Friday, June 30, 2006

The Middle East Gay Journal in Battle

Somehow, I went into battle with Rasheed Eldin of Eye on Gay Muslims, an anti-gay site, over my posting about Cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi. He points out a mistranlation of MEMRI which read:
There is disagreement. […] The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.

With the ellipsis leaving out critical bits, which he translates as:
And some of them — differences [of opinion, so] it is possible for
us to choose from them in our era what is most appropriate, and what is
lightest, recognising how widespread the tribulation is: because
tribulations and sins being widespread is something in Islamic legal
theory that causes things to be lightened. The important thing is to
consider/treat this act as a crime.

This is a huge difference, I admit, which I should have noticed.

Eldin wants me to apologize for my "laying into" Qaradawi, which I refuse to do. Even if he weren't calling for the murder of gay people this time, he's done it before. Plus, it's still anti-gay. I believe that gay people shouldn't be punished at all.

What's worse is that Eldin wants to monopolize Islamic thought. He says that Qaradawi is voicing the Islamic perspective, when he is truly voicing an Islamic persective. He criticizes me for not being open-minded about anti-gay Islamic views, but then dismisses pro-gay views as un-Islamic. In fact, he calls pro-gay people "Islam-haters" It's a vicious double standard.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Ana Sultan al-Sheikh

Last night, Some friends and I visited the newest gay hammam in Beirut, al-Sheikh, the one which has recently been airing radio commercials. (Acid has also been airing commercials which feature its ladies' night. Yeah, right...like that's how Acid makes its money.)

As soon as I entered, I was overcome by the smell. It was like a mix of urinal cakes and spearmint chewing gum, and was more than a little off-putting. But the decor was nice, very Oriental, yet somehow making me feel like I was in Polynesia.

Al-Sheikh was definitely obviously more gay-friendly than the other gay hammams. No one seemed to hide the fact that they were gay, and I saw more than one could being affectionate. (I mean mildly affectionate!)

I wasn't horribly enchanted by the amenities, however. The hot tub was lukewarm, the steam room was tiny, and the stairs precarious. The staff, however, was extremely friendly and there was a nice cold pool which was dark and cavernous.

One thing immediately struck my eye: there were no condoms! Shame! We're living in the 21st century, and such an omission is tragically careless. AIDS is currently not a huge problem in Lebanon, but it can easily become one.

Secondly, I noticed that most of the masseurs, who were rather goodlooking, were foreign. When I was leaving, I spoke to two, one from Iraq and one from Syria. I don't know if they were gay, doing it for the money, or both. I didn't buy a massage, so I don't know how they are or how much they cost. But I feel that says something important about the situation in Lebanon, but I don't want to delve too far into ethnic politics.

Anyway, I will definitely go back. Well, probably. I don't have 15,000 LL to throw around whenever I feel like it.

Time to Pitch a Tent!

It looks like its time for gay camping!

On July 6-8, there wil be a lovely Lebanese Gay Camp in Dhour Shweir up in the gorgeous mountainous pine woods. I don't know too much about this camping trip. I find out about it on an out-of-the-way site called the Gay New News Magazine. And the e-mail I sent an inquiry to, GNNgroup@hotmail.com, never got back to me.

This is supposed to be the first gay camp ever, but what about all those camping trips that have occurred annually for the last few years? Do they not count?

I imagine that it'll be a blast, if enough people here about it, which is a big IF. Why isn't it on more websites? مشكلة!

It's only $25 and includes a barbeque and a trip to Paradise Beach. I don't know if I can handle three days alone with gay men, though. I might go nuts. Or an animal might eat me (I'm rather defenseless).


Update July 6:

I was just told that the excursion has been canceled.

Denial of Anti-Gay Pogrom in Iran

In a terribly-researched article, Leslie Feinberg wrote that there's no anti-gay pogrom in Iran, which was published in Workers World. In the article, she quotes a few sources, all from 2005, which state that the famously-executed gay teenagers in Iran, which I wrote about here, were executed for rape. This may be true, but my previous posts explains that a lot of the charges that gay men are habitually executed under are most likely fabricated. They attribute horribly gruesome crimes to gay men to make it seem like homosexuality begets bloodlust.

If Feinberg had bothered to use updated sources in her hypothesis, she probably would have come to a different conclusion. Her last paragraph, explaining the repercussions of a the realization of the lack of a pogrom:

This more nuanced view of the situation facing the LGBT community in Iran
doesn’t fit in with U.S. finance capital’s propaganda war, which is demanding
“regime change” in order to re-conquer the oil wealth, land and labor of 70
million Iranian people. In such a bellicose climate, progressives must be
vigilant against any reports—real, manufactured or exaggerated—that seem to
support the imperialist re-enslavement of Iran.

She's saying that the United States is using fabricated anti-gay persecution as a means of covertly taking over Iran as it did overtly with Iraq. This is a conspiracy theory if I ever heard one. And a flimsy one at that. The theory would make sense if:

1) The American populace actually cared about gay rights.

2) The American mainstream media willingly covered the persecution of gay people in Iran, which it didn't. All coverage originally came from gay media, which obviously reaches a limited audience.

3) Sanctions based on human rights, especially those of gay people, were ever truly enforced. As it stands now, Iran has very little to lose if the world finds out about its persecution of gay people.

4) The US were willing to stick up for gay rights at the UN. The US supperted Iran in February in keeping lgbt non-governmental organizations from receiving UN recognition.

5) Anti-gay militarism were not being exported from Iran into Iraq.

Furthermore, the fact that Iran is accepting of transgendered surgery is not equivalent to being accepting of gay men. Transgendered people are the way they are because they feel they've been born in the wrong body. Thus, in an enlightened person's eye, a male-to-female transgendered person is not a confused man, but an actual woman. This is what the leaders of Iran see. When they see gay men, however, they see men acting in ways that society tells them are sinful, forbidden, and unlawful. Thus, they persecute to protect their image of what a "real man" is. It's apples and oranges.

In reality, Feinberg just wants to trot out the endless liberal "America is a drooling devil that does everything for oil" line. Granted, the US has done a lot of really horrible things in the Middle East, a large amount of which are based on oil. But fabricating an anti-gay pogrom? That's far-fetched and simplistic thinking.

I understand people who want to speak out about the atrocity that is US foreign policy. But don't diminish the struggle that gay people in the Middle East undergo to do it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bank Robbers Arrested in Gay Raid in Morocco

This is too ridiculous to believe. Mirror.co.uk reported today that two suspected gang leaders were arrested in Morocco because neighbors thought they were gay. Quote:
THE suspected gang leaders of Britain's biggest cash robbery were arrested after neighbours tipped off police ??" [sic] thinking they were gay.

Lee Murray, Paul Allen and two friends rented a luxury villa in the poshest part of Moroccan capital Rabat, where diplomats and royalty live.

But neighbours were suspicious that there were no women and feared they could even be paedophiles.

A police source said: "In Moroccan society four men can't live together without people thinking they are gay."

Murray and Allen, from London, are suspected over the £53million Securitas raid in Tonb ridge [sic], Kent, in February.

Part of this is hilarious. Two robbers go to Morocco, thinking they're safe to hide, but because they don't know the norms of society, they're subject to a gay raid. I imagine in my head a Moroccan version of the last scene of Plata Quemada, except in the movie it was a gay couple no outsider thought was gay.

