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Middle East Press on LGBTQ, Macron and Islam: New Age Islam's Selection, 23 October 2020

By New Age Islam Edit Bureau

23 October 2020

• Ban ‘Panic Defence’, Save LGBTQ Lives

By Jennifer Williams

• Macron’s Crisis with Islam

By Merve Şebnem Oruç

• Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Except Muslims

By Hilal Kaplan

• Egypt Female Candidate Angers Feminists by Glorifying the Patriarchy

By Amr Emam


Ban ‘Panic Defence’, Save LGBTQ Lives

By Jennifer Williams

22 Oct 2020


A protester holds a slogan with a photo of the killed transgender Filipino woman Jennifer Laude during a rally in Quezon City, the Philippines on September 11, 2020 [AP/Aaron Favila]


Last month, a Philippines criminal court granted US Marine Lance Corporal Robert Joseph Pemberton an early release from his ten-year prison sentence for killing a Filipino woman named Jennifer Laude in 2014. Miss Laude was found dead in a hotel room after the American serviceman strangled and drowned her in a hotel bathroom.

During their investigation, local police referred to the murder as a “hate crime”, having established that Pemberton attacked Miss Laude after finding out she was a transgender woman. At his 2015 murder trial, the serviceman claimed that he killed his victim while defending himself. This specious claim convinced the court to give him a lesser prison sentence.

The judge found Pemberton “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of homicide, but reasoned that he reacted out of “passion and obfuscation” when he “arm-locked the deceased, and dunked [her] in the toilet”. The judge had accepted the defendant’s legal claim that Miss Laude’s not revealing her gender identity to him was a mitigating circumstance in the case. In this way, Pemberton successfully used a panic defence to dodge a harsher murder sentence.

Panic defences have been successfully used to mitigate sentences in murder cases of LGBTQ people around the world. By accepting such arguments, courts basically declare that killing an LGBTQ person is less of a crime than killing a non-LGBTQ person, and that the victim is to be blamed for having “provoked” the violence they experienced. When crimes committed against LGBTQ people are not treated the same as similar crimes committed against non-LGBTQ people, this sends a signal that it is okay to harm a LGBTQ person and that the perpetrator will not face full and just punishment.

Although Miss Laude’s murder took place thousands of kilometres away from where I live in the United States, her case disturbed me. I am a transgender woman myself and I live in a country where the number of murders of transgender people is now the highest ever recorded. Since January, 33 transgender people have been killed in the US and this makes me think seriously about my own and my friends’ safety.

Like in the Philippines, panic defences have been used here in the US. One of the most publicised cases was the 1998 trial for the murder of Matthew Shepard. Mr Shepard, a gay college student at the University of Wyoming was beaten, robbed, set on fire, tied to a roadside fence and then left for dead in the winter cold by two men who were captured and brought to trial. During the trial, one of the two defendants claimed that he was sexually bullied in his youth by another boy and that this caused him to panic and attack Shepard – after an alleged unwanted advance which he believed justified his violent actions.

The defendant’s panic defence claim was disallowed in court, but only because the state of Wyoming did not allow insanity pleas. However, he was eventually convicted of felony murder and sentenced to two life terms in prison, which carries a lesser punishment than the first-degree murder charge desired by prosecutors.

Another major case that involved panic defence was the murder of transgender teenager Gwen Araujo in 2002, in California after her transgender status was revealed at a party. Four men were charged with her murder. One defendant pled guilty to voluntary manslaughter, but the other three successfully used a panic defence to obtain a mistrial when a first-degree murder conviction could not be obtained.

In the second trial, prosecutors offered the lesser option of second-degree murder convictions – and the jury obliged for two defendants without additional hate-crime penalties attached, while the third defendant pled “no contest” to a lesser-charge of manslaughter. The murder and subsequent trials gripped California and the nation and would herald the campaign to end gay and transgender panic defences in America.

In the wake of the outrage that Ms Araujo’s murder and subsequent trials provoked, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the 2006 Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, which became the first law to ban the use of societal bias, including panic strategies, to influence the proceeding of a criminal trial. Eight years later, California became the first US state to fully ban any use of a gay or transgender panic defence in its courts. Ten other US states have enacted bans since, and seven more states, as well as the District of Columbia are now considering them.

In the state of New Jersey, where I live and work, the panic defence was finally banned last year. In an important bipartisan moment in our state’s history, Republicans and Democrats in our state legislature voted unanimously in favour of the Gay and Transgender Panic Defence bill which disallows this type of defence in New Jersey courts. The bill was then promptly signed by our governor.

