>Is Vanderbilt Tolerating Intolerance?

>Uh-oh. Vanderbilt University is in a little bit of trouble with GLBT activists since this video started making the rounds:

Asked by a student whether he accepts or rejects that part of the Koran which calls for execution of practicing gays and lesbians, Vanderbilt’s Muslim chaplain Awadh A. Binhazim tried to pass the buck and say, well, Islam is not the only religion which has intolerant views towards gays and lebsians.

Binhazim also indicated it didn’t matter really since there is no such thing as a country which follows Islamic Law 100% of the time, that all Muslim countries follow a mixture of laws. The student pressed on, however, and Binhazim was forced to admit that homosexuality is punishable by death under Islamic Law.

Well, this is a bit of a pickle. I don’t know very much about Islam and have never read the Koran, but I don’t get the sense that Muslims are allowed to do too much interpretation of their holy text. Maybe I’m wrong but it seems that unlike Christianity, where the Bible is interpreted in hundreds of different ways and as a result there are hundreds of different Christian denominations, the Islamic faith is a little more rigid on that score. So while one can argue that there are Christian religious denominations that take a dim view of homosexuality, there are plenty of others that do not.

And I think that was the corner Binhazim got backed into here. He can’t come out and say that some Koranic teachings are still valid while others are no longer abided in modern times, so he danced around it with his “mixture of laws” point.

Anyway, this blogger opines:

All of which has Vanderbilt racing to distance itself from Binhazim: “Vanderbilt University is dedicated to a policy of non-discrimination on the basis of race or sexuality,” the school says in a statement. “Awadh A. Binhazim is not and has never been a Vanderbilt employee, and is not paid by the university. He is the university’s Muslim chaplain under a working agreement that is similar to those signed with chaplains of other faiths at Vanderbilt. This working agreement requires Binhazim to observe Vanderbilt rules, including its non-discriminatory policies. Vanderbilt does not limit the free speech of its students, faculty, staff or its chaplains in any way.”

Not limiting the free speech of its chaplains is a fantastic policy, and one we support at any school. But what would happen if a visiting chaplain came along and said his religion called for the extermination of Jews? Would Vanderbilt be letting him return to campus?

Of course there is no religion that calls for extermination of Jews so that’s a bit of a straw argument. And as a general principal I think it’s bad form to make people defend their religion. You shouldn’t have to defend why you accept or reject your religion, and your job shouldn’t be on the line when you can’t.

That said, when a religious teaching is itself intolerant, and calling for the execution of gays is certainly that, then people have every right to speak out. Especially when there have been news reports that gay teens are possibly being executed in Iran.

In Judeo-Christian religions we debate what the Bible says about anything and everything; indeed there are entire fields of study devoted to Biblical and Talmudic hermeneutics. But hermeneutic debates on cultural issues like homosexuality are never fruitful because a progressive Christian will never convince a fundamentalist that they are wrong, and vice versa. So we end up with this uncomfortable stalemate and endless bickering when cultural issues enter the public policy arena.

Where Islam is concerned, I just don’t know. Is there a Koranic hermeneutic discipline? Do people debate what the Koran actually says about homosexuality, what the intent of the text was or the context in which it was written? I don’t know. If anyone does, please enlighten me.

In the meantime, while I’m all for being tolerant and accepting of our nation’s religious diversity, I don’t think it’s a good idea to do so at the expense of our GLBT citizens. So I’m less concerned about Binhazim’s interpretation of Islamic Law than I am with how he would counsel someone on this issue.

We follow American laws here, not Islamic ones.

29 Comments

Filed under GLBT, Islam, religion, Tennessee

29 responses to “>Is Vanderbilt Tolerating Intolerance?

  1. >"We've told so many lies, young scientists are totally confused"http://climaterealists.com/?id=4960 (a video spoof of climate science)

  2. >Sorry, Beale, you are mistaken. There IS a religion that calls for the death of all Jews."Punish the kafirs. Kill them. First tell them to adopt Islam, if they do not accept Islam, kill them. Slay them wherever they are found."(Koran: Sura 4 Verse 90 to 95)

  3. >Kafirs are Jews? Wikipedia says it means "rejectors" or "ingrates." That would apply to adherents of every other religion, as well as atheists.

