February 18, 2008 – Reuters
Gay Africans and Arabs come out online
by Andrew Heavens
Khartoum (Reuters) – When Ali started blogging that he was Sudanese and gay, he did not realize he was joining a band of African and Middle Eastern gays and lesbians who, in the face of hostility and repression, have come out online. But within days the messages started coming in to black-gay-arab.blogspot.com. “Keep up the good work,” wrote Dubai-based Weblogger ‘Gay by nature’. “Be proud and blog the way you like,” wrote Kuwait’s gayboyweekly. Close behind came comments, posts and links purporting to be from almost half the countries in the Arab League, including Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco.
Ali, who lists his home town as Khartoum but lives in Qatar, had plugged into a small, self-supporting network of people who have launched Web sites about their sexuality, while keeping their full identity secret. Caution is crucial – homosexual acts are illegal in most countries in Africa and the Middle East, with penalties ranging from long-term imprisonment to execution. “The whole idea started as a diary. I wanted to write what’s on my mind and mainly about homosexuality,” he told Reuters in an e-mail. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t expect this much response.”
In the current climate, bloggers say they are achieving a lot just by stating their nationality and sexual orientation. “If you haven’t heard or seen any gays in Sudan then allow me to tell you ‘You Don’t live In The Real World then,'” Ali wrote in a message to other Sudanese bloggers. “I’m Sudanese and Proud Gay Also.” His feelings were echoed in a mini-manifesto at the start of the blog “Rants and raves of a Kenyan gay man” that stated: “The Kenyan gay man is a myth and you may never meet one in your lifetime. However, I and many others like me do exist; just not openly. This blog was created to allow access to the psyche of me, who represents the thousands of us who are unrepresented.”
News and Abuse
That limited form of coming out has earned the bloggers abuse or criticism via their blogs’ comment pages or e-mails. “Faggot queen,” wrote a commentator called ‘blake’ on Kenya’s ‘Rants and raves’. “I will put my loathing for you faggots aside momentarily, due to the suffering caused by the political situation,” referring to the country’s post-election violence.Some are more measured: “The fact that you are a gay Sudanese and proudly posting about it in itself is just not natural,” a reader called ‘sudani’ posted on Ali’s blog. Some of the bloggers use the diary-style format to share the ups and downs of gay life — the dilemma of whether to come out to friends and relatives, the risks of meeting in known gay bars, or, according to blogger “…and then God created Men!” the joys of the Egyptian resort town Sharm el-Sheikh.
Others have turned their blogs into news outlets, focusing on reports of persecution in their region and beyond. The blog GayUganda reported on the arrests of gay men in Senegal in February. A month earlier, Blackgayarab posted video footage of alleged police harassment in Iraq. Kenya’s “Rants and Raves” reported that gay people were targets in the country’s election violence, while blogger Gukira focused on claims that boys had been raped during riots. Afriboy organized an auction of his erotic art to raise funds “to help my community in Kenya”. There was also widespread debate on the comments made by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last September about homosexuals in his country.
The total number of gay bloggers in the region is still relatively small, say the few Web sites that monitor the scene. “It is the rare soul who is willing to go up against such blind and violent ignorance and advocate for gay rights and respect,” said Richard Ammon ofGlobalGayz.com which tracks gay news and Web sites throughout the world.
“There are a number of people from the community who are blogging both from Africa and the diaspora but it is still quite sporadic,” said Nigerian blogger Sokari Ekine who keeps a directory of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender blogs on her own Web site Black Looks.
Ways to Meet
The overall coverage may be erratic, but pockets of gay blogging activity are starting to emerge. There are blogs bridging the Arabic-speaking world from Morocco in the west to the United Arab Emirates in the east. There is a self-sustaining circle of gay bloggers in Kenya and Uganda together with a handful of sites put up by gay Nigerians. And then there is South Africa, where the constitutional recognition of gay rights has encouraged many bloggers to come wholly into the open. “I don’t preserve my anonymity at all. I am embracing our constitution which gives us the right to freedom of speech … There is nothing wrong that I am doing,” said Matuba Mahlatjie of the blog My Haven.
Beyond the blogging scene, the Internet’s chat rooms and community sites have also become one of the safest ways for gay Africans and Arabs to meet, away from the gaze of a hostile society. “That is what I did at first, I mean, I looked around for others until I found others,” said Gug, the writer behind the blog GayUganda. “Oh yes, I do love the Internet, and I guess it is a tool that has made us gay Ugandans and Africans get out of our villages and realize that the parish priest’s homophobia is not universal opinion. Surprise, surprise!”
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie and Sara Ledwith)
A Jihad for Love: Can your faith really kill you?
A film about gay Muslims will surprise a Western audience
Inevitably, Parvez Sharma filmed some moving testimonies in A Jihad for Love, a collection of real-life stories that show what it is like to be gay or lesbian and living within, or in the shadow, of Islam. The stories come from Iran, Turkey, India, Egypt, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. In one of those quirks of timing, the film will be shown on Sunday at the London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in the wake of the controversy around the case of Mehdi Ka-zemi, the gay Iranian whose deportation back to Iran was halted recently after an indecent, indeed shaming, amount of prevarication on the part of the Home Office. An Iranian lesbian, Pegah Emambakhsh, is also seeking asylum in this country.
But Sharma isn’t your typical campaigning film-maker. He shows how tough life can be for his subjects though he believes strongly that gay activists have behaved arrogantly in their condemnation of Iran which is symptomatic of a larger phenomenon of “Iran-bashing”. He adds: “Around 70 per cent of Iran’s population is under 30: issues are being talked about, it’s a vibrant society. And don’t forget history: a long time ago the West looked to the East as a place where homosexuality was tolerated, sometimes celebrated.” He doesn’t believe that the Iranian authorities are conducting an antigay witch-hunt (this despite the widely distributed pictures of two young, allegedly gay, men who were supposedly executed) and – as his film makes clear – despite the difficulty of their lives, many Islamic gay men and women hold their faith dear.
Sharma says this was a “very personal” film to make: he is a Muslim himself and dislikes the polarisation of discussion of Islam “between the Jihadists and the Bush supporters”. It makes for difficult viewing, forcing us belief-bare Western liberals to examine why gays would have anything to do with a religionthat rejects them at every turn, and sometimes violently.Sharma filmed in secret in many countries for six years, amassing more than 400 hours of footage. He would put tourist-related material at the beginning and end of each tape so that if Customs took an interest in what he was doing it would find innocuous pretty pictures. He found his subjects through the internet and underground gay or HIV organisations. As a Muslim he could make himself “invisible” – it would have been much harder, he says, as a white Western film-maker to travel and film as he did. The film shows Imam Muhsin Hendricks, a Muslim man in South Africa publicly speaking out against the homophobia of Islam. We watch the flight of four gay men out of Iran in a desperate attempt to gain asylum. Two are afraid to show their faces. Nearly all have faith which they try, and inevitably fail, to square with their sexual orientation. They feel desperate that they will never see their families again, but know they have to get out. Kazemi’s boyfriend was executed for sodomy; another man worries about the fate of his partner. “He was my introduction to love,” he says.