Another part is tragic. Apparently, the men had done nothing to arouse suspicion except live together. Due to only this, the police raided their villa. This is an incredible intrusion of privacy that no one should be subjected to. Granted, homosexuality is illegal in Morocco, but so should unreasonable searches.

It's awful enough to say that gay people should stay out of society, but it's infinitely worse to prohibit them to be gay in private.

Plus, I hate the tired "homosexual equals pedophile" dialogue. It's annoying, untrue, and unnecessary. It just shows that those who fear homosexualty don't know what exactly they're talking about.

If Europeans thought to be gay are subjected to raids, imagine what happens to Moroccans thought to be gay.

Bahraini Fighting to Be Recognized as a Man

A 30-year-old intersex person (someone who is born being neither totally man nor female) is fighting in Bahrain to be legally recognized as a man, as reported in the Gulf Daily News this month. A quote:

But [Fowzia Mohammed Janahi, the plaintiff's lawyer] says the Quran permits the operation in the right circumstances.

"The case is very difficult in the Gulf," she said.

"In Kuwait there have been nine cases and all were rejected.

"They also have cases in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, but the law does not agree with it.

"Maybe outside (Bahrain) it is easier to change, but we are Muslim people.

"The family feels shame to change the sex, if they have a daughter they feel she should be a daughter and want her to stay that way.

"Bahrain is a very small country and everybody knows each other.

"It is very difficult for this kind of case, but we have a reason for this one and all the reports agree that there needs to be a change."
It's important to note that this person is not transgendered. Transgendered means you are born with a fully-functioning body of one sex, but feel you are another. This person is intersex, shown by the fact that genetically she is a man. I hope the court finds in his favor; this is a disease that can be proven, and should therefore be ruled on favorably. You never know, though.

I wonder if the cases referenced in other countries in the article were similar. Being intersex is extremely rare, 1 in 13,000 for this instance, so nine cases in Kuwait seems unlikely.

I have no idea what the repercussions of a positive ruling could be. It could pave the way for transgendered people. Or, they could be seen as too different of a case, and therefore receive no benefit. Who knows?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

A New Blog!

There's a new gay blog in Beirut, and I love love love it. It's called Valley of the Twenty-Something Guys. It was only started last week, so there's not much on it yet, but it's so cute!

Each post follows the author through the trials and tribulations of a relationship with a different boy in Beirut, and is replete with all the anger and emotional baggage that makes for a good read. He also throws in a backdrop of Sex and the City, to add to the humor.

I'm definitely going to be checking this blog every day.

Finally, a quote:
Just when I thought that that was the sanest "break-up" ever, stories and
rumours about me and him started surfacing and I began hearing various different
stories from different people. But most of the stories had one thing in common.
That I was a user. I used him for sex and when I got what I needed from his body
I let him go. Stories about me promising him stuff and then ditching him after
we had sex. Ofcourse that was all untrue. Only Mr. SportNutRacer didn't know
that I was as insane as he was and would go on to create a blog about all those
insane people I've been with.

Don't Expect a Bedsheet to Be Hung Out the Window

Beliefnet just posted an article from the Religion News Service on gay and lesbian Muslims in teh United States who get married to preserve their family's honor, protect themselves physically, and get nagging mothers off their backs. It's a fantastic article, with both pro-gay and anti-gay sides well-portrayed and neither one vilified. It's also extremely germane to Muslims everywhere, as not a few of my friends in Lebanon have spoken of doing the same thing. A quote from the article:

Though gay Muslims in America don't have such fears, they still seek out marriages of convenience as a way of staying in the closet. Many of them worry about being ostracized from their families if their secret is revealed. A marriage of convenience is the perfect solution, Mansoor said.

"It's a great option," he said. "I get married to a lesbian, we sleep in different rooms and remain friends. Meanwhile I can have a boyfriend."
It's a great solution. A gay man marries a lesbian, their families leave them alone, and, if they want, they can have kids without going through messy adoption procedures. (For those of you who are thinking "they won't have sex", don't forget the turkey baster.) Everyone's happy.

But there is a dark side to gay people getting married to please their families and protect themselves: gay people who marry straight people. It's a huge phenomenon that is almost never discussed when dealing with gay people and marriage, but it is sadly extremely common and makes everyone involved unhappy.

First, if a gay man marries a straight woman, many horrible things can happen:

1) He cheats on her. Imagine how she, or their children, would feel if she found out?

2) He stops having gay relationships and is emotionally vacant.

3) She is left sexually frustrated and in a marriage where she is rarely touched.

The list goes on and on. Worst of all, there are no real ways out for the woman. It's easier for a woman to skip backwards around the world than get a divorce in the Middle East. Plus, it puts shame on everyone involved.

The situation is similar, but reversed, if a lesbian marries a straight man, expect that it also includes the fact that the man may end up forcing himself on his uninterested wife.

I had a conversation a month ago with a friend of mine, who is very queeny and quite out of the closet, who said that he plans to go back in the closet and get married to a straight woman so he can have a family. He admitted that he will probably end up being abstinent most of his life. Can you imagine? Who will be happy in such a situation? He won't, his wife won't, and I imagine that their unhappiness will reflect on their children.

There are so many people out there who say that gay people should just conform to society and get married. But would you want your daughter to marry a gay man? It's not just the gay people who have to suffer because they deny who they are. Their families suffer, too.

Monday, June 26, 2006

A Right-Wing Christian Attacks Gays In KSA

Yesterday, the fourth installment of "A Dialogue with a Saudi Muslim" was published on the American Thinker. James Arlandson, a frequent contributor to the site, has been engaged in a written intellectual debate with a Saudi religious authority, Soliman al-Buthe. I normally hate the American Thinker - it's full of anti-gay, anti-Islam, and blindly pro-Israel propaganda, but this article is different. Despite the tone of the article (the majority of it is Arlandson choking on the venom he's trying desperately not to spit at al-Buthe), this article gives a lot of insight the way hard-core conservative Americans perceive the Islamic World.

Furthermore, it's good to read in how it touches on homosexuality in Saudi Arabia, even though Arlandson is anti-gay and only uses references to homosexuality in Saudi Arabia to point the finger of immorality. Parts 2 and 4 touch on homosexuality in particular.

Here's what Arlandson's diatribe in Part 2 says about homosexuality (Mind you, he's only using the brutal punishments in the persecution of gays as a way to demonstrate supposed Western superiority):

Does Islam deal effectively with sexual sinners?

Next, you [al-Buthe] quote Dr. Albert Mohler, who laments a lack of church discipline and the aggressive homosexual agenda in America.

In reply, though I do not know Dr. Mohler, I have heard him on the radio. He is allowed to preach righteousness to society and influence public policy, especially church policy. But I can guarantee you that he would not advocate executing homosexuals. But the Prophet of Islam did this.

First, the Sunan Abu Dawud says that Ibn Abbas reports the following about early Islam and Muhammad’s punishment of homosexuals:

. . . “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (no. 4447).

The next one below no. 4447 says that an unmarried man who commits sodomy should be stoned to death:

“Ibn Abbas said: if a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death” (no. 4448).