Despite these successes, the fight continues. There are still 39 US states where a panic defence can be used and we still do not have a federal law outlawing it in federal courts. The US House of Representatives and US Senate each have a bill called the Gay and Trans Panic Defense Prohibition Act of 2019, but both bills are stuck at committee-level and will likely not advance until a new Congress convenes next year.

Meanwhile, politicians at the local, state and national level continue to legislate to limit transgender and LGBTQ lives, proposing bills limiting access to restrooms and restricting medical treatments for transgender youth. Nationally, US Senator Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), who is running for reelection this November, recently found three co-sponsors for her bill to restrict transgender schoolgirls from playing sports as girls. This electoral season, like those in the past, has also seen vitriolic anti-transgender attacks and campaigns in places such as Texas and Michigan.

Hostility and aggression against transgender and LGBTQ people in general are also widespread across the world. Worldwide statistics hardly account for all acts of violence and murders, but a 2019 report stated that 331 trans and gender-diverse people were killed between October 2018 and September 2019. Brazil accounted for 130 reported murders, Mexico – 63, and the United States – 30. Statistics are hard to find in other places where violence and discrimination are widespread, including many African countries, as well as Iran, Poland, Chechnya and Russia.

While 29 countries recognise same-sex marriage, few of them ban gay and trans panic defence. Australia and New Zealand ban such defences, while France and Israel, among other countries only increase criminal penalties for hate crimes.

With LGBTQ people already facing much danger and aggression across the world, allowing the use of panic defences to continue only further endangers them. That is why the campaign to end its use in courts should now move to a global level.

In 2019, the United Nations General Assembly received a detailed, informative report called “Protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”. To date, no substantial action has been taken on its findings. It is time for the UN to pick up the mantle and lead by calling on its members to collectively eradicate panic defences and commit to protecting LGBTQ lives.

We are all humans, regardless of our race, colour, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity; each of us deserves equality, respect and justice – even in death.


Jennifer Williams is a LGBTQ advocate in the United States.


Macron’s Crisis with Islam

By Merve Şebnem Oruç

OCT 23, 2020


French President Emmanuel Macron wearing a face mask delivers a speech at the Seine-Saint-Denis prefecture headquarters in Bobigny, near Paris, France, Oct. 20, 2020. (Reuters Photo)


On Jan. 12, 2015, an estimated 3.7 million people rallied in shows of unity and solidarity across France with more than 40 world leaders marching with them shoulder to shoulder following the killings in Paris.

From Jan. 7-9, 17 people were killed by three terrorists in attacks on the satirical Charlie Hebdo magazine headquarters, a kosher grocery store and the general area of the Paris suburb of Montrouge.

Although the march was organized in a short amount of time, millions walked the streets of Paris chanting, "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie").

According to France's Interior Ministry, the demonstration was larger than the rallies staged when Paris was liberated from the Nazis in World War II. The gathered crowd was described as the largest in France's modern history. Around the world, from Hong Kong to Tunisia, crowds gathered in major cities illuminating their famous monuments in the Tricolor.

Hebdo and free speech

Charlie Hebdo is a satirical newspaper that has a reputation for standing up to authority, confronting what is held sacred or questioning any group claiming supremacy.

After publishing cartoons that mocked Islam on a number of occasions, in 2015 the magazine printed numerous images that insulted the Prophet Muhammad in a move that provoked Muslims for who drawing the prophet is considered blasphemous and prohibited in the Quran. In simple terms, the editors of the "irresponsible magazine"(their own words) hurt the feelings of believers of Islam.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was different than other massacres because it was seen as an attack on freedom of speech. In the wake of the attack, the world seemed to me, to think that there was nothing more important than the freedom of expression. I personally believed the holy principle of freedom of speech was superior to everything.

If that were the case, people would have the right to freely express all of their opinions regardless of whether they criticize or mock what is sacred to others. I was aware that the French law didn't protect unrestricted free speech.

For example, condoning terrorism is a crime and denying the Holocaust is banned in France. But after the millions-strong march, I thought things had changed as the streets of Paris felt like an outdoor temple revering in divine free speech that day. But I was wrong. A few days after the historic rally, French authorities began to arrest people on charges of glorifying or defending terrorism online.