One Egyptian, Mazen, recalls the lashing he received after being apprehended, with more than others, after attending a gay party. One half of a lesbian couple (Maha and Maryam), deeply in love, feels her faith has been compromised by her desire. Two Turkish lesbians, Ferda and Kiymet, go to visit Ferda’s mother. Two of the Iranian men are granted asylum in Canada. “How can I be free when so many others aren’t?” one says to his friend, who replies, with steely hope, “One day they will all be free.” Since filming, the subjects’ lives have changed generally for the better, says Sharma, who reveals that three of the Iranians are now safely living in Canada – one has become a gay rights activist. The fourth has been granted asylum but is still waiting to enter the country. Muhsin has been given funding to set up a group for lesbian and gay Muslims. Mazen, living in Paris, is “trying to find work in a xenophobic France,” says Sharma. “It’s terribly difficult for me, having got so close to so many of them, not to be able to materially help them.” Ferda and Kiymet have broken up.
Sharma doesn’t believe homosexuality will become acceptable within Islam in his lifetime: “It is not top of the agenda,” he says. But he hopes gays will make “significant advances” within Islam and that his film will be used as a “tool” for debate and also to give visibility to a group often rendered invisible. However, he is also “tired” of playing politics: as a film-maker he doesn’t want to be limited to making gay movies, or having “one identity”. His next ambition, he says, laughing, is to go to Bollywood and make a Muslim musical.
— A Jihad for Love is showing at NFT1, National Film Theatre, London SE1, Sunday (6pm) and Monday (2pm). For details and booking for the LLGFF (from March 27 to April 10) seewww.bfi.org.uk/llgff , or call 020-7928 3232
June 17th, 2008 – VillageVoice.com
Gay Arabs Party Here, Risk Death Back Home
by Trenton Straube
It’s Saturday night, and Sami is feeling the Middle Eastern dance tracks of DJ I.Z.’s set at Habibi. Upstairs at the Stonewall Inn for the monthly roaming party, he pushes through a thicket of men and hits the makeshift dance floor, where he and an Egyptian friend break into freestyle belly dancing. A gay Muslim Moroccan, Sami loves Arabic pop music but rarely gets to dance to it. But Sami (like most of the people in this article, he requested that his real name be withheld) does go dancing often. Sure, he frequents Splash, Therapy, and other homo hot spots, where the Habibi devotees blend into the city’s multicultural stew pot. Yes, they arrive from diverse—and sometimes harrowing—backgrounds. And yes, they’ve experienced various degrees of anti-Arab fallout from September 11—but most remain closeted to some degree, and once in a while, they just want to hang with their homies.Finding other gay Arabs wasn’t always so easy. In the early ’90s, Jennifer Camper, a first-generation Lebanese-American, sought out other lesbian Arabs. The first she met ominously whispered: “I have a list of seven names.” At that time, few Arab immigrants self-identified as gay; finding them in the pre-Internet age posed a challenge, since there was no official lesbian social group, like Assal for women, or places like Habibi.
What did exist was a local branch of the national Gay & Lesbian Arab Society (GLAS). The group met twice monthly at the LGBT Community Center. Immigrants were terrified to attend their first GLAS meetings, lest someone see them and tell their family. Even today, Arab families—the primary, all-important social unit—place immense pressure on their children to marry. It’s still common for gay Arabs to do so, then take an out-of-town job while sending money back home. Those who are able to attend college abroad enjoy a reprieve—but once back home, they face an arranged marriage. Politics and religion exert more pressure to stay in the closet. In most Arab countries, homosexuality is not only illegal, but the penalties for it are also harsh—including torture and death. The infamous “Cairo 52” were arrested by police who broke up a boat party on the Nile River in 2001; the men were beaten, exposed, publicly humiliated, and imprisoned for up to five years. In Islamic-fundamentalist nations like Iran, gay men are allegedly hanged. Although Islam remains the dominant religion in the Middle East, it accounts for only half of our Arab immigrants. Most others are Christian, with a smattering of Jews. “A lot of people not from the Arab community don’t understand the large role religion and ethnicity play in the typical Middle Easterner,” says current GLAS president Nadeem, himself an Iraqi immigrant. That’s why the group employs a rule: No religious or political discussions. For GLAS members struggling to reconcile their religion and sexuality and requiring additional guidance from their peers, the organization directs them to specialized support networks like the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha and the gay Catholic group Dignity.
Even within those very strict boundaries, the meetings could become unexpectedly emotional and therapeutic. Nadeem recounts leading a gay discussion group a few years back. Thinking it’d be a neat icebreaker, he asked the guys to describe—without going into graphic detail—their first same-sex encounter and what made it special. “About 10 people were in the discussion,” he recalls, “and for three of them, their first experience was being raped. I was like: ‘Whoa, OK—I guess we’ll have to talk about this.’ ” In 2005, GLAS discontinued its meetings. By then, the women had splintered into Assal, and most men socialized at Habibi. But another demographic was making itself known in the gay Arab-American world: “hummus queens”— gay men attracted to Arabs. Not that all hummus queens were on the make: One attended to seek advice on how to help his closeted Arab partners come out. The real death knell for GLAS meetings was the Internet, which offered anonymity, safety, and thousands of friends. A local LGBT Arab online forum thrives on Yahoo (subscribers can join at glas.org); discussions range from the struggles of coming out and the newbies in town to relevant entertainment—such as the first gay Arab film, Toul Omri (All My Life).
Even in the Internet age, a savvier new breed of immigrants must deal with violence from the old country and family pressures.
Kamar, a Lebanese immigrant from a liberal family, effortlessly assimilated into American culture. When he settled in New York, he didn’t care to cultivate friendships with other Arabs—yet he recalls being afraid to come out to his parents because of a childhood incident in his native Beirut. He, a brother, and his mom were walking outside when gunfire erupted: “She threw us into a corner and shielded us with her body, so if a bullet came it would hit her instead of us,” he recalls. “I can remember every detail of that day—her dress, everything. My mom was willing to die for me. I couldn’t come out to her. I didn’t want to upset her. How could I?”
Happy ending: Kamar has come out to his family, and after the usual disappointments and drama, they’ve drawn much closer.
Post-9/11, the U.S. government mandated that all immigrants must be registered—and the newly formed Department of Homeland Security was especially on the lookout for Arabs. Many people required legal counsel and turned to Assal and GLAS, which had always helped their members on matters involving immigration, health care, housing, and HIV. The FBI even questioned GLAS founder Ramzi Zakharia, allegedly for dubious online postings, but the inquiry ended when agents learned that he was openly gay. Others weren’t so lucky. Blue-collar workers and devoutly religious Arabs—men who wore beards and women who covered themselves—found themselves laid off and the victims of random violence. They turned to GLAS and Assal for help. Within months after September 11, queer Arabs knew they had to show the world that they remained a proud part of New York City. In June 2002, GLAS joined the Pride March down Fifth Avenue for the first time. Viewed by hundreds of thousands and broadcast internationally, the event was a double coming-out— as Arab gays and as Arab-Americans. GLAS invited gay non-Arab Middle Easterners—Iranians, Turks, and Armenians—to join its members as they blasted Arab pop from boom boxes, waved banners, threw candy, and, yes, belly-danced.
