Pedophilia and its role in the New World Order

Of all the interesting things you can find on the net…

The Islamic World’s Dirty Little Secret: They’re The World Champions When It Comes To Surfing Porn

Despite all their protestations of piety and clean living as well as their condemnation of anything they deem to be “Unislamic? it seems that our friends from the Religion of Peace have a keen desire to dive right in to internet porn

In fact, it looks like they surf porn more than anyone else. I’ve highlighted some of their favorite internet, er, hobbies:

Arabic is the 2nd most common language that is used to search for “gay sex.? It’s the number one language for search involving “sexy.? As you can see in that same graph, Iran is at 3 and Egypt is at 4, listed under regions where search on “sexy? was most conducted.

Arabic is the 2nd most common language that is used to search for “gay man.? The countries that most search for this is currently Malaysia (#1) and Indonesia (#2). For “gay girl,? Arabic is also the 2nd most common language

For “child porn,? Turkey is the 2nd country where this is most searched. Turkish is the #1 language used

Turkey has one of the most searches for the word “porno.? Morocco is at 5. Turkish is #1 language used to conduct the search in. Indonesia is currently #1 country that search for the word “vagina.?

Turkey is not an Arab country, nor are some of the other countries I listed. But they are Muslim, so I thought the findings were fascinating to say the least. All of this information is not in the least bit shocking, but it’s quite ironic.

Oh, those naughty, naughty boys. Covering their women while they surf porn with sweaty-eyed gusto. And here are some more fun filled facts about our sexually repressed representatives of the Religion of Peace:

Egypt is currently #1 for “fat sex.?

Pakistan, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt are at the top of the list when it comes to “animal sex.?

For “children sex,? Pakistan is at #1, Egypt #2 and Iran #3. The most common languages used to conduct the search in are Arabic and Turkish

For “sexy child,? Pakistan is #1, followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey. Common languages are Persian, Arabic, and Turkish

For “homo sex,? Indonesia is #1, Morocco is at 6

For “rape,? Pakistan is at 1. Malaysia is at 3

For “bird sex,? Egypt is at 1. (Come ON!)

These are evidently very busy people. Between blowing people up, protesting en masse, condemning Israel and the U.S. they find the time to surf some serious porn on the web. And judging from the categories they appear to have searched I’d say that these people have some dark issues. Note the number of child sex, gay sex, and violent sex related sites that are searched.

But we’re the immoral ones.

Arab sexualities

THE ISSUE OF same-sex sexualities in the Arab world is a political and intellectual minefield, and more so since 9/11 than before. In a bizarre twist, neoconservatives and other rightists who were hostile for decades to the lesbian/gay movement(1) have repackaged themselves as defenders of oppressed Arab women and gays. Responses from the left have been divided.

When international human rights or LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) groups have issued alerts lately about persecution of Middle Eastern LGBT people (most often in Iran), some anti-imperialist gays have denounced the critics for contributing to the Republicans’ (and some prominent Democrats’) war drive. Others, closer to the politics of Against the Current, have insisted on the importance both of opposition to U.S. intervention and of solidarity with LGBTs.

The arguments have rarely shown much knowledge of the sexual cultures of the Arab world, however, or included much analysis of how imperialism and sexuality interact. Overcoming this lack of understanding is a crucial and urgent task.

The right’s reliance on arguments about women’s and sexual freedom makes it increasingly difficult to be an anti-imperialist or antiracist in the United States without integrating gender and sexual analysis. Similarly, international feminist and LGBT movements are hamstrung by their relative weakness in and ignorance of the Arab world. They badly need to take up the task of linking imperialism, gender and sexuality.

This task is not made any easier by the paucity of serious scholarship on sexualities in the Arab world. Lesbian/gay studies has focused mostly on modern Europe and North America. Fortunately more work has been done in recent years on dependent-world LGBTs. But Africa and the Middle East are the parts of the world where LGBT communities are least visible and LGBT movements most harshly repressed.

This helps explain why scholarship on Arab same-sex sexualities has been relatively thin on the ground. People outside the Arab world, who often don’t know it well or even speak Arabic, have published most of what exists in English. While academics in North America and Europe have many times more resources, the knowledge and experience of researchers in and from the Arab world are indispensable.

Joseph Massad, an associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history at Columbia University, has now walked out boldly into this minefield with his book Desiring Arabs. Massad is no stranger to controversy. His earlier work concentrated on Jordan and Palestine, not exactly fields where calm, collegial discussion is the rule in U.S. academe – least of all at Columbia, a hotbed of right-wing Zionist hate campaigns of which Massad has been a prime target. Naturally and rightly, the left and defenders of Palestinian rights have come to his defense.

Desiring Arabs has brought Massad a new crowd of detractors. His criticisms of North American and European efforts to identify, defend and free gay people in Arab countries(2) have been met with a wave of accusations. An online review of Desiring Arabs by a staff member of The New Republic, after describing police torture of a Palestinian gay man in graphic detail, charged Massad with an “insidious attempt to convince the world that men like this one are somehow figments of the Western world’s imagination.”(3)

Another review by Brian Whitaker, former Middle East editor of the London Guardian, accused Massad of reflecting “essentially the same ideas” as the Jordanian Islamic Action Front when it denounced women’s rights as an “American and Zionist” attack on the nation’s “identity and values.”(4) These are excerpts from the relatively nuanced attacks; other diatribes on the net have been more scurrilous.
No Homophobe

Massad is clearly no homophobe and has no sympathy with torturers or fundamentalists. On the contrary, Desiring Arabs is an important resource for serious students of sexualities in the Arab world. It confirms that same-sex sexual desire and behavior were widespread in Arabic literature during the centuries when Arab civilization was at its height.