It was time for nations to better understand why disaffected citizens were joining radical causes. There should be efforts to get to the root of the problem especially in Western countries, such as France where the Muslim population is around 5 million.

Unfortunately, the French government chose to follow an extreme version of secularism or laicity. Depicting the Charlie Hebdo attack as France's 9/11, the country started to change radically, maybe more so than that the U.S. was changed after the fall of the Twin Towers.

The popularity of the former French President François Hollande, a socialist, hit rock bottom and support for the far-right leader Marine Le Pen increased.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron went head-to-head against Le Pen in the second round of the presidential elections after a first-round vote brought centrist, left-wing and moderate voters together against a possible far-right presidency.

Coming to power as a centrist and having no established party, ideology or tradition, Macron was free to govern France for a full five years avoiding populist extremism, which was rapidly spreading across Europe and beyond.

He was viewed as the one liberal, democratic politician who could stem the tide of populism sweeping the globe. However, he has become the most populist leader in Europe.

His supporters rationalize his policies saying if Macron didn't do something about the populist threat he would be replaced by a far-right leader. As the protests of yellow vests began in November 2018, his approval ratings sank to 29%.

While his globalist supporters went quiet, Macron may have thought he would not be able to secure his seat by continuing to take on the populists who were gaining ground every day, opting to embrace populism instead.

The rhetoric of hatred

The French president did not stop there and gradually adopted a strong anti-Islamist rhetoric intended to draw in the Islamophobes. Today, so-called "secular" hatred towards Muslims has become a part of everyday speech for the French government as well as its media. French Muslims keep asking Macron to stop stigmatizing them, but his normalization of hate speech against Islam has almost legitimized the institutionalized discrimination towards the France's Muslim community.

Taking further steps, the French President recently said "Islam is a religion that is in crisis all over the world today, we are not just seeing this in our country." Adding that he is seeking to "liberate" Islam in France from foreign influences by improving the oversight of mosque financing. He announced a law against religious "separatism" and outlined new measures to "defend the republic and its values and ensure it respects its promises of equality and emancipation."

His supporters argue that the upcoming draft bill against "separatist" threats will also include other groups like White supremacists when it is clearly targeting Islamist movements. French Muslims now fear that the extremists will not be the only target of the state and public hatred towards Islam as a religion will increase.

Stating, "secularism is the cement of a united France," Macron also defended "the right" to commit blasphemy, in a nod to the Charlie Hebdo cartoons insulting Islam. He expects all French citizens to respect the values of the Republic while he does not respect the values of Muslims.

Macron has no tolerance for Islam but at the same time asks Muslims to be tolerant of insults toward their religion. If it continues like this, the problem won't be the prohibition of respecting Islamic values but the active obligation to attack them.

Then, it shouldn't come as a surprise to hear that Muslim kids are forced to eat pork at school or draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad under the guise of "being a true French citizen."

Unfortunately, there have been more tragic incidents in France as a result of Islamophobia and extremism. Last week a school teacher was beheaded by an extremist for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad during a class, while two Muslim women were stabbed under the Eiffel Tower as the attackers shouted "Dirty Arabs" this week. We will continue to see cases like these if the French government continues to encourage Islamophobia.

Noticing the double standards between freedom of speech and freedom of religion after the Charlie Hebdo attack, many Muslims around the world came to see the event as a milestone. From that day onwards they knew Islam would be attacked again under the pretext of being a non-peaceful religion and these attacks would not be limited to harsh words or insults.

Charlie Hebdo actually paved the way for extremists, who were looking for a pretext to attack, one of whom pledged allegiance to Daesh and the other two declared their loyalty to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A Yemeni branch of al-Qaida took responsibility for the deadly attack against Charlie Hebdo, claiming the al-Qaida leadership chose the target and the massacre was in retaliation to the depictions mocking the Prophet Muhammad.

All Muslim countries, including the French Muslim community, immediately condemned the Charlie Hebdo attack. As radicalization began to spread, particularly since the evolution of the Daesh terrorist group, Muslim countries played a major role in fighting the notorious terror organization. However, their efforts were not enough to stifle the rise of Islamophobia around the world as Islamophobic incidents including far-right terrorism, motivated by a variety of ideologies, started to increase.

In France, more than 1,000 Islamophobic incidents occurred in 2019 including 70 physical attacks. While intelligence agencies in the West warn that white supremacists are becoming a more dangerous threat every day, countries like France do not listen. Fortunately, not all of the Western countries follow the same path.