They couldn’t have been more visible— which is why many others opted to stay home. Ironically, openly participating in the Pride March was one way that asylum seekers could prove they were gay: The U.S. grants asylum based on the sexuality, but many immigrants missed the window (up to one year after first arriving) to apply. Group meetings became safe havens from an America that equated Islam— and, by default, all Arabs—with terrorism. For Camper, being around other Arab lesbians meant “your shoulders come down, you relax, and you don’t have to explain yourself.” They could talk about an unaccepting family without having the comments taken as proof that all Arabs are rabidly homophobic.
Habibi and Assal—which translate to “Dear one” and “Honey”—still serve that function. Assal is especially important, because social and religious activities in Arab culture are often segregated by gender; women foster strong and intimate bonds away from men. At a recent Assal dinner, excitement swirled around a member’s pregnancy and the discussion topic: “How to tell your Arabic parents you’re having a baby—with your female roommate!” Like their American counterparts, many queer Arab immigrants simply don’t want to join gay social networks or activist groups; they’re too busy working, playing, and just living day-to-day lives. For instance, Zakharia—a Palestinian- American who’s been in the U.S. since 1982—works at an advertising agency, has been out to his family, and lives with a longtime partner. For immigrants like him, “being here makes it much easier,” as Sami puts it. “There are so many things around you that make you feel welcome. You can do whatever you want—have a life, a job, whatever—and be gay.” You can even dance to Arabic pop music in the arms of another gay man.
August 11, 2008 – PinkNews
Book on LGBT life in Muslim cultures published
by Rachel Charman
The editor of gay Muslim magazine Huriyah has released a book about LGBT people in the Islamic World. Afdhere Jama’s book ‘Illegal Citizens: Queer lives in the Muslim world’ follows the lives of 33 people in 22 countries including Nigeria, Lebanon, Indonesia, Bosnia, China, India, Israel, and Ukraine. Jama told YahooNews: ‘I set out to tell the stories of people suffering everywhere. Instead, I was confronted with diverse lives, including happy ones, sometimes in places I never imagined. The lives of LGBT people in Islamic countries, however, are not always pleasant.
‘Horrible, horrible things happen,’ said Jama, ‘In many of these countries, people disappear without a trace. And that happens only because gay and lesbian Muslims have no voice. They can’t object to abuse because, as far as anyone is concerned, they don’t exist.’
Jama was born in Somalia. He moved to the USA after civil war broke out in his native country. Jama was inspired to write the book after the execution of a lesbian couple in northern Somalia in 2001. He said: ‘I’m particularly passionate about transgendered people and gay women. We all know what it is to be a gay man in Pakisan or Morocco, but how many people have read stories of transsexuals or lesbians in these countries? Not many.’
‘Illegal Citizens: Queer Lives in the Muslim World’ is published by Salaam Press.
September 6, 2008 – janam-bay.blogspot.com
HIV/AIDS and Its Effects on Society Cont. 5
Islam and HIV/AIDS: Muslim countries, previously considered protected from HIV/AIDS due to religious and cultural norms, are also facing a rapidly rising cases. Despite the evidence of an advancing epidemic, sometimes the usual response from the policy makers in Muslim regions for protection against HIV infection is a major focus on propagating abstention from illicit drug and sexual practices. Sexuality, considered a private matter, is usually a taboo topic for discussion as in many cultures.
Reducing the risks to the individual and the community associated with some often stigmatized, antisocial or illegal behaviors becomes important but sometimes elusive. The reliability of the available HIV/AIDS incidences, prevalence and mortality data for Muslims is low because many Muslim countries maybe either their strict following of the religious teachings that are less influenced by other external forces(western oriented) or they do not report their statistics/are good at under-reporting. Either way- HIV/AIDS is far more than a medical and biological problem around the world. In recent years, increasing attention is being paid to the manner in which social and cultural variables influence risk behaviors related to HIV infection transmission. Though the association of contentious ethical and moral issues with HIV risk behaviors exists in all societies, it is much more pronounced in the Muslim world. Thus understanding the role of social and cultural variables affecting HIV transmission in Muslim countries is critical for the development and implementation of successful HIV prevention programs as would in other regions.
As in this case where a Muslim missionary stationed in Gaborone, Sheikh Hategeaikimana Hassan, said that the government’s ABC – Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise – model is not entirely compatible with the teachings of Islam. The ‘C’ is the problem.”As Muslims, we encourage and emphasize abstinence until marriage,” He said. Abstinence, the primary prevention message for Muslims, is viewed as an act of faith and compliance, but evidence from other parts of the world shows that not all Muslims have been able to comply all the time. A study carried out in Morocco showed that about 50 percent of Muslim women in that country who have AIDS were infected by their husbands. The implication is all too clear: the men had illicit affairs. From a common sense perspective, it would seem realistic to encourage those who find it difficult to A or B, to at least C. However, Hassan sid that as Muslims, they “don’t condomise” and that compromise on that score would be tantamount to “encouraging unlawful desire”. Generally, the rate of infection in Muslim communities is typically less than in other groups and that have been attributed to the Islamic way of life. Senegal, whose population is 92 percent Muslim, has one of the lowest rates of HIV infection in Africa.
The surgical operation is considered one of the five acts of cleanliness in Islam and the World Health Organization estimates that, on a global scale, 30 percent of males have been circumcised, with almost 70 percent of them being Muslims. The prime health benefit of male circumcision is that it thwarts transmission of HIV as there would be no foreskin to harbor and pass the virus to the rest of the body. While not recommending it as protection against HIV/AIDS, WHO and UNAIDS put out a statement last year that said that male circumcision significantly reduces the risk of HIV transmission. WHO has recommended that countries should implement free or low-cost male circumcision programmes if a high percentage of their population is uncircumcised, if HIV is widespread and if HIV spread is predominantly heterosexual. It says that most such nations are in southern Africa and, to a lesser extent, in eastern Africa.
Turning back the hands of time would be impossible but it is tempting to speculate on how Botswana’s HIV/AIDS situation would be like if one time-travel back to the 1980s. Two American academics, Drs. Daniel Halperin of the University of California in San Francisco and Robert Bailey of the University of Illinois undertook a “what-if” study on Botswana’s HIV/AIDS situation and reached a very interesting conclusion. Their findings suggested that if in 1985 all Botswana men and boys had been circumcised, HIV/AIDS might never have reached the pandemic proportions it did in subsequent years. Muslims have not established common ground on when circumcision should be done but some scholars recommend the seventh day of infancy. He said that if one converts to Islam in adult life, he should undergo the operation.
