Okay, cut from New York in 1989 to London in 2011. The stakes are higher — much higher. The mosques in Britain's capital aren't just refusing to hand out condoms or instruct gay believers in how to have safe sex. (Imagine!) No; they're preaching to their ever-growing congregations in that increasingly Muslim city what Islam's holy books teach about homosexuality — namely, that gays deserve to be executed. This has been going on for years, of course. The latest twist — and it will certainly not be the last — is that in February the East End, a neighborhood where many gays live but that is fast becoming a Muslim enclave, began being papered with stickers. They depicted a rainbow flag placed within a black circle and crossed out by a diagonal black line on which were printed the words "Gay free zone." And they featured two quotations from the Koran. One of them read: "Arise and warn." The other: "And fear Allah; verily Allah is severe in punishment."
Now, this could be dismissed as a nasty prank by some isolated, harmless jerk with too much time on his hands. But to do that would be dangerous. For the sentiments expressed on those stickers are widespread among Muslims in the East End, and indeed among Muslims throughout London, Britain, and Europe generally. It's no coincidence that as the East End has become more Muslim, the number of gay-bashings has risen sharply and steadily. Not to respond in some way to this latest provocation, then, would be a show of weakness and of fear, and an invitation to push harder. Here's one way to look at it. Let's say a heavily gay neighborhood in the U.S., like West Hollywood or the Castro in San Francisco or Washington's Dupont Circle, had experienced a major influx of fundamentalist Christians in recent years. Let's say the preachers at these churches were known to give rousing sermons about the hellfire awaiting sodomites. (While countless imams in the West openly remind their congregations that their religion calls for the execution of gays, not even the most extreme fundamentalist Christian — not even Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps — preaches such a message.) And let's say that stickers declaring the neighborhood gay-free and citing anti-gay Bible quotes suddenly began appearing on lampposts and mailboxes. What would happen?