Third and finally, in the hadith collection Mishkhat al-Masabih, a compendium that brings together other hadith collections, your Prophet prescribes the punishments of being burned to death and having heavy objects thrown on guilty homosexuals:

Ibn Abbas and Abu Huraira reported God’s messenger as saying, “Accursed is he who does what Lot’s people did.” In a version . . . on the authority of Ibn Abbas it says that Ali had two people burned and that Abu Bakr had a wall thrown down on them. (Trans. James Robson, Prescribed Punishments, vol. 1, p. 765)

For more information on Islam’s and Christianity’s policies on homosexuality, go to this article. I do not deny that the West has not reached moral perfection. The West indeed has its share of problems. However, you seem to believe that without the Enlightenment of any kind and with Islam’s guidance in a society, problems vanish away. However, this webpage has further links to homosexual activity in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two Holy Mosques (in Mecca and Medina).

To cite only one example from that webpage, on April 7, 2005, it was reported that Saudi Arabia sentenced more than 100 men to prison or flogging for “gay conduct.”

On or about March 26, a Jeddah court, meeting in a closed session in which defense attorneys were excluded, sentenced 31 of the men to prison for six months to one ear, and to 200 lashes each, for unreported offenses. Four other men received two years’ imprisonment and 2,000 lashes. Police released more than 70 of the men not long after their initial arrest; reports in the Saudi press suggested that personal contacts with the government had intervened on their behalf. However, on April 3, police summoned the 70 men back to a local police station and informed them that they had been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.

Is whipping and imprisoning and executing sinners in order to force and impose external righteousness the best policy? “If only we could catch and punish more sinners, then we could teach them a lesson! Then the others will straighten up! We could eliminate the problem! In fact, let’s kill them after a judge orders their execution!” This seems to be the yearning of many Muslims whose ideas I read online or in print media. However, people need to change from the inside out. Forcing holiness on to people does not work in the long run and for everybody.

And Arlandson's diatribe in Part 4:
You report that the reason for prohibiting women from driving cars is to separate the sexes because they may commit sexual sin and be severely punished. In Part Two I have already noted that homosexuality takes place in Saudi Arabia, so how does one fix that problem? By forbidding men from driving? I am not being facetious. It seems that the reason offered by the religious scholars for prohibiting women does not work entirely. It is a sad fact that humans will commit sexual sin, no matter how much they are smothered by rules and religious police.

Bradbury reports in his book (cited above) that the separation of the sexes creates the (unintended) backlash of men seeking comfort and sexual gratification from other men, and women from other women.

So malls in Jeddah, as well as in Riyadh and Dammam, have predictably become the preferred haunts of another group: male seeking sex with other males. Unlike the boys and girls seeking to mix, they do not have to hide their intentions. Indeed, they stroll certain of the malls and supermarkets openly making passes at each other. They are dressed in variations on Western fashion that would, in America, be considered outrageously queer, but in Saudi Arabia raise eyebrows only among those who insist on “Islamic”—that is, Bedouin—dress at all times. These young men openly cruise, often exchanging comments in loud voices with their friends when a desirable object comes into view. (p. 154)

Additionally, Bradbury reports that gay websites have exploded in Saudi Arabia:

The number of gay-themed Saudi websites especially has exploded in recent years. Some of these sites are blocked by those responsible for censoring the Internet, but software to avoid the blocks is easily purchased in local markets. Most sites exist for one reason only: to facilitate meet-ups. Even gay pornography is freely available to anyone who has a satellite dish in their bedroom, which is to say all middle-class Saudi boys. (p. 155).

He goes on to report that lesbians also seek their own encounters and can easily do so because of the segregation of the sexes (pp. 162-65).
Note that a lot of Arlandson's comments have no responses by al-Buthe, thus letting the radical Christian side dominate the article. (Not that al-Buthe is that great; the "the West didn't let women vote for centuries before they reformed, so we can, too" argument is feeble and exhausted.) If anything, this article makes Wahabism look like paradise compared to close-minded right-wing American Christianity, which will say almost anything to prove its superiority. Just listening to people like Arlandson makes my mind hurt.

I also hate how radical religious people point to commentary by their comrades to show they're right. There's a reason that conservative schools in America are seen as second-rate to liberal ones: socially, they reverse the scientific method by finding evidence to fit their beliefs and throwing the rest in the bin.

Finally, there's something extremely slimy about picking on a persecuted minority for political-religious gain. Arlandson refers to gay people as "sinners", hence he is probably not on the bandwagon for gay rights. He's only pointing out their hideous oppression because it makes Saudi Arabia look bad. I don't know if that's hypocritical or just perverse.

I Think He's Talking About Me!

Lebanonwire recently published an article by Wissam al-Saliby in which he briefly summarizes the upsurge in media coverage of gay rights in Lebanon. The article cites a lot of sources, but never really says anything new about them. Furthermore, the conclusion that he draws at the end, that Lebanon remains a multi-societal country, is trite and bland. How can it be an article if it really doesn't contain any news?

Anyway he also does say this:

Needless to say that the internet and blog sites (some of which are exclusively
LGBT focused) are an impressive medium of communication and contact making.
Could he mean this site? I can't think of many other blogs that are only lgbt-oriented. Just this one and Gay Lebanon Undernet, and this one definitely gets more hits. Who knows?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Interview with Tariq Ramadan

I haven't been able to post much this weekend (I've been clubbing), but I wanted to point out this interview with Tariq Ramadan, a European quasi-assimilationist, which I've recently added to the "Favorite Articles" section on the right. Published in Prospect's July issue, the article gives a great insight into the cultural rifts that Muslim populations face in Europe.

Quotes:
Q In terms of representation you are calling for a recognition of the separation of religion and politics—something which most Muslims, perhaps even in Europe, see as fused together.

A I'm just saying that we must follow the rules in the countries in which we live. We should not confuse everything and Islamise social problems. Social problems are social problems and we have to deal with them as citizens claiming our rights, not
as Muslims defending their religion. It is true that there are some special problems that Muslims face, certain kinds of discrimination or prejudice based on faith, that we call Islamophobia. But most problems that Muslims face are faced by other citizens too.

Q But realistically, how far can you go in a non-literalist interpretation of the Koran? Let's take the issue of whether someone can be both gay and Muslim. In Christianity you'll get a variety of answers. Broadly speaking, in Catholicism homosexuality is a sin. But like all other sins in Catholicism, a little bit of penance can get you out of it before judgement day. In some versions of evangelical Protestantism, homosexuality is a complete sin because evangelicals tend to be literalists. But in the Church of England there are a large number of openly gay Anglican clergy. The argument being that the Old Testament has to be contextualised. Is it possible to have a similar reading of the Koran? Or is it that homosexuality is simply wrong. Could you imagine there ever being a homosexual imam in the same way that the Anglican church in the US has just consecrated a homosexual bishop? Would that be possible?

A It could happen if such an imam did not declare that he was homosexual. You
cannot expect to see homosexuality being promoted within the Islamic tradition. Homosexuality is not perceived by Islam as the divine project for men and women. It is regarded as bad and wrong. Now, the way we have to deal with a homosexual is to say: "I don't agree with what you are doing, but I respect who you are. You can be a Muslim. You are a Muslim. Being a Muslim is between you and God." I am not going to promote homosexuality but I will respect the person, even if I don't agree with what they are doing.

Q Why do you want this moratorium [on the death penalty in Arab countries]? Why not simply say that stoning to death is just plain wrong?