**** I Will Be Covering “Circumcision Aand HIV/AIDS” Later In The Coming Entries****
The low rate of HIV infection among Muslims is also attributable to the fact that Islam forbids intoxicants for all its adherents. Compliance is helpful in avoiding the consequences of loss of inhibition that drugs like alcohol would otherwise provoke. Across the border, in South Africa, grave concern has been expressed that Muslim groups have been conspicuously absent at many provincial and national forums on HIV/AIDS. In the Botswana case, however, Hassan said that the Muslim community has been working very closely with the government and relevant NGOs.
Personally, he has participated in one of the studies carried out by the Ministry of Health. He stresses the importance of working with these parties in an effort to find workable solutions to the HIV/AIDS scourge. “We respond to their call whenever our assistance is needed. We attend their meetings and workshops and exchange views on how we should deal with this problem,” Hassan said. However, that collaboration has not extended to financial matters. He says that they have not benefited from any government money or funds disbursed by AIDS NGOs.
What the Muslim community has been doing over the years is raising its own funds. However, the assistance is limited because, as Hassan revealed, no one in the Muslim community has come forward to declare his or her HIV status. Furthermore, no statistics are available to ascertain the level of prevalence and trends of the disease in that community. “This does not mean that there are no Muslims who are not infected by this disease,” Hassan states, adding that they use statistics obtained from the government and various NGOs. Last year, Johannesburg, South Africa hosted a five-day Islam and HIV/AIDS conference that was attended by over 200 delegates from different countries. According to Hassan, there were no delegates from Botswana.
He also said that the local Muslim community has literature on HIV/AIDS that it distributes not just to Muslims but to everybody else who wants to get up on the Islamic. approach to fighting HIV/AIDS. “Islam is a complete way of life, it deals with any social problem when the need arises,” he said. As in any other societies- Reasons for the spread of HIV in Muslim countries are open to speculations. Islam places a high value on chaste behavior and prohibits sexual intercourse outside of marriage. It specifically prohibits adultery, homosexuality, and the use of intoxicants. Then how can the spread of HIV/AIDS in Muslim countries be explained- A logical explanation is that in spite of Islamic teachings, some Muslims do engage in activities that lead to acquiring HIV; these risky practices include illicit drug use and/or premarital or extra marital sex. Men who engage in risky behaviors have the potential of transmitting the disease to their unsuspecting wives. Women, on the other hand, also are directly susceptible; in many Muslim countries, brothels and other forms of commercial sex trade are prevalent. The sex workers have poor social support and sometimes they are not screened properly or at all for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, thus contributing to the spread of infection. Injection drug users IDUs also are rapidly becoming a population of increasing concern in the transmission of HIV and AIDS including Muslim countries. Sex- and drug-related behaviors of IDUs can facilitate HIV transmission even when syringes are not directly shared.
HIV/AIDS and Christianity:
Mostly the Christian religious groups-especially the western leaning religious groups (religious rights movements/evangelicals as they are called sometimes) tend to look at HIV/AIDS as the African disease-a continent a few centuries ago they flocked in to redeem it/her from darkness and from it/her-self, I guess and thus feels obliged to continue doing so (forget that little instrumental part they played in colonization in the name of redemption. This Dark Continent! How only the bad things are found but never the good things?
So here they come in the name of missionaries, Ngo’s, World Banks, IMFs, and in other big sounding names that the locals bleed to pronounce. They come with material aids in the name of investments-(read opportunists), misinterpretations, stigmatization, and disregard of local cultural practices pronouncing them as non-modern and manipulation of geopolitical agenda, data inflation-(High cases of diseases/other catastrophies ring a bell?) so that they can keep getting more funds from their countries of origin and usually they start/pretend by initial formation of support groups- The routine activities of the support group typically begin with the singing of choruses and hymns, followed by a Word of God and the prayer. After that new members were welcomed through the exchange of hugs and motivated to live positively by any confident member who had already spent a reasonable amount of time with the group. At times, an opportunity was created for other members to testify about the greatness of God over their HIV infection.
According to this abstract- Although a large majority of South Africans (about 79% according to 2001 census) are affiliated to Christian churches (Statistics South Africa, 2004), an epidemic fuelled by sexual behavior remains a major challenge in the fight against AIDS (Garner, 2000). In South Africa, one in ten people aged 15 to 24 years is said to be HIV positive (Campbell, Foulis, Maimane & Sibiya, 2005). As many people presumably contract HIV outside Wedlock, it is perceived as a double-sin (Duffy, 2005). This perception is not only based on the view that premarital HIV infection suggests premarital sex, and at Worst promiscuity (Duffy, 2005), but more so, given the prevailing moral judgement about the ‘ungodliness’ of HIV infection (Machyo, 2002), it can be viewed as a ‘Punishment’ or curse from God (Takyi, 2003).
However, there are mixed views about the relationships between ‘ungodliness’ and HIV infection, as well as sin or evil and diseases in general (Sanders, 2006; Wiley, 2003) Gilman (2000) draws connections between sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and religious impurity or Dirtiness. He argues that stigmatization of people suffering from STDs dates as far back as the end of the first millennium when leprosy emerged. In Europe, Lepers were required to wear identifying clothes and to warn of their presence (Green & Ottoson, 1994). Like leprosy, and as a STD, the diagnosis of syphilis at the end of the 19th century evoked similar moral judgment and stigma. Despite the complexities of these inextricable connections (disease, HIV infection And sin/evil, and or dirtiness), there is no conclusive evidence that the presence of any disease, and AIDS in particular, suggests a ‘punishment’ from God or any sort of dirtiness (Gilman, 2000).
This view recalls Jesus Christ’s response in the Book of John 9: 2-3: when confronted with a question about the man born blind, and whether it was through his sins or his parents’ sins that he was blind, His response was,” Neither he nor his parents sinned. He was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in Him” (Machyo, 2002, p. 6). Machyo further warns against the passing of premature judgment on HIV positive people, citing the unconditionality of God’s love as a guiding principle. Fatovic-Ferencic and Durrigl (2001) have documented the non-refutation of the relationship between sin or evil and disease by medieval medical authors, further presenting evidence of Christ casting out a devil from a boy suffering from epilepsy. The relationship between HIV infection and sex further complicates attempts to connect it with sin or ‘punishment’ from God. A search for studies that connect sin/evil and HIV infection largely unsuccessful, and we only managed to gather materials that present anecdotal connections between sin/evil and disease. Limited discussion of sex among most, if not all, religious denominations, as well as a lack of commitment in the fight against this pandemic by some religious groups, in our view further Complicates existing stigma and moral judgments. Despite these multifaceted arguments, religion and spirituality remain invaluable coping resources for dealing with pain (Rippentrop, Altmaier, Chen, Found& Keffala, 2005), particularly for people living with HIV (Simoni, Martone & Kerwin, 2002; Takyi, 2003), as well as throughout life in general (Machyo, 2002; Stuckey, 2001). In a study conducted among people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in Australia, Ezzy (2000) established an increased likelihood of religiosity resulting from HIV diagnosis.
