“The Little Hours” Is a Foul-Mouthed, Philosophical Nun Comedy

Dueling images of Catholic nuns portray either holier-than-thou punishers in habits or hippie types with acoustic guitars, like the postulant Maria in The Sound of Music. Both stereotypes obscure the fact that, in real life, a lot of nuns are just…kind of weird. At one of the many Catholic camp-outs I was once required to attend, I first had the epiphany that some nuns may have started out as social outcasts looking for a hideaway from judgment by the culture at large; there, one of the sisters went around every morning sweeping up all the socks and underwear we’d left on the floor of our cabin, so she could boil them and sell them at rummage sales. “They’re mine now!” she cackled. But when a brave girl questioned her, the nun shyly backed away and never made eye contact with us again.

Writer-director Jeff Baena (I Heart Huckabees, Life After Beth), in his lighthearted Medieval nun-sploitation comedy, The Little Hours, depicts these socially rejected sisters as they may really have been, using modern-day language but also Boccaccio’s The Decameron as source text. The film follows three young women — Alesandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) — as they try to fill up hour after boring hour with anything, leading to much gossip, bickering, and a dabbling-in of witchcraft. What’s that the Bible says about idle hands?

Throughout the film, crystal-blue skies frame a picturesque landscape of rolling green hills and the clean beige stucco of the abbey where the nuns reside — immensely peaceful scenes Baena creates just so he can muck them up. When the convent’s handyman dares to smile at them, one of the women screeches, “Fuck you, don’t look at us!” These nuns are aggro, none more than Fernanda, who takes great joy in physically intimidating men. When the convent’s humdrum day is interrupted by an alluring manservant (Dave Franco) escaping the wrath of a jealous husband (Nick Offerman), Fernanda puts an ax to the manservant’s throat, her face millimeters away from his as she bellows into his ear, “Who the fuck are youuuuuuuuuu?”

Though the F-bombs wear a little thin, laughs do come at the expense of Offerman’s Lord Bruno and Lauren Weedman, who plays his wife. Bruno sports a voluminous, frizzy bowl cut and yacks on and on about how the Guelfs killed his family, always overenunciating “Guelf” — god, it’s a funny word. The comedy here isn’t what you’d call highbrow. When the bumbling Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly) attempts to define “sodomy,” sussing out whether it’s anal sex or oral sex, he’s a little stumped: “Sodomy is lots of different things,” he says, unsure (and piss-drunk).

The Little Hours shares more than a small helping of sincerity with I Heart Huckabees, which Baena co-wrote with David O. Russell. The film follows up its punchlines with philosophical discussions untangling why people behave so absurdly. The developing friendship among the sparring nuns is actually sweet to watch unfold, as is the romantic relationship between Tommasso and the Mother Superior (Molly Shannon). This isn’t a laugh-a-minute movie; it’s more a succession of snickers, punctuated by genuine emotion. We’re watching some serious weirdos try to connect — in a Medieval nunnery.

The Little Hours
Directed by Jeff Baena
Gunpowder & Sky
Opens June 30, Landmark Sunshine Cinema


Dorothy Day, The Patron Saint For Our New Era Of Resistance

On a recent morning at New York’s smallest soup kitchen, volunteers — or Catholic Workers, as they are known here on the ground floor of St. Joseph House in the East Village — served coffee, soup, and bread to a hundred or so hard-luck New Yorkers, a tradition on the block going back decades.

Mostly of college age, the servers were inspired by the example of Dorothy Day, who co-founded the Catholic Worker movement in 1933, promoting Christ-centered pacifism through its newspaper, houses of hospitality, and farming communes. The leadership of the Holy See has been similarly inspired: During his 2015 speech to the U.S. Congress, Pope Francis praised Day for her “social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed,” which gave a boost to an ongoing effort to have her declared a person of “heroic virtue” — a saint.

And now there is the current president, whose malevolent disregard for society’s “losers” couldn’t be further from Day’s vision of a world dedicated to Matthew 25:40: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

“Of course Dorothy Day opposed just about everything Trump stands for,” says Robert Ellsberg, a writer and editor who worked with Day in the final years of her life. “But what was appealing about Dorothy was that she was not just an ‘oppositional’ figure; she embodied deeply positive and attractive values: love, solidarity, hope.”

Day, who died in 1980, was no plaster saint. Born into an Episcopal family in Brooklyn in 1897, she grew into a bookish young woman with a burgeoning social conscience. After dropping out of college she moved to the Lower East Side and worked as a journalist at a string of socialist newspapers. She lived the life of bohemian activist, drinking with Eugene O’Neill, protesting in the streets, interviewing Trotsky, having love affairs (one of which ended with an abortion), and traveling in Europe. She fell into a relationship with an anarchist and gave birth to a daughter, Tamar, which drew her closer to the Catholic Church. She converted in 1927, offering a prayer “that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor,” as she wrote in her autobiography.

