that doesn’t have any obvious link to Islam or Muslims (there are, by comparison, no questions about inter-religious marriage, despite questions asking how the respondent feels about various religious communities, and a very lengthy section about their opinions on Judaism, which no one seems to be talking about, probably because it’s largely positive).  In a lot of the reporting about the survey, these questions are used to highlight that British Muslims are out of step with British public opinion more generally, but these are also the only questions that mention a specific political opinion, and follow directly after the statement “Britain is a country of bad moral behavior,” making it sound more like the questions on LGBT rights were meant to illustrate examples of Britain’s ‘bad moral behavior.’

Setting aside the issue of small and skewed sample sizes, it’s worth pointing out that by not supporting same-sex marriage, British Muslims are, at best, out of date with British public opinion.  Even as recently as 2004, polling in Britain showed only 52% support for same-sex marriages, and four years earlier, before the introduction of the Civil Partnerships Act, it was 50/50. So claiming that non-Muslim Brits love queer people or that supporting LGBT rights is somehow as characteristically British as tea and cricket is seriously rewriting history.

However, I think the inclusion of the questions about homosexuality in a survey focused on “what Muslims think” reveals a larger problem with how dominant communities address oppressed communities; namely, the tendency to want to pit them against each other in order to distract from the real source of their oppression.  As far as I know, there’s no general term for this, so I’m going to suggest “oppression jousting.”  It’s interesting that, in Britain’s case, it’s Muslims versus queer people, as there’s a similar current in American public opinion about LGBT rights, that people of color, and in particular African-Americans and Latinos, are more likely to be homophobic than the general population (a belief usually explained by citing the position of these communities’ dominant religions, in particular Catholicism and Southern Baptists).  Interestingly, polling has always struggled to back up this belief, but it’s still pretty commonly held.  The underlying claim seems to be that these communities are dragging down the average, so that the remaining population (and in particular, the white community) should be seen as less homophobic than polling or legal action would suggest.  

In addition to there being very little evidence to support oppression jousting as really making a statistically significantly difference in rates of prejudice for the population as a whole, focusing on the potential divisions between minorities is also a red herring if the ultimate goal is ending prejudice and establishing equality, as, by definition, minority communities have the least political power to apply to this problem.  Even if Britain wanted to focus all of its social and political efforts on ending homophobia in the British Muslim community, that would probably have very little effect on LGBT rights because the British Muslim community is already politically sidelined.

That’s not to say that it’s not worth addressing prejudice within minority communities – it’s worth addressing because prejudice is always worth addressing – but it’s not an effective use of resources to end oppression because the minority communities aren’t the ones doing the oppressing.  Indeed, in some ways, it’s particularly disappointing to see Britain falling prey to oppression jousting when it comes to LGBT rights because there are strong links between British imperialism and the rise of homophobia worldwide.  For better or worse, British imperialism remodeled many cultures’ views on gender and sexuality, including, in the case of many Muslim countries, creating a concept of government-regulated civil marriage.  Closer to home, although there have been Muslims living in Britain for centuries, it wasn’t British Muslims who passed the Buggery Act.  They weren’t the ones who executed men even as late as the 1860s for homosexuality.  They weren’t the ones who sent Oscar Wilde to jail, or chemically castrated Alan Turing.  Prejudice can come from anyone, but oppression can only come from positions of power, and that’s where we need to keep our focus – not on the knights on horseback, but on the king who’s making them fight.

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About askanislamicist

I'm an academic who specializes in early Islamic history and the history of religious interactions, who, in her free time, enjoys shouting into the internet.
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One Response to Oppression Jousting: Why We Pit Minorities against Each Other

  1. Lee Skinner says:

    Still reading you occasionally, although it gets more tiresome with time. Still can’t bring yourself to take an unbiased view, can you.

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