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Violence Against Gays on the Rise in Europe

On October 22, about three thousand people rallied in central Paris “to denounce assaults on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and demand urgent action from the government.” Among the many recent incidents that had sparked the protest, noted Reuters, were “the beating of a gay couple by their cab driver” the previous week and the murder in August, in the Bois de Boulogne, of a “transgender sex worker.” Another report on the rally mentioned two additional, and particularly high-profile, incidents: in September, an actor named Arnaud Gagnoud was beaten up after giving his boyfriend a hug outside a theater in Paris's 20th arrondissement; on October 16, Guillaume Mélanie, founder of the gay-rights group Urgence, was gay-bashed in a Paris street.

I looked at several news stories (in several languages) about these incidents – and about that October 22 rally. None of them included the words Muslim or Islam, even though the Religion of Peace is, to put it mildly, a major part of the problem – not just in Paris, of course, but all over Western Europe. Everybody knows this, even though virtually nobody feels comfortable talking about it. In most media reports of such incidents, indeed, the Islamic factor can only be discerned through exceedingly careful reading.

Take a German paper's report last May on a series of violent assaults on gays in Berlin's Neukölln district. One of the victims reported that he'd been “singing and dancing” in a subway station late at night when “a group of young men aggressively confronted him, claiming they felt insulted by his extravagant behaviour.” Quick quiz: what's the key word here? That's right: “insulted.” Gay-bashers of Western origin don't feel “insulted” by gay people's behavior, and even if they do, they don't bother prefacing a homophobic beat-down by saying so; they just start punching away. The “insult” thing is totally Islamic.

That German paper recounted several recent Berlin gay-bashings in detail, noting that while such attacks in that city are nothing new, they've undergone a notable increase in levels of brutality. But there was no explicit mention of Islam.

Sometimes the role of Islam is hinted at, but only obliquely. Consider a piece about gay-bashings in Berlin that appeared last June in the Irish Times. There was no mention of Muslims in the first several paragraphs, which, on the contrary, attributed gay-bashings in Berlin to a “backlash” against gay rights by “straight men who have problems with their own sexuality.” Only if you made it all the way to the end of the piece did you encounter a curiously phrased reference to – get this – “the threat to the gay community, real or perceived, from conservative Turkish and Arab men, and criminal gangs from Romania and Bulgaria.” Note the artful use of the words “perceived” and “conservative” (National Review subscribers, apparently) and the determined avoidance, again, of the words Islam or Muslim.

Given all this subterfuge and circumlocution, it was almost shocking to come across an October 9 article in the Berliner Zeitung that not only reported that gay-bashing in Berlin is steadily increasing (last year, 324 such attacks were recorded, with the real number surely far higher than that) but also admitted, quite matter-of-factly, that the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are Muslims.

At one time, such candor was not quite so surprising. Ten years ago – ten years! – Der Spiegel quoted a gay activist who stated quite frankly that homophobia was on the rise in Berlin and noting that many “Muslim kids raised in Germany...have been raised to hate homosexuals.” For heaven's sake, the brief, spectacular political career of Pim Fortuyn – the openly gay sociologist and national hero who was probably on the verge of becoming prime minister when he was assassinated in 2002 – was born of his recognition of the existential threat that Islam represented to gay people's individual rights. In 2005, when Chris Crain, the high-profile editor of The Washington Blade and several other gay weeklies in the U.S., was brutally beaten by Muslims on an Amsterdam street, the leader of the Netherlands' most important gay-rights group acknowledged the Islamic hatred of gays, thanks to which, he said, tolerance of gays in that city was “slipping away like sand through the fingers.”

Alas, gay-rights activists in Western Europe don't talk like that anymore. Nor do the media. For whatever reason, the worse things have gotten, the more widespread and adamant the insistence that nothing's wrong at all – or at least that, if something is wrong, then Islam has absolutely nothing to do with it. Even as the growing Muslim population in Dutch cities has driven gays into the provinces and reduced Amsterdam's gay scene to a shadow of its former self, Dutch gay activists have backed off entirely from truth-telling about this topic, not only insisting that Muslims pose no threat to gays but anathematizing the likes of Geert Wilders for daring to suggest otherwise.

Pathetically typical of the current approach to these matters was an article that appeared last September in the Independent, the British daily. It reported that “attacks on lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the UK” had “soared by nearly 80 per cent in the past four years.” But who were the attackers? The article, though quite long, included absolutely no mention of Muslims – even though Britain is a country where Muslim neighborhoods have long since been marked with stickers reading Gay Free Zone.

Yes, plenty of gays in Western Europe have long since figured out that Islam constitutes a menace to their lives and safety; more and more of them, raised on the idea that gays' natural home is on the political left, have rejected that proposition and joined anti-immigration parties. All too many gays, unfortunately – in the ultimate triumph of ideology over reality – continue to make fools of themselves, buying into the insane and suicidal notion that Muslims are their brothers in oppression.

Meanwhile, the same Western media that can no longer bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of Muslim gay-bashing report eagerly on homophobia in Eastern Europe. No, those countries don't have same-sex marriage. Yes, prejudice does exist. But whenever I read yet another screed about how horrible Eastern Europe is for gays, I think of an old friend of mine from New York who's been living in supposedly gay-hostile Poland, on and off, for seventeen years. The one time he's been gay-bashed, it was in Rotterdam. He wrote about it. None of his many gay friends in Poland, he told me last weekend, have ever been gay-bashed in their own country.

By contrast, living in the Netherlands and Norway for the past twenty years, my partner and I, between the two of us, have experienced five encounters with Muslims that I think it's fair to call assaults. (Two involved knives; two involved attempted beatings; I don't include nasty sidewalk shoving, spitting, and name-calling.) I've lost track of the number of friends and acquaintances in Western Europe who've been gay-bashed by Muslims; the number of gay people I know who have been killed by Muslims in Western Europe stands, so far, at one. (That murder, a knifing, occurred in the victim's office in the center of Oslo.)

No surprise, then, that I feel considerably more comfortable today walking around Warsaw and Prague than around parts of Oslo and Amsterdam – and, yes, Berlin. Just as many of my Jewish friends have said that they feel less threatened sporting a yarmulke or Star of David in Eastern than in Western Europe, I can say that I feel safer as a gay man in some of the former Iron Curtain countries than in some parts of what was, not all that many years ago, called the Free World. Shame, that.