That way emerged when Day met Peter Maurin, a French Catholic intellectual and vagabond, who came up with the idea to start a newspaper that would broadcast the social teachings of the Church as a counter to the prevailing Depression ideologies of communism, fascism, and “finance capitalism.” The Catholic Worker, first published on May Day 1933, still costs a penny. Its mission quickly broadened to include “houses of hospitality” to aid the destitute (like the one on East 1st Street) and farming communes to reconnect people with the land. Today, there are almost 250 Catholic Worker communities, mostly in the United States.

Day’s politics don’t fit easily onto a left-right axis. American Catholics were appalled in the 1930s when she refused to support Francisco Franco’s pro-Catholic fascist insurgency during the Spanish Civil War. Catholic Worker membership plummeted when she maintained her pacifism throughout World War II. During the Vietnam era, Abbie Hoffman called her “the first hippie,” and Catholic Workers were among the first protestors to burn their draft cards. Day was 73 at the time of her last arrest, spending ten days in a California jail in 1976 for joining Cesar Chavez’s farm labor campaign.

Yet she wasn’t a strict leftist, said Geoffrey Gneuhs, a longtime Catholic Worker who gave the eulogy at Day’s funeral. She was a “decentralist,” someone who opposed big government and thought citizens had a Christian obligation to aid each other without the intrusive hand of the state. “Like Thomas Jefferson, she believed that the government is best which governs least,” Gneuhs said. Day was on record as opposing Social Security, abortion, and “socialized medicine.” She preferred a localism centered on “land, bread, work, children, and the joys of community in play and work and worship,” as she wrote in Worker in 1949.

In 2000, the Archdiocese of New York began conducting an inquiry into the life and works of the “Servant of God,” as those deemed eligible for sainthood are called. Day’s cause will move next to Rome, where a labyrinthine process will determine if she should be formally raised to the altars of the Church. “We have collected 98 percent of her writings so far,” said Jeff Korgen, who is coordinating the archdiocesan effort. The public support of the Pope, as expressed most prominently during the 2015 speech, is expected to speed the process along.

The emergence of Trump might also help the cause. Robert Ellsberg suggests there is much about the resistance to the 45th president that is consonant with Day’s message. “It is a fundamental response to a regime that promotes fear, regards helpless refugees as enemies, sets one group of people against another, promotes an idolatrous view of patriotism in which America’s greatness is achieved by putting other people down,” he says.

“It’s hard to imagine two people more different than my grandmother and Donald Trump,” says Kate Hennessy, Tamar’s youngest daughter, who recently published a memoir about her relationship with her grandmother. “She dedicated her life to the poorest of the poor, ‘losers’ as Trump would call them, but in them she saw the face of God.” Hennessy doubts that Day’s appeal to her followers “would make any sense to Trump — a sense of giving oneself for others and a look to the long view in terms of change.”



A Yonkers Mosque Is Blocked by Land-Use Bigotry

In 2015, the Islamic Community Center of Mid-Westchester (ICCMW) purchased a sagging, dilapidated hundred-year-old home in the tony Colonial Heights neighborhood of Yonkers, just north of Manhattan. The plan was to open a mosque and community center for the long-established Muslim population nearby, who otherwise had to travel outside the city to worship. The effort had been a long time coming; it had taken the group months to find a suitable location for the growing congregation. Eventually they happened upon 20 Grandview Boulevard, but the paint was peeling, shingles had come off, and mold had colonized the structure. It was in such bad condition that the bank, uncertain the ICCMW could pull off the renovation, denied them a loan. Still determined, the group instead scraped together the entire $750,000 purchase price from congregants.

They were hopeful things would move quickly once the deal closed; the redevelopment plan, which would make the building habitable again, was straightforward enough. Initial consultations with a land use attorney didn’t turn up any glaring issues. The property’s zoning already permitted a house of worship — an Episcopal church stands across the street. And though the place needed work, it seemed like the building could be returned to its former beauty. The neighboring church even agreed to share its parking lot so that congregants could attend Friday prayers without blocking up the street.

But just as they were about to begin the renovations, it turned out that the Colonial Heights Association of Taxpayers, a local group that claims to represent neighborhood residents, had applied to have the property designated as a historical landmark. If the designation was approved, ICCMW would have to seek permission from the city to make virtually any changes to the building’s exterior, driving up costs and possibly preventing necessary changes. The mere filing of CHAT’s application had essentially halted the group’s progress: It triggered an immediate moratorium while the board looked into the request. The association had done this without so much as a phone call to the property’s owners, who only discovered the maneuver when a reporter called. ICCMW decided to sue.

The federal case, still in its early stages, accuses members of the Yonkers city council and other city officials of violating ICCMW’s First Amendment rights and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which protects religious institutions from discrimination in situations much like this one. The city is challenging ICCMW’s standing to sue, arguing that they haven’t yet been harmed because none of their planned renovations have been curtailed.

