Oscar Hedin’s documentary Worse than Animals introduces viewers to a young man and woman who live in Sweden. Mohammed is of Iraqi extraction; Cherin’s family is from Tunisia. Both are gay, and as a result both of them have been subjected by their families to terrible hostility and brutality. “I was naïve,” Mohammed tells Hedin. “I didn’t think my mother would reject her own child.”
The film has attracted a great deal of attention in Sweden, and on the gay Swedish website QX a fierce debate has sprung up, with many gays actually defending Islam and blasting as racist the criticism by Westerners of Islam’s brutal treatment of gay people. In a painfully predictable editorial, Jon Voss, editor of the QX site, took this politically correct position, issuing the familiar warnings to his fellow gays not to engage in “xenophobia” or to subscribe to “generalizations” about any particular religion, and calling it “pure nonsense” to suggest that Islam is any worse than Christianity or Judaism.
The young, openly gay Swedish writer and lecturer Philip Wendahl takes a different view in the following piece, which originally appeared on the QX site and which appears here with his permission. Born in Bangalore, India, Wendahl grew up in Sweden, blogs and is working on a book about integration and multiculturalism.
We must speak plainly about the honor culture
By Philip Wendahl
Oscar Hedin’s documentary Worse than Animals has now been shown both at the movie theaters and on Swedish television. The courageous Cherin and Mohammad tell their story – a story that they share with all too many young people. The film has occasioned a great deal of debate – which is entirely welcome. But if this debate is to bring positive results, we must be able to say in plain language that today Islam is part of the problem and that Swedish feminists, authorities, and politicians have failed the victims of the honor culture.
We know that every society that is grasped tightly in Islam’s claws oppresses women and is grossly underdeveloped. Does this mean that Islam is worse than any other religion?
The European colonial conquerors were inspired by an aggressive Christianity that enthusiastically marched over corpses in the name of the gospel. But just like other absolutist ideologies, Christianity was forced to bend its knees to human rights, democracy, and enlightenment. Until Islam undergoes the same enlightenment as Christianity and Judaism the answer must be yes – Islam today is worse than the other religions. The Muslim countries that are today taking small steps toward economic freedom and humanism, such as Indonesia or Turkey, are precisely those that have limited Islam’s influence on society. We need more countries that dare to take that route. Islam needs books, soap operas and songs about religion. We need a Muslim Ecce homo exhibition, or perhaps a Muslim Hasse and Tage that dare to address Muslim customs and authorities. Thanks to our freedoms, the fifteen million Muslims living in the Western world have been given the best possible opportunity to set cultural change in motion – but in order to do this they must dare to stand up against all the madmen who would censor them. The courageous Cherin and Mohammad are two of the heroes who dare to resist.One would think that such a film would inspire rage among senescent religious fanatics and homophobes. Strangely enough, however, the toughest criticism has come from gay activists such as the members of the group Arabiskt initiativ (Arabic Initiative) and from feminists. Arabic Initiative assumes the role of defender of the Arabs and Muslims and ignores the victims of the honor culture.
The feminists continue to stubbornly refuse to see the honor-related violence as anything other than the usual patriarchal violence that is also found in Western society. But honor violence is different in an important way – namely, that family represents a safety net – not for the victim, but for the perpetrator. This is a betrayal of the victim that is unworthy of the feminist movement.
In my view, those who shut their eyes to honor violence are racists. If ethnic Swedish young people were being treated like this, the mass media, authorities, and politicians would have taken action long ago. But precisely because they fear being called racists, the politicians have chosen instead to meet the Islamists halfway. Exceptions have been made in the Aliens Act to allow child marriage. The children of devout parents have been deprived of the right to sex-education classes and swimming lessons. Authorities have permitted Islamic schools and full veils – those mobile prisons that symbolize Islam’s determination to control women’s sexuality. Thanks to schools, cultural associations, burkas, and mosques, Swedish society has made it possible for the oppression of women, gays, and others to continue even in Sweden. Sweden must stop, once and for all, being tolerant of intolerance.But how can it be that some people flee from oppression and religious delusions if they want to live the same way in their new democratic countries? If Muslims want to emigrate to open and developed societies, it is only reasonable to demand that they adapt to them. Just as we no longer permit orthodox Jewish courts, we cannot allow sharia law or other special or parallel religious lawmaking, as has unfortunately been done, for example, in Canada.Demands for the introduction of sharia law for the country’s Muslim population have been made in Sweden, too. Demands have also been made for the censorship of newspapers and for a ban on such things as the depiction of the prophet Muhammed. This is unacceptable. We in Sweden must dare to come together and defend what most of us stand for – namely democracy, freedom of speech, equality, and sexual liberation. We don’t want to become like Iran or Saudi Arabia. We don’t want our courts to order the stoning of adulterous women or to hang homosexuals. We have already been there – back when Christianity at its most brutal ran rampant in Europe – and we don’t want to go there again. It is not unreasonable to demand that those who come to Sweden should play by the rules of democracy. We shouldn’t share the desire of some nationalists to force people to swear loyalty to crayfish parties, the food circle, or the royal family – but on the other hand, everyone who lives in Sweden should share the same foundation of democratic values.In the future the Sweden Democrats may try to win votes by working against honor violence – but unlike me, the Sweden Democrats essentially have the same attitude toward gays as the man in the film, the one who says that we gays are worse than animals. If one wants to stand up for open Western society, in which we defend the victims of honor violence and expel perpetrators, a vote for the Sweden Democrats is an entirely wasted one. Nyamko Sabuni is the only leading politician who has dared to address these questions without bending over when the wind blows. Swedish politics needs more Nyamkos. I myself was born in a world with outcasts, child marriage, and antigay laws, but was fortunate enough to grow up in the West, with sexual liberation, individual rights, and humanism. It is because I want more people to be able to enjoy this opportunity that I consider myself to be in a struggle against Islamism and with its culture of honor.
Introduced and translated from the Swedish by Bruce Bawer