Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Muslim Africans Most Sex-Obsessed on Google, Moroccans Most Gay in Africa

Haha!!! Check out this article in Afrol News! Apparently, in Africa, citizens of Muslim African nations are using the internet to vent their sexual frustrations. Quotes:

When it comes to using the Internet to look for sex, North Africans in
particular seem to have found a new outlet for societal taboos. The sex search
on Google is topped by Pakistan, but closely followed by Egypt. Moroccans even
reach the top-ten list both in English (6th on "sex") and in French (2nd on
"sexe"). Algerians top the search for "sexe", showing twice as much interest as
the French and Tunisians. A quick look inside the booming cybercafés in North
Africa confirms this obsession.

Even homosexuality, which is illegal in most Muslim and African countries,
spurs much interest in Muslim Africa. While the search word "gay" is dominated
by Latin Americans, it is mainly Filipinos and Saudi Arabians looking for "gay
sex". The African "gay sex" list is topped by Kenyans, Tanzanians, Namibians,
Zimbabweans and South Africans. In the francophone world, however, Algerians and Moroccans by far top the world's search for "la homosexualité". Algerians also
by distance top the search for the "sexe gay", with the French and the Moroccans
being somewhat more timid on the issue.

It just shows that we are everywhere, and gaining ground. What a good article! I knew there was more to the gay scene in Morocco than just its king! And Saudi Arabia! Haha!

Sadly, it also shows that AIDS doesn't make the top-ten list in any African nation except South Africa:

Also when it comes to meet the AIDS treat, South Africans are the most aware in
Africa, Google searches indicate. There is a significant search for condoms in
South Africa, but the interest for this AIDS preventing object is by far much
bigger in India. South African however top the world's search list of
anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs). The lack of other African countries on the ARV
top-ten search list again indicates that the public awareness of these drugs is
as low as their availability in other African states.


Beirut Counselor Blasts Homosexuality

Yesterday, Adnkronos International (AKI), an Italian-Arab news organization, reported that counselor Saad al-Din al-Wazzani of Beirut publicly called fo the closure and banning of all gay organizations. A quote:
"This was a provocation and I am amazed that no other political leader has
publically condemned it. What realy worries me is the wish of associations [like
Helem] to spread their activities and distribute their publications even in
schools," al-Wazzani said.

"We have to oppose this, and I ask that at the next cabinet meeting the
government approve a decree which will revoke permission for the associations to
operate," al-Wazzani told AKI.

I'm not horribly surprised he said such a thing, but rather that he thought his call will actually be heeded. With all that is going on with the roundtable discussions, Israeli bombing, Lebanese-Syrian tension, and the enormous debt, Lebanon does not need the bad press that will be associated with a crackdown on gay people. I doubt the government will respond to al-Wazzani.

Also interesting is the article's bad fact-checking. First, notably, the picture in the article has the caption "Some bars in Beirut cater for a gay clientele". The picture, however, is not of a gay-centric place, but rather just some random store in Solidere. Second, the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) somehow just became "Against Homophobia", which doesn't make sense. And third, Barra has had three issues, not two. Apparently AKI is not the most assiduous news source.

A better-informed, although also more puffy and saccharine, article on IDAHO was published by the BBC. It makes laws against homosexuality in Lebanon seem like a benign nuisance, rather than a threat.

Also, a terrible article by Al-Arabiya, which said that Mary Cheney was a confessed sexual deviant, claims that Helem was showing porn. To discount the gay civil rights movement, opponents often protray gay people as being sex-obsessed, almost as if all we want is to have sex in the streets. It's simply a way of avoiding the real issues at hand, i.e. discrimination, family-building, marriage, legal protection, military service, etc. It's also childish.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Don't Boycott World Pride!

A pro-Palestinian coalition is calling for the boycott of the second World Pride, to be held August 6-12 in Jerusalem. (The second World Pride was originally scheduled for last year, but was cancelled because it coincided with the Ariel Sharon-led pullout from Gaza.)

On its website, the coalition states in an open letter:
As you know, many groups have joined the movement to boycott Israeli goods and to divest from Israel in protest of the ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands, the construction of the apartheid wall in the West Bank, and the destruction of Palestinian olive trees, homes, and villages. We believe that the goal of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) liberation is best served by supporting local community organizing while also supporting the liberation struggles of all oppressed peoples.

We support the work of Jerusalem Open House (the local sponsor of World Pride in Jerusalem) in fighting queer oppression, and we understand and respect that LGBTIQ people and organizations within Israel and Palestine will decide for themselves how to relate to World Pride. However, we ask LGBTIQ people from other countries to boycott travel to Israel and not to attend World Pride 2006 in Jerusalem.
I agree with the intent behind the coalition's statement, but I believe the idea of boycotting World Pride is ridiculous, half-baked, and hyprocritical.

First off, boycotting World Pride will only hurt the gay movement, and will not help the Palestinian one. Two wrongs don't make a right, and weakening two movements doesn't make them stronger. I understand why Palestinian groups want to boycott Israeli goods and discourage tourism to Israel: by divesting in Israel, you take away from its economic, and political, power. But divestment only works when it targets the people in charge - rich businessmen, lawmakers, celebrities, etc. In no country in the world does the gay community hold any significant power.

