Gay.com Sorta Covers Lebanon, Almost

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31 July 2006
Two articles on Lebanon recently appeared on Gay.com, one about Helem helping out in relief efforts, and one semi-interview with a Helem member about the war. The articles aren't very good, but here's the first one:

Remy is a member of the Montreal chapter of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People." As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, Remy shared with Gay.com some background on the crisis in Beirut, its impact on LGBT people, and his feelings about the upcoming observation of WorldPride in Jerusalem.

Helem is a Lebanese group, which started in Lebanon, so we are always in close contact with the chapter there. Helem has the one and only LGBT center in the Arab world. That center is now being offered by Helem as a relief center for refugees. Helem is offering its offices, computers, Internet access and volunteers to help with the crisis.

The thing Helem Beirut members miss the most (as gay people) is probably the fact that they can't be together right now. Everyone is with his or her family, and some are giving volunteer time in different places, so they are not meeting every week as they used to; they don't gather and do group activities. I suspect they are going back to a stage of isolation -- being gay, and having to stay within the mainstream community (which can be difficult for some who have had Helem as a support for a while now).

Gays and lesbians have always lived in Lebanon (and other Arab countries) a life of isolation and fear. The law is against us (article 534 of the Lebanese penal code). Society is against us; religion is against us. All we have is each other . . . and Helem (the Dream!). We are seeing an evolution in mentalities (younger people are more open-minded than older generations), but things are changing slowly.

Lebanon has always been known for its more modern way of living and thinking than other Arab countries. Gay clubs, gay shops, gay cafes and restaurants were starting to allow LGBT people to lead a kind of normal life. I say "kind of" because even though there seems to be more freedom for gays to meet and go clubbing and organize events, it is still a sense of freedom, an impression that we are free at last. But living as a gay man or woman is still a day-by-day situation: You never know when the government will decide Helem is not allowed to exist anymore, or when the government will start jailing LGBT people. But the situation was more or less improving.

I was personally in Lebanon for three weeks last spring, and I was very impressed by how far we have gone as LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are working as a community. They are supporting each other, doing business with each other, empowering each other, clubbing with each other. It could be seen as creating a ghetto, but that ghetto is doing wonders because LGBT people now rely on themselves and each other instead of relying on heterosexual society. [...]

WorldPride in Jerusalem -- a parade for love and acceptance in an occupied land, a land which knows no acceptance nor love? Helem supports the international boycott of Jerusalem WorldPride. Lebanese (and many other Arabs) have no right to enter Jerusalem. If our passports are stamped by Israel, we are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy or condemned for treason.

Right now, Helem Lebanon (as well as Helem Paris and Helem Montreal) is putting all its efforts toward the crisis in Lebanon in different ways: volunteering in Beirut, fundraising in Paris, marching for visibilty and fundraising in Montreal. Our main priority right now is to save Lebanon.
And here's the interview:

As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, a Lebanese member of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People," made time for a short interview with Gay.com about the current situation in Beirut and what it's like to be gay in wartime.

What's happening with gay people there now? Are gay clubs closing?

Almost all the clubs -- gay and nongay -- are closed since the Israeli aggression, so I suppose that means the gay clubs are closed.

How is the war affecting gay people in Lebanon?

The war is affecting gay people the same way it is affecting straight people for the moment. It is depressing for both gay and nongay people to see that all the effort Lebanese people have made for the past 15 years has been destroyed within five days.

Are gays able to support one another at this time?

Helem Lebanon joined a network of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working to provide aid for refugees coming to Beirut from south Lebanon and the city's southern suburb. We also suspended our normal activities and transformed our offices to a relief center. Somehow it is nice to see gay and heterosexual people working together to help the refugees.

That is all I can say for the moment -- but I will provide you with more information when possible.
Even though I'm glad Gay.com is covering the Arab World, the articles aren't very informative.

In the first article, why did Gay.com not consult anyone in Beirut to get information? Helem liss phone numbers on its webpage, can Gay.com not afford an international call? It seems like simple journalistic methodology to me.

In the second article, why is gay clubs the first thing they ask about? How superficial! Plus, who is this guy they're talking to? Is he someone who's word is important? Also, al-Fil told me that his friends are still going to gay clubs. Is he lying?

I'd like to find out more details on what Helem is doing in Beirut, not about World Pride, which is not so important now, or on the status of the clubbing scene. Nice try, Gay.com. Next time, do some legwork.

Google Does Care – We Heart Google

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31 July 2006
As al-Fil is currently in the desert, I promised him I'd actually post stuff while he was away. Well, here's an update on the Google mini-scandal from mid-July which began with the finding of a derogatory translation of "gay" and an unsympathetic letter from Google, but is now A-OK:

In the MEGJournal e-mail, al-Fil received this from Google:

Dear Sir,

I have just seen your complaint re the translation tool offered by Google. First of all please accept Google's apology if this translation has offended you. As you may well be aware this tool is still in Beta phase and hence some bugs or incorrect translations will occur. During the Beta phase many of our users provide us feedback on issues such as this, so we can take corrective action. I thank you for bringing this to our attention and strongly encourage you to provide us with extensive feedback of any other mistranslations you might come across.

Also, allow me to take a few minutes of your time to explain the mechanics of how the translation engine works. Our solution is built around a statistical model that depends on previously translated material to statistically determine translations for new sentences. The system continuously learns to update and improve translations. As a starting point we have ingested a number of translated documents and use this to provide the service you now see. Unfortunately many sources on the web use the translation you have seen.

[Here is a link he put in the e-mail here, but is so long, it messes up our formatting, and I saw the complaints about our formatting before, thank you very much!]

As we continuously improve the service and add more documents such occurrences should decrease. In the meantime we are working on fixing this error in the very near future and hope you accept our apology and understand the nature of this service and how it provides translations based on parallel data and not through human intervention.

Once again please accept my thanks for highlighting this issue in our feedback and feel free to provide us with any feedback you feel might improve or enhance our translation service.

Best Regards

Sherif R. Iskander
Regional Business Manager
Middle East and North Africa

Is that sweet or what? Pink News also ran a story on the issue. It said:

Despite the abundance of more derogatory slang in Arabic, Ali Asali, administrator of GayEgypt.com, one of the Middle East’s leading pro-gay websites, agrees that the term [luti] is unsuitable, he said: “It's not the term used on the street for abuse, there are hundreds of these which vary from country to country and indeed from region to region within countries. You could argue that the terms “khawal? in Egypt, “pédé? in Algeria and “ajala? (meaning bicycle) in upper Egypt and I could list many more, are much more abusive. However the term looti is still inappropriate.?