Above all, the book does a service to scholarship comparable to what Kate Millett did in Sexual Politics or Dennis Altman in Homosexual Oppression and Liberation: it analyses the sexual ideologies of a wide range of 19th- and 20th-century literary works, many of them inaccessible to non-Arabic speakers. In the process Massad shows respect for and familiarity with queer theory, the dominant current today in LGBT studies.

For all its merits, however, Desiring Arabs has major flaws. Like many queer theorists, Massad seems more interested in literature than in reality. He leaves crucial questions about Arabs’ sexual behavior and identities not only unanswered – answers admittedly hard to come by in countries where mass surveys or in-depth interviews about sexuality are rarely feasible – but largely unaddressed.

While his criticisms of activists’ and academics’ Eurocentrism are often justified, he seems to suggest that the international lesbian/gay rights movement is largely to blame for the persecution of people engaged in same-sex sexualities in the Middle East today. Yet his own research shows that this persecution predated international LGBT activism by many decades.

Massad rightly rejects many lesbians and gays’ essentialism (“we were born this way” and “we are everywhere”). However, he does not engage seriously enough with the more substantial scholarly work that has been done on global same-sex sexualities. As a result, he doesn’t recognize that LGBT studies have not always shared the essentialist impulses of many ordinary LGBT people. On the contrary, many theorists have emphasized that same-sex sexualities have been socially constructed in the course of history, and that these sexualities were and are extraordinarily diverse in different parts of the world.

Edward Said warned in his classic book Orientalism against notions that “there is such a thing as a real or true Orient (Islam, Arab or whatever)” or “that there are geographical spaces with indigenous, radically ‘different’ inhabitants.”(5) Massad describes Said not only as “a mentor, a friend, and a colleague” but also as “a surrogate father” (xiii) and seems to heed Said’s warning when he writes, “My point here is not to argue in favor of non-Western nativism and of some blissful existence prior to the epistemic, ethical, and political violence unleashed on the non-West.” (42)

Nonetheless, his book tends to idealize the indigenous sexual culture of the Arab world. He repeatedly dismisses signs of lesbian or gay life in the Arab world as outside impositions, fabrications or shameful attempts by Arabs to mimic Europeans or Americans. He fails to come to terms with the reality that the Arab world too is increasingly part of a global capitalist order and that its contemporary sexualities are likely to be hybrid and diverse.
Beyond Gay and Straight

On one central issue Massad is right: his insistence that traditional Arab sexualities were not based on a “hetero-homo binary.” (40) This will be a difficult point for many U.S. readers to grasp, given how deeply the division between “gay people” and “straight people” has shaped our common-sense understanding of sexuality. Most scholars agree, however, that this binary conception is a fairly recent development, and that there have been innumerable other ways of conceiving sexuality.

Massad’s reading of the Koran, later Islamic religious texts and medieval Arabic love poetry confirms what other historians have found: that Arabs in the first centuries of Islam simply did not classify human beings in this way. It is less clear how much continuity there is between this traditional Arab sexual culture and the sexual culture of the contemporary Arab world.

Despite Massad’s skepticism, there are self-identified lesbians and gay men in the Arab world today. But distinctive lesbian/gay identities as they exist in North America and Europe do seem less visible in Arab countries than in most other regions. Many Arab men who have sex with other men do not identify at all as gay, transgender or even bisexual. Some of them fuck transgender or other males, concealing this sex from public knowledge; others simply have discrete sex with one another.(6)

As Massad points out, this means that the tactics that LGBT movements have used elsewhere cannot simply be imported unchanged into the Arab world. For example, in a culture where people can engage in same-sex sexual behavior without necessarily identifying as gay, it is doubtful what it means to call on them to “come out.” People whose lives include both same-sex and different-sex relationships have to be free to decide when, where and how they speak up.

Massad has strong arguments for rejecting the insistence that desire is “embedded in the body and can only be freed in an individualist project of liberation through public confessionals” (365) – though even in the Arab world, transgender people and others do sometimes feel that their desire is embedded in their bodies.

The scholars in LGBT studies who laid the foundations for a social constructionist approach should be sensitive to the pitfalls of binary thinking. Yet as Massad shows, when it comes to the Arab world some of the most distinguished theorists can succumb to Eurocentrism. This Eurocentrism contradicts the main thrust of the history of sexuality since the 1970s. Even worse, it ignores the key lesson of 20th-century liberation struggles: that each oppressed people needs to find its own way to free itself through understanding and transforming its own unique social formation.

Massad is better at showing how Arab sexual cultures do not work and cannot be freed, however, than in analyzing how they do work and can be freed. There is still an enormous amount of work to be done before this question can be answered. Nonetheless, Massad could have benefited a bit more from analyses by other scholars.