Gay people in Israel, as in every country, are fighting for their human rights, and supporting gay Israelis does not mean supporting Israel. By boycotting World Pride, it merely makes the movement seem smaller and more inconsequential. Lawmakers might not notice 100 gay people marching in the streets, but they will definitely notice 100,000.

Furthermore, because gay people do not hold power, and are not supported by the government, boycotting World Pride will not help the Palestinians. In fact, the boycott might make the lawmakers of Israel happy, which is the opposite of the boycott's intent.

Movements are strongest when they're symbiotic - I'll help you if you help me. The idea behing the boycott - I'll help you in places only that help me - is not a positive step, for it stratifies the movements in importance, really meaning "I'll help you, but only as an afterthought."

If the coalition truly believes in "fighting queer oppression" and supports Palestinian liberation, then it should encourage Palestinian activists to attend World Pride. In turn, the gay movement should encourage its members to attend Palestinian rallies. That is symbiosis, leading to two stronger movements which are more likely to reach their goals.

Secondly, the boycott is hypocritical. Many of the supporters of the boycott are American Palestinian groups, including the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in San Francisco (ADCSF) and Queers for Peace and Justice. This month, the ADCSF marched in San Francisco to protest for immigration rights. Queers for Peace and Justice marched in New York in 2003 to protest Israeli occupation.

The boycott does not want people going to a gay march in Israel because Israel hurts Palestinians. By this logic, since the United States does not endorse gay rights, boycott-supporting groups should not be participating in marches in the US. But they do. And that, my friend, is hypocrisy.

I'm going to do my best to go to World Pride and support gay people in the Middle East and around the world. And I will support the Palestinian cause. I rather support both than neither.


(On a related note, I liked this article in the World Net Daily. I love articles that try to appear non-homophobic, but obviously are. They make me laugh.)


Update June 17:

According to Pink News, an orthodox rabbi is arranging a "modesty parade" to counteract World Pride. It will take place on August 9, two days before the Pride parade, and is organized by Shofar, an orthodox group advocating a "return to religion". A quote:
[The anti-gay parade] will celebrate 20 years of the group, the website states, "Two days before the date on which the vile souls are planning their World 'March of Abomination,' thousands of Jews whose souls have been saved and have chosen God's path will hold a 'Modest march' or incredible proportions.

"It's very occurrence will denunciate the abomination and defilement, will vomit out its participants from among us, and will set fire to their infection. Thousands of Jews from Israel and the world, to whom the purity and sanctity of Jerusalem is important, will demonstrate the extraordinariness of the was of the Torah chosen by thousands."
It's virulent, but a bit poetic, don't you think?

The article also mentions that a counselor for the National Religious Party filed a petition with Israel's High Court of Justice to have World Pride cancelled because it "harms the city's unique Jewish character."

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Wolf on the Prowl

The newest gay bar in Beirut, Wolf, has gotten a billboard in Hamra. Check it out:



The man under the moon is one of the owners. I'm glad to see an advertisement for a gay bar (even if it doesn't say it's gay), alhough I've been hearing more and more bad things about Wolf.

First, I know a few people who worked there and quit because the owner was apparently very sketchy. I've heard lots of other bad things, but I can't prove them, so I won't print them. But I don't go to Wolf anymore, that's for sure.

A funny thing: if you Google the words "wolf", "gay", and "Beirut", my article pops up before Wolf's site. Ha!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Note on Helem

I'm a bit frustrated with Helem's promotional notices.

I didn't go to all of IDAHO last week, some of which was due to the fact I had to work. Much of it was the fact that I didn't know about all of the events. IDAHO events started May 17. Helem posted the listing of IDAHO events here. Notice that the date posted was May 16 at 13:59 GMT. That's only 24 hours notice! Good work, Helem.

It's also important to mention that when Al Hal Bi Idak ran a segment on gay people in Lebanon featuring active members of Helem as guests, Helem did not advertise the show at all.

This Friday, the Lebanese Psychological Association is hosting a lecture by Brian Whitaker, author of the book Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Lives in the Middle East. At least Helem gave about a week's notice on that one.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Sadness, Woe, and IDAHO

On Tuesday evening, I spent the night with someone else in my bed for the first time in months. For me, spending the night with someone is something very special; I am a fiend for space, and to sleep next to someone on my tiny bed requires a great deal of compromise on my part. But on Tuesday, I made an exception out of need.

That night, I met a guy in the Gay Lebanon room on mIRC. We'll call him Rami. Rami and I started chatting, and I learned part of the tragic saga he was undergoing, and how he was going to spend the night on the street unless he found someone to take him in. Following my conscience and subduing my better judgment, I offered to let him spend the night at my house.

I met him in front of a café. Rami was 24, but his height made him look much, much younger. He must have been around 165cm tall, with no weight on his bones. He was a hairdresser, which was hardly the only stereotypically gay thing about him: his hair was carefully spiked, he wore earrings and bracelets, and his posture was impeccable. During the walk to my apartment, he proceeded to tell me his story:

On Monday night, he was robbed. A service taxi picked him up, and he sat in the front seat, as he always does, in order to avoid being trapped in the middle of the backseat, which could be dangerous for him. The taxi driver then proceeded to pick up two other men, who sat in the back seat. Rami noticed that the taxi was not taking him where he wanted to go. The man sitting behind him reached forward and held a knife to Rami's side, until they reached a remote location, where Rami was instructed to get out of the call. The men took everything Rami had, including his money, his phone and his jewelry, then proceeded to beat him up. Rami was left with bruises on his back and scratches on his face where his robbers had playfully ran the knife across it.