“No one cared about the property,” says Omar Mohammedi, an attorney representing ICCMW in the suit. “And the minute showed their intention that they wanted to build a mosque, there was resistance.”

The sorts of tactics apparently on display in Yonkers seem in keeping with the tenor of the times, after a presidential campaign that couched Islamophobia in terms of security. It’s a kind of genteel bigotry: not open, overt discrimination, like the shouts about Shariah that dominated the debate in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, or the alleged harassment and physical intimidation of “ragheads” in Gillette, Wyoming. Rather, it’s legal hazing and stall tactics, framed in innocuous terms.

These kinds of tricks are not new — ambitions for the so-called “ground zero mosque” were hobbled in a similar manner — but they are enjoying a surge in popularity. According to a DOJ report released this year, the department investigated seventeen alleged incidents of discrimination through land use laws, up from just seven in the decade before, most involving the abuse of zoning laws. In Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania, for example, a town board held six zoning hearings on a proposed mosque before rejecting it; the DOJ charged that the scrutiny far exceeded that applied to other groups, and amounted to discrimination. The planning commission in Pittsfield Township, Michigan, also tried to zone an Islamic school out of existence. The resulting suit ended just last month, in a $1.7 million settlement against the town.

Landmarking challenges, however, seem to be a novel riff on an old theme. (Discussing the Yonkers case, hate site barenakedislam hailed the tactic as a new vanguard with a post titled “NEW WAY to discourage Muslims from putting a mosque in your neighborhood.”)

“It gets into a vicious cycle where those Muslims who are trying to build a place of worship have to constantly go before the zoning board,” Afaf Nasher, director of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says of such legal maneuvers. “It’s a depletion of resources, it’s a depletion of will, at times, and it just goes back and forth, back and forth, for years.”

In Yonkers, the landmark board and city council have held a series of emotional and contentious public meetings. At a meeting on May 24, mosque opponents mostly stuck to their talking points. But one member of the congregation decried what was really going on, in his view: His community was turning against him.

“My son is standing back there with a baseball uniform on,” he said, pointing, his voice quavering. “And damned if Osama bin Laden is going to make him carry his burden. Because he’s an American, a proud American. And we didn’t have anything to do with that. But for some reason, this community is trying to impose that guilt upon us. You can vote, work, pay taxes in this community, but no, you can’t pray.”

It was at that meeting, more than a year after ICCMW bought the property, that the city council approved landmark status — along party lines, with Republican members voting in favor and Democrats opposed.

For Christopher Johnson, a Yonkers councilmember from the city’s west side, the debate over the mosque called up ugly memories. In 1985, a federal judge determined that Yonkers had deliberately and systematically segregated its public schools for decades, partly by cramming all the city’s public housing into a one-mile stretch on the west side. The “deseg case,” as it came to be known, stretched for nearly three decades, as the city appealed and dragged its feet on the remedies ordered by the courts.

“If we look back at the deseg case, there were a number of people on the east side of the city who didn’t want people of color and people of low income, I guess, in their neighborhoods,” Johnson says. “And I think that you could translate that into the same thing today, except interchange race with religion or background.” (Interestingly, CHAT was active back then as well: A 1992 New York Times story quoted Thomas Dowd, identified as part of the group. He told the reporter he opposed the desegregation order, which would have largely affected the city’s more affluent east side, of which Colonial Heights is a part.)

Messages left with CHAT went unreturned, and the mayor’s office in Yonkers declined an interview request. Instead it issued a statement reading, in part, “Yonkers has a vibrant Muslim community that is an important and welcome part of our diversity. This congregation is welcome to open a mosque and the City stands ready to help them. …Far from discriminating, the city is only asking them to adhere to the same rules that apply to everyone else.”

There is, however, little to suggest that land-use rules have been applied as rigorously to “everyone else”: Mohammedi maintains that ICCMW has been singled out. For a hundred years, he says, this property “was never designated, other houses in the same category, same architecture, same everything, were never designated…it’s an intent to burden the client.”

And so far, it’s working.

“The fact that they are not using it is costing them now. The fact that they are dealing with this is costing them,” Mohammedi said. “They cannot raise funds. They cannot do anything at this point.”



Hispanic Muslims Gathering for Worship and Maduros in New Jersey

This past Sunday, the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, a mosque and community center in Union City, New Jersey, held its sixteenth annual Hispanic Muslim Day. Those in attendance traced their heritage to Colombia, Puerto Rico, and El Salvador. Though it was the intersection of two groups targeted by the president-elect, spirits were high. After all, these Muslims had been here before — the first Hispanic Muslim Day was held in the wake of 9-11, to educate the local Hispanic community about Islam.