Stephen O. Murray and Will Roscoe’s anthology Islamic Homosexualities, for example, contains more useful insights than Massad allows in his passing, cutting reference to it. (170-71) A reader who knew the book only from Massad’s comments would never guess that Roscoe and Murray denounce Eurocentrism and the tendency to tell the “history of homosexuality as a progressive, even teleological, evolution from pre-modern repression, silence, and invisibility to modern visibility and sexual freedom.” They even contrast the relative uniformity of modern “Western” homosexuality to the “variety, distribution, and longevity of same-sex patterns in Islamic societies.”(7)

Massad barely discusses the social relations that made up classical Arab sexual culture. For example, his account of classical Arabic poetry makes clear, as others have, that boy love was an important theme for a major Abbasid poet like Abu Nuwas. But he casts little light on the dynamics of what Murray and Roscoe call “age-differentiated homosexuality,” either in classical times or in the Arab world today.

He also devotes virtually no attention to another component of Arab sexual culture: transgender. Studies have shown transgender’s importance as a form of same-sex sexual expression in many parts of the underdeveloped world, including Muslim countries like Pakistan and Indonesia. There is evidence from several continents that working-class and poor people in particular are more likely than middle-class people to engage in transgender relationships as opposed to lesbian/gay relationships.(8)

Transgender people have shown an impressive capacity for radical organizing and action, to the point of virtually taking over the World Social Forum in Mumbai in 2004. Forms of transgender have been identified in at least some Arab countries, as among the hassas of Morocco and khanith of Oman.

Yet Massad passes over the subject in virtual silence. He denounces the International Lesbian and Gay Association for saying that transvestite dancers are popular in Egypt; he comments that this was “a nineteenth-century phenomenon” and complains that time “is never factored in when the topic is Arabs and Muslims.” (167) But elsewhere he mentions the popularity of female impersonators as singers in Cairo in the 1920s and ’30s, and of a female impersonator on Syrian TV as late as the 1980s. (364)

Massad’s snipe is one example of how he tends to substitute discussions of ideology (Is time a factor in discussing Arabs?) for discussions of reality (Is transgender still a significant phenomenon in the Arab world?).
Empire and Culture

Imperialist domination of the Arab world is increasingly politicizing sexuality. Is Massad open to sexual politics within Arab countries, or only to a defense of Arab sexual culture against imperialism? Can Arab anti-imperialists opt for solidarity with women, transgender people and youth in their own region, with all this implies for transforming the existing sexual culture? The Islamist political movements that currently have hegemony over the oppositions to U.S.-backed regimes clearly prefer the defense of tradition – as they selectively define it. But the choice remains open.

There is neither a historical nor a logical connection between anti-imperialism and cultural nativism. The British Empire was careful not to interfere with Islamic domination of civil society in countries it ruled like Egypt and Pakistan. By contrast, Muslim Turkey’s fierce resistance to colonization after the First World War and Muslim Indonesia’s struggle for independence after the Second World War involved far-reaching secularization. It is no accident that Turkey and Indonesia have stronger LGBT communities and movements today than almost any Arab country.(9)

Still today in the Arab world, repressive regimes linked to imperialism use sexual repression as a cover. Many of the Arab regimes whose repression of same-sex sexuality is most notorious, like the Saudi kingdom and Egypt, are among the closest U.S. allies in the region and among the Arab countries best integrated into the neoliberal world economic order. And U.S. right-wing lip service to lesbian/gay rights is worse than useless to LGBT Arab people.

The Shiite parties, militias and gangs that dominate Iraq today are guilty of vicious repression of people engaged in same-sex sexualities, which the U.S. occupiers have hardly lifted a finger to stop. In one incident in 2007, an Iraqi LGBT activist heard Americans talking in the next room while Iraqi police were torturing him.(10)

Massad consistently assumes that the presence of lesbian/gay identities in the Arab world is a result of European and North American cultural influence. His wide-ranging analysis of 19th- and 20th-century literature does show, as he says, that “cultural production as a whole has been marshaled, consciously and unconsciously, toward … shaming non-Europe into assimilation.” (416) But he hardly tries to make a case for cultural causes of gay identity as opposed to other factors; he only occasionally puts forward a class or economic analysis.(11)

In fact, the spread of lesbian/gay identities in the dependent world probably owes less to outside cultural influences than to social causes like mass migration to cities, more waged labor by women, higher wages, commodification of everyday life, assumption of some traditional family functions by the state, and the spread of modern medicine with its penchant for classification.(12) The relative scarcity of lesbian/gay identities in Arab countries would then be due less to weaker European and North American influence (which seems doubtful) than to factors like the region’s relatively low rate of female-paid employment.

Another factor is probably what Gilbert Achcar calls “the Arab despotic exception”: the fact that the United States has continued to back dictatorships in the Middle East, due to its vital economic and geopolitical interests there, rather than risk the kind of transitions to nominal democracy that it has allowed in much of Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Asia.(13) The result has been less freedom for political and social organizing, and specifically for LGBT organizing, in the Arab world.
Repression

Massad makes clear at many points in Desiring Arabs that he deplores the repression of same-sex sexuality by Arab governments. What has generated most of the controversy around the book is the chapter (by far the shortest one) where he blames this repression largely on the lesbian/gay groups, human rights organizations and “discourse” that he calls the “Gay International.”(14)

Speaking of the crackdown on same-sex sexual activity in Egypt following the 2001 Queen Boat raid, for example, Massad says, “The Gay International and its activities are largely responsible for the intensity of this repressive campaign.” (184)

“By inciting discourse about homosexuals where none existed before, the Gay International is in fact heterosexualizing a world that is being forced to be fixed by a Western binary,” he says. (188) The “sexual rights agenda … has led to much repression and oppression in the contemporary Arab world.” (375) He even says that Islamic fundamentalism has an “unwitting alliance” with the “crusading Gay International in identifying people who practice certain forms of sex.” (265)

The irony of this line of argument is that Massad provides so much evidence that hostility to same-sex sexualities in the Arab world long predated the arrival of LGBT movements. He describes a host of modern Arab attempts to deny, downplay or condemn traditional Arab openness to same-sex sexual desire.