  4. nm

    >SB, you are mistaken. There are a number of contending schools of Quranic interpretation. And centuries' worth of commentary, disputation, interpretation, mystical allegory, the whole shebang. Even Wikipedia (which is hardly comprehensive) can help you with this. Look here to get started.

  5. >Thanks, nm, as I said I'm no scholar on these things. So basically someone could easily say "that is one interpretation of the text with which millions of faithful Muslims do not agree" …

  6. nm

    >Without having any insight into Binhazim's ideas, I can tell you that being confronted by someone completely ignorant of one's very old, very populous, very complex religion, who is trying to make one responsible for everything (especially every bad thing) done and said by all adherents of that religion at all times, may not make for the most graceful of responses.

  7. >Religion is poison: all faiths. We have eveolved beyond the need for fairy tales.

  8. >nm:Very well stated … this is why I have issues with religion being made a political football, be it Sarah Palin hoping our troops in Iraq are doing God's work or Rev. Wright saying "God damn America."And while we have religious freedom in this country we also free speech, which includes freedom to speak about religion and question things one hears, such as Islam mandating a death penalty for gays.Makes for interesting debate that is for sure.

  9. nm

    >Yeah, but surely you don't call "let's play gotcha with the Muslim" good-faith discussion? Good-faith discussion would be asking: "Do your Islamic beliefs affect the way you would counsel a homosexual? Do they affect your opinions on whether homosexuals should serve openly in the military?" and going on from the answers. That video shows the equivalent of me saying: "Now, SB, you're a Christian. Isn't it true that Christianity prohibits divorce and considers remarriage after divorce to be adultery, a punishable offense? But there are divorced and remarried people serving in the military. How are you going to punish them? What does your religion say? Don't tell me that no country operates under Christian law. Don't confuse me by telling me that different countries do things differently. Just tell me what Christian law says. Ha, gotcha, your religion is eeeeevul."The positioning of a monolithic "Islam" for which the individual is responsible, and which is putatively the only basis for the legal systems of various countries and for the individual's answer, is just as stupid as holding you responsible for the laws of divorce in Ireland.

  10. >Yeah, but surely you don't call "let's play gotcha with the Muslim" good-faith discussion?It's no more good faith discussion (no pun intended) than playing gotcha with the Christian. That's why I said it's a pickle, and why I conclude I care less about how this chaplain interprets Islamic Law than I do how he would counsel someone who comes to him wondering if they it's their religious duty to kill gays.

  11. >Christianity imposes the death sentence for homosexuality. And Uganda's Christians are trying to make it a law now (with some help of a few of America's evangelicals).Islam could not possibly have MORE interpretations. In fact, Christianity, which tends to be authoritarian (i.e., the Pope, bishop, synods, etc.) is a form of authority that Islam does not have. There is no "one" authority in Islam – and no "one" interpretation of the Koran/Hadiths/etc.I enjoy your blog (and have for a couple of years), but this post is the first one to appear naive.

  12. >A fair point. There isn't a religion that doesn't pick-and-choose their text.Next time some booger-eater quotes Leviticus to point out that "God Hates Fags" ask them if they're circumcised. Ask them if they masturbate. Ask them if they keep a kosher kitchen and diet. Heh, I don't have my bible handy, to cite off the other teachings of Leviticus.But all of the above are just as bad in the eyes of God according to that book of the Bible…and seems those aren't as important to the bigots who want Gods permission to Fag Bash.

  13. >My post may appear naive, Will, but I freely admit those topics on which I am ignorant and invite my readers to enlighten me … and the Muslim faith is one of them.

  14. >Wil Robinson: Catholocism is a Christian faith, but it is not Christianity. I was raised Presbyterian and it is a highly decentralized church. Individual churches have enormous leeway.