Somehow, Rami made it home, where he told his mother the whols story. Instead of comforting him, Rami's mother told him that he deserved it, and they should have killed him. In tears, Rami packed up a few of his possessions in a shopping bag and left the house.

Monday night, he stayed at a friend's house, but he couldn't stay there any longer than that. He made enough money as a hairdresser to get his own place, but he was in debt and wouldn't be able to do that for a few weeks. So, he planned to sleep on the street in Solidere, near policemen so he would be safe.

To make a long story short, this guy was living in a state of constant danger. First, the street was unsafe - he already had a history of being robbed, beaten, and raped by people in the street, and this was not likely to change, even in a place as saccharine as Solidere. Second, at home he was in danger. His family obviously cared very little about him because of his sexuality, and might be capable of anything. Third, he was reaching out to strangers on mIRC, who could easily take advantage of his frailty.

I tried to convine him to seek help - to reach out to Helem, Lebanon's gay-rights group, for example. At least, I told him, find a friend with whom you can stay longer than a day.

On Wednesday night, I went to the second annual International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) celebration at the Monroe Hotel downtown. The event, which was attended by around 300 people, included informational booths, guest speakers, and four small films documenting gay life in Lebanon, which were the highlight of the event.

The fourth film was by far the best. It chronicled the life of a young transgendered person (male to female) who was working as a maid. Rejected by her real family, she now considers the family she works for to be her own.

The protagonist's life was similar to Rami's - marked by rejection and sadness. She spoke with fondness of movie stars she adored, including Nabila Obeid and Sabah, the memories of her first movies, and the woman she'd like to be. But what shone through was always the daily rejection and strife she experienced as a transgendered person in a country as unwelcoming as Lebanon. She worried about catcalls and violence in the street, and was in constant danger of rejection and threats to her security.

One part in particular stood out. The interviewer asked her if she thought she was beautiful. "That's not for me to decide," she said. "Society doesn't accept the man that I am." She said that she has always felt that, on the inside, she was a woman, and waited for the day when she could physically become one. "When I wear my makeup, I feel beautiful."

According to the movie, her favorite motto is "To want is to be able".

There is a point to all of this. Both Rami and the woman from the movie lead very difficult lives, exacerbated by a society which rejects them. Yet they persevere, fighting to be who they are. This underscores one main point - being gay or transegendered is not a choice. Who would choose to be rejected by family in friends, to risk living on the streets, to be ostracized by the community?

Opponents to gay civil rights always say that gay people want to "advocate homosexuality," i.e. convert people to be like us. This isn't true. All gay people really want is a society where we don't feel threatened, where we can live without threats, danger, and sadness.

Homophobia is breaking up families. What we teach our children in turn may hurt their children. It's easy to preach homophobia when you don't know any gay people, because you don't see who you hurt. But people do get hurt, and people die.

I'm getting emotional...I'll have to come back and edit this later.


Update May 24:

I think Rami's living on the street. I saw him two days ago and he said he had gone back home. But I keep seeing him out late at night, sitting in random places in Hamra. (Don't ask me why I'm out late at night.)

Friday, May 19, 2006

Genocide and Strawberry Soft Serve

Yesterday I had a bad day....my allergies have been acting up, my boss keeps asking me to do more work for no more pay, and my water heater is dripping this gross orange liquid all over my bathroom.

So what do I do to keep my spirits up and relieve stress? Do I run along the Corniche? Do I watch MBC until my eyes fall out? Do I listen to the Scissor Sisters on repeat (I can't get enough of them)?

No. Ever since I was a kid, nothing has made me happier than food, especially sugar. So, whenever I feel down, I put on my ugliest, most comfortable clothes, and head down to Juicy Barbar in Hamra for a big Hitler. Something about that heavenly mix of pineapple wedges and strawberry purée topped with pistacio bits and a swirl of vanilla and strawberry soft serve makes me feel like I'm 23 again. But I wonder: is it morally acceptable for me to enjoy the drink named after a man who would have murdered me without hesitation?

If I had been in Germany in the 1940s, Hitler's regime would have tortured me, starved me, and performed radical surgeries on my brain. Somehow, it seems wrong to savor frosty goodness in his namesake, even though I'm sure Hitler's family is not receiving royalties from Barbar.

Does gorging myself on strawberry soft serve implicitly endorse the actions of the Nazis?Also, when did Hitler go from topical to tropical? I don't remember reading anything about a forest of pineapple trees in the Rhineland.

I keep imagining Adolf dressed up like Carmen Miranda. It's unsettling.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Sistani Removes Death Sentences for Gays

When I saw the headline of this article in the Pink News, stating that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani decided to remove his fatwa calling for killing gay people in the "worst, most severe way possible", I almost regretted my criticism of him here.

My elation was shortlived, however. Check out this quote from the article:
Initially, the office had demanded that Iraqi LGBT-UK delete their
criticisms of Mr Sistani from their website and apologise to the Grand Ayatollah
for questioning his religious authority.