He notes that erotic poetry focusing on youths or men “disappeared completely as a poetic genre” around the late 19th century. (35) He devotes almost 20 pages to 20th-century Arab critics’ denunciation of the poet Abu Nuwas’ praise of youthful male beauty. (76-94)

He describes a paradigm shift in the work of Egyptian Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz, from the 1947 novel Midaq Alley, which portrays same-sex sexuality as commonplace but public awareness of it as shameful, to the 1957 novel Sugar Street, which portrays male same-sex desire as an “illness.” (272-90) And he shows how Arab literature since the defeat in the 1967 war with Israel has been pervaded by images of humiliating, emasculating penetration of Arab men.

Taken as a whole, this suggests a drastic, century-long transformation of Arab sexual culture, in large measure completed before the modern lesbian/gay movement was born with the 1969 Stonewall rebellion.
European influence undoubtedly played some role in this transformation, as shown by colonial laws against “sodomy” still on the books in many former European colonies. Doubtless other factors, neglected by Massad, played a role as well, as in the case of modernizing, nationalist and Stalinist regimes elsewhere in the dependent world.(15) But protests by international LGBT and human rights groups have undoubtedly been more a reaction than a contributing factor.

The power of these organizations is derisible compared to that of the former colonial empires, the U.S. military, major multinationals or the international financial institutions. Imperialist governments have shown virtually no interest in supporting them with more than an occasional press release. Arab governments may vilify these organizations in their propaganda, but Massad provides little evidence that they have had any significant effect on law or policy, even negatively.

Furthermore, while international LGBT organizations are largely European-led and often Eurocentrist in their thinking, they are far from having a unified agenda for the Arab world, as the 2001 Egyptian Queen Boat raid showed.

For example, Act Up Paris responded to the raid with a protest at the Egyptian embassy, whose slogans included a demand to “free our lovers.” This slogan would hardly have been welcomed by the Egyptian defendants, who were not defending themselves as open gay men, let alone as men with European lovers.

If this were typical of the European movement, Massad’s charges would be vindicated. But in fact, at the next Euromediterranean Summer University on Homosexualities, an annual LGBT gathering in Marseille, a lone representative of Act Up Paris faced a barrage of criticism from virtually every other participant in the discussion for his group’s insensitivity and counterproductive tactics.

Massad’s argument becomes even less plausible when he asserts that the Egyptian police “do not seek to, and cannot if they were so inclined, arrest men practicing same-sex contact but rather are pursuing those among them who identify as ‘gay.'” (183) This is the opposite of the truth: the police rarely know whether the people they harass, arrest or torture identify as gay. There is hardly a law or policy on earth that uses this as a criterion for police repression.

The sequence of cause and effect is the reverse, as historians have shown: the common experience of repression can contribute to the development of transgender, gay and lesbian identities. In any case, the dominant sexual ideology that Arab states have developed over the past century has increasingly led to repressive practices against same-sex sexual behavior, and did so before lesbian or gay identities had begun to emerge. Clearly the identities are not the cause of the repression.
Love and Solidarity

In at least a few Arab countries, some people engaging in same-sex sexuality have begun responding to repression by assuming LGBT identities and even organizing LGBT groups. The Lebanese group Helem is one example. Interestingly, it suspended its LGBT advocacy in 2006 to turn its headquarters over to relief efforts for victims of the Israeli invasion, working with a range of other Lebanese organizations.(16)

Among Palestinians in the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel, the LGBTQ the Q here stands for “Questioning” – ed. group Al-Qaws has been working since 2001 “not simply to mimic an existing model of queer identity/community, but to provide a social space for LGBTQ Palestinians to independently engage in a dialogue about our own visions and ideals for a community.”(17)

As Arabs engaged in same-sex sexualities begin adopting LGBT identities, they may form more lasting relationships and speak more of their love for one another. This would cast doubt on Massad’s assertion that in the Arab world the goal of sexual desire is “consummation and not romantic love.” (363)(18)

Contrary to conservative ideologies now gaining ground, sexuality does not require any justification in romantic love or in stable partnerships sanctified by marriage. Pleasure is its own sufficient justification. But neither should same-sex desire necessarily be limited to episodic gratification “on the side.” Love too has its rights.

No one can know for sure if, when, how or in what forms Arab LGBT communities and movements will develop.(19) In particular, no one knows for sure what proportion of Arabs who have sex with people of the same sex identity as lesbian, gay, transgender or bisexual. But this is no argument against solidarity with them. Nor is it an argument for privileging those who have LGBT identities, as international movements tend to do – or those who have no such identities, as Massad does.

In the age of neoliberal globalization, power relations between colonizers – witting or unwitting – and colonized cut across LGBT movements, anti-imperialist movements and for that matter the Marxist left. The fact remains that all the victims of oppression today badly need allies in the imperialist countries, who have access to far greater resources.