The Christchurch attack

Last year, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 50 Muslim worshippers in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand – a usually peaceful country.

This time there were no global marches for the victims, no promises of solidarity and unity from other countries, no condemnation or warning of rising extremism from world leaders.

Other than Muslim countries, only German Chancellor Angela Merkel described the mosque attacks as "terrorism" when expressing her sorrow over the "citizens who were attacked and murdered out of racist hatred."

Regardless of the lack of support she received from the rest of the Western world, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern worked her hardest to ease the pain of the families of the victims.

She took a decisive stand against terrorism in a world where even liberal leaders cater to white-supremacists in a bid to keep votes. In her own words, her role was to "voice the grief of a nation."

She was the face of New Zealand and denounced terrorist attacks to the world. Following the attack she visited the families of the victims, wearing a headscarf to show respect, and promised to ensure their safety in mosques across the country.

Ardern opened the next session of New Zealand Parliament with an evocative "Assalamu alaikum" message of peace to Muslims and vowed never to utter the name of the terrorist. "He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless," she said.

There was a recitation from the Quran, a tribute to the souls of the Muslims killed in the attacks. Led by Ardern, all the MPs, wearing black had a moment of silence and listened to the recitation. Across New Zealand the public mourned the victims, visited mosques and placed flowers on memorials. In the following days she declared a ban on all military-style-rifles, including assault and military-like semi-automatic rifles. The enthusiastic public showings of support for Ardern has now come to be known as "Jacindamania."

This week, Ardern won a landslide victory in the country's general elections. She has led the center-left Labor Party to its best result in 50 years, winning 49.1% of the vote.

Western leaders such as Emmanuel Macron may think that tolerance towards Islam and Muslims would destroy their political career but in fact it has been the making of others just like Jacinda Ardern.

Ardern has been depicted as "anti-populist" in the media for a long time and we can credit her victory to her sympathy and compassion. Uniting the country she has been an example to other world leaders who adopt populist rhetoric out of fear of being replaced by right-wing politicians and whose policies cause divisions. I know I am trying to keep the faith, but what will be left to us if we also lose hope.


Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, Except Muslims

By Hilal Kaplan

OCT 23, 2020

Two Muslim women were stabbed by anti-Islamic groups in the French capital of Paris on Sunday. In the attack, which took place near the Eiffel Tower, a group repeatedly stabbed the two women with knives while shouting "dirty Arabs," French police sources reported.

Muslim communities have been targeted, just as they were in 9/11, following the murder of a history teacher who allegedly showed his pupils cartoons insulting the Prophet Muhammad in his class.

Practices that would never come to mind if the killer were a Christian extremist are readily applied to Muslims whose only crime is practicing their religion.

Only last month, in the name of allegedly “fighting radical Islamism,” 12 mosques, private schools, associations and businesses were closed in France, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stated, making it a total of 73 since the beginning of the year.

Defining the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) as an “enemy of the state,” Darmanin announced that similar nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) would be closed in line with a Cabinet decree. The CCIF is known for its fight against the French government's discriminatory stance toward Muslims.

In assessing the developments, it is important to note that President Emmanuel Macron justified the repressive policy, vowing to fight “Islamist separatism.”

The expression labels French Muslims as second class citizens, encompassing the devout who are careful to consume “halal” food and Muslim women who wear headscarves, making them “fair game” for the state.

France's restrictive stance on Muslims, which started with the banning of the burkini and veil and continued with the "law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools” that was approved by the parliament in 2016, impacts the lives of about 6 million Muslim citizens.

Jews were the target of far-right racism in Europe 100 years ago, and now, Muslims are facing racism in Europe. The fact that Macron, whose party sustained resounding losses in local elections in June, has targeted Muslims is proof that the issue is no longer confined to the "far-right."

So, the alarm bells should ring given that Muslims are the latest target in Europe's long history of racist practices, some of which were still in place less than a century ago.


Egypt Female Candidate Angers Feminists By Glorifying The Patriarchy

By Amr Emam

Oct 22, 2020

A female candidate for the Oct. 24-25 elections for Egypt's House of Deputies is coming under fire for glorifying men and demeaning women.

Wafaa Salaheddine, who is running as an independent in the Nile Delta province of Menoufia, says women have to serve their husbands as servants.

Salaheddine, who is not married, even backs polygamy and says men have the right to get married to more than one woman at a time.

This is touching a raw nerve with the nation's feminists, who have long struggled to change stereotypes about women.