For Jaime “Mujahid” Fletcher, the Colombian–born founder of IslamInSpanish, which organized the event on Sunday, “It’s an issue of perception.” He tells the Voice, “A lot of people who are scared are people who have never come in contact with a Muslim, or don’t really  know Muslims.” Fletcher converted to Islam in the spring of 2001, after running into a former gang rival outside of a mosque in Houston and seeing that he had changed profoundly. He started IslamInSpanish — which distributes the Koran and Hadith (Islam’s other core text) in Spanish — after the September 11 attacks. (The organization is based in Texas; Fletcher flew out to Jersey for this occasion.)

Wesley “Abu Summayyah” Lebron, a Puerto Rican Muslim who does outreach in New Jersey for IslamInSpanish, says the commonalities between Islam and Roman Catholicism helps to ease the introduction. “Jesus is a staple in our religion — we just don’t worship him, but we completely believe in him,” Lebron explains. “And when you tell [people] this, it starts to open up their ears, little by little.”

Though Islam and the Spanish-speaking world have a long shared history, it’s not one often discussed. Islam’s roots in Spain go back to Tariq ibn Ziyad’s conquest of the Iberian peninsula in 711 (“Gibraltar” is a Spanish translation of his name). The region remained under Islamic dominion until King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella successfully seized control in 1492, after decades of forced Catholic conversions. Even after Islam was outlawed in 1502, Muslims continued to practice in secret.

Five centuries later, there are now about 2 million Muslims in Spain, and Islam is growing both there and in Hispanic communities abroad. Although the U.S. Census doesn’t track religious affiliation, a 2015 Pew Research Center study estimated that about 4 percent of the 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S. are also Hispanic. At a lecture last year in Baltimore about Islam in that city, Morgan State University professor Dr. Harold Morales explained that this shouldn’t come as a surprise. “Some people strongly feel that Latino Muslims are, in a sense, going back to their roots, all the way back to the Spanish and the Moors,” he said. “It reminds us there are different ways of being Latino.”

Certainly that was the case on Sunday — other than the Spanish, this gathering was indistinguishable from a community day at any other mosque. No one in attendance wanted to talk about the Trump-shaped shadow looming over the afternoon, which had been planned months before the election. That problem would be tackled later. For now, these Muslims would rather focus on faith and, of course, food. It was a feast rarely found at any mosque: Peruvian chicken, rice and beans, and plátanos maduros.



How Evangelical Women Found a False Savior in Trump

Before she voted she was told to seek the will of God. At Sunday-morning church the pastor’s sermon was about the possibility of our next president’s selecting up to four Supreme Court justices, justices who could ultimately decide to overturn Roe v. Wade (because evangelicals will forever believe that the sanctity of life is always on the ballot). Pray with your husband, the leader of your home, the pastor said, and see where the spirit leads. Most likely on some evening in mid-October at the kitchen table and over an open Bible, she and her husband decided how “they” would vote, that they would not allow “media hype” to distract them from the long-term possibility of saving millions of innocent lives.

She is privileged, and blind to that privilege. Her financial struggles are most likely minor, but she has no reference point, so she does not realize this. Her days are sheltered, insular, and replicated within each household in her suburban circle. Like all her friends, she struggles to stretch her household income to include the growing needs of her family. She is generous in her own way. She pays it forward at Starbucks. She sponsors a local needy family each Christmas. But you will also hear her criticize women she knows of who do not pay their bills on time, who are not good guardians of God’s gifts.

She does not believe that there are families without financial safety nets or access to the same resources she has. She is taught that every gift, including financial solvency, comes from God, and that God is merciful and just. Proverbs 31 reminds her to “look well to the ways of her household,” and she does. Therefore, any real financial struggles must come down to an individual’s lack of responsibility, accountability, and resourcefulness. She, like all her friends, worships at the altar of good housewifery and frugal stewardship.

Even if she wanted to, she has little freedom to move beyond the confines of her prescribed life. She’s been raised in the prescription, steeped in it. If she becomes discontented with housework and raising wholesome children, she is reminded of the scripture that urges, “Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” which can be translated, “If you’re unhappy, it’s because you’re not focused enough on God.”

If she is unsatisfied with her marriage, she is warned against allowing any messages from Hollywood (Fifty Shades of Grey, Magic Mike, the Twilight series, even Pride and Prejudice) to affect her opinion of what her husband should be, and she is told repeatedly to pray for him and be satisfied with him. Her husband is a decent man, a good man. She has said these words frequently, to herself and in confidence to her friends, throughout her marriage, especially when she’s frustrated by his distance, his lack of demonstrated feeling toward her. She occasionally attends women’s Bible studies where everyone has the same story, where each woman is frustrated by her decent, distant husband, by his belief that his role is solely to provide, that she should need little beyond that.