Cultural sensitivity and respect for self-determination are essential. But neither should stand in the way of solidarity with the victims of repression by regimes whose vicious sexual puritanism often goes hand in hand with their subservience to an imperial agenda.
Notes

1. Older readers may remember Midge Decter’s notorious article “The Boys on the Beach,” Commentary vol. 70 no. 3 (Sept. 1980).
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2. The chapter of Desiring Arabs that sets out Massad’s criticisms of international LGBT groups is based on his article “Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World,” Public Culture vol. 14 no. 2 (Spring 2002).
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3. James Kirchick, “Queer Theory: The Columbia Professor Who Also Doesn’t Think Gay People Exist in the Middle East,” The New Republic online (www.tnr.com), Oct. 15, 2007.
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4. Brian Whitaker, “Distorting Desire,” Gay City News, Sept. 13, 2007.
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5. Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979, 322.
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6. According to Iwan van Grinsven, Limits to Desire: Obstacles to Gay Male Identity and Subculture Formation in Cairo, Egypt, Nijmegen: n.p. 1997, 37, some Egyptian men speak of ‘face-to-face’ sex, meaning that anal intercourse is avoided so as to evade issues of masculine/feminine or active/passive roles.
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7. Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray, “Introduction,” in Murray and Roscoe, Islamic Homosexualities: Culture, History and Literature, New York: New York University Press, 1997, 4-6. Roscoe also gives an interesting account of the sexual culture of pre-Islamic Arabia, and of the emergence of the sexual culture of classic Arab civilization from the interaction between this pre-Islamic culture and sexual cultures of the Persian, Byzantine and Western Roman empires that the Arabs conquered: Roscoe, “Precursors of Islamic Male Homosexualities,” in Islamic Homosexualities, 55-86. Given the influence of pre-rabbinical Judaism on Islam, the sexual culture of pre-Islamic Arabia might be illuminated by a comparison with the sexual culture of the ancient Hebrews: see Daniel Boyarin, “Are There Any Jews in ‘The History of Sexuality’?” Journal for the History of Sexuality vol. 5 no. 3 (1995), 333-55.
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8. I summarize the evidence in my “Introduction: Remapping Sexualities,” in Peter Drucker (ed.), Different Rainbows, London: GMP, 2000, 24-25.
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9. See my “Introduction” to Different Rainbows, 29.
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10. Doug Ireland, “Iraqi Gay Activist Arrested, Tortured,” Gay City News, May 3, 2007.
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11. In an otherwise vigorous defense of Desiring Arabs, Yoshie Furuhashi has commented that Massad has “relatively little to say about the role of the emergence and development of the capitalist mode of production, with its tendency to proletarianize, urbanize, atomize, and commodify people, in the emergence and development of a discourse of sexuality under capitalist modernity.” (http://montages.blogspot.com/2007/10/desiring-arabs.html)
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12. I make this argument at length in the “Introduction” to Different Rainbows, 14-25.
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13. Gilbert Achcar, “The Arab Despotic Exception,” in Eastern Cauldron: Islam, Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq in a Marxist Mirror, New York: Monthly Review Press, 2004, 69-74.
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14. On its face, the term “Gay International” suggests an analogy with the Communist International. It seems like a curious choice of epithet for someone like Massad, who seems in some sense to identify with the left.
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15. See my “Introduction” to Different Rainbows, 31-32, 34.
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16. www.helem.net; “Lebanese gay group helping refugee relief,” Pink News, September 1, 2006.
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17. Haneen Maikey, “Rainbow over Palestine,” guardian.co.uk, March 10, 2008.
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18. Massad’s assertion may not do justice even to the classical Arab conception of sexual desire. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century, 27, notes for example, “In Islamic Sufi literature homosexual eroticism was a major metaphorical expression of the spiritual relationship between God and man.”
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19. In my conclusion, “Reinventing Liberation,” to Different Rainbows, 217-20, I suggest that LGBT movements in the dependent world are likely to often be alliances of a range of groups with distinctive sexualities and identities.
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Sex and Taboos in the Islamic World

Sex is a taboo in conservative Islamic countries. Young, unmarried couples are forced to seek out secret erotic oases. Books and play that are devoted to the all too human topic of sex incur the wrath of conservative religious officials and are promptly banned.

Rabat, Morocco. Every evening Amal the octopus vendor looks on as sin returns to his beach. It arrives in the form of handholding couples who hide behind the tall, castle-like quay walls in the city’s harbor district to steal a few clandestine kisses. Some perform balancing acts on slippery rocks and seaweed to secure a spot close to the Atlantic Ocean and cuddle in the dim evening light. The air tastes of salt and hashish. On some mornings, when Amal finds used condoms on the beach, he wishes that these depraved, shameless sinners — who aren’t even married, he says — would roast in hell.

Cairo, Egypt. A hidden little dead-end street in Samalik, a posh residential neighborhood, with a view of the Nile. Those who live here can stand on their balconies at night and see things that no one is meant to see. The cars begin arriving well before sunset, some evenings bringing as many as a hundred amorous couples. Almost all the girls wear headscarves, but that doesn’t prevent them from wearing skin-tight, long-sleeved tops. The boys are like boys everywhere, nonchalantly placing their arms around their girlfriends’ shoulders and even more nonchalantly sliding their hands into their blouses.

The locals call this place “Shari al-Hubb,” or “Street of Love.” The gossips say that children have been conceived here and couples have been spotted engaging in oral sex.

