A Frank Discussion of Homophobia in the Middle EastS

Looking at title of Salon's "Homophobia on the Rise in the Muslim World," I felt a myself hesitating mid-click. Is this going to be an article on GLBTQI issues or veiled anti-Islam propogranda? Thankfully, the article is the former.

After a gruesome lead that covers the story of Hisham, an Iraqi refugee now living in Beirut, the article goes on to explain:

In Baghdad a new series of murders began early this year, perpetrated against men suspected of being gay. Often they are raped, their genitals cut off, and their anuses sealed with glue. Their bodies are left at landfills or dumped in the streets. The nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch, which has documented many of these crimes, has spoken of a systematic campaign of violence involving hundreds of murders.

Weaving the key aspects of the persecution with humanizing narratives, writers Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Daniel Steinvorth (originally writing for Der Speigel) produce a rich discussion of the current climate for homosexuals in increasingly theocratic areas. While their analysis revolves around same gender loving men, they do paint a detailed picture of the issues at play.

  • There's something a wee bit familiar about these justifications for homophobia:

    Islamists are now a dominant cultural force in many of these countries. They include figures such as popular Egyptian television preacher Yussuf al-Qaradawi, who demonizes gays as perverse. Four years ago the Shiite grand ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a fatwa saying that gays are to be murdered in the most brutal way possible. These religious opinion leaders base their hatred for gays on the story of Lot in the Koran: "Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation [ever] committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds." Lot's people suffered the destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins. The prophet Mohammed has a number of dicta in which he condemns these acts by Lot's people, and in one of them he even goes as far as to call for punishment by death.

  • As is the case in many cultures, homosexuality was not always universally condemned:

    It looks as if a wave of homophobia has swept over the Islamic world, a place that was once widely known for its open-mindedness, where homoerotic literature was written and widely read, where gender roles were not so narrowly defined, and, as in the days of ancient Greece, where men often sought the companionship of youths[...]

    The story of Lot and related verses in the Koran were not interpreted as unambiguous references to homosexual sex until the 20th century, says Everett Rowson, professor of Islamic studies at New York University. This reinterpretation was the result of Western influences — its source was the prudery of European colonialists who introduced their conception of sexual morality to the newly conquered countries.

    The fact of the matter is that half of the laws across the world that prohibit homosexuality today are derived from a single law that the British enacted in India in 1860. "Many attitudes with regard to sexual morality that are thought to be identical to Islam owe a lot more to Queen Victoria than to the Koran," Rowson says.

  • Often, intrusions of the state into the realm of the personal aren't as founded in religion as they appear:

    "The most repressive are secular regimes such as those in Egypt or Morocco, which are under pressure from Islamists and so try to outdo them with regard to morals," says Scott Long of Human Rights Watch. "In addition, the persecution of homosexuals shows that a regime has control over the private lives of its citizens — a sign of power and authority." For several years now, a sense of "moral panic" has been systematically fomented in many Muslim countries.

  • What is moral and what is immoral? The lines, when examined, begin to blur:

    The persecution of gays has led to a boom in the demand for sex-change operations in Iran. More operations of this kind are carried out in the Islamic Republic than anywhere else in the world apart from Thailand. These procedures were approved by Ayatollah Khomeini himself in 1983. Khomeini defined transsexuality as a disease that can be healed by means of an operation. Since then thousands of people have requested this kind of treatment, and the Iranian government even covers part of the costs.

    "Family members and physicians urge homosexuals to have operations to normalize their sexual orientation," Parsi says. This way it was possible for a high-ranking Shiite religious scholar to finance his secretary's physical transformation into a woman and then to marry him.

  • The reality on paper isn't always the reality on the ground:

    The archconservative kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country where sharia law is the sole legal code, under which homosexuals are flogged and executed. "Homosexuals are freer here than they are in Iran," says Afdhere Jama, who traveled through the Islamic world for seven years doing research for his book "Illegal Citizens."

    Gay men and women have a surprising amount of space in Saudi society. Newspapers print stories about lesbian sex in school lavatories, while it is an open secret that certain shopping centers, restaurants and bars in Jeddah and Riyadh are gay meeting points.

  • And, as always, bigotry wilts in the face of common sense:

    [Openly gay imam Daayiee Abdullah] regularly receives death threats but now laughs them off, saying: "How can two loving men pose a threat to the foundations God has laid?

    "

    Homophobia on the rise in the Muslim world [Salon]