  15. >I know that the Koran is harsh on the gays, but the Bible isn't that much nicer, nor are those who tote the Bible.This is the first time that I've read this blog and thought that you need to cast the log out of your own eye first.I know that you're tolerant and progressive, but before trying to point out the flaws in Islam and the Koran, perhaps we should work on getting some Southern Fundamentalists to vote to overturn DOMA or DADT, or to pass ENDA. Or just to browbeat the crap out of Uganda until they stop criminalizing homoseuxality.Hell, it took a 6-3 decision in 2003 to decriminalize homosexual behavior in the US.What I guess I'm saying is that we do not have the moral high ground here to judge anyone else for their idiotic approach to homosexuality.

  16. >Nm: Your defenses don’t wash. Look, I am an atheist (that was me at 3:19), but there are differences between Islam and Christianity as practiced in the United States, which what’s being discussed here. The speaker in the video is in the employ of Vanderbilt University. For the same reason I opposed the war in Iraq (a sovereign nation has a right to its own laws) I oppose your attempt to drag Uganda and Ireland into this discussion. None of us is Ugandan or Irish; we are Americans. The speaker in the video is clearly ducking and dodging. Listen to what he is saying. “There has to be clear proof the person is homosexual.” That doesn’t send chills down your spine? Listen to him dissemble regarding Saudi Arabia. “A mix of laws: Napoleonic, British, Sharia….” Yeah, ok, but homosexuals are put to death in Saudi Arabia and they are not put to death because of Napoleonic or British laws. Why is he being so intentionally muddled? Q: “Under Islamic law is it punishable by death? Homosexuality?”A: “Yes”Why did it take so long to get to that? Do you understand basic rhetoric? The man, a professor at a major university, was asked a simple, pointed question and hemmed and hawed until the questioner finally backed him into a corner and forced a direct answer.Why?

  17. >karthik: So you see difference between DADT and capital punishment for homosexuality? Really? Are you serious?How about laws that discriminate against women in the workforce and honor killings; see any difference there? Just because we have bigots and bad laws doesn't mean they are all the same. Earning 79 cents on the dollar is wrong and needs to be corrected but it is NOT as wrong as a brother killing his sister for having pre-marital sex.

  18. Jim

    >Anon – just to be fair to Vandy, the guy is not a professor and is not paid by Vandy. He is a chaplain for Muslim students and I don't think Vandy pays anything toward any of the chaplains on campus for any faiths.

  19. >We follow American laws here, not Islamic ones. Yup, we haven't become the liberal paradise that is the UK…..yet.

  20. >Karthik:I thought I addressed Christianity's intolerance toward homosexuality, while also pointing out that this is an issue still hotly disputed within the various church denominations. Technically the Southern Baptist church is also highly decentralized, as is the Church of Christ and many other denomninations. Each Southern Baptist congregation technically is able to make it's own decisions about things (which is how for many years we had a Southern Baptist church in Nashville pastored by two lesbians. Took a while for the SBC to figure out how to kick them out …)So I'm not sure it's the "religious centralization" issue at play here.I agree that it's not right to cherry-pick a piece of someone's holy text and make them defend it on the spot, and that's true of any religion. It annoys the hell out of me when Christians do it to justify whatever politically convenient position they choose to take, and it annoys me when Neocons pull a piece of Scripture from the Koran and say "SEE! Islam is a violent faith!" And I don't think this GLBT activist was right to do it to Vanderbilt's Binhazim.However, I don't understand why Binhazim couldn't just answer "there are many interpretations of our scriptures just as there are with every holy text and you've selected the most radical …" or whatever. Because the fact of the matter is, gays and lesbians are persecuted in Muslim countries.

  21. >Will, but I freely admit those topics on which I am ignorant and invite my readers to enlighten me Apparently this applies only to some of the topics on which you are ignorant.

  22. > I don't think Vandy pays anything toward any of the chaplains on campus for any faiths.I think that's correct. I believe the denominations pay for campus chaplains.