She wants greater intimacy, but she knows God didn’t make men that way, and that He made her this way so that she would seek greater intimacy with Jesus, rely on Him for her emotional needs. She tries not to need more from her husband, but ultimately, it is the topic of nearly every argument they have, and she rarely wins, so those arguments have decreased in frequency over the years. Sermons of submission from American pulpits have been replaced with one-liners: “Let your husband lead your family.” “Wait on God and trust His timing.” “Be a warrior, not a worrier.” She is angry with women who abandon their post, because she cannot.

Proverbs admonishes that “favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” She knows this is true, but only in heaven. She compares herself constantly to the women around her. This is reinforced by the misogyny of American culture. On Earth she’ll never meet the standard. But, unlike unsaved women, she has been given the answer, the medicine, for her gaping self-loathing wound: Jesus. Hillary Clinton’s pride in her own accomplishments, her self-confidence, makes her unrelatable to the white evangelical woman.

She expects to be persecuted by the unbelieving world. When Christians are ridiculed by Saturday Night Live or John Oliver, it’s part of God’s plan. If her children come home from school crying, teased because they don’t swear and are not sexually active, it’s part of God’s plan. When she’s unfriended on Facebook for sharing the gospel, it’s part of God’s plan. She relates what she perceives as her outsider, born-again status to the persecution of Christians in the early church:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…”

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you…”

“Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you.”

Therefore, she is fireproof. Anything you might say to test the boundaries of her faith will be discarded as persecution. She is impenetrable in this way. And she always relates best to the most broken person in the room. She sees the most potential for a true conversion experience there. The juicier the testimony, the smuttier the story of a sullied past transformed through redemption, the more people it will draw to Christ. Donald Trump has a hell of a testimony. Only men, she thinks, understand other men, and her husband and all the men in their congregation have grown more comfortable with Trump throughout the election season, which must mean that nothing he has done is that shocking — not to other men, anyway. Besides, no one can know another person’s heart.

She can forgive a man anything, as long as he is saved, as long as he identifies as a Christian, as long as he agrees to protect the unborn and push the message that Jesus is the only hope for our messed-up world. In terms of voting, she believes the only mistake she could make would be to choose a candidate who does not carry this burden of the modern church. He must be a zealot, a man on fire for God, not a lukewarm moderate. Donald Trump’s conversion may or may not be authentic, and there is much discussion among evangelical Christians about that. But he has Mike Pence to vouch for him — a man who has identified as a Christian for the entirety of his public life and has endured much ridicule for it. It is Pence she relates to, not Trump. Trump, she is hopeful for. Pence, she loves.

I want to tell her that I see her, that she is not invisible, and that even though she believes her time here is merely preparation for something else, something better, she has a right to fulfillment. She is my neighbor in Indiana, she was my childhood friend growing up in Kentucky. But I have done so before, so I know what the outcome will be. She will be ashamed that I’m even asking, embarrassed that she has revealed her discontent, embarrassed by her desires, by how small she thinks they are. When I ask her what she wants, she will be at a loss.

She does not fear the end of the world. This is not to say that she wants to see her husband and children, her neighbors, her agnostic brother-in-law swept up in a fiery rapture, but the Second Coming would settle all questions. Christ’s return will mean that her sacrifices are justified, her devotion rewarded — that everyone will finally be forced to admit that she and everyone like her were right all along. On Election Day maybe she said, half-jokingly, that if we’re lucky, Christ will come again even before we get the election results, and we’ll never have to deal with the outcome. She has nothing to gain from saving the world, and no hope in trying. She knows nobody can.



Double Jeopardy: Queer and Muslim in America

After coming out three times, you’d think it would get easier. The first time was in 2002, deep in the U.S.’s post–9-11 miasma. My brown skin worked as camouflage; on my mother’s advice I’d allowed people to assume I was from some more palatable latitude. For six months I was from Mexico or Brazil, a rude fiction that I nonetheless let continue because I believed it was a matter of survival. But eventually the lying became too much to bear, and at twelve years old I began quietly correcting people: I’m Saudi Arabian and Muslim (“yes, like Osama”).

The second time I came out was in two parts, separated by five years. The first installment was in 2005, when I whispered to my friend Amy in the library during tenth-grade study hall that I was gay, or maybe “just bi” (scared lying is a hard habit to give up). Part two was on Thanksgiving break from college in 2010, when my sister dragooned me into telling our parents. Amy was cool; my parents were cool. After all, my sister said, this was a new millennium, and “gay marriage seems like it’ll probably happen, right?” It was her way of telling me I was safe.

In the early morning hours of June 12, 2016, a 29-year-old man entered Pulse, an Orlando gay club hosting an “Upscale Latin Saturday” dance party, and shot 49 people to death. A few months earlier, said his father in the aftermath, the man had seen two men kissing in Miami; he believed his son’s anger at the sight might have led to the shooting, now the deadliest in American history. By mid-morning Sunday, we knew the man’s name: Omar Mateen. That was it. The narrative had its requisite Muslim.