A I have said that I am against the implementation of stoning, death penalties and corporal punishments. In Islamic-majority countries, this is a minority position. What we cannot deny is that these punishments are in the texts. What I am saying to Muslim scholars is that today's conditions are different, so in this context you cannot implement these punishments. So we have to stop. This is the moratorium. Let Muslim scholars come together and we'll have three main questions that need clear answers: what is in the texts, what conditions should apply to these punishments and what about the context in which these would be implemented.
Tariq Ramadan is a very smart man. While I don't agree with everything he says, I adore his main points: that in a truly modern society, be it in the East or the West, everything should be able to be criticized and everyone should be treated with respect (i.e. criticism does not equal disrespect); Islamic law should be discussed to see if it regulates modern society as well as it regulated societies of the past; and dictatorships inherently trample the rights of the people.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Violence at World Pride?

The media has abounded recently with articles about vehement opposition to World Pride 2006 in Jerusalem, scheduled for August 6-12. I previously wrote about gay Palestinian groups' advocating a boycott and an orthodox anti-gay march here. There's so much information, however, I have to write about it again.

I am becoming increasingly worried that something very bad could happen at World Pride this year, for the words of those opposed to the march are rarely sophisticated, but are rather simplistic, hateful, and incendiary. Someone could easily take what they say to an extreme.

Israel's Ynetnews just published an article detailing a conference organized by American rabbi Yehuda Levin to protest World Pride. A quote:

During the conference [Arab-Israeli Member of the Knesset Ibrahim] Sarsur said “if they (gays) will dare to approach the Temple Mount during the parade – they will do so over our dead bodies,” adding that “the Gay Pride Parade is an attack on Jerusalem that aims to damage the Islamic identity of young Arabs in the city.”

“This attack is more venomous than the Zionist attack to make Jerusalem Jewish,” he said.
That's a strong statement. Sarsur would rather Jerusalem be turned completely Jewish than let gay people have a celebration.

Rabbi Fromen tried to explain the Muslim view of World Pride:

“This is the root of the deep hatred Muslims have for Israel,” he said. “The Muslims are horrified by the public gay displays that emanate from the US. The last intifida is named after Jerusalem – 'al-Aqsa'. The feeling is that Jews disgrace Jerusalem's holiness with the government's encouragement. In their eyes the parade is part of a whole chapter where Israel brings the defilement of the United States and the West into the holy land and Jerusalem. And they react to it with bloodshed.

"If left-wingers say that we have to make difficult compromises for peace," he added, "than the parade should be cancelled."
So, according to Fromen, Muslims don't see the fight in Jerusalem as a battle between two religions, they see it as a battle between one religion, Islam, and an atheistic, defiling force, Judaism. I find that a bit hard to swallow. For, as much as Palestinians in Jerusalem may hate Judaism, I'm sure they see it as a religion, just a treacherous one whose followers are in gruesome, violent opposition to theirs. To think that they defile Jerusalem is one thing. To think that they institutionally defile Jerusalem on purpose is another. The whole idea smacks of anti-Muslim rhetoric, portraying them as ignorant savages, fighting fire with inferno.

I also like how gay people, which aren't completely accepted in the United States, supposedly allow themselves to be used as pawns for the Western scheme. Or maybe they aren't gay at all, but just undercover Western agents pretending to be gay to corrupt the Muslims. Fromen never thought of that.

Finally, Gay.com published an article yesterday about a movement to block gay youth from being able to visit the Knesset, out of fear that it would turn into Sodom and Gomorrah. Another Knesset member had a good response:

"These are children who could be mine or yours, Ronit Tirosh told Israeli Radio.

"I am absolutely stunned. Who are we talking about here - we're talking about human beings. If they want to visit me in the Knesset they are more than welcome," she said

"The parliament must act as a model of tolerance. There are no legal or humane grounds with which to ban them," Tirosh said.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Al-Arabiya Deviously Insults Gays and Lebanon

Last weekend, al-Arabiya published an article describing Fatfat's denial of the Lebanese government's authorization of Helem, the Arab World's first gay-rights organization. And, it's a remarkably good step for al-Arabiya, for it's much less homophobic than normal.

The article is has a main headline and a minor one, respectively "They Demand Their Right to the Nude Beaches" and "The Lebanese Minister of the Interior Denies Licensing a Homosexual Organization"

The article never really accuses gay people of advocating nude beaches; it mentions the beaches in the headline and never goes into it in the story. The gay-nude equivalent is meant to be understood. That's an underhanded way of undermining gay people. But the article is certainly better than the article by al-Arabiya last month on the International Day Against Homophobia, which accuses Helem of showing porn. Or the article a month ago which called Mary Cheney a sexual deviant.

The article, translated by me:

The Lebanese Minister of the Interior Ahmed Fatfat denied on Saturday June 16, 2006, in response to a newspaper article and Muslim clerics, that licenses were issued for the establishment of a Lebanese organization defending homosexual rights and naked beaches in tourist regions with Christian majorities.

A statement [by Fatfat] from the media office in the Ministry of the Interior said,
"Contrary to what a newspaper (the man of letters) mentioned and some clerics pointed to, neither license nor acknowledgement was issued to my knowledge
regarding the named society (Helem) and any licences for nude beaches in (my city) Jbail and Juniyah" to the north of Beirut.

The statement added that "this is generally false news". Helem has gained the support of homosexual organizations in France and Canada and possesses an electronic website, but Lebanese religious groups attack them since they launched a campaign a year ago for the removal of the six-month to one-year sentence of imprisonment for what Lebanese law considers "contrary to nature".

Georges Azzi, a member of Helem, said to Agence France-Presse, "We are targeted by some of the groups since we launched a campaign a year ago for the removal of the punishment on the basis of respect." He added, "We feel that a portion of civil society supports our battle and desires more reconciliation, which we observed through the decreasing violence of judges and the police force and the attitude the free press has towards us."

Some committee members supported the reconsideration of the penal code
regarding the removal of homosexuals from punishment, but the council refused to look into a complaint that member Saad Wazan presented in Beirut municipal council about a student taking civil action with the help of Helem. The discriminatory lawyer had answered the judge that the complaint was dubitable due "to the non-availability of the elements of guilt".

Three weeks ago, the organization celebrated in one of Beirut's hotels the World Day for Homosexuality without being bothered by authorities.

One thing that stands out is the prominance of the Lebanese flag on the article's webpage and the direct mentioning of Christianity in the article. It seems that instead of calling gay people "faggots", which al-Arabiya has done many times, it is using more subversive methods to demean them, i.e. gay equals Christian equals Western equals American. More frankly, al-Arabiya is trying to say that Lebanon is bringing shame on the Arab World by not controlling its Christians and its gay people and is simply a puppet for the West.

Of course, after the article were scores of anti-gay comments, with a smattering of pro-gay ones. My favorite comment, number 73:
wakup lebanese people we don,t need sanfransisco american. shame .........we don,t need america fake demacraty brought it by14 march,,,shame... what ever support them they are sick [sic]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Saudi Women Searching for a Y Chromosome

This month, al-Bawaba posted an article on women in Saudi Arabia who are getting sex changes in order to gain the rights that are denied to them as women. A quote:

By becoming men, the women beleive [sic], they would have the opportunity to enjoy those privileges denied them as Saudi females but allowed to Saudi males,
including rights taken for granted in other societies, such as driving a car or even going to public places unaccompanied by a male relative.

A new black market for such operations is reportedly flourishing, and those interested in undergoing a sex-change operation are transported to another country (usually India) where the operation is preformed [sic].

The entire process, including departure from Saudi Arabia, the operation in a foreign land, and return to the Kingdom under an assumed identity, reportedly takes all but two weeks.
Something doesn't seem completely right. I understand the cause for women's rights, but I find it hard to believe that women are willing to change their sex simply to obtain their rights. That mkaes the operation seem much more minor than it is, like having an appendix removed or giving blood. We're talking about replacing Little Miss Hasna with Hassan Jr. here!