  23. nm

    >None of us is Ugandan or Irish; we are Americans.The speaker in the video is clearly ducking and dodging. Listen to what he is saying. “There has to be clear proof the person is homosexual.” That doesn’t send chills down your spine? Listen to him dissemble regarding Saudi Arabia.If the ways one variant of Christianity is practiced in Uganda and and another in Ireland are irrelevant, so is the way one variant of Islam is practiced in Saudi Arabia. Except for someone trying to do a gotcha.However, I don't understand why Binhazim couldn't just answer "there are many interpretations of our scriptures just as there are with every holy text and you've selected the most radical …" or whatever. Next time someone blindsides you and tries to play gotcha on your religion, you may understand a little better. First, he tried to give some context, and the questioner kept telling him he wasn't answering the question. Second, if he had given the answer you suggest, the questioner (clearly intent on a gotcha) would have said, "see, you're not a good Muslim." (Or, possibly, have started an argument among Muslims in the audience about this point, which would have proved the point about multiple interpretations but which as a chaplain he might have wanted to avoid.) I have had this game played with me, with reference to my own faith, on a number of occasions. I've gotten better at responding to it over the years, but it's a lot easier online, where there's time to catch a breath, than in front of a crowd.Because the fact of the matter is, gays and lesbians are persecuted in Muslim countries.Make that "in some countries where the majority of people are Muslims" and you're correct. Of course, the same is true of some countries where the majority of people are Christians. And in some countries where the majority of people practice other religions, or none. And, historically, the climate has in certain times (including today) and places among Muslim majorities been very welcoming to gays and lesbians. To use this as a stick to beat all of Islam, and to beat Islam alone, strikes me as kinda weird.

  24. >Nm wrote: “If the ways one variant of Christianity is practiced in Uganda and and another in Ireland are irrelevant, so is the way one variant of Islam is practiced in Saudi Arabia. Except for someone trying to do a gotcha.”When discussing modern societies with a primarily Christian tradition why not use the US? This all started with a discussion of an incident at Vanderbilt University. There is no need to look to Ireland or Uganda for an example.When discussing modern societies with a primarily Islamic tradition the US is unusable. We have virtually no Islamic underpinning to our laws, customs, mores, etc. We then must look to societies that do have such underpinnings. In today’s Islamic world homosexuals are still routinely stoned, beaten, imprisoned and in some cases put to death by legal authorities in a legally sanctified manner for the crime of being homosexual. Are you seriously comparing that to any legal persecution faced by homosexuals in the United States?In today’s Islamic world women are still routinely stoned, beaten and imprisoned by legal authorities for the crime of having sex outside of marriage. They are still routinely put to death by family members for the same crime. Said family members are protected by the laws of the nations they are acting within. Are you seriously comparing that to any legal persecution faced by women in the United States?

  25. >In today’s Islamic world women are still routinely stoned, beaten and imprisoned by legal authorities for the crime of having sex outside of marriage.Tragically, this happens in Muslim communities in the U.S., predominantly among recent immigrants. There was a story out of the Southeast which comes to mind, can't remember which state, Georgia or maybe Tennessee.And yes, there are cases of gays and lesbians being persecuted right here in the U.S. Matthew Shepard was not an isolated case.That's why I think it was appropriate for this issue to be addressed in that Vanderbilt forum, though I agree the question should have been phrased better.

  26. >Next time someone blindsides you and tries to play gotcha on your religion, you may understand a little better. Actually it happens ALL the fucking time. Liberal Christians are constantly being confronted and asked to defend our religion in progressive political circles. This will get me in trouble I'm sure but in certain lefty political circles there is tremendous discomfort with Christianity, in particular Christians being involved in politics.And I don't blame the liberals for this so much as I blame the religious right, which has basically poisoned the well, and a secular media which presents all Christians as Pat Robertson/James Dobson types.Okay well that little comment probably lost me a few friends.

  27. >Southern Beale said: "And yes, there are cases of gays and lesbians being persecuted right here in the U.S. Matthew Shepard was not an isolated case."And the two men who killed him were sentenced to two life sentences apiece. That is the difference. Kill someone for being gay in the US and you will be prosecuted. Kill someone for being gay in Saudi Arabia and you are most likely part of the criminal justice system.

  28. nm

    >I'm sorry, Anonymous, I guess I missed the part where Binhazim is in Saudi Arabia, counsels people there, or whatever. Or where what is done in Saudi Arabia has any bearing on what he does or believes. That's why I fail to see the relevance.SB, I'm pretty sure the question was phrased perfectly for the questioner's purpose. At least, so far as I can tell by looking at the video.

  29. >28 comments and there wasn't anything in the post about gun control? Whats this blog coming to!