The controversy over “luti? arose about a week ago when the administrator of a blog called The Middle East Gay Journal wrote an open letter to Google upon his discovery that the international company's translation tools translated the word "gay" derogatorily into Arabic. Upon receiving a perfunctory, perhaps automated, response, the administrator was irked and spread the word to numerous other blogs, which spawned more letters to Google.

From his office in Egypt, Sherif Iskander, Google’s business manager for the Middle East and North Africa, told PinkNews.co.uk that he would fix the problem. He said that he had been out of the country for a few days and had learned of the problem upon his return.

“The machine is learning,? he said, emphasising that Google’s translation tools were still in their early phases, and they often went into the system to re-teach it better translations. “Several examples like this have come to my attention,? he said, adding, "Issues like that should not stay in the system." He said that the problem should be fixed in a few days.

Nevertheless, Mr Iskander welcomed the input, "We totally depend on user feedback to fix issues," he said, adding that when problems with translation are reported to Google, it allows them to improve the system.

Google’s translation tools use an approach similar to the methods used to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone – they take identical bodies of work in two languages and compare them side by side.

In Google’s case, they use the immense corpa of the United Nations. Despite using documents that totalled over 200 billion words, however, there were still some terms unknown to the tools.

To solve this quandary, the Google tools access online dictionaries to search for translations. “This is where most of the problems arise,? said Mr Iskander, indicating that the dictionaries often offered inadequate or imprecise translations, without context. Sadly, many of these online dictionaries employ “luti.?

Mr Iskander reiterated that Google’s translation services are a “very powerful tool? that is “opening up the Middle East? to non-Arabic speakers.

He said that the translations are far from ideal, but are meant to give people an idea of what is being written in other languages, without having to actually learn to speak them, "It's like a five-year-old that knows two languages…it's better being stuck with a five-year-old than someone who speaks only one language," he explained.
On checking Google's translation page today, I remarked that when "gay" is put into the system, "مثلي الجنس" is now returned instead of "اللوطي". Thanks, Google!

I must say that Google did a great thing. I doubt, although I have no proof to back it up, other companies would be so quick to change such an error. Anyway, kudos.

Poetry, Religion, and Philadelphia

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29 July 2006
This is my last night in Amman. I'm leaving tomorrow, going for a small journey before joining my sister in America. I plan to return to Lebanon after the war.

Before I leave Jordan, I'm going to visit the ancient lands of Sodom, the baneful inheritance of gay people worldwide, and the namesake of "لوطي" and "sodomite". I wonder if it will change me in some way, but I don't yet know the manner. Will the earth open like an awoken, bitter clam and swallow me? Will the lapping of the sea greet me like the friendly tongue of a lonely dog? My heart is swarming with quietly whispering bees.

I spent the night eating falafel and onions (quartered perfectly, with just a hint of brown skin to give texture), and I wrote this poem:

With the molten night still flowing slowly over the hillsides,
not yet hardened into its opaline shell,
the cafes crowd with starched white shirts
and immaculately pastel peasant skirts,
every eye turned to the burning hillside of Jebel Achrafieh.
The words "amber" and "ochre" and "cinnamon" quiver in the air,
clumsily weighted by their Germanic accents
and clattering like bits of copper on the tiles.

Every house on Jebel Achrafieh is the exact same color,
an indistinguishable sandstone that rises organically from the earth.
If you run quickly, civilization disappears in a whirling panorama:
smeared in the rushing drab of the dirt and the bright of the sky.

If I had a house on Jebel Achrafieh, I'd paint it blue
with chalk, just once a year, in a month without holidays,
like Shaban or Thu al-Kadah,
months that dim in the light of Ramadan and Thu al-Hijra.
On that day, the women washing clothes would shout
"Such beauty held in sapphire walls!"
The sun would stop high in the sky, resting and admiring,
and the blinded women would spill their buckets of frothing water.

Every day the lazy strollers on the steep avenues of Amman
absorb the muffled beauty of endlessly rolling ginger hills.
But for one sunset in the year, the glory of difference would shine,
and before the mullahs could run from their hilltops and shout their curses,
would be washed away in the swirling rivers of the washer-women,
left to nothing but azure streams by the cold morning light.
I've been thinking a lot about the wars in the Middle East, and all the burdens that come with it. What comes to mind are the intangible riches of the ancient world: the philosophy of Greece, the law of Rome, the magic of India, and the wisdom of Persia.

What did the lands of Arabia bring? Religion. The East boils in religion, heated by the boiling sands of the Arabian desert, while the West fidgets with cool, calculating legality. The U.S. and Europe fight over what is legal, what is agreed-upon, what is enforcable, while the East argues over right, wrong and God, infinitely more difficult conceptions. Arabs have never really put faith in the United Nations, and the Arab League is a porcelain vase that is endlessly dropeed and glued back together. Religion is both the glory and the curse of the Middle East: it brings it light and it brings it war.

I remember watching "The Neverending Story" on television as a child, with the hungry "Nothing". It gave me nightmares. More than any other figment that terrorized me - Chucky, the djinn, the man under the bed - the idea of the Nothing tortured me. Chucky would stab me, the djinn would eat me, and the man under the bed would do something horrible. But what would happen to me when the Nothing came?

The deserts of Arabia are expanding, eating away at the Arabian nations. I once heard an American compare the deserts to the American plains, an awful comparison. While they may be alike in stark beauty, the plains give life - corn, wheat, and cattle - the desert gives empty gifts wrapped in shimmering brown paper. I wonder if I'll start dreaming of the desert, as I used to of the Nothing.

I may not post for a while, because of my stay in Sodom, so I am going to leave with a good post: the review of Unspeakable Love that I promised to do a while ago. It'll be right under this one, when I finish it. I'll also leave with this excerpt of one of my favorite poems, "La colère de Samson". It's a fight of lovers, of men vs. women, but it means so much more than that:

Bientôt, se retirant dans un hideux royaume,
La Femme aura Gomorrhe et l'Homme aura Sodome,
Et, se jetant, de loin, un regard irrité,
Les deux sexes mourront chacun de son côté.

Book Review: “Unspeakable Love”

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29 July 2006
I've been saying I'd review Brian Whitaker's Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East forever, but I haven't done it. I'm tired, but I'm going to do it now. So here goes:

There's a lot I like and don't like about the book. Firstly, I love Whitaker's writing style. He's very eloquent, and sometimes this leads to strikingly persuasive paragraphs. Here's one I liked on the Universal Declaration of Human rights, from chapter 4, "Rights and Wrongs", page 110:

The essential principle here is equality, and there is no room for selectively excluding some human beings on the pretext of local circumstances or cultural norms. Either the equality principle is accepted in whole or it is not; there are no half measures. The equal rights established by the declaration include an equal right to life, equal freedom from arbitrary arrest, equal freedom from torture and ill-treatment, equal freedom from torture and ill-treatment, equal freedom of expression and association, and equality before the law.

