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On Palestine

There are terrible things going on in Palestine right now. I do not need to describe them to you, you can already recite them, be it an image that you've seen again and again, interviews with Israeli politicians that left you speechless, or a video of someone in the worst pain imaginable who should, if this world was as good as we'd like it to be, be at home watching tv with their family. I do not need to describe these things to you. As the Palestinian civilians keep calling for a ceasefire, the arguments for why it is wrong of us to condemn genocide become increasingly erratic and based on tired tropes. And I want to talk about one of these justifications. 

The idea presented by some people is that queer people are persecuted in Gaza and the Middle East at large, and therefore as a queer person, I should be ashamed for supporting their right to not get bombed for a whole month. As I write this, I realize it has indeed been a whole month. 

So it was 2018, maybe 2019. I was coming off a protest condemning the Icelandic government's treatment of immigrants. After we had finished the loud noises and marching, some of us were housed in a small area in downtown Reykjavík, eating waffles and calming down from the events of the day. I looked around, and noticed that around me were mostly two groups of people: 

-Brown immigrant men  -White queer people 

These two groups are for one reason or another portrayed as opposing each other fundamentally, generally that of a foreign oppressor versus a fragile queer minority.  But in this moment, there didn't seem to be any tension or air of unease. Men that had grown up in places like Morocco, deemed unsafe for visibly queer people, were chatting casually with people that had piercings, coloured hair and shirts that read "I'm a slut".  The air didn't have a hint of hostility or awkwardness, it felt like it defied a lot of narratives that we were brought up to believe. 

Nearby me was a friend of a friend, a recent immigrant whose case was still pending. He was actually one of the chief organizers of this recent wave of immigrant rights. I sat down with my half-eaten waffle, and waited until he had finished his conversation with another man. I then introduced myself, and asked a very simple question. "Why are you guys, primarily Muslim men in their 30s, working so intently with queer activists?" And he told me the story I now tell you.

When he first arrived, and saw the need for activism, he and his co-organizers started by knocking on doors. They talked to the Red Cross, to Christian churches and ministries, left-leaning political parties, every possible source of traditional assistance they had been told was there for them when they arrived. And across the board, they were given well wishes and directions to the exit. Nobody came to help. 

So then they talked to the national queer organization. While I do not intend to judge these men, as I knew none of them beyond this one conversation, it was clear even in his own story that this was a last resort. They probably weren't super excited about working with visibly queer people on this, a cause that was so fragile and held such understandably high stakes for them. This might not have come down to prejudice, but optics, of associating with a group that's still seen as transgressive. It is admittedly a big risk in the eyes of many. 

And yet. The queer orgs came through. I wasn't there, and as my only source was a story told to me 5 years ago, I will not overplay the role of queer activists, but I can say with certainty that they came through when others did not. The man I spoke to, whose name I truly wish I could remember, was clear that their respect for those in this room came from their work in activism. Many I can assume, might not fully understand queerness as an identity, but I can promise you that in this co-operation they learned their allies should be respected regardless of identity. And this of course is my own bias, there's a good chance many if not most already had some understanding of queerness, or were queer themselves. Regardless, a bond had been formed between the men wanting to live here, and the native queer people who wanted to help. I left with an air of hope. The man I spoke to would later be deported. 

Queer activists in Iceland have worked hard, hand-in-hand with immigrants who are at risk of deportation. This includes trans youth from the Middle East, one which I did do a small interview on how dire that trans boy's situation would be, if he would be forced back to Iran. I bring this up not as a hollow flex, but due to the fact that I got hatemail for this, which included ironically enough the phrase "Shitty Country Iran". I suppose we are accidentally in agreement there, in this one instance. 

Muslims and queer people, who can and do intersect, enjoy an unsteady but nonetheless real relationship where I live. It is not solely due to this activism, I grant you. But in my years of existing here, I have never had to worry about Muslim men and their bigotry or lack thereof. I have entered the grand mosque of Iceland as a visibly trans person in a dress, I have spoken to their Imam, he calls me regularly to invite me to Morocco and meet his mom. I do not have to worry about them in my daily life. 

I cannot promise you that advocating for a free Palestine will result in a more tolerant community there. It is not my place to judge how tolerant they are, as bombs do not care about your identity. But I can promise you one thing: Working with your local community on this, participating in some way in protests or spreading awareness, creates bonds across many intersectionalities. These bonds matter. They may include Muslims, they may not, it depends on where you are and what your activist circle looks like. But these bonds matter, and they can only make the place you live better in the long run. 

You can help!

I'd like to invite you to do some actionable things to help Palestinians.  

Direct support:   -Gaza E-Sims:  -Palestine Legal Fund:  -Support Rashida Tlaib, the recently censured US congresswoman:  

Protests:  -Palestine Solidarity Campaign: -ANSWER Coalition: 

Boycott:  -BDS Movement: 

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