Iraqi LGBT-UK refused. It issued a counter-demand that Mr Sistani remove
his 'death to gays' fatwa from his website. After two weeks negotiations, Mr
Sistani's representatives in London and Najaf agreed to drop the homophobic
fatwa from his website, except for the section calling for the punishment of
lesbianism.

The article never really delves into this, but it can be surmised: Sistani never decided that maybe gay people shouldn't be brutally massacred as in Iraq, but only removed the print version of the fatwa in order to save face. He couldn't stand that there was accessible information which questioned his religious authority.

That is egotism at its best.

Worse still, that means that the fatwa is still technically in place, and Sistani advocates murder.

For the record: I question Sistani's authority as a religious leader.

Gay Arabs Face Twice the Amount of Prejudice in Detroit

The Detroit Metro Times published an article about gay Arabs in the US.

In the article, one gay man gives his view:
He says being openly gay is one of the "hardest things you can do as an Arab. It's extremely hard because of your culture, your parents. It's the biggest taboo. It's basically considered filth. Arabs don't understand that it's not a choice; they say, 'America made you that way.'"
"The Arabic community in Dearborn does not respect gay life," says Andy, 25, who was born in Lebanon and moved to the United States with his family when he was 5.
"They think you're a sick person, that you're not supposed to live. They think it's
against God's rules.
"But God will always love me," he says. "I was born like this and it's nothing to be ashamed of."
The story's pretty good - it's not too in-depth, but it gives some good stories. Definitely worth a read.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Abracadabra! UV's Open Again!

Glory of glories, Monot's best gay hangout, UV, is open again.

The bar/club officially opened last night and, of course, I went. The night was clear, the music was great, and the boys were cute.

I love UV - it attracts a more mature, less club-kid crowd than Acid or X-OM. Plus, the space is beautiful, with nice lighting, a stone courtyard, and a staff that puts the bouncers as Club Acid to shame.

A funny thing happened there, though:

Two days ago, I was running very late and took a taxi from Unesco to Gemmayzeh instead fo the normal service-bouncing game. The driver drove me down by the Corniche - the long route to Gemmayze - which frustrated me plenty. But, we ended up talking.

The driver, who was probably around 27, very thin, and of average attractiveness, asked normal small talk questions, including if I had a girlfriend. I said no. He said, "I don't think you like girls."

Now, I don't tell strangers I'm gay, especially random taxi drivers, for personal safety purposes and because I always end up having my ear talked off, whether the person I tell be pro- or anti-gay. So I professed my love for girls, saying I just hadn't found the right one.

The taxi driver loved girls, too. He told me all about them, especially how much they cost. "You shouldn't wait to get a girl; you can get one now! Every girl has a price. You see that girl?" he said, pointing to a young woman in a sleeveless shirt about to cross the street. "I could get her for $100." She crossed the street, and the driver noticed her untoned rear end. "Ehh, $80-$90."

He told me all about the girls who used his cabs: Muslim girls in the hijab from Shiah who hid the hijab in their purse to party downtown; girls who prostituted themselves at the finest hotels for $400 a pop; girls who did it in Hamra hotels for much much less; foreign girls who love Arab men; old ladies who proposition him during drives - everything.

He said some days, he would work from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m., earn about 80,000 lira, and go find a girl. "I pay 50,000 for a hotel, 100,000 for a girl, and get whatever I want," he said proudly.

I said I'd look into finding a girl.

You know what? Last night I saw him dancing with a guy on the dance floor at UV. The lengths people go to in order to hide their sexuality.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Al-Arabiya Publicizes Book of Confessed "Sexual Deviant"

The title of a May 6 article on the website of Al-Arabiya television channel reads, "The Daughter of American Vice President Admits that She Is a 'Sexual Deviant'. (Note: "sexual deviant" = شاذة جنسيا)

Mary Cheney has a new book which came out yesterday, Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life, which documents her life as the lesbian daughter of American Vice President Dick Cheney. It's a huge turn-around for Mary Cheney, considering that just a few years ago, she was lambasted for not speaking out against the Bush Administration's anti-gay policies. (Check out dearmary.com, which exhibits the famous lost-child milk carton.) Her past reluctance to speak out can also be seen as a turn-around, considering that before she worked for her father's campaign, she was an lgbt public relations manager for Coors Brewing Company.

The Queer Arabs Blog has a bit good insight into the article, especially when it points out that a lot of American money goes into Al-Arabiya, and the Cheney family might not be too happy. President George Bush might be happy, though, for he is apparently lambasted in Mary Cheney's book.

The article itself, other than the title, is rather benign; I have seen much worse in the American media about this book. Al-Arabiya chooses strong quotes from Mary Cheney, and they dominate the piece. Interestingly, it even includes a quote stating that she still supports Bush as the best leader for America.

The best part about the article is the feedback section in which readers respond to the article. At the time of this post, there were almost 400 responses, among which were quite a few jewels. My personal favorite is number 163, written by a woman who calls herself "Egyptiana". She says, "Such trends are the beginning of the end for America; may Allah make it soon."