**** Is Missionary Work Relevant In 21/22 Century?****
Defining A Common Goal:
If the common goal is to end the global epidemic then it is time to look at the problem beyond a focus on the virus, as it exists within the human body, and to find ways to alter the social and economic environment that enable it to flourish. It is time for global education not only about HIV/AIDS but also about the social context of underdevelopment and poverty that engulfs many of those communities which also have the highest rate of infection. It is time for human society to work at all levels to develop ways to find lasting solutions to the right problems. Finding treatments that protect babies from infection or that add years to the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS is a brilliant first step and has saved children from infection and restored life and hope to many infected people. Such improvements must continue. However, this progress is grossly inaccessible where most needed. If, one day, a vaccine for HIV and cure for AIDS are developed, they must be available to the developing world.
Even then, will enough have been accomplished if the spread of HIV is halted, but the human suffering that provided fertile ground for the epidemic in the first place is allowed to continue until the next virus that might get the world’s attention?
The Impact on the Rural Economy:
It is widely acknowledged within general development literature that the urban and rural economies are usually intrinsically interlinked and that incomes within the rural environment depend upon wages earned within the urban economic environment. Thus it is clear that the impact of HIV/AIDS on the formal, largely urban-based economies of Southern and Eastern Africa will increasingly have an impact in reducing the options and the cash flows between the two sectors. Within Southern and Eastern African countries, HIV/AIDS has been acutely experienced in rural areas. A recent Fact Sheet prepared by the FAO (2000) clearly describes the threat to rural Africa:
•More than two-thirds of the populations of the 25 most-affected African countries live in rural areas.
•Information and health services are less available in rural areas than in cities. Rural people are therefore less likely to know how to protect themselves from HIV and, if they fall ill, less likely to get care.
•Costs of HIV/AIDS are largely borne by rural communities as HIV-infected urban dwellers of rural origin often return to their communities when they fall ill.
•HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects the economic sectors such as agriculture, transportation and mining that have large numbers of mobile or migratory workers.
As discussed earlier, the extensive labor migration between and within countries, associated with annual or more frequent visits home, has facilitated the spread of HIV/AIDS to the most remote rural. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in rural areas is not adequately documented due to poor health infrastructure, restricted access to health facilities and inadequate surveillance. This emphasizes the fact that rural communities have fewer resources to prevent infection and to nurse ill people. Access to treatment and other services, as well as education, are often limited in such contexts.
The effects of HIV/AIDS within a rural economy may include:
•Redistribution of scarce resources with an increasing demand for expenditure on health and social services;
•A collapse of the educational system due to high morbidity and mortality rates amongst educator and learners;
•Younger and less experienced workers replacing older AIDS related casualties, causing reduction in productivity;
•Employers becoming more likely to face increased labor costs because of low productivity, absenteeism, sick leave and other benefits (attending funerals), early retirement and additional training costs.
Agricultural production is often central to the rural economy. This form of production is usefully differentiated into the commercial farming sector, where the organization and running of a farm/shamba often approximates a business, and the subsistence sector, which is characterized by a close relationship between the general activities of a household (including child rearing, supporting relationships between adult members, home maintenance and food processing) and the production of crops and of animals.
The Impact on Agricultural Production:
Agriculture is one of the most important sectors in many developing countries, providing a living or survival mechanism for up to 80 percent of a country’s population. However, while agriculture is extremely important to many African countries, not least of all for household survival, there are marked differences among countries in terms of current economic conditions and agricultural and economic potential. Agriculture faces major challenges including unfavorable international terms of trade, mounting population pressure on land, and environmental degradation. The additional impact of HIV/AIDS is also severe in many countries. The major impact on agriculture includes serious depletion of human resources, diversions of capital from agriculture, loss of farm/shamba and non-farm income and other psycho-social impacts that affect productivity.
The adverse effects of HIV/AIDS on the agricultural sector can, however, be largely invisible as what distinguishes the impact from that on other sectors is that it can be subtle enough so as to be undetectable. In the words, even if rural families are selling cows to pay hospital bills, one will hardly see tens of thousands of cows being auctioned at the market…Unlike famine situations, buying and selling of assets in the case of AIDS is very subtle, done within villages or even among relatives, and the volume is small Furthermore, the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture, both commercial and subsistence, are often difficult to distinguish from factors such as drought, civil war, and other shocks and crises.
For these reasons, the developmental effect of HIV/AIDS on agriculture continues to be absent from the policy and programmes agendas of many African countries. Many studies on HIV/AIDS that have focused on specific sectors of the economy such as agriculture have been limited to showing the wide variety of impacts and their intensity on issues such as cropping patterns, yields, nutrition, or on specific populations. They have not adequately touched on questions such as the effects of changes in prices of commodities, such as tea or cocoa, land tenure and the rights of women and children.
Impact on the Commercial Sector:
Commercial agriculture is particularly susceptible to the epidemic and is facing a severe social and economic crisis in some locations due to its impact. Morbidity and mortality due to HIV/AIDS significantly raise the industry’s direct costs (medical and funeral expenses) as well as indirectly through the loss of valuable skills and experience. The epidemic thus adversely affects companies’ efficiency and productivity. Thus HIV/AIDS is leading to falling labor quality and supply, more frequent and longer periods of absenteeism, losses in skills and experience, resulting in shifts towards a younger, less experienced workforce and subsequent production losses. These impacts intensify existing skills shortages and increase costs of training and benefits.
At a FAO Conference on HIV/AIDS and agriculture, an example was given of the costs to this particular sector. It was argued that in Sub-Saharan Africa’s 25 worst affected countries, seven million agricultural workers have died from the epidemic since 1985 and sixteen million more may die by 2020, according to that report. Table below depicts the grim picture of the agricultural labor force decreases in the ten most heavily affected countries in the continent. Intensive agriculture will be severely impacted through the loss of this specialized labor. Areas of production such as harvesting and processing that require a high level of skill will be most severely affected.
Impact of HIV/AIDS on agricultural labor in some African countries (projected losses in percentages)
Country 2000 2020
Namibia 3.0 26.0
Botswana 6.6 23.2
Zimbabwe 9.6 22.7
Mozambique 2.3 20.0
South Africa 3.9 19.9
Kenya 3.9 16.8
Malawi 5.8 13.8
Uganda 12.8 13.7
Tanzania 5.8 12.7
C.A. Republic 6.3 12.6
Ivory Coast 5.6 11.4
Cameroon 2.9 10.7
It should also be emphasized that the impact on commercial agriculture is only one side of the story. In much of southern Africa, agriculture is not the dominant economic sector, even while access to land and its resources is important for the diverse multiple livelihood strategies of many rural denizens.
Impact on the Small-Scale and Subsistence farming Sectors:
Many studies conducted on the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa have focused on the farm-household level – where agricultural production at the subsistence or small-scale level is often embedded within multiple-livelihood strategies and systems. Over the past two decades there have been profound transformations in these livelihood systems in Africa, set in motion by Structural Adjustment Programmes, the removal of agricultural subsidies and the dismantling of parastatal marketing boards. As a result of these and other issues, many African households have shifted to non-agricultural income sources and diversified their livelihood strategies accordingly.
