Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adults pastor.
Woke capitalism had its very best values on display during the first week of Pride Month, a June-long celebration to mark the 1969 Stonewall riots and LGBT+ rights.
Multinationals like YouTube, Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, BMW and Lenovo splashed bright rainbow colours across their social media pages. But it didn’t take long for savvy internet users to point out a glaring irony: where the most courage is required for such displays — namely, the Middle East — the same companies were conspicuously inconspicuous about Pride Month.
Visit the “Middle East” or “Arabia” Twitter pages for each of the corporations listed above and you’ll notice that it is business as usual. No rainbow flags, no glitter, and no woke virtue signalling that we are assured is essential for progress towards equality and human rights. Surely there’s no place that needs such rights more than those nations where the death penalty and extra-judicial killings are commonplace for those who transgress heterosexual norms.
We live in curious times if it’s considered “stunning and brave” to celebrate a cause that will win unqualified applause from every corner of society, whether Big Media, Big Government or Big Tech — and yet it’s somehow “culturally sensitive” to let human rights abuses continue in the one region that advocacy is most needed. What gives?
Titania McGrath, a parody social media personality created by comedian Andrew Doyle, didn’t skip a beat. “It takes real courage for major corporations to display the Pride rainbow colours in our homophobic and heteronormative culture,” McGrath tweeted earlier in the week. “And yet how wonderful to see that the Arab States are so progressive that the corporations don’t even have to bother.”
According to a 2016 Washington Post report, homosexuality is still punishable with death in at least ten countries in the Middle East and North Africa — including Yemen, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, and the United Arab Emirates. Stoning is the method of execution in some of these nations. Floggings and whippings are also commonplace. Islamist groups have long been known to throw gay men from rooftops.
Indeed, for all that has been said in recent weeks about Israel’s supposed cruelty and inhumanity, Israel is the only Middle Eastern nation where homosexuality is tolerated at any level comparable to the Western world.
Eyebrows were also raised this week when the Biden administration promised to fly rainbow flags at US embassies around the world in celebration of gay rights. But of course, those colourful flags are only on display in nations where where lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people already have rights. The US embassy in the Holy See, for example, has lots to be proud about, while its equivalent in Saudi Arabia — where homosexuality is anathema — remains closeted.
Attitudes towards homosexuality in the Middle East are influenced by a range of factors, including its legal, social, political, and cultural history. Islam, the dominant religion in the region, maintains a strong influence on the rights and acceptance of LGBT+ people living in many Middle Eastern nations today. Though the Qur’an doesn’t proscribe the death penalty for homosexuality, some hadith texts do, and Muhammad was known to express contempt for homosexual and transgender activity.
All this to say that there is a distinct clash of cultures between the extreme permissiveness of the postmodern, secular West, and the traditional Islamic cultures of the Middle East. This conflict is not easily resolved. But at the very least, we might hope for a little more integrity from Woke, Inc.
If rights and equality for LGBT+ people is truly their schtick, why don’t they redirect their cheap virtue-signalling into action for real, substantive change? Advocacy and programs for survivors of human rights abuses in the Middle East could really make use of their woke bucks.
On the other hand, if these corporations really aren’t concerned about the abuse and mistreatment of gay, bisexual and transgender people, why are they sending us such mixed messages during Pride Month? The cognitive dissonance is palpable.
Truth be told, we know what lies behind this disorienting state of affairs. This isn’t about doing good. It’s about seeming good — and projecting an image that will get cheers and sales in totally contradictory universes. And the ruse only works as long as the people in each universe are blind to what’s happening on the other side of the “rainbow curtain”.
If only they knew.
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