But the narrative couldn’t find room for me. The day after the shooting, already sick of the ooga-booga headlines, I saw a tweet from Chicago-based shock jock Joe Walsh — “Islam hates #LGBT. Muslims hate gays. If you are gay, Islam wants you dead.” — and I knew I was about to out myself one more time: “As a gay muslim,” I responded, “I very much beg to differ.”

The tweet went viral; unbidden opinions flooded my mentions at superluminal speeds. Goodly liberals and conservative usual suspects united in smugness, horrified that I would defend and identify with a religion that so clearly wants to kill me. “Ok, just disregard all the gays they hang and throw off roofs in the middle East…moron !!”; “GO TO SAUDI ARABIA AND COME OUT.” To them Islam, ISIS, Arabs, and violence were coextensive. There were also visitations from Muslims whose homophobia didn’t seem murderous but was nevertheless putrid. “Gay Muslim? life of deceit. Change your ways before it’s too late,” wrote @hola2hamid. “I’m just going to say this right now as a Muslim myself: how is a gay Muslim possible?” pondered @BeerStix.

A vigil for Orlando at the Stonewall Inn, on the second Sunday of Ramadan

The truth is, I ought to have expected this reaction. On the one hand, there is a very real homophobia problem inside Islamic countries. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll on attitudes toward homosexuality found that even in Egypt and Jordan — the only two Muslim countries where gay sex is legal — 94 percent and 96 percent of respondents, respectively, viewed homosexuality as morally wrong. But those figures are about on par with the rest of the developing world, and anyone who’s ever seen a Super Bowl commercial knows homophobia is rampant in this country, too. Not to mention, Christian and Islamic scripture both justify the persecution of queer people with the story of Lot (“Lut,” in Arabic), in which God levels Sodom and Gomorrah to punish the residents’ promiscuity.

But never mind that, because ISIS. Muslim religious leaders have roundly disavowed Daesh’s atrocities, and yet they’ve been laid at all Muslims’ doors. ISIS claimed responsibility for the Orlando attack, despite there being no evidence yet that the murders were the plot of anybody but this lone loser.

The American LGBTQ community seems not to have figured out that we’ve been conscripted into the country’s Middle Eastern wars, thanks to the liberation narrative that’s clotted LGBTQ political narratives in the wake of marriage equality. It did get better — thanks to Uncle Sam — and now, it seems, we owe him. So when he asks for support for drone strikes in Syria, or a blithe military alliance with Israel (one of whose expansion stratagems is to pitch Tel Aviv as a gay mecca reclaimed from the gay-murdering Palestinians), he’s also sure to remind us of the “human rights violations” in whatever Muslim state he wants to bomb next. It’s called “pink-washing,” and it gets liberals to consent to intervention after intervention in the names of queer people.

What’s more, Muslims have themselves been sold a bill of goods. While it is true I could be whipped or even beheaded for being gay in my mother’s native country, it was not always so. Islam’s golden medieval age generated tomes full of homoerotic literature, and the Ottoman Empire, at one point one of the most powerful of the British Empire’s competitors, decriminalized gay sex in 1858, nearly 150 years before the U.S. As imperial European powers metastasized across the region in the nineteenth century, they spread laws that recriminalized homosexuality; that legal regime is still apparent in many Arab countries’ penal codes and social mores. Perversely, over time it was homosexuality, rather than homophobia, that came to be seen in some parts of the region as an unwelcome import from the West — a decadence, a corruption to be isolated or just flat-out ignored.

None of which excuses individual acts of homophobic violence — far from it. Rather, the Twitter interrogation by @BeerStix and others had less to do with Islam in the abstract than it did with the version they apparently were raised with.

What results from this noxious brew of misread history and flawed assumptions — liberal self-congratulation, LGBTQ political complacency, past and present colonial statecraft — is Orlando: People like me were massacred for who they were, and people like me get blamed for it because of who they are. Neither side realizes it’s being played against the other.

There was a third group of people who found me amid the social-media fracas. Other gay Muslims filled my inbox with all sorts of feeling: thanks, profound sadness, gratitude for the “bravery” of my tweet, if that’s a possible thing. But mostly, they felt stuck. How does one mourn dozens killed for their sexuality while asserting the fundamental humanity of the man who killed them?

But barzakh, purgatory, doesn’t last forever. In the hours just after the shooting, the D.C.-based activist group Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity released the following statement: “Tragedies often lead people to seek someone or something to blame, but we ask our friends to resist this temptation…. We ask our straight Muslim allies, many of whom have stood in solidarity with us, to build support for LGBTQ people and in opposing homophobia and transphobia in whatever guise it presents itself. We ask our non-Muslim allies, especially within the LGBTQ community, to stand with us against Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, while we work to end homophobia and transphobia. And to all peace-loving people everywhere, we ask for your compassion and your support at this very difficult time for our communities.”

