Kristine Withers was feeling threatened by the Islamic Thinkers Society when she was arrested for getting into an altercation with the radical group in July 2004. The militants had become a weekly fixture on a street corner near her home in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City's Queens, setting up tables and erecting signs with messages reading "Your terrorists are our heroes" and "Allah will destroy nations that allow homosexuality."
Since then the 43-year-old lesbian has had several run-ins with the group and has been admonished by authorities to be more tolerant. Indeed, Withers has been somewhat hostile. But that's what's needed, she argues, given the incredible threat the Islamic Thinkers pose to the well-being of the neighborhood's sizable gay and lesbian population. "They think they own the neighborhood, and the cops give them the attitude that they do," she says. "I'm very concerned."
After another altercation in January--during which Withers claims she was knocked to the ground--Withers was charged with disorderly conduct. In April the charges were dismissed. "For some reason the 115th precinct and local politicians turn their backs," she says. "They are afraid. And gay organizations? No response. It's all out of fear."
Withers's confrontations with the Islamic Thinkers may seem relatively minor, but they have brought major media attention te the presence of radical Islam in the United States and its impassioned and sometimes violent opposition to freedom of the press, women's rights, and homosexuality. When worldwide protests erupted over the publication of cartoons in Denmark depicting the prophet Muhammad, the Islamic Thinkers, who have ties to the radical Muslim group Al-Muhajiroun, were among the more than 1,000 Muslims protesting in Manhattan near the Danish consulate on February 17. They carried signs portraying George W. Bush and Danish editor Flemming Rose (who had made the initial decision to run the cartoons in Jyllands-Posten) with targets on their foreheads.
Groups like the Islamic Thinkers are not nearly as prevalent in the United States as they are in the European Union, where many Muslim residents subscribe to a much more radical interpretation of Islam. In the Netherlands in recent years Islam has been colliding with the country's open acceptance of homosexuality. There have been numerous reports of gay bashings and other violent crimes, including the 2005 gay-bashing of Washington Blade executive editor Chris Crain by a group of youths who were reportedly of Moroccan descent. And gays and lesbians in Amsterdam said in a recent survey they don't feel as safe as they once did and that overall tolerance of homosexuality is in decline.
But that hasn't happened in the United States--not yet, anyway. When it comes to the rights of LGBT people in the United States, radical Islam is a far more dangerous threat than fundamentalist Christianity, claims Claire Berlinski, the author of Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis Is America's Too. "It's the most pressing threat to liberty right now. They really do think Western civilization would be best brought te an end. Anyone considered an apostate is very much at risk."
Berlinski understands that taking such a hard line could make her sound racist and intolerant, but the rhetoric coming from radical Islamists--some of whom espouse the full implementation of Islamic sharia law, reduced rights for women, and death for gays and lesbians--requires a strong stand. "It sounds so strange coming out of my mouth, but it's the only reasonable thing you can conclude when confronted with someone who wants you dead," she says.
Berlinski has been a vocal critic of those who seem to take a soft approach te radical Islamists. She points te the assassination attempt on openly gay Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, who was stabbed at an all-night celebration at the Paris city hall in October 2002. …