Ha! Why can no one who disagrees with homosexuality discuss the matter without resorting to religion? Not everyone has the same religion, and even when people do have the same religion, everyone has his own interpretation. I believe God loves gay people. My religion is no less valid than yours; you'll have to think of a better argument than your morality to make me shut up.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Turks Can Spot Gays on Sight

In a convoluted article, Bağımsız İletişim Ağı (BIA) recently reported that a gay "conscientous objector" to military service is being forced to serve because he refuses to undergo medical examinations to prove his homosexuality, which would exempt him.

Mehmet Tarhan, 27, first voiced his objection to compulsory military service in October 2001, stating that he refused "to be transformed into a murder machine by taking a course in dying and killing". He was then detained twice and jailed in April, 2005 (before his trial), during which he was attacked, blackmailed, and locked in solitary confinement, causing him to undergo self-mutilation and hunger strikes in protest. After a trail lasting more than four months, a military court ruled last August* that he should serve four years in prison. Reports BIA:

"Last November, the Appeals Court [The Court of Cassation] overturned Tarhan's
prison sentence on grounds that it was disproportionately high and therefore
unfair, but its final written recommendation was that his homosexuality should
be identified by 'proper physical examination procedures'. "

It is unclear where Tarhan's homosexuality became a factor in this case. Ostensibly, he was refusing to serve in the Turkish army because of his morality, not because he was gay. Somewhere along the line, however, his homosexuality came into play. Refusingtokill.net says that it began in an offer by the army:

"His release is a victory first of all for his determination to refuse the
army’s 'offer' of avoiding the draft by allowing himself to be classified as
'ill' because he is gay. He refused to submit to an anal examination, the
equivalent of the notorious 'virginity test', used for decades by the Turkish
police and army as a pretext to perpetrate rape and other sexual violence
against women, Kurdish and also Turkish."

The Court of Cassation subsquently ruled that forced physical examination is a violation of human rights and the integrity of the person, a huge victory for women in Turkey, who have been struggling to eliminate such "virginity checks". Because the court ruled that Tarhan had been punished enough, and because he refuses to undergo a medical examination to prove his homosexuality, Tarhan must now serve in the army.

Okay, let's get this straight: The court says that homosexuality is an "advanced psychological disorder", even though the Union of Turkish Physicians (TTB) and the Turkish Psychiatry Association do not agree. (According to the article, a representative of the TTB even stated that 15 percent of people are gay, which is the largest percentage I've ever heard.) Furthermore, the court believes that doctors can examine a man and tell if he's gay.

Insane. Men do not have the equivalent of the female hymen. Without going into unnecessary detail, you cannot look at two men and tell if one of them has had anal sex in his lifetime. In addition, not all gay men have anal sex, and of those who do, not all are on the receiving end. Scientifically, it simply does not make sense, and it is ridiculous that the Turkish courts should count on such examinations as evidence.

Why doesn't the court take Tarhan's contention that he is gay at face value? In a country as conservative as Turkey, where gay people are severely stigmatized by society, it is unlikely that Tarhan would invent such an identity for himself. Publicly avowing his homosexuality might get him out of military service, but it certainly would not serve his interests in the long run.


*Note: In the article, BIA mentions once that the trial ended in August, 2004. This, however, must be a typo. Every other reference to the trial in the BIA article, and in many other articles online, corroborates that the trial ended in August, 2005.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

14-Year-Old Gay Iraqi Executed by Police

According to Britain's Gay.com, a 14-year-old gay Iraqi was dragged from his home and shot point-blank in the face by the police. Quotes:

"The neighbour saw the police drag Ahmed out of the house and shoot him at
point-blank range, pumping two bullets into his head and several more bullets
into the rest of his body."

"It is believed Ahmed slept with men for
money to support his poverty-stricken family. They have since fled the area. "

The attack, like most other recent attacks against gay men in Iraq, has been blamed on the Badr Corps, the militant wing of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The attacks have been steadily increasing since Iranian Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani released a gay fatwa calling on gay people to be murdered, which I explore further in this post.

Last week, blogger Abu Kais discussed Al-Sistani in his blog, From Beirut to the Beltway. He states that Sistani is "a very knowledgeable Faqih who is against literal interpretations of the Tradition and the Qur’an. He is all for putting the reported sayings of the prophets in their political and historical contexts, and to study the biographies of the narrators, as well as compare the different versions of the texts. He has no problem consulting modern science, or even modern western law texts, on subjects he says the Qur’an does not mention...He also believes in revising and renewing Fiqh rules to go with the times, which is more than many Shia and Sunni scholars are willing to do"

Why, however, does Sistani not use this approach in his stances on homosexuality? I do not expect that he embrace the view of many liberal Muslims that Qu'ranic verses on Sodom and Gomorrah refer to punishment due to excess enjoyment of worldly pleasures, and not necessarily homosexuality alone. Or, if they indeed refer only to homosexuality, that they reflect a different, more intolerant time in the world, and are anachronistic today. I also do not expect that he differentiate between homosexual lust and homosexual love.

I understand why Sistani cannot logistically put homosexuality in the Qu'ran into historical context; many of his followers hearts are hardened and cannot accept such an interpretation.

I do, however, expect that he at least adopt a more tolerant outlook than calling for all gay men to be murdered.