Listen to Raillan Brooks talk about his essay on On The Media


As Islamophobic Rhetoric Gets Louder, NYC Muslims Fear for Their Mosques

Amid reports of attacks on mosques around the nation, a few dozen Muslims came to pray on a recent evening at the Al-Khoei Islamic Center next to the Van Wyck Expressway in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens. They braved high winds and sheeting rain to attend the service, and they pushed to the back of their minds fears of another attack like the one of two years ago, when someone used Molotov cocktails to firebomb the building at 90th Avenue.

“We’re trying to move forward,” says Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani, leader of the center. He sits in his office following the evening prayer service, recalling the anti-Muslim hate crimes the mosque faced after 9-11. “We went through many experiences in the past, but thank God we’re still here. We haven’t received any threatening phone calls yet like we did back then.”

Still, he worries about the impact comments from the likes of Donald Trump and many of the nation’s governors, who are stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment, will have on the future. Since the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut earlier this month, Trump has called for surveillance of “certain mosques” and suggested reinstating a version of the controversial NYPD spying program, which was dropped last year after Muslims and civil rights organizations demanded its termination.

While Sahlani is hoping for the best, Meesam Razvi, who serves as the U.N. representative of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation, a Shia Islamic charity and education group, says he is prepared for the worst.

“What happened in Paris has amplified our concern, of course, but we have been worried about this for a very long time,” he says. “Our mosque is one of the most prominent Islamic structures in the city. Everyone, whether they know it’s a mosque or not, has seen the blue dome from the Van Wyck Expressway. We could be a target, and that’s always at the top of our minds — the security concerns.”

Since Paris, there have been reports of at least ten attacks on mosques across the country. For example, at a mosque in Pflugerville, Texas, feces and torn pages from the Koran were smeared on a wall. An Islamic center was vandalized with a spray-painted symbol of an Eiffel Tower peace sign in Omaha, Nebraska. In Meriden, Connecticut, the Baitul Aman Mosque was fired upon four or five times. It’s unknown who committed these incidents, but they are doubtless extensions of what happened in Europe.

Imam Daud Hanif of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in New York presides over mosques in Queens, Long Island, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Before beginning a Friday prayer service at the Baituz Zafar Mosque in Hollis, Queens, he told the Voice that none of his congregants have yet approached him about fears of tension and discrimination following the Paris attacks. But he feels there’s more outreach that needs to be done by those mosques that have been targeted — and indeed all mosques — to their local communities.

“This is not the time to hide and let the extremists write the narrative on Islam,” he says. “Rather, it is time to let people know what the true teachings of Islam are.”

Imam Daud Hanif giving the prayer service
Imam Daud Hanif giving the prayer service

“What terrorists want is more terror,” adds Salaam Bhatti, a spokesman for Ahmadiyya. “Even if we receive threats, what it comes down to is people out there will want us to play the victim card, but we won’t. We’re New Yorkers. No one is playing victim here. There are people in Paris who have been killed. We condemn those attacks, but we’re not going to back down from domestic terrorists; we’re going to open our doors even more and let people know who we are.”

That education appears to be needed. Most Americans have cold feelings for Muslims, according to a Pew Research Center poll last year that found Muslims were perceived as negatively as atheists.

Anti-Islamic sentiment goes in cycles, says Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. There was, of course, the wave of anti-Muslim activity after 9-11, but “2010 was the worst cycle we had seen prior to this one,” he says. “In 2010 you had the issue of the ‘ground zero mosque’ and you had Terry Jones burn a Koran.”

Similar Islamophobic acts started picking up after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris last year but had tapered off until the most recent incident.

“Right now my count for November is that we had three mosque incidents,” says Saylor. “Since the Paris attacks there have been at least six, to my knowledge.” In New York City, the number of mosques has increased since 9-11: Back then there were just more than 100; today, one count has the number at 285.

“We might have nearly 300 mosques in New York,” says Bhatti, “but so many Muslims are immigrants that keep to themselves and to their community.”

Bhatti would like to change that and get more Muslims to be proactive in educating the wider public about their religion. In an effort to do this, Bhatti and a group of his friends who are practicing Muslims created an “Ask a Muslim” Periscope account where users are invited to submit questions regarding Islam.

Meanwhile, many in the community worry about hate crimes and opposition to mosques with negative perceptions of Islam on the rise.

“There’s always that feeling that something might happen,” says Razvi. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

He adds: “But the way things are going with other mosques in the country, it’s bound to happen.”


Pope Francis in New York City

NEW YORK, NY – Pope Francis visits and offers prayers at a ceremony at the World Trade Center Memorial in Lower Manhattan on September 9, 2015. The visits was part of a multi-day tour through Washington D.C., Philadelphia and New York. During this time, Pope Francis spoke before Congress, with the President and at the United Nations. Additionally, Francis rode on a motorcade through Central Park, with thousands of people in attendence.

