Let's start in North Side Chicago at the Shan Restaurant, a Pakistani bistro where South Asians like to hang out, among them Ifti Nasim, a 53-year-old Pakistani writer and radical who's also a leading light of Muslim gays, many of them mustered in the international gay Muslim organization Al-Fatiha. Nasim was sitting in the Shan on the night of March 12 when a man at the table called Salman Aftab began verbally hassling him for being "too visible" in his sexual orientation and an "embarrassment" to South Asians. Nasim apparently likes heavy jewelry and presented himself in drag on the cover of his latest book of poems.
Nasim says Aftab told him, "I'm going to stab you up the ass to tell God I'm getting rid of at least one sinner! I want to clean up the planet after your type!" Then, on Nasim's account, Aftab got a knife from the kitchen, yelled out "gandoo," meaning "faggot bottom," declared an Islamic "jihad" against Nasim and gay Muslims and lurched toward the poet. At which point two people in the restaurant restrained Aftab, and Nasim dialed 911.
The first Chicago cops on the scene reportedly told Nasim it looked to them like "an ethnic problem" and declined to take Nasim's complaint. Then police Sgt. Mary Boyle arrived and ordered Aftab to be arrested, charged with simple assault, a misdemeanor.
What bears upon the title of this column is that the Chicago police declined Nasim's request that they hit Aftab with a hate-crimes charge, to the great fury not only of many Chicago gays but of the local chapter of the ACLU. The Al-Fatiha Foundation has been urging gays across the United States to call Cook County State's Attorney Dick Devine to demand that hate-crimes charges be filed against Aftab on the grounds that the assault was motivated by Nasim's sexual orientation and ethnicity. The Chicago Anti-Bashing Network has made the same call, and has prompted the ACLU's Pamela Sumner to write a three-page, single-spaced letter to State's Attorney Devine detailing why she feels he should pursue hate-crimes charges in Nasim's case. Devine has refused to do so.
Now, CABN has done good work in Chicago on such issues as killings and torture by Chicago's cops. When I phoned the group to ask for Sumner's letter, CABN co-founder Andy Thayer told me he was well aware of my opposition to hate-crimes laws and indeed agreed that "the promotion of hate-crimes legislation has generally been a distraction from legal inequalities faced by lesbians and gays"; also that the "Democratic Party in particular has very cynically promoted hate-crimes legislation while conveniently ignoring the Defense of Marriage Act and the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that arguably contributed to the climate requiring hate-crimes laws." After voicing these sentiments, Thayer said he wants Aftab charged with a hate crime because the law is on the Illinois books (as are a lot of unjust laws) and it is a useful way to pressure Devine, who grandstands on his support for such laws.