Sunday, June 04, 2006

CNN Explores the Plight of Gays in the Middle East

In a recent article, Hala Gorani of CNN explored the difficulties gay people face in the Middle East, mainly belittlement, discrimination, incarceration and threats to their personal security.

The article is short, and often vague, but highlighted some important things. First, the absence of non-pejorative terms for homosexuality in the Middle East. A quote:
I then asked our Arabic speakers at CNN what word they thought was the best
translation for "gay" in Arabic. Heads were scratched. "Luti," one
suggested. "Shaz," another offered in an e-mail. Those terms are widely
understood, but essentially translate as "pervert" or "deviant" in Arabic.

Gorani then points out that "mithliyun junsiya" has recently been coined. I think it's important to mention, however, that gay people themselves do not use "luti", "shaz", or any other pejorative term to describe themselves. Neither do they use the sterile "mithliyun". In order to speak about themselves neutrally, gay people tend to use Western words, such as "gay".

My favorite quote from the article is this:
According to Scott Long, of Human Rights Watch, when governments crack down on
homosexual gathering places, they do it for political rather than purely moral
reasons. "They are saying to their people that they are defending what is
authentic, what is Islamic," he told us from his New York office.

I couldn't have said it any better myself. I can think of a hundred examples of leaders from every country in the world, from George W. Bush of the USA to Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria to Mahmoud Amhadinejad of Iran, using anti-gay rhetoric to show their people that they are "defenders of the faith". But this act of "defending the faith" often falls apart on other levels. In effect, leaders are targeting gay people in order to divert attention from their shortcomings as leaders and bolster domestic support.

There are two main things lacking in Gorani's article, however. First, while she does a great job pointing out the bad situations for gay people in the Middle East, she doesn't mention any of the good things in the Middle East. She mentions Helem, but doesn't show what a landmark it was for gay people in Lebanon. She doesn't mention gay bars or clubs in Lebanon, or the recent IDAHO celebration. She doesn't point out the blossoming of the gay Arab community online or the new books that have been published on homosexuality in the Middle East. She makes the situation seem very dire, which it is, but fails to show the light at the end of the tunnel.

Also, she says, "Recently, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al Sistani lifted a fatwa calling on the killing of gays in Iraq." That is not true at all. He removed it from his website. It's still in effect.

All in all, it was a good article, but it's very clear that Gorani did not have a lot of experience with gay issues before writing it. She writes like an outsider, and her knowledge appears limited.

Update June 5:

I was informed by a comment on this post that the article was meant to be a teaser for "Inside the Middle East", hosted by Gorani. Reportedly, the issues I bring up are more profoundly addressed. Hopefully, I will be able to see the show, but I don't currently get CNN.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article is a designed as a short tease for the the show "Inside the Middle East" on CNN presnted by Hala Gorani. The TV story on homosexuality was broadcast over the week-end and digs much deeper into these issues. It will air again over the coming week.

June 05, 2006 2:36 AM  
Anonymous coco said...

Yeah I saw it today and annonymous is right- in fact, every single problem you had with her article was covered on TV. Why so hard on people who are trying to talk about what we have to go through here?

June 05, 2006 3:13 AM  
Blogger Al-Fil said...

Dear Coco,

I don't believe I'm overly hard on people trying to talk about what s going on here. I feel I'm merely being constructively critical. And I said a few good things about Gorani.

June 05, 2006 9:30 AM  

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