However, despite the evident of diversification out of agriculture, rural production remains an important component of many rural livelihoods throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. ‘African rural dwellers …deeply value the pursuit of farming…food self-provisioning is gaining in importance against a backdrop of food inflation and proliferating cash needs. Participation in “small-plot/shamba agriculture” is highly gendered, with women taking major responsibility for it as one aspect of a multiple livelihood strategy. Access to land-based natural resources remains a vital component of rural livelihoods particularly as a safety net. In this context, land tenure becomes increasingly important for the diverse livelihood strategies pursued by different households.
Diversification out of agriculture may be compounded by the affect of HIV/AIDS in a number of ways. These include its impact on labor, the disruption of the dynamics of traditional social security mechanisms and the forced disposal of productive assets to pay for such things as medical care and funerals. In turn, local farming skills are drained and biodiversity in crop variety diminished. Indigenous knowledge systems and technology adapted by farmers to suit the particular conditions of specific areas often die with the farmers, a dangerous trend as far as cultural practices are concerned. A large number of Sub-Saharan African countries have already experienced a shift in the allocation of labor especially by subsistence households. A study in Zimbabwe conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (some times back-but still relevant )showed that the death of a breadwinner due to AIDS will lead to a reduction in maize production in the small-scale farming sector and communal areas of 61 percent.
The loss of agricultural labor is likely to cause farmers to move to production of less labor intensive crops in a bid to ensure their survival. This often means a shift from cash to food crops or high value to low value crops. The impact of HIV/AIDS on crop production relates to a reduction in land use, a decline in crop yields and a decline in the range of crops grown, mainly with reference to subsistence agriculture. Reduction in land use occurs as a result of fewer family members being available to work in cultivated areas and due to poverty resulting in malnutrition leading to the inability of family members to perform agricultural work. This, in turn, leads to less cash income for inputs such as seeds and fertilizer. In Ethiopia, for example, labor losses reduced time spent on agriculture from 33.6 hours per week for non AIDS-affected households to between 11.6 to 16.4 hours for those affected by AIDS.
At another workshop on HIV/AIDS and land, the then FAO director in South Africa stated that the food shortages facing several Southern African countries, including Lesotho and Zimbabwe, were ‘a stark demonstration of the collective failure to recognize and act upon the deep-rooted linkages between food security and HIV/AIDS’. This reiterates the argument that the continuous interruption of labor may also impact on the type of crops grown, and hence substitution between crops may take place. This is especially true for labor intensive crops, which would likely result in the substitution for less labor intensive production and a possible decrease in the area being cultivated. Food security therefore becomes an important issue in the context of HIV/AIDS.
Food security implies that every individual in a society has a sustainable food supply of adequate quality and quantity to ensure nutritional needs are satisfied and a healthy active life be maintained. At a household level, food security refers to the ability of households to meet target levels of dietary needs of their members from their own production or through purchases.
Therefore, the impact of HIV/AIDS on agriculture directly affects food security, as it reduces:
•Food availability (through falling production, loss of family labour, land and other resources, loss of livestock assets and implements).
•Food access (through declining income for food purchases).
.The stability and quality of food supplies (through shifts to less labour intensive production).
HIV/AIDS can therefore be a cause of food insecurity and a consequence thereof. For example, during times of food insecurity, such as during drought, individuals or families can be forced to engage in survival strategies that increase their vulnerability to contracting HIV.
Natural resource management has also been directly impacted on by HIV/AIDS, which has important implications for non-agriculturally based multiple livelihood systems. Conservation and resource management are also dependent on human factors such as labor, skills, expertise and finances that have been affected by the epidemic. Therefore the reduction in the number and capacity of ‘willing, qualified, capable and productive people’ who have managed natural resources has negatively impacted on sustainable utilization of these resources. In addition, the epidemic can impact natural resource conservation and management by accelerating the rate of extraction of natural resources to meet increased and new HIV/AIDS demands. These issues relating to labor, production, natural resource management and food security are elaborated in more detail in the following section describing household production.
The Impact on Household Livelihood Strategies:
As demonstrated above, various “research” initiatives have shown that HIV/AIDS first affects the welfare of households through illness and death of family members, which in turn leads to the diversion of resources from savings and investments into. It is expected that the premature death of large numbers of the adult population, typically at ages when they have already started families and become economically productive, can have a radical effect on virtually every aspect of social and economic life. This is clearly indicated by an increase in the number of dependents relying on smaller numbers of productive household members and increasing numbers of children left behind to be raised by grandparents or as child-headed households or extended family members.
Once a household member develops AIDS, increased medical and other costs, such as transport to and from health services, occur simultaneously with reduced capacity to work, creating a double economic burden. The households with an AIDS sufferer frequently seek to keep up with medical costs by selling livestock and other assets including land. Members who would otherwise be able to earn or perform household and family maintenance may then be spending their time caring for the person with AIDS. An example a son with a sick mother in Zambia- reported that he spent more time looking for money to make ends meet by working in the field and doing casual jobs, and in addition having to contribute an average of three hours a day towards caring for his mother and staying up part of the night attending to her needs. Cases like that are not unique; rather they are more frequent and familiar in most families in developing countries.
This emphasizes an impact of HIV/AIDS illness and death, which often results in the re-allocation of livelihood tasks amongst household members. Reports that intensive use of child labor increases as a major strategy and it’s typically used by the afflicted household during care provision. Children may be taken out of school to fill labor and income gaps created when productive adults become ill or are caring for terminally ill household’s members or are deceased. Another example from Tanzania-and many other countries whose populations are struggling with the effects of the disease- shades light on to how the illness affects time allocation puts pressure on children to work, divert household cash and the disposal of household productive assets. HIV/AIDS is therefore an impoverishing process that leads to other problems such as malnutrition, inaccessibility to health care, increased child mortality and hence intergenerational poverty.
It is important to recognize that the impact of HIV/AIDS on rural households is not equal: the poorer- especially those with small land holdings are much less able to cope with the effects of HIV/AIDS than wealthier households who can hire casual labor and are better able to absorb shocks. The question as to who benefits from the sales of assets by farming-households attempting to cope with the long drawn-out effects of HIV/AIDS could be unclear. Number of occurrences evident could lead to significant changes in the socio-economic structures of villages, redistribution of wealth and of land. HIV/AIDS infection ultimately stretches the resources of an extended family beyond its limits as both material and non-material resources are rapidly consumed in caring for the infected.
The manner, in which HIV/AIDS can cause affected households to become socially excluded, thus diminishes their ability to cope with further crises. Similarly, extended family networks sometimes collapse, not least due to pressure of having to support orphaned children. Moreover, it has been argued that for instance in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, HIV/AIDS has forced a change in household composition, severely weakening and often breaking the young adult nexus between generations. This, in turn, exacerbates an already existing social crisis of care, which worsens as the epidemic progresses. It is a social context that is unlikely to withstand the weight of need that HIV/AIDS related deaths generate and many, especially children and the aged, face economic and social destitution.