People such as Salaheddine, they say, are casting aside women's struggle for equality in a society that has grown accustomed to considering them inferior to men and marginal family members.

“People like this candidate are dangerous in that they are able to reach a large number of people,” Nehad Abul Qomsan, the head of local nongovernmental organization Egyptian Center for Women's Rights, told Al-Monitor. “She spreads hate against women, even as she may represent these women in parliament if she wins the elections.”

Salaheddine uses her YouTube channel to spread the word about her program and to reach out to voters in her constituency.

One video on the channel shows her talking with one of her constituents and promising to solve the problems he and fellow constituents face, including rampant unemployment.

In a way, Salaheddine represents a growing trend in Egypt, one that reveres the patriarchy and supports polygamy.

There are many icons of this trend now and — surprisingly enough — most of them are women. One of them, Mona Aboshanab, a media figure, argues that only cowards abstain from getting married to more than one woman at a time. She even encourages fathers and male members of the family to impose their full control over female members.

This way of thinking goes hand in hand with an old Egyptian tradition of considering women mere followers or subordinates of men.

This tradition is detailed in the works of Egyptian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, especially the Cairo Trilogy, the first part of which, "Palace Walk" — a story about the structure of Egyptian families and patriarchal dominance in the past century — highlights the long struggle Egyptian women needed to stage in order to be viewed as equal members of society.

The struggle against male dominance seems to have reached a higher level with the emergence of a new generation of Egyptian feminists who campaign fiercely against women's low status within families and the institution of marriage.

Apart from asserting that women are, not equal to, but even better and more qualified than men, the same feminists campaign against polygamy, a practice acceptable in Islam (under certain conditions), but one that is becoming socially unacceptable to some Egyptians.

Nonetheless, these views are being challenged by people such as Salaheddine.

Salaheddine did not return calls from Al-Monitor or answer messages via the messaging platform WhatsApp requesting comment.

Nonetheless, one psychologist saw an electoral campaigning trick in her remarks.

Leading psychologist Mohamed Hani said Salaheddine might not be a strong believer in what she says.

But at the least, he added, she uses this rhetoric to curry favor with male voters.

“She uses this negative propaganda against women to win men over,” Hani told Al-Monitor. “After all, men make up the bulk of voters in any election.”

Around 61 million Egyptians are registered to vote. Almost half of these voters are women. However, more men tend to show up at polling stations.

A sizable portion of the 4,006 candidates running as independents in the 143 constituencies specified for independent candidates are women.

Egypt's election law specifies that 25% of the 596 seats in the House of Deputies go to women.

The same law requires half the lists of the political parties contesting 284 seats be of women candidates.

Independent female candidates and those included on the political party lists are campaigning fiercely, including on social media and on television, to persuade voters.

On the streets of the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and other cities, posters of female candidates take their places proudly beside those of male candidates.

Some of the female candidates hold street rallies and others tour their constituencies to talk with voters directly one on one.

“I believe the female candidates will compete strongly in the elections this time,” Nadia Helmi, a professor of political science at Beni Suef University, told Al-Monitor. “Women have become main partners in the political process in this country.”

Women are apparently trying to capitalize on the gains they made in the House of Deputies elections in 2015. Women won 87 seats out of a total of 596 seats in the elections, which amounted to around 15% of the total seats of the house.

Salaheddine, 26, is one of the youngest female candidates.

She is a TV host by profession. She tours the streets of Shebeen el-Kom, the capital of Menoufia province, to talk with ordinary people and appeal to them.

She says her media record as a TV host with the local al-Hadath al-Youm channel and as a newspaper reporter (which she does not mention on her Facebook page) gave her the chance to form an idea about people's problems and the means of solving them. She is aware, she says, that unemployment and poverty are the largest problems facing the people of her constituency. She promises to focus on small projects to economically empower her constituents, including housewives.

But it is her remarks about the status of women and men that have grabbed the attention of almost everybody.

Many women don't like it. “The low view of women is very painful, especially when it comes from women themselves,” Shaimaa Sayed, a housewife in her early 40s, told Al-Monitor. “Some women believe they are inferior beings, but in defending their view, they humiliate other women.”

On Oct. 13, Salaheddine told a local newspaper that regardless of the success women might have in their professional life, they have only one refuge: their husbands' homes.

“I was raised to become a servant of my husband,” Salaheddine said. “This is what our parents taught us.”



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