The Obama administration seems to be of two minds in promoting its various foreign policy agendas. On the one hand, the White House has made a high profile attempt to improve relations with the world’s Muslims, going out of its way to heap praise on Islam and distance the faith from the radical extremists who are committing acts of terrorism in its name. On the other hand, the administration has been campaigning for international protection of the rights of homosexuals, for example promoting the United Nations Human Rights Council’s March 22 statement on “Ending Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” But homosexuality is strongly frowned upon in the Islamic world, at least officially; none of the Muslim-majority Middle East states joined the 85 countries that signed off on the U.N. statement.
These types of disconnects are common in diplomacy. It is a big world after all and you can’t please everyone. But recently the administration set these objectives on a collision course by hosting a pro-gay event in the heart of the Muslim world. The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, held a “Pride Celebration” in late June seeking to raise awareness and promote tolerance for Pakistan’s homosexual population. The Embassy web site said that the event “demonstrated continued U.S. Embassy support for human rights, including LGBT rights, in Pakistan at a time when those rights are increasingly under attack from extremist elements throughout Pakistani society.”
But this event was needlessly provocative. Pakistan is a key strategic partner in the war on terrorism, and lately the partnership has been deeply frayed. Opinion polling shows that the U.S. approval rating in Pakistan is among the lowest in the world. The event simply handed a cudgel to conservative Muslim political and religious figures to beat up on America. A joint statement from Pakistani Muslim leaders denounced the event, saying that gays are “the curse of society and social garbage” who “don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the U.S. administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan.” They said the celebration was “tantamount to stabbing the Muslim world in the chest.” Homosexuality is punished in the Mideast by imprisonment, flogging, stoning, beheading or hanging. However in private such conduct is very common; as the regional saying goes, “Women are for family, boys are for fun.” But there is no reason for the State Department to exacerbate tensions over this issue when the United States is trying to sell the idea that the western way of life is not the threat to Islam that the extremists say it is. Maybe later this year U.S. embassies in Muslim majority countries can host Ramadan pork rib barbecues and serve American beer and whiskey. That would make just about as much sense.