It is increasingly clear that as a result of HIV/AIDS causing significant increases in morbidity and mortality in prime-age adults, increasing negative social, economic and developmental impacts will occur. As can be clearly indicated, the economic impact at the household level will be decreased, increased health-care costs, decreased productivity capacity and changing expenditure patterns. Major survival strategies developed in response to the epidemic may include the altering household composition the withdrawal of savings and the sale of assets, the receipt of assistance from other households. Following death the impact breaks out the households and cutting into the community in the form of increasing number of dependents such as orphans.
Coping Strategies – or simply surviving?
In the face of the extreme impact of HIV/AIDS, individuals and households undergo processes of experimentation and adaptation when adult illness and death impacts whilst an attempt is made to cope with immediate and long-term demographic changes. Several factors determines a household’s ability to cope including access to resources, household size and composition, access to resources of the extended family, and the ability of the community to provide support. The interaction of these factors will determine the severity of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the household.
Household Coping Strategies:
Strategies aimed at improving food security Strategies aimed at raising & supplementing income to maintain household expenditure patterns Strategies aimed at alleviating the loss of labor
•Substitute cheaper commodities (e.g. porridge instead of bread)
•Reduce consumption of the item
•Send children away to live with relatives
•Replace food item with indigenous/wild vegetables
• Migrate in search of new jobs
• Sale of assets
• Use of savings or investment
• Intra-household labor re-allocation and withdrawing of children from school
• Put in extra hours
• Hire labor and draught power
• Decrease cultivated area
• Relatives come to help
• Diversify source of income
The household experience in the context of HIV/AIDS and may divert policy-makers from the enormity of the crisis. AIDS-induced morbidity and mortality has an immense impact on rural households but questions whether the observed effects should be defined as “coping strategies”. And any meaningful analysis of coping behavior must include the real and full costs of coping. There are several reasons why the concept is of limited use and explores alternative ways of conceptualizing the impact of HIV/AIDS in more detail. Firstly one could define the concept as being essentially concerned with the analysis of success rather than failure of the household as it implies that the household is managing or persevering. This ignores evidence that households often dissolve completely with survivors joining other households. This runs contrary to a concept of strategy intended to avert the breakdown of the household unit.
Secondly, households do not act in accordance with a previously formulated plan or strategy but react to the immediacy of need, disposing of their assets when no alternatives present themselves. Decisions are not based on the importance or usefulness of the asset to the household as saving lives is deemed more important than preserving assets. More evidence is emerging that even land, the “most important agrarian asset”, may not be spared in the quest to ‘cope’ with illness. Indeed, a recent study on the impact of HIV/AIDS on female microfinance clients in Kenya and Uganda, found that there was a clear sequence of “asset liquidation” among AIDS caregivers in order to cope with the economic impact – first liquidating savings, then business income, then household assets, then productive assets and, finally, disposing of land. This last resort of disposing of land has profound consequences for people losing their economic base. People are likely to be those with fewest options and those who are most vulnerable.
Thirdly, coping strategies tend to be defined as short-term responses to entitlement failure giving the impression that it involves few additional costs thereby obscuring the true cost of coping. In Tanzania, short and long-term costs included curtailing the number and quality of meals that a household could afford which resulted in poor nutrition with obvious implications for health. Another household option was the withdrawal of children, mostly girls, from school in order to utilize their labor and save money, which, amongst other things, had ramifications for future literacy levels and the child’s participation in the modern economy. The positive gloss accorded to coping invariably ignored long-term costs that fundamentally jeopardize recovery of a household let alone sustainability.
In summary, one would argue that references to coping strategies may make sense in circumstances of drought or famine but not for the impact of HIV/AIDS, which not only changes communities and demographic patterns but also agro-ecological landscapes with long-term implications for recovery. The fact that AIDS kills the strong people and leaves behind the weak undermines the capacity of households and communities, especially in the long-term. It is therefore important to further differentiate the household according into their various possible members with an emphasis on the power relations between people forced to respond to the compounding impact of HIV/AIDS on their livelihood strategies.
Women and HIV/AIDS:
There are a number of interlocking reasons why women are more vulnerable than men to HIV/AIDS, which include female physiology, women’s lack of power to negotiate sexual relationships with male partners, especially in marriage, and the gendered nature of poverty, with poor women particularly vulnerable (Walker, 2002: 7). Inequities in gender run parallel to inequities in income and assets. Thus women are vulnerable not only to HIV/AIDS infection but also to the economic impact of HIV/AIDS. This is often a result of the gendered power relations evident in rural households, which can leave women prone to the infection of HIV. With increasing economic insecurity women become vulnerable to sexual harassment and exploitation at and beyond the workplace, and to trading in sexual activities to secure income for household needs. As a result, women have experienced the greatest losses and burdens associated with economic and political crises and shocks with particularly severe impact from HIV/AIDS.
The epidemic exacerbates social, economic and cultural inequalities (economic need, lack of employment opportunities, poor access to education, health and information), which define women’s status in society;
•Breakdown of household regimes and attendant forms of security: Decades of changes in economic activity and gender relations have placed many women in increasingly difficult situations. HIV/AIDS has accelerated the process and made “normal” sexual relations very risky. Women whose husbands have migrated for work are afraid of the return of the men knowing that they may be HIV-infected. Although poorly documented, the range and depth of women’s responsibilities have increased during the era of HIV/AIDS. More active care giving for sick and dying relatives have been added to the existing workload. Children have been withdrawn from school, usually girl-children first, to save both on costs and to add to labor in the household.
Thus HIV/AIDS is facilitating a further and fairly rapid differentiation along gender lines.
•Loss of livelihood: Whether women receive remittances from men working away from home, are given “allowances”, or earn income themselves, HIV/AIDS has made the availability of cash more problematic.
•Loss of assets: Although poorly documented, fairly substantial investments in medical care occur among many households affected by HIV/AIDS. These costs may be met by disinvestments in assets. Household food security is often affected in negative ways. Furthermore, in many parts of Africa, women lose all or most household assets after the death of a husband.
•Survival sex: Low incomes, disinvestments, constrained cash flow – all place economic pressures on women. Anecdotal evidence and some studies indicate that these pressures push a number of women into situations where sex is coerced in exchange for small cash or in-kind payments.
Women frequently carry a double burden of generating income outside the home and for care giving as well as maintaining family land. In this regard, women are responsible for caring for sick members of the household as well as being heavily involved in generating income and supplying food for their households through agricultural production. Further, the burden of caring for people living with HIV/AIDS and for orphans’ falls largely on women. Thus, it has been argued that the illness and death of a woman has a “particularly dramatic impact on the family” in that it threatens household food security, especially when households depend primarily on women’s labor for food production, animal tendering, crop planting and harvesting.
In rural areas, women tend to be even more disadvantaged due to reduced access to productive resources and support services. The issue of AIDS and inheritance is therefore particularly important when discussing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. Many customary tenure systems provide little independent security of tenure to women on the death of their husband, with land often falling back to the husband’s lineage. While this may, traditionally, not have posed problems, it may create serious hardship and dislocation in the many cases of AIDS-related deaths. While this may create an opportunity for communities to tweak/ and or address the land-ownership related cases, by no means this should be an opportunity for others (parties/groups) – Read (westerners and the like, who have little knowledge or care not to understand other people’s customs) to condemn/denounce-ridicule-belittle or categorize it as inferior. In other words it should be an inside job –done by the community members as they understand their customs, thus better to address it accordingly.