I think something was left out, or purposefully unexplored. If the surgery was indeed minor, and didn't affect the women's lives negatively in any way, wouldn't thousands of women be having them? I mean, it's just your gender. I think the real issue here is that the women were transgendered. The author just left that part out to highlight the inequality between the genders.

People don't just wake up their morning and say, "Hey, I'm bored. Why don't I change my sex today?" It comes from a deep-seeded feeling that you were born in the wrong body. Often, coming to terms with your own transgenderism is a long, arduous process, especially in societies that are extremely close-minded to transgendered people, which is almost every society in the world. For every trial and tribulation that gay people go through, and there are thousands, transgendered people go through about five.

I am confident that these people are transgendered, and I think that the article is therefore rather bogus. Was the author purposefully leaving out this almost-certain possibility, or was he/she just too blind or ignorant to see it? I can't tell if there is prejudice here.

Furthermore, the author doesn't have anything in the article but hearsay. There are no interviews with people who have undergone surgery, and we only know why they did it because some unknown source made an assumption. That is not good journalism.

Finally, the issue is so much deeper. I have heard of many rumors of men from Saudi Arabia who come to Lebanon for sex changes. They certainly aren't doing it because they desire to lose their rights by becoming women. We need an article on that.

Gay Arab Athletes Choose Canada Over US

According to an article on the American website 365gay.com, the Outgames in Montréal, which will take place July 29-August 5, will host athletes from Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.

I wonder if the athletes still live in those countries, or are expatriates. I imagine that if you live in the UAE, for example, it might be hard to return home after participating in a gay athletic event in a Western country. Something bad might happen to you.

The article also pointed out that Montréal's Outgames is much more international than Chicago's Gay Games, which will take place July 15-22. A quote:
[Chicago Games, Inc. Co-Vice Chair Tracy] Baim said it's not surprising the
Montreal games will be more international. "There's a lot of anti-American
sentiment and I don't blame the Europeans for that sentiment," she said. "There
are certain people that will never come to the United States while we have
George Bush in power."

That's understandable.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Qaradawi: So Many Ways to Kill Gays, I Have to Choose Just One?

In an interview with Al-Jazeera this month, which I found translated on MEMRI TV, Cleric Yousef al-Qaradawi rails against gay people. Quotes:

Kerry, who ran against Bush, was supported by homosexuals and nudists. But it was Bush who won [the elections], because he is Christian, right-wing, tenacious, and unyielding. In other words, the religious overcame the perverted. So we cannot blame all Americans and Westerners.

[A homosexual should be given] the same punishment as any sexual pervert - the same as the fornicator...The schools of thought disagree about the punishment. Some say they should be punished like fornicators, and then we distinguish between married and unmarried men, and between married and unmarried women. Some say both should be punished the same way. Some say we should throw them from a high place, like God did with the people of Sodom. Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement...The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.

[The Islamic position on public displays of homosexuality is that it] is the calamity
of societies. When sin and abomination are concealed, they don't cause much harm...But the calamity becomes widespread, when it stops being a secret and vecomes public...We are not hostile towards these people. On the contrary, we pity them. But we do not want to give them an opportunity, like the Westerners, who consider this a normal phenomenon, and it has become widespread, I'm sad to say.
Hmm...pity equals stoning? Let's not forget that al-Qaradawi has previously advocated the assassination of leaders in other Arab countries; he's not a completely ethical guy.

In the interview, he couldn't differentiate between a tendency for homosexuality and the act of having homosexual sex, a rather simple difference. Also, for al-Qaradawi, lesbians aren't homosexuals (someone should tell them that). Is that inherent sexism? Is he saying that lesbianism is not as bad as male homosexuality because what women do has always been less important?

In many instances, it seemed he did not understand the interviewer, or simply wanted to bulldoze his diatribes over him. Some say al-Qaradawi is moderate, some say radical. I say senile. I mean, look at his picture - can't you just picture him screaming at a toaster or talking about how the Ottomans will win World War One? I think his grip on reality might be loose.


Update June 30:

Look here.

Fatfat Denies Lebanese Government Approval of Helem

Today, The Daily Star carried an article, mostly written by Agence France-Presse (AFP), detailing how Acting Interior Minister Ahmed Fatfat denied charges by conservative Muslim clerics that the government had approved the establishment of Helem, an gay-rights group in Lebanon. The AFP article can be found on Naharnet, (The Daily Star likes to charge people for slightly old articles, thus the link I posted might not be working soon.) A quote:

A petition seeking prosecution of the gay rights group filed by a Beirut city
attorney earlier this year was rejected by the attorney general's office, which
ruled that the group's operation of an office and a Web site did not constitute
an offense.
According to the law, the govenment has three months to voice an objection to any organization's registration. It never did that. That implies approval.

Fatfat can say all he want about the government not approving Helem. But it pretty much did. If it really cared, it would have done something. Fatfat just wants to distance himself from accountability and backbone, typical for a politician. And his pandering is rather pathetic.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I Ain't a Ho!

Last night, I dressed up in a hot outfit for a night at UV, my favorite gay venue in Beirut - tight jeans, a tight t-shirt, and cool shoes. It was cool, yet casual, just how I like it.

Well, I was walking down the street in Verdun when a beat-up Volvo pulled up next to me. It was a man in late middle age, with no hair on his head, plenty on his arms, and a belly that was getting squished by the steering wheel. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"What?" I responded.

"Where are you going? I'll give you a ride. Are you going to Hamra?" I said no. "Well, come on," he continued, "Where are you going? I'll give you a ride. No charge. Get in." He was waving me in, with an offputting grin on his face. I said no and continued walking. A security guard and some guys standing in front of Verdun 732 were laughing at our conversation.

Fifteen minutes later, I was almost at the Senayah Park, when the car pulled up again. "How much?" he barked at me. I looked at him. "How much?" he repeated. I gave him a blank stare. He waved at me in angry dismissal and drove on.

Now, I admit I may have looked gay, but gay does not equal prostitute! I don't know whether to feel insulted that he thought I'd have sex for money, or flattered that he wanted to have sex with me.

Judging by the way he looked, though, I'm willing to bet he'd have sex with just about anyone.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Movie with Gay Themes in Egypt Stirs Controversy

I want to see this! According to the Christian Science Monitor, which is actually a quite objective news source despite its name, an Egyptian film, The Yacoubian Building, is causing quite a stir, partly because of gay themes in it. A quote:
While the film covers many taboo subjects, what's perhaps most surprising,
film critics say, is that it passed Egypt's censorship unscathed. But Egypt's
President of Censorship Ali Abou Shadi says he really liked the movie. "It's an
important film," says Mr. Shadi. "It's critical of the government, extremism,
homosexuality. We don't want to cover our eyes about this."

Nevertheless, in its uncensored state, Shadi and the film's creators agree,
"The Yacoubian Building" may well offend and anger Egypt's government and public
alike. Religious fundamentalists might complain about its portrayal of Islam,
they say. Others might argue that it shows a bad image of Egypt. Some may be
scandalized by the film's homosexuality.

Shadi says "critical of...homosexuality", but I'm willing to bet in a movie that's causing such a stir, he means critical of discrimination against homosexuality. The aricle doesn't say what exactly happens in the film, just what subjects it touches on. I'm intrigued...I hope it comes here to Lebanon. Actually, I hope it goes everywhere in the Arab World.