Despite this, and despite ample evidence of abuses in various parts of the world, the United Nations has been slow to grapple, with what, for a large number of it members, is a highly sensitive issue...
I think that's beautifully stated.

Unspeakable Love has repeatedly been called "groundbreaking", and in many ways it is. Never before has such a comprehensive study of gay civil rights been published, or so widely available to the public. The fact that it was the number 1 seller for a huge period of time at the Virgin Megastore in Beirut attests to the fact that a book such as this is long overdue. Brian Whitaker organizes this book expertly - information is easily accessible, easily understandable, and meticulously footnoted.

My favorite chapter is by far chapter 3, "Images and Realities". In this chapter, Whitaker analyzes media coverage of gay people in the Middle East. One of my favorite paragraphs, from page 72:


News media about same-sex marriage and gay clergy in the West tend to be reported factually and straightforwardly by the Arab media, often with quotes from opposing sides. Besides the stories dealing specifically with these topics, there were many others during the American presidential campaign of 2004 that mentioned gay rights as an election issue. The relatively calm tone of these reports in comparison with the more hysterical stories about local homosexuality may be partly explained by their reliance on Western news agencies. As with the nineteenth-century writings of Richard Burton, however, they can be read in different ways by different readers. They can be interpreted either as confirming Arab perceptions of Western decadence or as familiarizing readers with alternative views of sexual behaviour. The problem, though, is that the dearth of coverage about Arab homosexuality encourages the idea that it is entirely a foreign phenomenon.
Fantastic. Whitaker outlines here a major issue facing gay people in the Middle East: the push to portray them as foreign, thus making them at least non-Arab and non-Muslim, at worst traitors. If gay people are not seen as a true facet of Arab culture, then their rights are not something that needs to be addressed in Arab society. Whitaker, by laying out numerous examples of terrible media portrayals of gay people by the Arab media unfolds the institutionalized prejudice like a Chinese fan.

But now let's get into some of the things I don't like about the book. In the introduction, Whitaker states on pages 9-10:


There are twenty-two countries in the Arab League (if we include) Palestine, and to try to give a country-by-country picture would be both impractical and repetitive. Instead, I wanted to highlight the issues that are faced throughout the region, to a greater or lesser degree, by Arabs whose sexuality does not fit the public concepts of 'normal'. Most of the face-to-face research was done in Egypt and Lebanon, two countries that provide interesting contrasts. This was supplemented by a variety of other sources including news reports, correspondence by email, articles in magazines and academic journals, discussions published on websites, plus a review of the way homosexuality is treated in the Arabic media, in novels and in films.
First, I'm not sure if I agree with lumping modern Arab societies into one whole. The modern states are so different, and there has been an orientalist history of blurring the Arab people into one united, faceless mass. I mean, would you write a book on gay rights in the Western World, jumping from France to Britain to the U.S. to Poland to Greece to Australia? Actually, you might. I'm not sure there's actually an ideal way to approach such a book, and I don't fault Whitaker here. I just wanted to mention a possible drawback. If someone wrote a book just discussing each country individually, without pointing out trends, that would pose difficulties, too.

The problem I see is that, in effect, Whitaker ended up doing exactly what he promised he wouldn't do. He gets so involved in the legal issues facing gay people in Middle Eastern countries that he gets stuck in a country-by-country discussion of legality, which reads tediously. In many chapters, especially 2 and 4, Whitaker hops from country to country, trying to explain their individual situations. He he can't avoid this - it's impossible to put the legal structures of the Arab World, which are extremely complex and often very dissimilar - into a general thesis. Lebanon has no equivalent of Egypt's "Queen Boat" incident, just as Saudi Arabia has no equivalent to Lebanon's sectarian government. Essentially, Whitaker writes himself into a corner here; he spends so much time explaining political issues that he can't easily go back and discuss the social ones, which are much more important in the Arab World in the ways they affect gay people.

This is where the Western point of view really comes through in the book. Gay rights won't go anywhere in the Middle East unless gay people are more socially accepted first, roughly the opposite of the West. In America, there was Stonewall then Will and Grace. In the Middle East, the reverse is needed. A Stonewall in Egypt or Saudi Arabia will amount to bloodshed, with no real political gain. Whitaker consistently compares the movement the Arab World with the West, namely Britain, creating false parallels. He doesn't seem to consider that the Middle East might need a different form of activism than the West.

There is a vast amount of social issues that are never addressed in Unspeakable Love that are immediatly apparent to anyone who's lived in the Middle East. What about the thousands of men who marry and have sex with men on the side? The gay prostitutes on the corniches of Beirut, Aqaba, Manama, and Alexandria? Gender separation and sexism? The adopting of gender roles in the gay community? Class issues? Racial and Sunni/Shia schisms? The book says it's about "Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East", when really it only deals with politics, the media, and some insights on religion. Except for a discussion of family life, the book hardly touches on everyday gay life, at least for the majority of the people in the Middle East. When you finish the book, a lot seems to be missing.

For the interviews that Whitaker cites as research, his selection of people seems like a skimming of fat from a bucket of milk. They are almost all male, almost all in their twenties, and seem to be from higher classes of society. When I went to the book opening at the Zico House in Beirut in March, it was clear that Whitaker did not speak very good Arabic. He seems to have done all the interviews himself, which explains this problem: young, gay, wealthy men are the easiest segment of gay society for someone like Whitaker to find. They are more likely to speak English, have more social freedom, and go to places where a Westerner can find them. Unfortunately, they are hardly representative, and thus give a skewed view of gay life in the Middle East, as does the fact that they are from the Levant and Egypt, which are very different from the Gulf. The Levant and Egypt, sadly, dominate the book, leaving everyday gay life in the Gulf shadowed in uncertainty.

I don't want to come off as too negative about the book; I feel that there is a lot to be gained from reading it, especially chapter 3, and especially for Westerners who are unfamiliar with Middle Eastern politics. This book definitely has an important purpose there. However, a Beiruti friend of mine said he really liked chapters 1-4, but found the rest of the book tiresome, explaining that the book, in general, was interesting, but didn't tell him anything new about what was going on in the Middle East. I'm inclined to agree with him on the last part. If you're a gay person living in the Middle East, the book won't open your eyes to anything groundbreaking, or great analysis on how to help the movement for gay civil rights progress. It will, however, provide an amazing encyclopedia of modern gay history in the Arab World.