Beirut, Lebanon. As techno music blares from the loudspeakers in the dim light, patrons shout their drink orders across the bar. Boys in tight jeans and unbuttoned, white shirts, their hair perfectly styled, jostle their way onto the dance floor. The men shake their hips, clap their hands and embrace — but without touching all too obviously. After all, those who go too far could end up being thrown out of “Acid,” Beirut’s most popular gay disco. Officially, “Acid” is nothing more than a nightclub in an out-of-the-way industrial neighborhood.

As liberal as Lebanon is, flaunting one’s homosexuality is verboten. Gays are tolerated, but only as long as they remain under the radar and conceal their activities from public scrutiny.

For many in the Arab world, discretion is the only option when it comes to experiencing lust and passion. There are secret spots everywhere, and they are often the only place to go for those forced to live with the contradictions of the modern Islamic world. In countries whose governments are increasingly touting strict morals and chastity, prohibitions have been unsuccessful at suppressing everyday sexuality. Religious censors are desperately trying to put a stop to what they view as declining morals in their countries, but there is little they can do to stop satellite TV, the Internet and text messaging.

A counterforce to Western excesses?

Do the stealthy violations of taboos and moral precepts foreshadow a sexual revolution in the Arab world? Or is the pressure being applied by the moralists creating a new prudishness, a counterforce to the perceived excesses of the West?

For now, everything seems possible, including the idea that a man can end up spending a night in jail for being caught with a condom in his shirt pocket. Ali al-Gundi, an Egyptian journalist, was driving his girlfriend home when he was stopped at a police checkpoint. He didn’t have his driver’s license with him, but it was 4 a.m. and he was in the company of an attractive woman. For the police, this was reason enough to handcuff Gundi and his girlfriend and take them to the police station. “On the way there, they threatened to beat us,” says the 30-year-old. At the station, they took away his mobile phone and wallet and found an unused condom in his shirt pocket.

“They were already convinced that my girlfriend was a whore,” says Gundi. The couple ended up behind bars, even after telling the police that they planned to get married in a few months. Only after the woman notified her father the next day were the two released from jail. For Gundi, one thing is certain: “If the officer who stopped us hadn’t been so sexually frustrated, he would have let us go.”

The sexual frustration of many young Arabs has countless causes, most of them economic. Jobs are scarce and low-paying, and most young men are unable to afford and furnish their own apartments — a prerequisite to being able to marry in most Arab countries. At the same time, premarital sex is an absolute taboo in Islam. As a result, cities across the Arab world — Algiers, Alexandria, Sana’a and Damascus — are filled with “boy-men” between 18 and 35 who are forced to live with their parents for the foreseeable future.

There is one exception, and it’s even sanctioned by the Islamic faith: the “temporary marriage” or “pleasure marriage” — not a bond for life but one designed for intimate sins. Such agreements, presided over by imams, are not regulated by the state. They can be concluded for only a few hours or they can be open-ended. But particularly romantic they are not.

Separating the sexes

Another frustrating development for young Islamic men is the growing separation of the sexes. More and more women are wearing modest clothing. Some choose to wear headscarves or cover their entire bodies, and some even wear black gloves to cover the last remaining bit of exposed skin on their bodies.

A porn site on the Internet: 56 percent of young men in the Mahgreb region admit to watching porn on a regular basis.

A porn site on the Internet: 56 percent of young men in the Mahgreb region admit to watching porn on a regular basis.
Nowadays a woman walking along a Cairo street without a veil stands a good chance of being stared at as if she were from another planet. Journalist Gundi is convinced that “oppression brings out perversion in people.” The men want their women to be covered and veiled because they are afraid of women — “afraid of the feelings women provoke.”

Most Egyptian women now wear a headscarf, but for varying reasons. Ula Shahba, 27, sees the trend toward covering one’s head as an expression of a new female self-confidence, not as a symbol of oppression. For the past two years, Shahba has worn the headscarf voluntarily — out of conviction, as she emphasizes, insisting that no one forces her to do so. But, she adds, the decision wasn’t easy. “I love my hair,” she says, “but it shouldn’t be visible to everyone.” Shahba doesn’t believe that the headscarf is a sign of religious devoutness. “It’s more of a trend,” she says.

A Moroccan study published in early 2006 in L’Economiste, a Moroccan business publication, shows how paradoxical young Arabs’ attitudes toward religion and sexuality can be. According to the study, young Muslims in the Maghreb region are increasingly ignoring the clearly defined rules of their religion. Premarital sex is not unusual, and 56 percent of young men admit to watching porn on a regular basis. But the respondents also said that it was just as important to them to pray, observe the one-month Ramadan fast and marry a fellow Muslim. When seen in this light, young Muslims’ approach to Islam seems as hedonistic as it is variable, almost arbitrary.

Betraying the message of Muhammad

Muslim novelist “Nedjma” (“Star”), the author of “The Almond,” a successful erotic novel, describes Moroccan society as divided and bigoted. Despite progressive family and marriage laws, she says, the country is still controlled by patriarchal traditions in which men continue to sleep around and treat women as subordinates. It is a society in which prudishness and sexual obsession, ignorance and desire, “sperm and prayer” coexist. “The more repressive a society is, the more desperately it seeks an outlet,” says Nedjma, who conceals her real name because she has already been vilified on the Internet as a “whore” and an “insult to Islam.”

Men like Samir, 36, a bald waiter who wears a formal, black and white uniform to work, could be straight out of Nedjma’s novel. Samir grins at the prospect of catching a glimpse of unveiled girls in his café in Rabat. But in the same breath, he admits that he would never spend a significant amount of time in the same room with a woman he doesn’t know. “No man and no woman can be together without being accompanied by the devil,” he believes, adding that he is quoting the Prophet Muhammad.