Egypt and Syria Drop the Ball on HIV Prevention

IRINnews, an offshoot of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, published an article this week criticizing Egypt and Syria for being lackadaisical in their approach to HIV/AIDS prevention and reporting. Quotes:
“Up until now, despite the existence of awareness campaigns and support
from religious leaders, many continue to believe that Egypt is not actually at
risk,” Aon said. “That was the mistake initially made in Africa, where it was
once believed that HIV/AIDS was a white man’s disease. Now it has become an
African disease.”

From when the first HIV/AIDS case was discovered in Syria in 1987 until the
end of 2005, only 377 out of 4 million people who undertook blood tests have
tested HIV positive, according to the first-ever official statistics published
by the health ministry in February. NGO activists, however, say this figure is
too low, estimating that there are at least 1,500 cases of people with HIV/AIDS
countrywide.

Egypt and Syria, which are both under repressive regimes, are denying that they have problems? This is news! (Italics = sarcasm) I really don't think I need to comment on the rose-colored glasses of the two governments. Just Google them and you'll see.

But it's important to note that ignoring AIDS helps to spread it. And even if they want to ignore it in their own countries, shame on the Egyptian and Syrian delegations for trying to keep discussion of AIDS out of the UN! Egypt also tried to keep lgbt-rights organizations from being granted consultative status to the UN Economic and Social Committee in January in an unprecedented procedural move, as reported by Pink News. Unprecedented? That means no one has ever done something like that before. Sheesh!

Note: Even though HIV is not predominately a problem in the gay community in the Middle East, but rather in the heterosexual communittee, it has still plague many gay communities worldwide. And it could become a problem in the Middle East. Easily. So I write about it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Moving Speech by a Persian Gay-Rights Leader

Two days ago, Arsham Parsi, the human rights secretary for Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization, was the featured speaker at a gala in Toronto held by Égale Canada and ARC International. His speech can be found on the PGLO website. According to Doug Ireland, he has just left Turkey for Canada, where he has been granted asylum due to the death sentence imposed on him by Iran for being a gay activist. A quote:
I mentioned that I am the spokesperson of this organization, but let me add that I see and value this job far beyond what a regular employee might assume its organizational position to be and work for it. It is the most important thing in my life to be the spokesperson. It is a strong love and devotion that I have within me. There is a Music of Freedom that is in my heart. It is bursting inside me. I want everybody to hear this music, this music of freedom that my brothers and sisters in Iran cannot hear or are not allowed to hear. I became the spokesperson voluntarily because a voice was needed to be heard above the shrill cries of gay condemnation of the Islamic government. When my transsexual friend committed suicide under the pressure of her society and her family, and I saw her withered body and cold contracted hands on her breast I became the spokesperson. When my friend, Nima, a young gay man took his life due to police brutality and under the pressure of his family by eating arsenic, and I saw his lifeless body that slept like a beautiful angel I heavily cried and I became the spokesperson. When I saw my friends in the hallways of the central court of Shiraz, and heard their cries of pain from the lashes that had tortured them I cried too. But this also made me stronger in my desire to speak out. I learned about a gay couple who had celebrated with a private function their new lives together. The security forces discovered this celebration and started to trace this couple. Fortunately, this couple were able to escape detention, and one of them could escape to Turkey. But we surely know that not many other gay people in Iran have been that much successful in getting through their cases and saving their lives. When the Islamic government forbade the access of transsexuals to the public buildings in the big cities of Iran, when a gay man was severely beaten in a park in the central Tehran, when another gay was sentenced to the lash in Esfahan, when a group of my friends were detected in chat rooms and entrapped by the police, when another transsexual was severely beaten to the point where she lost 50 percent of her hearing in one ear, when gays were verbally and sexually abused in a police station in some cities of Iran, and in many other outrageous instances there was no one to speak for them and to reveal to the world what Iranian LGBTs suffer. We have a critical situation in Iran that must be resolved. Thus, I became the spokesperson of the PGLO to air the grievances and to show the world the true situation of persecutions that we suffer. I call upon all noble-minded people to stop, listen, and make an effort to help us.
If that's not inspiring, what is?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Gays vs. Muslims in Europe: A True Battle?

Two events happened in Europe last week which signal emerging tension between gay groups and Islamic ones.

First, an article in the Brussels Journal expressed the Dutch fear that the release of Somali-born asylum seeker Ayaan Hirsi Ali's new movie Submission 2 might create a Muslim backlash which would hurt Holland. Submission 2 documents the struggle of gay people in Muslim society. A quote:

The NCTb writes that "Submission 2" has already attracted attention in the Arab
world and in Iran. The Dutch authorities are working on a plan about what to do
if the movie does, indeed, stir up international Muslim indignation.
“Controversial debates or artistic quotes about Islam in the Netherlands can be
abused by radical Muslims abroad to agitate against the Netherlands,” the NCTb
report says. It states that the Danish cartoon affair shows how minor local
incidents can rapidly escalate into violent tensions between Muslims and
non-Muslims. “Not only political interests but also economic interests as well
as the safety of embassies and Dutch troops abroad can be in jeopardy.”

I find this to be unlikely. While the Danish cartoon incident was clearly an example of a poor reaction of the Muslim community (You're calling us violent? We're not! And we're burn your embassy to prove it!), it is an outlier. There are hundreds more examples of Western criticisms of Islam that do not garner such a reaction. Even in regards to the gay issue, for even Brian Whitaker's colonialist Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East did not muster even the blink of an eye, and the British embassies are still in tact. (I'll write a review on the book and why I like and dislike it soon.)

Another quote:

The way in which the Dutch threw Hirsi Ali out in an attempt to appease Muslim
fanatics has attracted worldwide attention. The famous Peruvian author Mario
Vargas Llosa criticized the Netherlands this week in an op-ed piece in the Lima newspaper El Comercio. He wrote that he had “applauded the Netherlands in the past when it was a pioneer in allowing euthanasia, legalising drugs and institutionalising gay marriage. Now I am disillusioned by the disgraceful surrendering of a government and the public opinion of a democratic country to the blackmail of terrorist fanaticism.”
The second quote shows the danger that can be promulgated by gay society in Europe in regards to the Muslim community - if the gay community creates a false dichotomy, i.e. either you support gay rights or Islam, the gay rights movement will be severely damaged. Such a dichotomy forces people to choose between the two sides, creating the illusion that moderate stances are impossible. If Muslims are torn between their religion and tolerance of gay people, which do you think they will choose? This danger of dichotomy is echoed in the next event in Europe:

The British blog Islamophobia Watch last week posted a rebuttal to an article posted on the blog Harry's Place by British gay-rights group OUTRage!

Last month, I posted about homophobic comments from the leader of Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Sir Iqbal Sacranie, and Brett Lock OUTRage's righteous reponse to them. The comments on Harry's Place, also by Brett Lock, do not follow the same vein. I understand what Lock is saying: intelligent policing is not the same as random police attacks, and Islamic extremists have proven to be a real threat in this century. But he goes a little over the line in his attacks on Muhammad Abdul Bari, the new leader of the MCB, appointed this month. Take a look at Lock's response to Bari's statement, "Trust could be an issue. Trust could break down if things are not clarified. Angry people can do anything, angry people can even feel that they should take the law into their own hands so anger has to be directed into positive action.":
Angry people can do anything? That sounds like a threat. It presents the spectre
of more angry, resentful and militant Muslims driven to taking even more extreme
actions. It’s saying “The situation is making us angry... and you know what we
do when we’re angry!”