Take into account this quote from Sura 15 of the Qur'an, known as The Women:

"If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four
(reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine
them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other)
way. If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they
repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful."
(4:15-16)

These verses certainly do not support Sistani's view that gay people should be "killed in the worst, most severe way of killing".

Sistani is an amazing man: so modern in many respects, but so backward in this one, which causes so many deaths.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Al Hal Bi Idak Goes Gay

Yesterday at 8:30 p.m., New TV aired an episode of Al Hal Bi Idak (The Solution is in Your Hands) which focused exclusively on homosexuality and society's acceptance of it. The two-hour episode featured the host, Rania Barout, a panel of four expert guests, two gay men behind a curtain who wished to remain unidentified, numerous call-in partipants, and a soap-opera-esque dramatization of the life of a sterotypically queeny homosexual.

I give the program 1 1/2 thumbs up.

The panel consisted of:
Georges, the coordinator for Helem, the first gay-rights organization in the Arab World
Mounir, the editor of Barra, Lebanon's first gay magazine
Drina, a psychiatrist
Teddy, an androgynous nightclub dancer in a terrible gold lamé shirt
(Unfortunately, I do not remember their last names, but I wrote the program an e-mail asking for them; hopefully, they will respond.)

The program ran like this: Rania said hello and introduced the panel. They discussed gay life for a bit and introduced the first part of the drama, in which the boy, Fouazi, screams at his mother, "I'm a girl," and his sister tries to hook him up with a girlfriend, with a devastating lack of success. Then, during discussion, the first audience question flashes at the bottom of the screen - "Should he go to a doctor?"

After a break, the second sequence of the film. 65 percent of the callers voted no, so Fouazi does not go to a doctor. He does, however, try to commit suicide by throwing himself off the roof, hence the second question posed during panel discussion, "Do you support his getting a sex change?"

After a break, more than half of the callers said yes, so he goes to a surgeon. He does not, however, get a sex change in the film. More panel discussion, including the men behind the screen. Third question: "Do you accept him as he is?"

After the last break, a resounding no: 92 percent of the callers do no accept Fouazi. The dramatization ends with Fouazi wearing a colorful scarf tied around his neck and hanging out with another extremely flamboyant gay man and a transsexual (notably, Fouazi is not around his family). Rania says goodbye.

It's hard to rate such a program; it had quite a few very good aspects, but also a few very, very bad ones.

First the good:

The program did not feature religious leaders on the panel, a first for what I've seen. This was essential because it made it so the program was not about homosexuality in respects to Islamic or Christian theology, but about gay people in real-life society. One could not ask for more; for in modern Lebanon, nothing is more important than respect for others' right to exist. This program pointed out that our main goal is not to make Muslims or Christians change their beliefs, but to convince them to respect our right to exist peacefully.

Furthermore, Rania Barout was obviously in favor of acceptance and tolerance of gay people. One of the highlights of the program was when a sheikh from Dar al-Fatwa, the highest Sunni religious authority in Lebanon, called in to rant about how homosexuality is against Islam. She replied coolly, referencing a saying attributed to Ibn Abbas that any "person guilty of the homosexual act should be thrown down from the highest building in town and then showered with stones." "Is this how you treat your neighbor?" she asked.

Drina pointed out that reperation therapy often leaded to intense trauma, stating that there is no effective treatment for sexuality, which is not a disease. There are, however, treatements for homophobia, she mentioned.

Drina later pointed out that statistically, gay rights advocated claim that 10 percent of the population is gay, meaning 400,000 Lebanese. Even if you use the estimates of anti-gay advocates, which tend to claim five percent, that's still 200,000 Lebanese who are currently suffering under an intolerant society.

A myriad of callers showed their overwhelming support for gay people. Interestingly, while the panelists tended to stick to Arabic terms for homosexuality (derivations of "mithliyoun junsiya", "مثليون جنسيا"), callers frequently used Western terms (English "gay" or French "homosexuel"). My favorite was when a straight caller voiced her love for gay people, using the term "gay friendly", causing Rania to laugh.

Rania showed a two-year-old photograph of Teddy, when he looked like an average man, with very short hair and unremarkable attire. Teddy emotionally stated that he felt better the way he is now, with long hair, manicured eyebrows, and lips that were locked in sarcastic pursing. Seeing a tangible before-and-after representation of coming out is, I feel, fundamental to society's understanding of the process.

Rania closed the episode with a beautiful "live and let live" speech calling on everyone to respect each other. Again, it didn't focus on accepting homosexuality, it focused on accepting other human beings.

I'm not sure if the call-in voting was good or bad. Sure, it started off well, with most people not believing that homosexuality needs medical treatment. Despite this, it ended badly, with such a huge margin rejecting Fouazi. This discrepancy could merelyy signal that anti-gay groups rallied their troops to call in, or that pro-gay callers saw that they did well after the first vote and didn't feel the need to call again. Nevertheless, the final vote was disparaging. It did, however, point out the great opposition in Lebanon to gay rights. But everyone knows that exists, does it need restating?

Bad points:

The beginning of the program began with a discussion of gay sterotypes, emphasizing that not all gay men are effeminate, not all drag queens are gay, etc. Fantastic. But, honestly, that really didn't come through in the program. The program talked so much about male femininity that even though the panelists may have repeatedly pointed out that feminine gays are only a segment of the gay community, it was hard to believe.