But most sources paint a completely different picture of the religious leader, describing him as a hedonist and womanizer who loved and worshipped women. Indeed, he married 12 women, including a businesswoman 15 years his senior, to whom he remained faithful until her death. Author Nedjma says that Muslim men today are “betraying the message of Muhammad,” whom she describes as a delicate, gallant man. She doubts that the prophet was afraid of female sexuality, as many of the men in her social circle are today.

Even conservative theologians emphasize the compatibility of pleasure and faith — but only after marriage. They can even evoke the Prophet Mohammed, who said: “In this world, I loved women, pleasant scents and prayer.”

This presents an odd contradiction to the puritanical present, which represents a fundamental departure from Islam’s more open-minded past and has instead made way for a humorless and rigorous Islamism.

Journalist Ali al-Gundi believes that Muslim men have a troubled relationship with their own sexuality. “Most men only want to marry a virgin,” he says. “What for? Isn’t it much nicer to be with a partner who has experience?” Gundi talks about his girlfriends who have done everything but actually have sex, so as not to damage their hymens. That would mean social death.

Egyptian filmmaker Ahmed Khalid devoted his first short film, “The Fifth Pound,” to the topic of taboo. The film tells the story of a young couple who use a bus ride to be together and exchange more than just a few innocent, tender words. Every Friday morning, when everyone else is at the mosque for prayers, they meet on the third-to-the-last bench on the bus, a spot where none of the other passengers can see what they are doing. As they sit there, shoulder-to-shoulder, staring straight ahead, they stroke each other’s bodies. Their only fear is that the bus driver will see what they are doing through the rear view mirror. He watches the couple, fully aware of what they are doing, all the while indulging in his own fantasies.

In his imagination, the driver sits down next to the girl, carefully removes her headscarf and unbuttons her blouse. She closes her eyes and presses her fingers into the armrest. The headscarf slowly slides off the seat. Both reach climax, the girl in the bus driver’s fantasy and the boy through his girlfriend’s hand. In the end, the couple pays the driver four pounds for the tickets and a fifth for his silence.

Of course, Khalid was unable to find a distributor for his scandalous, 14-minute short film, and even Cairo’s liberal cultural centers refused to run “The Fifth Pound” without it being censored first. Even though, or perhaps precisely because the film does not depict any actual sexual activity, it excites the viewer’s fantasy — an especially odious offense in the eyes of religious censors.

The Internet is a refuge for hidden desires, even though it offers only virtual relief. Google Trends, a new service offered by the search engine, provides a way to demonstrate how difficult it is to banish forbidden yearnings from the heads of Muslims. By entering the term “sex” into Google Trends, one obtains a ranked list of cities, countries and languages in which the term was entered most frequently. According to Google Trends, the Pakistanis search for “sex” most often, followed by the Egyptians. Iran and Morocco are in fourth and fifth, Indonesia is in seventh and Saudi Arabia in eighth place. The top city for “sex” searches is Cairo. When the terms “boy sex” or “man boy sex” are entered (many Internet filters catch the word “gay”), Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the first four countries listed.

Homosexuality is more than just a taboo in the Islamic world. In fact it is considered a crime, punishable by imprisonment or even the death penalty.

Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an imam who lives in Qatar and has a television show on Arab network Al Jazeera, considers homosexuality as an especially decadent monster created by the West. It is against the “divine order,” says the religious scholar, citing verses in the Koran that describe homosexuality as a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia.

Homosexuals are referred to in Arabic as “Luti,” or people from the city of the Lut, which is mentioned in the Koran and the Bible and is described as having been destroyed by God’s wrath. The sources seem to clearly support this notion.

As a result, very few gay Muslims even attempt to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation. Most, says George Assi, a spokesman of Helem, the only gay and lesbian organization in the Arab world, are in despair over the fact that they cannot be as virtuous as their religion prescribes.

Helem, a Lebanese organization that is neither completely legal nor prohibited, has its office in an Islamic business district in Beirut, a city that offers greater political and sexual freedom than any other place in the Arab world. But even here the organization faces protests and threatening phone calls, especially from the Gulf states. “Many talk about us as if we were sick people who must either be healed or abandoned,” says Assi.

“Shocking, sad” stories

Unlike Lebanon, Egypt is a place where freedom of opinion is always in jeopardy. The country’s once-blossoming worlds of art and literature are especially affected. This makes it all the more astonishing that a play could be produced on a Cairo stage that deals exclusively with sex. Even the play’s title, “Bussy,” is a provocation. It resembles the English word “pussy,” but it is also a slang term Egyptian men use to tell a woman to “look here.”

And this is precisely what the directors wanted: to attract attention — to discrimination, lack of respect and mental immaturity. “We had no intention of being daring or of provoking anyone. We merely wanted to tell the truth,” says director Naas Chan. The performance was created as an analogue to the famous New York play, “The Vagina Monologues.” When the American production was performed at the American University in Cairo, it was met with disgust, indignation and — enthusiastic applause. But because it had little to do with the problems of Egyptian women, a group of students decided to stage a sort of “Islamic Vagina Monologue” with amateur actors.

Ordinary women were asked to talk about love and sex. “Their stories were so shocking, so touching, sad and amusing that they needed no editing,” says Chan. And that was how “Bussy” was created.