I'll finish with another paragraph I liked, from chapter 7 "Paths to Reform", page 212:

The debate is often presented as a choice between cultural authenticity on the one hand and the adoption of all things Western on the other. In fact, neither is a realistic proposition. Exposure to foreign ideas and influences cannot be prevented, but nor are Arabs incapable of making critical judgments about them. Equally, Arab culture cannot be treated as a fossil; it is a culture in which real people lead real lives and it must be allowed to evolve to meet their needs. The issue, then, is not whether concepts such as 'gay' and 'sexual orientation' are foreign imports but whether they serve a useful purpose. For Arabs who grow up disturbed by an inexplicable attraction towards members of their own sex, they can provide a framework for understanding. For families - puzzled, troubled and uninformed by their own society - they offer a sensible alternative to regarding sons and daughters as sinful or mad.
One more thing: I love the copper eyeshadow on the two men on the front cover. It's artistic, subtle, and beautiful. While politically, it might not have been the best choice to put men in eyeshadow on a book about gay rights in the Middle East, it added a gorgeous softness to the men's complexions.

Under the Flames of War in Lebanon

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28 July 2006
The ladies of Aswat, an organization for Palestinian lesbian women, sent out this e-mail today, entitled "Under the Flames of War in Lebanon":

To all our friends and colleagues,

Thank to all of you who have contacted ASWAT to ask about our safety as we are based in Haifa . It is much appreciated that you are thinking of us in these days. We want to thank you again for your support and the ongoing friendship.

We in ASWAT, our friends and families are safe and we will keep you posted if anything changes. Our reason to write you is to let you know that in these days our hearts and thoughts are in Lebanon , not forgetting Gaza and the West Bank in Palestine and Iraq .

We have a lot of pain and sadness, watching all the pictures as a result of the hits, seeing people killed, and hearing about all the refugees; it makes us stop and raise our voices in ASWAT and say out loud STOP THIS WAR on our sisters and brothers in Lebanon and start negotiating!!!

We have received some news from activists and friends from Helem, an LGBT center in Beirut . After the influx of refugees from the southern suburbs of Beirut as well as from the south of Lebanon , Helem center, together with other NGOs, has begun providing shelter, food, and supplies for the refugees.

More information can be found at http://www.helem.net

Helem also pointed out a few blogs so as to allow people to get first hand information from the civil society in Lebanon:
http://sanayehreliefcenter.blogspot.com/
http://lebanonupdates.blogspot.com/

Other important links:
http://arab-americans.blogspot.com/
http://www.aswatgroup.org/english/article.php?article=106&category=
http://www.aswatgroup.org/arabic/article.php?article=107&category=107

In solidarity,

ASWAT-Palestinian Gay Women
E-mail: aswat@aswatgroup.org
Website: http://www.aswatgroup.org/
Join Aswat's mailing list at: http://www.aswatgroup.org/english/newsletter.php
I'm glad they're safe, and the links are great. I have one issue though: their site is incredibly difficult to navigate, and when they post new articles, they seem to have no easy links to them. If you click on "activities", it only goes up to 2005. It's frustrating! Am I being trivial? Probably.

Turkish Government Seizes Gay Magazine

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28 July 2006
According to a press release by KAOS GL, a gay-rights organization in Turkey, the most recent issue of its magazine, also called KAOS GL, has been seized by the government. The issue, which discusses pornography and gay culture, was found to be pornographic by the 12th district court in Ankara. All issues were ordered by Judge Tekman Savas Nemli to be confiscated, as some of the content and pictures in the issue were deemed to breach general morality. A quote:

In the decision of Ankara Chief Republican Prosecutor's Office Press Crimes Investigation Bureau, the _expression that some texts and pictures are against "protection of general morality". But this _expression does not state which pictures and texts should be banned on what ground.
And another:

It is the first time that our magazine is banned on the same day it was delivered from the printing house even before it is distributed to bookstores. Kaos GL, which started to be published in 1994, was recorded legally at the end of 1999 and the Republican Chief Prosecutor did not find it "pornographic or obscene." Two of its issues following its registeration by officials were distributed in closed envelopes because of the Prime Ministry Council for Protection of Juveniles from Obscene Publications. Other than this, Kaos GL has not faced any investigation
And one more:

Today presentation of views on women bodies with a sexist mentality makes no problem but scientific, cultural and artistic criticism of pornography via gay-lesbian sexuality is seen and banned as an attitude against 'general morality'.

In the magazine with contributions from writers Ahmet Tulgar, Fatih Özgüven, Güner Kuban, Hasan Bülent Kahraman, Mehmet Bilal Dede, Meltem Arıkan, painter Taner Ceylan and photography artistı Bikem Ekberzade', the relation of pornography with homosexuality is discussed.

The file with headline "Visuality of sexuality, sexuality of visuality: Pornography", the doors of the world of pornography that invades the globe are opened and we question how all the images that confuse our minds turn into pornographic elements.

Now with the demand of Ankara Chief Republican Prosecutor and decision of Ankara 12th Justice Court, examination and questioning of pornography by writers, artists, academics, feminists and gay-lesbian individuals have been banned.
Interestingly, the press release points out that the ruling coincided with Turkey's Press Festival on July 24. Irony?

I wonder how this will affect things. Turkey, even though its population is still overwhelmingly against gay rights, has seemed to adopt a policy of "laissez-faire" towards gay people in the past. Is this a sign of bad things to come?

How will the European Union, with its progressive stance on gay rights, view this? Turkey wants to become a member; will they care about this? This is probably the worst time for something like this to happen. The West is increasingly being seen as meddling too much in the affairs of the East, and criticizing one of the more moderate states might not be a good tactical move. I predict that Western nations will remain silent.

It also seems from the press release that only the one issue is banned, and that KAOS GL can continue to publish, which makes the ruling not only seem less extreme, but minimizes the chances that anyone in the West will speak out, but will rather hope that it blows over. Maybe it's prudish, maybe its cowardly - it depends on how the Turkish government act in the future.

It's a dangerous precedent, nonetheless.

Yacoubian Building a Hit in Tunisia

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28 July 2006
In an article titled "The Film The Yacoubian Building Attracts Great Interest at a Carthage Festival in Tunisia", Radio Sawa shows how the Egyptian film is turning heads. A quote, translated by me:

The Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building by director Marwan Hamed attracted a great interest Saturday night during the 41st installment of the Carthage Film Festival and the critics pondered a while on its dimensions and content.

The film was presented in a Roman amphitheatre in Carthage in front of about 12 thousand viewers who did not leave during the entire three hours despite the repeated interruption of video and sound.