The drama. Horrible. Reprehensible. For the program to work, the scenes obviously had to be filmed beforehand, and the writer/directer must have had no idea of what real gay life is like. The main character was waifish and extremely stereotypical. You never really understand whether he is gay or transgendered, which are two very different things. In the lives of most gay men, transsexualism rarely enters the picture. He dresses more flamboyantly than any Lebanese man would ever dare around his family. In fact, he seems to do nothing to hide the fact that he is gay, which is certainly a more common representation of gay men in Lebanon. I can think of nothing good (or realistic) about that idiotic dramatization.

One of the gay men behind the curtain said that he believes that he is gay because his parents got divorced when he was three. By the age of eight, he was having sex with his brother. Even more than the film, this is not representative of the gay population in Lebanon. Granted, there are thousands of gay men who believe that there are reasons for them being gay, such as divorce, unloving fathers, sexual abuse, etc. But few have had incestual sex. I can't imagine that this gay man's testimony left a good taste in the mouth of the average Lebanese tuning in.

The absence of lesbians and discussion of lesbianism. Period.

All in all, I was glad the show was on. As I always say, the best tool for the achievement of gay equality is visibility. It's so much easier to oppress gay people when it only seems like there are five of them, and they live miles away. When there are 400,000, and some of them live on your block, are your friends, or are in your family, it's much harder to say that they are less of a person because they are gay.

Thank you, New TV.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Muslim Headspin in Britain

First they hate us, then they love us, then they hate us again, only moreso. And then they love us again? I'm so confused!

In January, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said that homosexuality is "harmful" and a "disease", according to the BBC. A quote:

"Asked if he believed homosexuality was harmful to society, he said: 'Certainly
it is a practice that in terms of health, in terms of the moral issues that
comes along in a society - it is. It is not acceptable.'"
In the vein of anti-gay statements from religious leaders, however, his remarks are quite tame and mature. While he does not agree with homosexuality, he believes strongly that gay activists deserve the right to free speech, and that everyone in society should be tolerant, and use peaceful, democratic methods to express their views. This quote is both eloquent and beautiful:

"We may not be happy with the views being expressed by others. But the
difficulty comes in that at the end of the day we are human beings."
Later, unfortunately, Sacranie faced a police investigation apropos his comments. This is a fantastic case of liberalism gone too far. While those who complained might have thought they were doing the right thing by protesting Sacranie's comments, they were in fact making a mockery of the gay movement, and perhaps damaging it. I understand why they would protest what he said, but not that he could say it. This protest was wrong on both an ideological level and a practical one.

First, no speech should be censored, as long as the speech is mature, and does not inspire violence. Even hate speech should be protected. If those who hate are silenced, they will only hate more because of their oppression. The last thing the world needs is people who are both hateful and oppressed.

Second, gay people, when it comes to free speech, currently have the lower hand. We are not the majority and we are not in power. When censorship arises, it always favors one of the two. If we call for censorship, we only hurt ourselves in the end.

Luckily, he was not charged.

Then, in early April, the MCB apparently made a u-turn, when its policy advisor, Muhammad Aziz, revealed a five-year plan to combat homphobia in an interview with Pinknews. Apparently the British Department of Trade and Industry was set to mediate the talks between the MCB and the gay community, for some reason.

"We have brought about a lot of change from five years ago when the MCB was behind issues such as section 28, and against gay adoption," Aziz is reported to have said. "The first part of the strategy was to tell the MCB, 'if you have nothing positive to say, keep your mouth shut.' Most of the negative statements now date back to 1999."

"In February, a gay Muslim asylum seeker from Sudan, Nahi Mudwai, committed suicide by jumping into the Thames after his family's homophobia drove him to despair. Thousands of young gay people from religious families, not only Muslim, of course, experience rejection and depression because of faith-inspired homophobia. We applauded the MCB for its decision to combat anti-gay attitudes," said Brett Lock, the campaign organizer for British gay-rights group OutRage!.

Sadly, in late April, the MCB was again accused of making a u-turn. rescinding its pledge to tackle homophobia, as reported in The Observer, Pinknews, and UK Gay News. In fact, the MCB seemed to completely disown Aziz, often saying that Aziz did not represent the organization. But wasn't representing the organization his job?

I find it hard to believe that Aziz was merely acting on his own. I imagine that in an organization such as the Muslim Council of Britain, Aziz's participation in talks with the Equality and Diversity Forum could not have happened without someone's approval. I bet that the MCB wanted to make amends for Sacranie's comments, for they created a lot of bad press. This is supported by the fact that it was noted in the minutes of the meeting that “Mohammed Aziz addressed the subject of remarks made by Sir Iqbal Sacranie in an interview on Radio 4. Part of what was said related to a real issue about the theological position of sexuality in Islam and this needs to be engaged with and a solution sought. Two comments were made that were particularly regrettable, about damage to society and about a possible danger to public health. While he cannot apologise for Sir Iqbal Sacranie’s comments, Mohammed would like to apologise on a personal level for the pain and hurt that they caused – he knows the pain and hurt that he would feel if such comments were made about Muslims.”