Photos by CS Muncy


Here Are 25 New Yorkers Who Really Need Pope Francis to Forgive Them

In March, Pope Francis declared 2015 a Holy Year of Mercy, urging all Catholics to remember that “God forgives and God forgives always.”

“No one can be excluded from God’s mercy,” he said during a Lenten service at the Vatican. “Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.”

It’s a good thing he’s in a forgiving mood, because he’s about to spend the next three days in the Big Apple and — let’s be honest — there are plenty of New Yorkers who could use a little absolution. Here’s a list of New York City people, places, and things that could stand a pardon from the man in the hat:

Ryan Adams, for having launched a war of escalating irony with his Taylor Swift covers album.

Robert’s Steakhouse for having the audacity to serve some of the city’s “very best steaks” in this place.

5Pointz owner Jerry Wolkoff for insisting that his Long Island City condo development bear the name of the longtime graffiti mecca he had razed earlier this year.

All the Famous Ray’s that purport to be the Original.

The Downtown Brooklyn “pioneer” for fighting babies. The fully-outside-of-the-womb kind.

The Times Square Desnudas because they haven’t done anything wrong. The jury’s still out on the Naked Cowboy.

Yankee fans
for only pretending to have turned on A-Rod.

The Times Square Olive Garden — and not just for the obvious crime of being an Olive Garden in the city’s worst neighborhood. This one has the added offense of hosting an annual New Year’s Eve party. The servers who take that shift should get lifetime absolution. Although actually, it might be where the unrepentant end up.

The John Varvatos store on Bowery, formerly CBGB, because we still can’t get over that shit.

Martin Shkreli…hahahahaha, just kidding, that guy’s going to Hell.

The pope could leave a packet of communion wafers in Penn Station. This wouldn’t exactly absolve anyone, but it might actually give commuters something worth eating, there.

Weed delivery services citywide, for having convinced everyone that three grams equals an eighth.

Taylor Swift for the various crimes she committed against the city (namely, the ceaseless blaring of 1989 in Forever 21 stores across Manhattan) during her reign as ambassador.

All man-spreaders and pole-leaners on the subway. OH WAIT THEY DON’T DESERVE ABSOLUTION.

That hot dog vendor
who was charging tourists exorbitant sums for street meat. (Here’s a tip, Your Holiness: All street vendors tend to drop prices when you say, “I’m a local. I’m not paying $4 for a can of Coke.”)

The skateboarding Baby’s All Right taco, for recklessly endangering the life of an unsuspecting driver.

Vice for more or less leveling Williamsburg‘s DIY-venue landscape. (R.I.P. Death by Audio and Glasslands.)

Williamsburg. All of it.

The cast of The View, which, on a daily basis turns their set into a cauldron of misguided and uninformed hot takes. (Dump a bucket of holy water on the head of Raven Symoné, while you’re there.)

Anyone with man-bun. In Brooklyn or literally anywhere else.

Commuters who do anything on the subway other than stare blankly ahead in mild, contemplative silence.

Every new bank branch and chain pharmacy in Manhattan and Brooklyn (and Queens, and the Bronx, and Staten Island) for slowly stripping the city of its character.

Any restaurant in the city that takes this locavore shit so seriously they don’t serve limes in their drinks.

That one peeing homeless guy
 the Post attacked on cover after cover this summer. But Francis must not absolve the Post because c’mon.

Himself. Because timing his visit to New York to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly is basically going to ruin Manhattan for an entire weekend. That’s a new level of assholery.



NYPD Is Investigating Separate BB Gun Attacks on Orthodox Jews in Queens

Queens City Councilman Rory Lancman is warning about a pair of possibly anti-Semitic crimes in Kew Gardens Hills after two Orthodox men were targeted with BB guns. The attacks occurred within two blocks of each other, on 150th Street between 75th and 73rd, near the Lander College for Men, a yeshiva. Both victims were dressed in clothing that would have identified their faith, according to Lancman’s office. The incidents are being investigated as possible bias crimes.

The first attack occurred on September 11 and the second on Friday, September 18, coinciding with Rosh Hashanah and the start of the Jewish High Holidays. Neither victim was seriously injured. Kew Gardens Hills contains a large Orthodox and Haredi population. The attacks were first reported in the Queens Chronicle.

Lancman told the Voice that he was notified by the NYPD after the most recent incident so he could communicate the potential threat to his constituents. Lancman was told that neither victim saw his attacker. “Whoever shot them shot them from enough of a distance or from a concealed location that the victims didn’t see their attacker,” Lancman told the Voice. He said the timing of the attacks was especially worrisome.

“Given the symbolism of the High Holidays, and that it’s the time of the year when the most Jews gather together in one place, that can make for an inviting target” for bigots, Lancman said.

The NYPD did not immediately respond to a request for more information.