Raouf Ben Omar, the director of the Carthage festival, praised the interest in the film in a statement for Agence France-Presse and said that the Carthage festival always searches for high-quality, important performances that avoid stereotypes.

He added that it is not logical that the film and the novel, which were featured in a cultural event in France, would remain unknown in Tunisia. Tunisian journalist Saber Samih Bin Amer journalist Saber Samih Bin Amer praised the work of the young director Marwan Hamed, considering him to be bold in addressing social and political topics with great professionalism.

He added that although the film foreshadows Hamed's future works, it includes shots that are reminiscent of Hollywood films. Bin Amer confirmed that The Yacoubian Building allowed viewers to identify with the deep characters played by the Egyptian actors, especially with actor Khaled al-Sawi, who played the role of a young homosexual (Radio Sawa uses "sexual deviant" here). He called on Tunisian filmmakers to watch the film to gain the benefits of this rich experience.

In The Yacoubian Building, Director Marawan Hamed draws the image of life in a district in the center of Cairo through bold language that addresses the issues of the homosexuality (Radio Sawa uses a neutral term here), liberation, corruption, the caste system, and torture without bias.
All in all, it's a good sign. A movie deals with difficult issues, and people respond well. Plus, the media doesn't use "luti". Only one question remains: when am I going to be able to see the movie?

Also, I haven't read any updates anywhere on what's going on with the inquest of the Egyptian parliament into the film. Maybe it was lost in beaurocracy?

The Advocate Published My Letter

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26 July 2006
The American magazine The Advocate just published my letter in regards to James Kirchick's inflammatory and factually-incorrect commentary piece, which I commented on before here. I have to admit one mistake, though. The original interview with Rauda Morcos spelled her name correctly. Kirchick then spelled it incorrectly, as Marcos, as if she were Spanish. I didn't notice this and misspelled her name, too. Oops! Anyway, here's my letter:

I take extreme issue with the commentary piece by James Kirchick published on you website on July 11 entitled "Palestine and gay rights". I feel that it is biased, one-sided, and gives a gravely inaccurate portrayal of the situation of gay people in the Palestinian Territories.

Primarily, I am concerned about Kirchick's treatment of Rauda Marcos from her interview with the Advocate on May 23. He's correct in his condemnation of "culturally relativistic posturing", but may be mis-analyzing her assertion. She is probably saying that Western countries are able to deal with gay issues as matters of higher priority because they are not facing occupation, high unemployment rates, lack of education, and other issues which, frankly, are more pressing. This can lead to a different "scale". It's clear from the interview that Marcos's English is far from perfect, and Kirchick affords her no leeway.

Secondly, I am horribly disappointed by Kirchick's blind bias towards Israel, painting it as a bastion of gay rights in the Middle East, which it certainly isn't. He fails to acknowledge many of Israel's major shortcomings, including anti-gay members of the Knesset, the stabbing at last year's Jerusalem Pride parade and threats of violence at this year's World Pride, the shunning of Dana International when she visited the Knesset, and many other factors. Worst of all, he fails to acknowledge the systematic abuse of gay Palestinian youth by Israeli intelligence.

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, published an article called 'Queen Hussein' which documented the workings of the Israeli government. It says: "The Israel Security Service (Shabak) cynically uses Palestinian homophobia and coerces gays to choose between recruitment in its ranks and forceful outing. Most Palestinian gays choose the first option in order to save their lives. As such, every gay is considered a potential collaborator."

There are numerous other articles which attest to the same situation, and I personally have friends in Palestine who have told me of similar experiences. Kirchick says, "Unfortunately, Marcos appears to be a woman so blinded by her ethnic nationalism that she is unable to appreciate the advantages of Israel's liberal society. " It seems the reverse may be true of Kirchick, who is too blinded by his love of Israel to write objectively. Throughout his short journalistic career, Kirchick has continually written pro-Israel pieces, and it seems his vision has become clouded. This is shown by his blatant implication that Marcos is anti-Semitic, which he has no real proof for, and his constant allusions to the Palestinian Authority murdering gay people, which is horribly inaccurate, and unfounded.

I am not writing this because I am anti-Israel, or because I believe the Palestinian Territories are better for gay rights than Israel. I recognize that Israel is far ahead of the Palestinian Authority in these respects. But slandering the few pro-gay activists in the Arab World and falsely portraying Israel as a shining haven for gay people not only severely clouds the truth, it supports the prejudice that Arabs are backward and barbaric.

Al-Fil
Beirut
Thanks, Mike Davis, for suggesting I write them! I feel better now!

What is Going on in Morocco?

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26 July 2006
This article from The Sunday Times in the UK makes me cringe - what is going on? A quote (most of the article, actually):

Locals are up in arms over a wall that Bernard-Henri Lévy, the writer and philosopher, and Arielle Dombasle, his actress wife, have erected around their sumptuous clifftop villa in Tangiers. It partially blocks the view of the bay from the terrace of a famous cafe next door.

The view of the Straits of Gibraltar and Bay of Tangiers was said to have inspired writers such as Jean Genet and Tennessee Williams, once regulars at the Hafa cafe. Rachid Taferssiti, a Tangiers writer, referred to Lévy’s wall of of breeze blocks as an example of the “ransacking of the countryside?.

Sensitive to local concerns, Lévy is said to have put up his wall to shelter the shapely Dombasle from public gaze as she suns herself by the swimming pool of the villa. The spectacle of women sunbathing topless plays into the hands of a growing Islamist movement striving to turn Morocco, one of the more liberal countries in the Muslim world, into a strict theocracy.

At first it was only super-rich foreigners who came to live in Morocco, among them Yves Saint Laurent, the French couturier, and the late magazine magnate Malcolm Forbes, who flew in 800 friends from all over the world, including Elizabeth Taylor, for his 70th birthday party at his palace in Tangiers in 1989.

Since then, having tired of the south of France, the Who’s Who? of French society has taken up residence in Morocco, from sportsmen and politicians to captains of industry. Morocco has also been attracting more ordinary tourists, becoming a haven for westerners in search of exotic thrills just a few hours by air from London or Paris.

The bombings in Casablanca in 2003, in which 45 people were killed, do not appear to have harmed that traffic. Yet the rise of the Party for Justice and Development, as the Islamist organisation is known, could cast a shadow on the horizon if, as some predict, it becomes the dominant force in parliament after elections next May.

After it first gained seats in parliament, the party was associated with a campaign against the Miss Morocco contest, which it regarded as “pornographic?. All of those involved were denounced as “un-Islamic? and the competition had to be held in secret.