Lock is hinting that Bari is calling for more militant extremism in the Muslim community, which he surely isn't. In fact, the idea that an angry populace treated badly by the government is a tried-and-true argument for minorites, and gay people have said that many times. Why, when said by a Muslim, should it equal terrorism?

It's no wonder Lock's post receives such an emotional response from Islamophobia Watch - it's somewhat unjustified, especially when the blog found these remarks made by Bari last Monday:
Islam doesn't accept homosexuality.... But that doesn't mean that Muslims have
to homophobic. There is no room for discrimination and hatred in our
society.

If gay people are going to win tolerance from the greater Muslim community, they need to work with the Muslim community in positive, constructive manners. Attacking or creating the illusion of constantly being attacked will not help. Gay people need to find Muslims who support them and nurture relationships with them. Those gay-supporting-Muslims have friends, and their friends have friends, and so on... That is the method of true change.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

American Military Finally Recognizes Killing of Gay Iraqis

Let me see...how long has the murderous persecution of gay people due to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani's fatwa been publicly known? Over two months. And, when the scandal became public, persecuted gay Iraqis complained about seeking help from the Americans and being rebuffed. Quotes from the Gay City News:

"We desperately need protection!" pleaded Tahseen. "But, when we go to the
Americans, they laugh at us and don't do anything. The Americans are the
problem!"

"These assaults and murders have been reported to the Green
Zone, but the Americans don't want to upset the religious authorities, and so
they do nothing or treat gay Iraqis with contempt or as an object of humor,"
Hili explained, adding that the reports to the U.S. authorities were made by
undergound gay activists.
Only now it seems, however, that the American military is acknowledging the crisis, according to the Washington Blade. U.S. Army Major Joseph Todd Breasseale, chief of the Media Relations Division of the Multinational Corps in Iraq, said this in response to questions about the repercussions of the fatwa was this:

"It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, when we're in a fledgling time like this,
to go in and say, 'Here's these issues that are going to repel 80 percent of the
population and this is what we want to inflict on you,'" he said. "We're trying
not to get into too many values judgment type issues and just do the right
thing."
His quote, actually, seems to make sense. I can understand not wanting to approach rival Islamic factions and say, "Hey, it's gay marriage time!" That might make the American's hold on Iraqi stability even more tenuous. But to say "Come on, don't murder these people?" I think he's copping out.

Notice his choice of words, also. He says "inflict". When American leaders talk about bringing democracy to the Middle East, they don't say "inflict". They say "spread" or "bring" - words that sound positive, because they see democracy as a positive thing. If Breasseale really saw protecting gay people as a worthwhile cause, I don't think he'd use "inflict", which sounds horrible.

Furthermore, if the American armed forces, which consistently discharges competent gay men and women, actually cared about what is happening to gay people in Iraq, would it take them so long to address it. I mean, it's been going on for more than eight months.

Finally, the Washington Blade printed a picture of three gay Iraqis murdered because of their sexuality. This gruesome pic will give me nightmares:

The Trials and Tribulations of Gay Palestine

Israeli write and sex worker Liad Kantorowicz recently wrote this article for Ha-Aretz, which was then translated for MRZine. It's an amazing piece of work, especially because it addresses the difference in gay identity between East and West.
Sexual behavior in the Arab world is not connected to a person's identity. The notion of "sexual identity," which is widespread in Western thought, is an unknown concept in the Arabic Islamic world. In their world, people are supposed to be straight and lead a straight lifestyle, and there is no connection between their straightness and their sexual desires. Thus, most men and women who desire to sleep with their own sex can do so discretely and continue to lead otherwise normal lives. Their concealed desires do not constitute a fault line in their lives. Tahar (a pseudonym), a friend of Hussein, exemplifies this: he is a man, who is attracted to men and finds it difficult to admit this; he will most likely marry a woman. He calls himself "straight" because it is easier to present himself as such.
This article says so much about gay life in Palestine, especially in regards to the dfference between treatment of gays in Palestine and Israel. It's more complicated than "Israel likes gay people and Palestine doesn't". Israeli gays may like gay Palestinian gays, but Israelis don't. Also, Israel uses its comparatively pro-gay stance against Palestinians:
If Palestinian gays did not have enough troubles of their own, an additional security danger is the Israeli Occupation. The Israel Security Service (Shabak) cynically uses Palestinian homophobia and coerces gays to choose between recruitment in its ranks and forceful outing. Most Palestinian gays choose the first option in order to save their lives. As such, every gay is considered a potential collaborator. Hussein and Samar have yet to be recruited and it also seems that it will happen soon, given the high status of their families. But two years ago Hussein was kidnapped from his home, most likely by Fatah men, who wanted to "shake" him up and check whether he is a collaborator. "They kidnapped me because I had long hair," he relates. "They took me to a large empty area, where they beat me up and dragged me on the ground. They interrogated me with regard to sex with men. I told them that I was not gay. Had I admitted to them that I was gay, it would have meant that I am a collaborator. They beat me with sticks and stones. Every time I said 'no' they hit me. I said that I love Palestine and I would never in my life work for Israel. Finally at 12:30 after midnight they put me in a car and dropped me off near the house." The Palestinian security service has also not overlooked Hussein and Samar and invites them for "visits." Hussein says, "They write down all that I say, but they have no proof; they have not caught me. Sometimes I think that they would like to catch me."
I wish could find one of the secret parties mentioned in the article. I think it would be a real eye-opener.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"The Biological Equivalent of Apple Pie"

Seed, an American science journal, published an article on the prevalence of homosexual relationships in nature, and how Darwin's theory is evolution is flawed because it doesn't accomodate them, merely seeing them as outliers in the race for procreation.

It's a fantastic article, and gives plenty of examples of gay animals. One warning, though: the article is very explicit - think carefully before showing it to your mother.

I want to print a copy and have it available at a moment's notice, to show to all those people who constantly say homosexuality is "against nature" as a way to justify discrimination against gay people. But what nature are they talking about? Obviously not the one on Planet Earth.

Monday, June 05, 2006

25 Year of AIDS; Lebanon Learning Lessons from Progressive Iran

Today officially marks the 25th anniversary of the first report of AIDS. On June 5, 1981, the American Centers for Disease Control announced that five young gay men were suffering from a strangely concurrent pneumonia. The then-unknown disease was called Gay-Related Immune Defeciency for over a year, until it was realized that homosexuality does not cause the disease, and it was renamed Acquired Immuno-Deficiency Syndrome.

Since its outbreak, AIDS has already killed more than the bubonic plague and is approaching the World War II death toll of 62,000,000. It will probably surpass it within the next ten years.

Because gay people had the first-known cases of AIDS, and the gay community has suffered immensely from the disease, homosexuality has often been blamed for causing AIDS. which is ludicrous. Thus, in addition to having to fight an epidemic within our community, which is already last on the list of most governments' priorities, gay people are actually politically attacked for having the disease. How many times have I heard that AIDS is a punishment from God?

When I hear that AIDS is a divine judgment because God hates gay people for being gay, I always ask, "Does God hate impoverished Africans for being African?", "If a woman is raped and get AIDS, does God give it to her as punishment?", "If a baby is born with AIDS, could it be called preemptive punishment?". The answer to all of these questions has got to be no. People say God hates gay people because they hate gay people. They are looking for real-world events to justify their prejudices. But there is nothing to show that AIDS has been divinely inspired.