In one scene, a girl, her voice choking with tears, talks about the day her mother took her to the doctor, without telling her that he was going to circumcise her. “When I woke up I felt the pain. Something was missing … the flesh that they had stolen belonged to me!” Another woman describes her experience with an imam who, when she was 10, forced her into a closet and raped her. “When I told my mother about it, she said that I was making it up.”

“I was surprised that almost all the stories we got were serious,” says director Chan. The women talked about their experiences with abortions, rapes, female circumcision and plain, everyday discrimination. Each of the 50 stories submitted reflects a slice of Egyptian reality. Telling the stories required a great deal of courage, says Chan. The mere knowledge that one’s own story will be performed in front of an audience represents a break with tradition. Sexual abuse, says Chan, is considered a family matter, and if it is disclosed to outsiders, the family feels dishonored and believes the woman has been deprived of her value.

Abir embodies yet another archetype in Arab-Islamic moral society. She is 32 years old, petite, dark-skinned and wears an expensive, long black wig. She lives alone in a small but tidy apartment. Images from the days of the Pharaohs hang on her walls next to large, white pencils — souvenirs from a trip to Germany’s Rügen Island. Abir sits on a white wooden couch with pink upholstery. She wears shorts and a pink T-shirt. A tattoo of the sun adorns her right upper arm and she has a nicotine patch stuck to her left arm.

Abir married for the first time when she was 23. Her mother was dead, her father bedridden and she had been making a meager living as a maid. The marriage was a nightmare. Her husband beat her, and on one occasion her mother-in-law cut off her long black hair and hung it on the wall — as a warning. Abir obtained a divorce and took a job in a bar, where she met wealthy foreigners.

Abir spreads out a series of photos on her coffee table. They show two happy people, swimming in the ocean, sitting on a park bench, shopping in Germany. But when the man in the photograph, a German named Ingo, still didn’t want to marry her after three years, Abir broke off the relationship — on the phone.

“Why should I waste my life?” she asks.

She also has photos of her and Luis, an American, with whom she had a relationship for a year. Luis wanted to take her home to the United States. “A wonderful man, he spoiled me,” she says. But then they had a falling out and Luis left without her. He married another woman and Abir was beside herself. By the time she had come to her senses, she had lost her job as a waitress and decided to do what she had done in the past. She sold her body.

“Egyptians pay 200 pounds (about €28), and Saudis pay 1,000 pounds or sometimes even more,” says Abir. “Foreigners pay me $200. Condoms are required.” She shows us the results of her most recent AIDS test, which was negative. Without the test she would not have been granted a German visa. Today she is afraid of being alone, says prostitute Abir. Almost all of her siblings are married.

“The police give you a hard time, sometimes for no reason at all. It’s enough for them to see an unmarried woman sitting alone in a bar.” Prison terms and beatings are the minimum. If a couple is caught in the act, the woman is the one who suffers.

Abir wants to get married as soon as possible. She says that she has just met another American. She wants to take him to the mosque. As a Muslim woman, she can only marry a Muslim man. And she says the American is going to convert soon and learn more about her religion.

When that happens, she says, the first thing she will do is get out of Egypt.

Gays, lesbians face discrimination in sharia Aceh

Growing up, Faisal was not really aware that he had a different sexual orientation from his friends, but as an adult he is very conscious of his sexuality and the discrimination he suffers as a result.

Faisal lives in Aceh, the only province in Indonesia that has Islamic sharia law.

He was not fully aware that he was gay during junior high school and even dated several girls at school. “That was just to show people that I was a real man,? Faisal said.

Upon completing senior high school, he gradually realized he was gay and began searching for a partner of the same sex.

Local transsexual figure Edy Saputra said that in Islam, humans were created in couples.

“There is not a detailed explanation on whether that couple is a man and a woman, two men, or two women,? argued Edy who is the director of Violet Grey, a gay and transgender group in Aceh.

In September 2009, Aceh’s legislative council passed a bylaw that criminalized homosexuality and stipulated that adulterers be stoned to death.

For Faisal, being gay in a province with Islamic sharia law is no easy matter. He has endured much suffering and pressure to adapt to Aceh’s religious surroundings.

“The biggest challenge comes from within the family. Usually, a family with a gay member will try to hide that from the public because homosexuality is regarded as a disgrace to the family,? he said.

When he tried to be open about his sexuality with relatives, they responded by trying to take him to a psychiatrist to have him “cured?.

“They also tried forcing me to do masculine activities, such as playing soccer.?

Faisal also faces discrimination from the public, which he said, still regarded gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders as sinful.

Faisal said, members of a gay community, who are not courageous enough to reveal themselves to the public, will be haunted by an identity crisis for the rest of their life, while those who reveal themselves publicly face the risk of being ridiculed and even ostracized by the community.

“I know that most people regard gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual communities as some sort of disease that should be avoided and eradicated.?

Consequently, members of these communities are often subject to abuse and discrimination from the general public.

Faisal said he did not choose to be homosexual, but that it was a gift from God.

“If you meet a homosexual, regard them as a normal person who has the same rights and position
as you.?

Faisal feels the Aceh community should be more aware of the issues associated with the gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender community.

He and his friends are currently forming a group to accommodate the aspirations of those suffering public discrimination because of their homosexuality.

“Violet Grey acts as a bridge between the public and homosexual communities.?

Faisal and his peers expect the community in Aceh will accept them, or at least have an understanding that homosexuals are also members of the community who have the same rights as others.

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.

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