The group favours sharia, which would enforce a widely ignored prohibition on the sale of alcohol and oblige all women to wear the veil. It has won a big following among a Muslim population depressed by the spectacle of young men and women — and sometimes even children — prostituting themselves to foreign “sex tourists?.

An Islamist newspaper warned recently that the tsunami that devastated parts of Thailand and Indonesia was God’s punishment for immoral behaviour and that Morocco risked a similar disaster unless it mended its ways. Partly in response to such pressure the government of Mohamed VI, the modernising monarch, recently launched a crackdown on vice.

Dozens of women have been rounded up in raids on bars in Marrakesh and other Moroccan cities this month on suspicion of prostitution. Several bar owners have been thrown into jail.

At the same time, the authorities decided to make an example of Jack-Henri Soumère, a well-known French opera director who has been visiting Morocco for three decades.

He was given a four-month suspended prison sentence and fined £500 for homosexuality — which is illegal in Morocco — and possession of cannabis.

Aniko Boehler, the co-ordinator of Hands Off My Child, the organisation that brought the case against him, said many foreign visitors to Morocco seemed to think they were in Marbella. Their “neo-colonial attitudes?, she added, were disrespectful to local customs.

Yet it was not just the immoral behaviour of foreigners that was fuelling the indignation of conservatives and the ranks of Islamist supporters.

“The children of the Moroccan elite are just as bad,? she said. “For them, Marrakesh is just as much of a playground. They go there to use and abuse.?
I'm sorry, but is the country going insane? At least this article points out the roots of the Islamicist backlash - idiotic, careless, spoiled Westerners with no regard for how their actions will affect society. I mean, seriously, why would you go to a Muslim country and sunbathe topless?

Morocco does have a serious problem with the sex trade. And Westerners who shamelessly take advantage of it should not be surprised of such a backlash. Islamicism may be be destructive, restrictive, and - dare I say it - unmodern, but sometimes people in the Arab World see no other way to protect themselves from Western decadence. The Western media likes to say that the Orient is afraid of McDonald's and Hollywood, but it's more than that. It's the disrespect that comparitively rich - and therefore powerful - visitors to Islamic countries show the residents' culture there that poses the greatest hazard.

The far majority of the tourists in Beirut are benign - they check out the clubs, the restaurants, and the museums. They buy hookahs and rugs and go home. But there is the tiny percent that tries to buy and sell the local population that causes an extreme amount of damage. You can see the same, to a greater extent, in Morocco, and to an infamous extent, in Thailand.

When there is a backlash, it hurts much more than just the Westerners who tour Islamic countries. It hurts all aspects of liberalism - gay rights, womens' rights, economic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc. Westerners who cause the problems can then just stay home or go somewhere else, leavng the residents to deal with the consequences.

A Beautiful Article on Arab Coverage in Haaretz

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25 July 2006
An article in Haaretz titled "Nasrallah and Me" about broadcaster Zvi Yehezkeli really warmed my heart. It's realistic, beautiful, and culturally open-minded. It's funny, sometimes - some media outlets in Israel, the country with the most strife with the Arab World, often portrays the Arab World much better than American media, which only focuses on Arab "radical Islamic terrorists" and how America will be affected, i.e. the rising price of oil. (Not that some of the Arab stations are very good in their coverage of Israel and the U.S.) A quote:

On the show, "London and Kirschenbaum" [Zvi Yehezkeli] has a daily spot that is also broadcast during these days of fighting and covers the Arab world from diverse angles. "From the gyms in Dubai to the ringtones in mosques in Damascus and single women in Saudi Arabia," he says and quickly explains: "It's just as important to show the faces behind Assad or Mubarak. I say, 'these are people just like you. Let's take a look at them.' We have prompted a revolution in this regard."
That's how it should be. After reading the article, I wanted to give Yehezkeli a big hug and some kisses on the cheek. More journalists, in all countries, should be like him. Another quote:

During his three years on the job he managed to sneak into the Jericho prison to interview the murderers of Rehavam Ze'evi. He had exclusive interviews with the wanted man Zakaria Zubeidi and with Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and Arafat.

Of course, presenting the residents of Arab countries, including those that are hostile to Israel, with all their human diversity, is an ideological matter. Yehezkeli shows how similar they are to the audience here ("how much we're like them," he corrects himself)

Yehezkeli did not vote in the last elections. "I didn't find any party that would represent me. All of them are short-sighted when it comes to Arab affairs," he says. "The political division between left and right is stupid. I also want to pull the rug out from under that."
There's also a bit of the gay in the article, so it's quite germane to this site:

"I explain the Arabs differently," he says. "They are always treated as political entities. For me, there are more colors, scents and sounds. Two days before the attack in Beirut I spoke about a play showing there, 'Women's Dialogue,' a sort of Lebanese version of 'The Vagina Monologues.' We did a report on a cell of wanted terrorists in the West Bank. How they have shirts with logos. Someone who has a Nike logo, that says something about him, doesn't it?" Another report he did covered sex change operations in Iran. "They do seven times more of them in Iran than anywhere else in the Western world," he says. "Khomeini once said 'if you have an obstacle in life, find a way around it.' That is how they cope with homosexuality. Obviously I'll also include the most recent dispute among the different sects in Iraq. I'll always deal with politics. But I have no sources in Military Intelligence. I don't need them to tell me what Arabs are thinking. I live there."
It's an interesting way to put the Islamic view on how to deal homosexuality. It's not perfect, but it's close.

Folktales, the War, and Philadelphia

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24 July 2006
Not much has been happening these last few days in Amman. It's very quiet here. If the newspaper didn't report that there was a war going on, you probably wouldn't know it. Sure, thousands of Jordanians from the Muslim Brotherhood took to the streets on Friday to show solidarity with Hizbullah, but the police stood in their way because of lack of permits. If you weren't in the vicinity of the protests, you wouldn't even know it was there. And, just as the Lebanese Political Journal reports as happened in Syria, it was full of Hizbullah flags, not Lebanese ones.

I've been spending a lot of time online, reading the news, commenting on blogs, talking to friends in Lebanon, and writing this blog. There's no real gay life in old Philly, just some cafes and bars which gay people sort-of frequent, but they kind of blend in. I'm not really in the mood to meet new people anyways. It's weird - in one of the few Arab countries where being gay is not illegal, there's no real scene. Even Egypt's scene is more cohesive. But Jordan is a traditional country, so there are plenty of reasons for it.

I've also been spending a lot of time sleeping and thinking, recounting old folktales in my head. It's strange...I think of old Greek epic poems and mythology. There were always two main themes - finding love and being far from home. Like the story of Persephone - Hades finds love, and Persephone is dragged from her home.