Anyway, I digress. I'd rather not talk about the horrors that AIDS has caused in the world, but rather the hope for the eradication of the disease in the future. Much of that hope in the Middle East is being spread by our Persian neighbors to the East, in Iran. In April, the Kansas City Star published an article about AIDS work in Iran. Quotes:

It still doles out floggings to Iranians caught with alcohol, but it gives clean
syringes and methadone treatment to heroin addicts. Health workers pass out
condoms to prostitutes. Government clinics in every region offer free HIV
testing, counseling and treatment. A state-backed magazine just began a monthly
column that profiles HIV-positive Iranians, and last year the postal service
unveiled an AIDS awareness stamp.

One of Iran’s most acclaimed advances comes from its prisons, where hundreds of
drug-addicted inmates sometimes share the same makeshift syringe to inject
heroin smuggled in. In a startling acknowledgment of sex and drugs even in its
most closely guarded quarters, the Tehran administration has made condoms and
needles available in detention centers across the country.

Amazing. Just amazing. And it's not what most people would expect from Iran. But, in a way, it makes sense. In non-democratic regimes, where the populace has little room to question the actions of its goverment, change can be amore expedient. If Fidel Castro decided that every Cuban would be required to dress like Carmen Miranda, within a week Chiquita would be a Fortune 500 country. The leaders of Iran simply decided, quite rationally, that AIDS was not going to go away through ignorance and/or punishment, but by intervening to prevent the factors that tribute to infection, i.e. drug use and unprotected sex.

This progressive stance on AIDS is now being exported to Lebanon, which is much more liberal than Iran, but far behind it. So far, due to social sexual taboos, HIV/AIDS has barely been discussed in Lebanon, which, pessimistically, could lead to an outbreak. In an article by the Norwegian Red Cross, it is mentioned that in 2003, the Lebanese government officially reported 745 cases of HIV in Lebanon. The UN, however, claimed that there were really about 2,800 cases, with a range from 700-4,100. The article points out the good work that the Lebanese Red Cross Youth are doing to curb the spread of HIV. Sadly, almost all the work to fight AIDS in Lebanon is done by non-govermental organizations (including Helem), and not by the government, which doesn't really want to acknowledge the problem. Not to say that the Lebanese Ministry of Health's AIDS Program is usless; but it would be nice if they were a bit more proactive and had some future events planned.

Unfortunately, in Lebanon, unlike in Iran, a main factor for HIV transmission may end up being gay sex, according to the International AIDS Alliance's report "Rapid situation analysis of men who have sex with men in the Maghreb and Lebanon". Among the factors that could indicate a spread of the epidemic in the region:

The social and religious taboos linked to the condemnation of sex between men
and the risk of discrimination against MSM lead them to conceal their sexual
orientation and/or practices, particularly from health professionals. This makes
the screening and treatment of HIV and other STIs difficult. Because of this,
there are few prevention and care programmes in the region specifically for MSM.

What was ACT-UP's slogan? Oh, yes: "Silence = Death". It always proves to be true. The report goes on to say that "concentrating prevention efforts on people whose sexual practices can involve a considerable risk of HIV transmission – such as MSM (men who have sex with men) enables not only these people to be protected but also the spread of the epidemic to be controlled at national level." It seems so easy.

The report is extremely worth the read. Not only does it give amazing ideas on how to combat AIDS, it gives rather corny "categories" of gay men, and can be quite humorous at times - it calls religious zealots "beardies". It talks a lot about whether or not to come out of the closet, never completely endorsing either. The message at the end is clear, however - if you hate yourself for being gay, you won't take care of yourself.

A very good article on the stigmatism that affects people afflicted with AIDS in Lebanon was published by IRINNews, an offshoot of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affars. It outlines Lebanese society's rejection of HIV+ people, HIV+ people's self-rejection, whe widespread belief that HIV is a punishment from God, and how the medical system is unequipped and unwlilling to deal with the disease.

There has to be hope. We have to work harder. In today's time, there is no excuse for having sex without a condom. And the ties between gay discrimination, gay self-esteem, and the spread of HIV are so obvious. Protecting gay men from HIV protects everyone. 25 years is enough. If Iran can do it, so can we.

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.

A Gay Hammam Goes Public

Lebanon's newest gay hammam, al-Sheikh in Wata al-Mosaytbeh, is now advertising with radio announcements.

The advertisement highlighted the standard hammam fare - health, cleanliness, and relaxation. The end, however, featured one man saying to another, "You're cute," followed by flirtatious laughter.

I'm not sure how aware people who aren't gay would have to be to pick up on the gay undertones. I think they're pretty obvious.

It's great that Lebanese gay venues are starting to advertise. It shows that gay people in Lebanon are becoming more proud of who they are, and that Lebanese society is becoming more tolerant.

I foresee great things coming in the future...

Friday, June 02, 2006

Why TimeOut Beirut Doesn't Have a Gay Page

TimeOut Beirut is one of the few magazines in the TimeOut Franchise that does not have a gay page. I recently called a managing editor at TimeOut to ask why (because I was interested in writing a gay page), and she told me that TimeOut Beirut does not have a gay page in order to protect gay people. She said that if gay venues were published in the magazine, then it might lead to increased persecution by the community. She said that TimeOut Beirut was trying to keep gay topics covered in its pages, through [saccharine] book reviews of Unspeakable Love and the like. (I keep her identity secret because I didn't know I'd be posting this at the time, and she wasn't informed.)

I find her reasoning faulty, at best. Here's why:

First, gay venues are already publicized. They're listed by Helem, #Gaylebanon Undernet, countless news articles, Lonely Planet, this blog, and billboards. How much more publicity do you need?

Secondly, the people readng TimeOut Beirut are going to be the more liberal of Beirutis. They have to speak Enlgish, for one. Plus, a conservative Muslim from the suburbs is unlikely to pick up a magazine that is titled "SEX" and displays underwear at the knees.

I figured there was something up, and I discussed it with an acquaintance of mine who works there. He said the real reason TimeOut Beirut did not have a gay page is because it was worried about losing its publication license. It's not to protect gay people, it's to protect itself. It's worried that the government will dislike its pro-gay stance and inflict negative repercussions. I understand that. I just wish the magazine were honest about it.

One last thing: I hate that TimeOut Beirut lists Club Acid as the only gay-friendly venue in Beirut. It makes Beirut seem less gay-friendly than it is, and it's simply untrue. Of all the gay-friendly venues (Acid, Walimat Wardeh, Wolf, UV, X-OM, etc.), Acid is one of the least gay-friendly.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Not a Pride March!

Both the Lebanese Political Journal and Beirut Spring erroneously reported that the celebration of the International Day of Homophobia last month was a Gay Pride march. It was not such thing! I assume they thought it was because they saw this photo in a BBC article:



The picture is of Helem supporters at the 2005 Beirut Marathon, and not a Pride celebration. While I wish the marathon had been a Gay Pride celebration, it clearly wasn't, as Helem's participation in the Marathon Village was cancelled by the organizing committee, even after Helem had signed a contract and paid all the relevant fees. Its water stand, which won "Most Creative Refreshment Stand" was offered as a consolation.

Beirut has never had a Gay Pride, although I severely wish it would. The Lebanese Political Journal and Beirut Spring just got my hopes up.