Perhaps, however, Aziz had gone further than the MCB would have wished by offering the five-year plan, and the MCB had to backpedal, thus sending Inyat Bunglawala, its media spokesperson, to deny the gay-positive talks and reassert the MCB's anti-gay stances. Nevertheless, note that this was not immediate, occurring more than a week after the fact. If Aziz were truly not representing the MCB in his discussions with the gay community, would not the MCB have responded immediately to correct the slander?

Anyway, everything is further confused by an article in the Socialist Worker detailing an April 29 carnival organized in Trafalgar Square by the group Love Music, Hate Racism. It states:

"Tahmina Saleem from the Muslim Council of Britain spoke at the carnival to
highlight the need for unity against the BNP to undermine the Nazis’ attempts to
appear 'respectable'. She said she was proud to be appearing on the same
platform as gay rights group Stonewall. 'Whatever our differences, we will unite
with anyone and stand together with anybody against the BNP and for respect and
tolerance,' she said."
What? Is the MCB making yet another u-turn? Maybe its car is stuck in one of Britain's famous roundabouts because the driver cannot decide whether to take the exit for "pro-gay" or "anti-gay".

The MCB needs to make up its mind, or at least rein in its members until it does. Regardless of where it ends up for the time being, the fact that there are members within it that disagree with Sacranie's ideology is heartening, for it signals positive change in the future.

I'm Famous!

The love me, they really love me! And why wouldn't they? I have the look, I have the smile, I have the Miss Lebanon style!

Check out the Lebanese Bloggers Forum, a blogging group of which I am a member. Apparently, one member objects to my blog on the grounds that it limits his freedom. Ludicrous.

Anyway, here is the response I posted to it:

Wow....not what I expected when I checked the blog today. I've only been blogging a month and I'm already a celebrity ;)

Ahmad, I'm sorry you feel that way, but I don't really understand your argument.

You say, "I am pro freedom of speech, yet this should not conflict with the freedom of others in terms of beliefs; freedom of someone is limited by the freedom of the others." I agree with this somewhat. People cannot have the freedom to kill because it inhibits the freedoms of others to live. People cannot have the freedom to scream fire in a movie theater because it inhibits the safety of others. But the freedom to have same-sex relations? Does that impede you from having heterosexual relations? If it does, I am sorry for your loss.

I don't believe that a gay identity should be kept private. "The closet", as they call it, is the reason gay people are in the predicament they are now - scorned, persecuted and rejected. Staying quiet continues the status quo; it is only by voicing our protest that we can change society for the better.

Furthermore, I am not naming names of the girls I've slept with. That would be a rather boring list. It would read:

1)

That's not worth the creation of a blog.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The Good, the Bad and the Ambiguous in Israel

First, the Good:

According to Ynet News, the Israeli tourism industry, with help from the Tourism Ministry, is working to make Tel Aviv the gay capital of the world. Quote:

"During the exhibition [Israeli Hotel Association Director-General Eli] Ziv met with representatives of the homo-lesbian travel industry, and discovered an audience that would travel just about anywhere for a good party, even to the Middle East."

I love the term 'homo-lesbian'. Ha!

That is great news for Israel. I feel, however, that the move to entice gay people to Israel was not solely due to Israel's love for them, but was largely financial. I mean, it was just recently that Shas Chairman Eli Yishai called homosexuality a disease, saying, "A medication for homosexuality has not been invented yet, but I hope it is found." In the above article, note the phrase "would travel just about anywhere...even the Middle East." Tourism, the third-largest trade in Israel, experienced a huge slump after the start of the second intifada, and is only now starting to recover. Check out articles here and here. Gay people might only be targeted because they are the few people willing to risk life and limb for a good party. But I'm not trying to look a gift horse in the mouth.

On the other hand, increased gayness in Israel might indirectly be bad news for gay people in the Arab Middle East. There are already quite a few people who see homosexuality as a conspiracy on Arabs by Israel and the United States. Check out this article from Naharnet. It probably won't be a big deal, however.

So, Tel Aviv is turning pink. Now, if only Lebanese were allowed to go there (legally).

Second, the Bad:

Gay Pride was cancelled in Tel Aviv this year, says Arutz Sheva. Apparently, Tel Aviv isn't gay enough yet to compete with ancient (and bloody) Jerusalem.

Last, the Ambiguous:

A recent article on Gay NZ says that Israel only now is inviting gay and lesbian participation in official commemorations.

I remember learning about gay people during the holocaust, somewhat through watching the movie Bent. I especially remember that the movie underscored that gay people were the most horribly treated in the camps, even worsely treated than the Jews. While the Jews were starving and dying from intense labor and gassing, gay people were undergoing tortuous surgeries, lobotomies, and sterilization. This site gives a great depiction.

I think it's fantastic that Israel is finally including gay people in its remembrance, but I can't believe it took so long. I have an Dutch friend who visited Yad Vashem, the main memorial in Israel, in 2002, when he said that there was no inclusion of gay people in the display that highlighted persecuted people other than Jews - namely gypsies, the handicapped, Slavs, etc. At the time, I read quite a few articles by people protesting Yad Vashem's omittance. I thought that a country that strives to be Western as much as Israel does would quickly remedy the situation, but they only did so in 2005. Ah, well...better late than never.