Throughout the years, it appears that the West and East have divided up these old stories as they have attempted to divide up the world, each taking their own part.

In the West, folktales have seem to have come to favor the plot of being without, then finding, love - Cinderella, the Frog Prince, the Little Mermaid. Sure, there are exceptions, like Hansel and Gretel, but the majority of the famous ones, at least the ones I'm familiar with, follow the same theme.

In the East, there's Sindbad, Juha, and Lubayna. Love is there, but the predominate theme is loss of and distance from home, family, and familiarity. It's echoed in songs. In how many Arabic songs has the singer found love, but is painfully separated from it? I'm kind of feeling that now.

In Amman, all the houses look the same, bland sandstone-colored structures that seem to rise organically from the sprawling brown hills. It's easy to get lost - every stairway is similar, and miles of walking will give you nothing but bloody feet. If New York is the city that never sleeps, then Amman is the city that always sleeps.

The food makes me feel sad. Restaurants with the Lebanese flag are a common sight on many corners, and at any time of day, delivery cars (there are no motorbikes here) whiz by for establishments like "Lebanon Snack". But the food isn't as good, and I don't eat at those places. I want nothing more than a chouarma from Barbar.

Anyway, there's one story that my mother used to tell me that's been sticking in my head, about when Juha went to sell his donkey:

In one day of many days, Juha decided to take his donkey into town and sell it. It was a strong, sturdy donkey, and Juha thought he could get a nice price for it. Besides, he needed the money. So he put his young son on the donkey and started the long journey into town, with Juha walking alongside the donkey.

On the way into town, they passed a shepard, who scolded the young boy. "How can you sit there so comfortably while your poor old father has to walk the whole way behind you? You are young and have strong legs, it should be you who is walking! Have you no respect for your father?" So the boy got down and Juha climbed on the back of the donkey, and they contined on their way.

A little while later, they passed some women hanging clothes to dry. "Shame one you," they called to Juha, "making your poor little boy walk next to you. He is so young!" So Juha picked the boy up, placing him in front of him, and they continued on together.

The donkey was sturdy and strong, but not strong enough to carry two people easily, and the donkey began to sweat, showing his strain. As they continued on their journey, they passed another traveller. "You know, you shouldn't both be on the back of such a poor creature. How is such a poor animal supposed to carry two people? A donkey is Allah's creation as well; have some pity!" Juha thought the man was right, so he and his son got off the donkey.

"What shall we do?" Juha asked his son. "When you were on the donkey, we were scolded because I am too old to walk. When I was on the donkey, we were scolded because you are too young to walk. When we both were on the donkey, we were scolded because the donkey is too weak. What is there to do?"

Juha thought for a while, then came up with a solution. He and his son picked up the donkey, and carried it all the way into town. The people of the town had never seen such a thing, and many an eye stared at Juha as though he were crazy.


The moral of the story? No matter how you try to fix things, someone is going to complain. I think it applies to a lot of things, such as Hizbullah, Israel, gay rights, religion, and what to eat for dinner. In a way, it's funny. In another way, it's depressing.

Egos and the Gay Division Over How to Treat Iran

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23 July 2006
I found this excellent article on the July 19 protests against Iran in the Gay City News. It says a lot, and made me realize that I still have a lot to say about the issue. The quotes are long, but I think it's worth reading, and I put time into the commentary. A quote:

A year later, as dozens of cities worldwide, including New York, held vigils July 19 to mark the anniversary of the executions, HRW has hardened in its insistence that there is no support for the charge that the Mashad men were killed because of their sexuality. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) offers a more agnostic assessment, saying that Iran must clear the air but also warning against inflammatory actions by LGBT activists that could worsen conditions for gays there.

Despite a skeptical stance that has persisted, IGLHRC initially stepped up to organize New York’s July 19 vigil, but in the wake of a scathing memo last week from HRW’s gay rights specialist Scott Long criticizing the accuracy, rhetoric, and motivations of anti-Iran activists, IGLHRC abruptly dropped its sponsorship.

Instead, IGLHRC joined HRW and other groups including the Al-Fatiha Foundation, a group for gay Muslims, in hosting a competing forum at New York’s LGBT Community Center, scheduled at the same time as the vigil in front of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.
And another:

Early reports on the Mashad executions last July quickly caught the attention of Peter Tatchell, the head of the militant LGBT rights group Outrage! in London, and was picked up by conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan as well as by Ireland, who posted his first story on his Web site prior to covering the story for Gay City News. Tatchell and Sullivan—but not Ireland—used the term “Islamo-fascist? in describing the Iranian regime, a hawkish formulation that raised red flags among human rights activists unwilling to align themselves with right-wing Western critiques of the Muslim world and Bush foreign policy adventuring (though on that score Tatchell was an unlikely bedfellow).
And another:

Those who disagree with Long question whether it is he who has been uncritical—in accepting official Iranian accounts of the executions. When the story broke, he sent an unsolicited e-mail to Gay City News saying, “It is reasonably certain they were executed for sexual assault on a 13-year-old? and told Ireland that HRW was “90 percent sure? rape had taken place. Yet, Hadi Ghaemi, the group’s Iran expert, said that certainty was based on one source, a story in the newspaper Qud, controlled by regime supporters. Months later, according to Ireland, Long e-mailed him that the group had additional sources for its view.

Another point Long made in his memorandum last week is that those who believe the Mashad executions were based in homophobia are “imputing a Westernized ‘gay’ identity on these youths,? the suggestion being that a level of cultural insensitivity and naiveté is involved. That perspective was echoed by a number of panelists at the IGLHRC forum Wednesday evening, most passionately by Iranian-American filmmaker Kouross Esmaeli, who voiced harsh criticism of Gay City News reporting about his homeland.

Yet in at least four stories Ireland has written since last September, based on interviews with Iranians still in their homeland or in exile—Amir, a 22-year-old gay exile in Turkey (gaycitynews.com/gcn_438/nexttimeyoullbe.html), Sam, a 28-year-old gay exile in Pakistan (gaycitynews.com/gcn_502/anothergayiraniantorture.html), Mekabiz, a self-described “transsexual man? still living in Mashad (gaycitynews.com/gcn_506/transsexualansstuck.html), and Mani, a 24-year-old gay man living in an Iranian city he was afraid to disclose (gaycitynews.com/gcn_527/gayandunderground.html)—he has demonstrated there are young people there who talk about their sexual and gender identity in ways many Americans would understand. It is, in part, this increasingly Westernized identity that Iranian authorities use torture and worse to stamp out. This is the reporting Long acknowledged was “authentic and compelling.?

Based on this reporting and other sources who told him so directly, Ireland wrote that Ahmadinejad had stepped up repression of gays when he assumed the presidency last year. The assault on gay Iranians amounts to a pogrom, Ireland concluded. Borrowing the term used to describe the episodic ouster and genocide aimed at Jews throughout European history was bound to stir controversy and clearly some believe more detailed documentation is required.

Long explained his discomfort with the characterization. “Crying wolf is a bad strategy for achieving change,? he wrote last week. “Because if human rights advocates don’t deal in facts instead of speculation, they lose all credibility in future crises… These misrepresentations actually work against the interests of Iranian asylum-seekers… and could play into the hands of the Iranian government if these claims are proven wrong.?

One more:

Asked to explain her group’s abrupt bailout from leadership of the New York July 19 vigil, [IGLHRC Executive Director Paula] Ettelbrick voiced concern that the protests worldwide might have an “inflammatory? impact on the Iran situation, creating a link between gay life there and a Western agenda in the regime’s eyes.

“I wanted to make sure that our participation was consistent with our approach,? she explained. “What can we do to be effective? The name of Peter’s group is Outrage! The name of our group is the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.?
How do I begin? This article truly is excellent - it expertly outlines the divide in gay activist between bullish revolutionaries and tiptoed precautionaries.

I have said before that I think Tatchell and Sullivan hold extreme views, and their irresponsible use of "Islamo-fascist" reaffirms that. I've also said that the protests might make not make things better for gay people in Iran, but I don't think it'll make it worse. I really don't think Iran's regime would confuse the West's opposition to it getting nuclear technology with gay rights organizatiosn protesting the hanging of gay teenagers - the may equivalate the two publicly, but that's propaganda, and they would do that anyway, regardless of the protests.

It was wrong for IGLHRC, HRW, and the Al-Fatiha Foundation to hold a competing event. If you disagree with another gay group's actions, it's fine to say so. It's also fine to abstain from supporting them, or distribute materials which contradict their stances. These groups, however went beyond that. The groups in the vigil, a lot of which had Iranian support, were there for a good cause. It's one thing to say they're overreacting, but another to vehemently oppose them.

IGLHRC acted like a cowardly dog, shying away in fear rather than barking at danger. It's overtly clear that they acted out of pressure from Long, rather than of their own accord. Sure, they don't want to overreact (evidenced by Ettelbrick's inane comparison of organization names), but if this is not a time for action what is? Are two young lives not enough? Many similar cases have been reported. Would 50 be enough? 100? How many does she need? I, personally, side with the groups supporting the protests, for I've seen numerous Iranian sources that side with them, but none that oppose them (Al-Fatiha doesn't really count).

It's also clear that the entire debate overstepped the boundaries of being about Iran. Many of the participants in the dialogue, especially Long, seem to have gotten their egos mixed up in their politics. All the name-calling and verbal attacks are dispicable. Throughout the article, it becomes increasingly clear that the players are less concerned with learning the truth than they are about being right, which is absolutely shameful. Long, for example, seems to have less facts than the rest of them, but is more adament than they are - how does that work?

Long does make one semi-germane point, though. It's true about what he says about crying wolf. If the sources are proven wrong, it would be detrimental to the human rights movement, gay people in Iran, asylum seekers, etc. But proving the claims wrong is as about as likely as solving the Bermuda Triangle mysteries. It's extremely doubtful that all these Iranian sources are in a huge conspiracy to fraud the human rights movement, or that they are wrong. Even if it's not a "pogrom", it's still horrifying.

I guess it all boils down to the word "pogrom". Are the killings in Iran really worse than the killings in Saudi Arabia? Or the torture in Egypt? Probably not. "Pogrom" just makes them seem worse than the others, because it envisions the Jewish holocaust. So, in effect, gay activists went from arguing about the extremity of gay persecution in Iran to its validity, as if disproving a "pogrom" would invalidate everything.

As a final note, I hate what Long says about "imputing a Westernized ‘gay’ identity on these youths", which is a steaming pile of donkey-#$%@. Islamists are putting a gay identity on people in the Middle East just as much as the West is. Gay people in the Middle East didn't experience the current level of persecution until the 1990s, when the gay movement began to gain momentum in the West. Why? It's simple - Islamists want to distance the East from the West. By showing how gay the West is, and how gay the East isn't, they accomplish their goal. Why do you think there has been so much coverage of gay marriage in Western nations? Gay people are a group that evokes relatively little sympathy in the Middle East, and are an easy target for the Islamists. The current crackdowns targeting gay people are merely an extension of the Islamist vs. Western Imperialism battle that has been raging for decades. Islamists superimpose the term "gay" just as much as Westerners, and it's uninformed - and a bit ethnocentric - to say otherwise. (This is going to have to be another post; I have loads to say about this.)

Mithliyoun or Mithliyeen?

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23 July 2006
Someone sent me an e-mail today, asking why I say "mithliyoun junsiya" (مثليون جنسيا) is an Arabic term for "gay" when Helem lists "mithliyeen junsiya" (مثليين جنسيا). The answer is simple: they are equivalent.

In Arabic, simple masculine plurals take the "-oun" (ون-) or "-een" (ين-) endings. Both mean the same, but are added depending on where they occur in the sentence.

"-oun" is for subjects.

If I want to say, "Gay people are beautiful", I would say "مثليون جنسيا جميلون".

"-een" is for objects.

If I want to say, "I love gay people", I would say "أحبّ مثليين جنسيا".

That's why Helem stands for "Hemaya Lubnaneeya lil-Mithliyeen". It's just grammar. I hope that makes sense.

Religion and Evil

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23 July 2006
In a comment to my last post, a reader of this blog told me she liked it in a very flattering comment. I blushed. But she said something which didn't really sit right with me: "Overall, the common theme is that religion is the source of all evil."

I'm not sure whether she was referencing the current Israeli-Hizbullah war, or posts in my blog. I hope it's not the latter.

I don't agree that religion is the source of all evil, however, and I desperately hope that my postings in this blog don't indicate that I do. I am a very religious person, and believe strongly in the good of God. I think it's the misuse of God that is a great source of evil, for many people project their own prejudices onto God and then use God as justification for their evil deeds.

I am against misuse of religion, not religion itself.

In respect to gay people, for centuries, religious texts has been mistranslated, misinterpreted, fabricated, and deleted to support anti-gay rhetoric. It's like painting a white horse black - no matter how much paint you put on horse, it is still pure underneath.

I believe in the white horse and I believe in salvation, redemption, and the power of God against evil. That's why I'm al-Fil (it's from the Qur'an, sura 105 - maybe I'll explain my name someday, I'm sure it might be misinterpreted as well).
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