The Elderly and HIV/AIDS:
As already illustrated, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has immense ramifications for the structure of households with prolonged emotional and financial responsibilities of child-raising for grandparents. Large numbers of orphans have been left in the care of their grandparents across the globe. The role of the elderly in rural development in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic has been neglected. The elderly play a crucial role, not just in care giving, but in ensuring the food security of millions of affected rural farm-households as they become an alternative for the family. The reports on population projection with HIV/AIDS scenario highlights changes in sex and age structure from the perspective of elderly at the national level, particularly for countries like Botswana and South Africa, two of those that have been worst affected countries. Thus the population pyramids for these countries suggest that:
•In 20 years time a significant number of 60-69 year olds will be dead (HIV mortality peaks around 30-34 years for women and 40-44 years for men),
•The surviving younger elderly of 60 years or more will have a role as care and subsistence of older ones.
•Number of children will decline significantly over 20 years,
•Due to change in sex ratio for adults, female age group, middle age and young elderly will have a burden of care and housework and this will force changes in division of labor.
•In Botswana more rapid ageing is seen in rural areas than in urban areas. This is also reflected in South Africa as a result of younger working age people migrating from rural communities and older people often returning. In countries such as Kenya, infection rates tend to be higher in densely populated areas, which are the most productive agricultural areas. With this spread of HIV/AIDS, it can be concluded that if this is not addressed aggressively, there will be fewer young adults who will be able to carry out essential tasks.
Therefore the elderly will increasingly be required to do such tasks. Thus it’s easy to conclude that the elderly are a largely invisible resource in the context of HIV/AIDS, requiring assistance and empowerment in order to fulfill its indispensable potential in areas of crisis. Thus the rural elderly have a potential to play a pivotal role of holding together farm households, ensuring food security and survival of orphans.
A Conceptual Framework: HIV/AIDS and Land:
A man is taken ill. While nursing him, the wife can’t weed the maize and cotton fields, mulch and pare the banana trees, dry the coffee or harvest the rice. This means less food crops and less income from cash crops. Trips to town for medical treatment, hospital fees and medicines consume savings. Traditional healers are paid in livestock. The man dies. Farm tools, sometimes cattle, are sold to pay burial expenses. Mourning practices in most Africa countries forbid farming for several days. In the next season, unable to hire casual labor, the family plants a smaller area. Without pesticides, weeds and bugs multiply. Children leave school to weed and harvest. Again yields are lower. With little home-grown food and without cash to buy fish or meat, family nutrition and health suffer. If the mother becomes ill with AIDS, the cycle of asset and labor loss is repeated. Families withdraw into subsistence farming. Overall production of cash crops drops-that is a typical scenario.
The narrative captures the stark reality of the cruel impact that HIV/AIDS has on the household producing on the margins (and above) the subsistence level. Many of these experiences indicate the powerful linkages between HIV/AIDS and land. There are therefore it is clear that prolonged illness and early death alter social relations. It can therefore be assumed that such relations would include institutions governing access to and inheritance of land.
Prolonged morbidity and mortality would also contribute to the disposal of land to cater for the care, treatment and funeral costs. this is a double-edged sword as on the one side access and utilization are affected among households and individuals, and on the other hand it would affect land planning and administration at various levels. These changes, particularly as they relate to individuals and households, would have dimensions across both age and gender. Therefore, in summary, HIV-related mortality would alter the land rights or the command positions held by people of different age and gender over land. An analysis of the impact of HIV/AIDS on land is essentially an analysis of changes in social institutions in which rights to land are anchored.
Therefore the analysis needs to take cognizance of a range of social attributes that affect the dynamics of land relations:
•Cultural, legal, political and other social dimensions affecting entitlement;
•How HIV/AIDS affects land entitlement and how land entitlement affects HIV/AIDS;
•Whether lack of entitlement to land increases vulnerability to HIV/AIDS;
•How HIV/AIDS impacts on institutions involved in land administration;
•The inputs needed to secure effective use of land by HIV/AIDS affected households;
•The fact that entitlement is not static and changes across gender and age;
•The complex continuum from landed to landless;
•The fact that although access to land may not be the most effective strategy for HIV/AIDS affected households, in rural areas it is likely to remain central to their survival.
From this- it is evident that the concept of land issues is extremely broad. To further help conceptualize the impact of HIV/AIDS, these issues have been differentiated into three main areas, namely land use, land rights and land administration. The impact on these areas is usefully conceptualized through the lens of the household particularly as HIV/AIDS is depriving families and communities of their young and most productive people:
•HIV/AIDS-affected households generally have less access to labor, less capital to invest in agriculture, and are less productive due to limited financial and human resources. Thus the issue of land use becomes extremely important as a result of the epidemic’s impact on mortality, morbidity and resultant loss of skills, knowledge and the diversion of scarce resources. A range of multiple livelihood strategies, often involving land, has been affected resulting in changes as rural households fight for survival in the context of the epidemic.
•The focus on land rights considers the extent of impact on the terms and conditions in which individuals and households hold, use and transact land. This has particular resonance with women and children rights in the context of rural power relations, which are falling under increasing pressure from HIV/AIDS. Anecdotal evidence from around the globe indicates that dispossession, particularly for AIDS-widows, is increasingly becoming a problem in locations with patrilineal inheritance of land. There are, however, a number of other issues to be examined in relation to HIV/AIDS and land tenure especially in localities that are experiencing increasing land pressure, land scarcity, commercialization of agriculture, increased investment, and intensifying competition and conflicts over land.
•The impact on land administration is a related issue and is a result of epidemic affecting people involved in the institutions that are directly or indirectly involved in the administration of land. These include local level or community institutions such as traditional authorities, civil society, various levels of government, and the private sector.
**** To Be Continued****
2008 – johannhari.com
Outcast heroes: the story of gay Muslims: From Britain to Egypt, gay men are stigmatised and attacked. But some are starting to fight back.
Ali Orhan is laughing. We’re sitting in the caff in the Docklands Asda – no expenses spared here at Attitude! – and he is chuckling the most terrible, melancholic chuckle I have ever heard. He is describing a day eighteen years ago when he picked up his parents at Heathrow airport. He was 21 years old, and they were returning from their annual holiday to Turkey. Ali knew he was gay – he had always known – but his sexuality wasn’t flickering across his mind that that summer day, as he stood waiting in the arrivals lounge. He saw them waddling towards him with their suitcases and a strange woman. He waved. He had bought his mother a bunch of flowers. His parents had brought something for him too: a wife.
“Within five days, we were married,” he says now, his dark laughter melted away. “It had always been there as I was growing up, I suppose, this knowledge that marriage was compulsory, and that you only had sex within marriage. It was like going through puberty or growing a beard, something that just happened to you. But I was in denial. And then it happened, so suddenly, and I couldn’t see any way out.”
Growing up in Britain’s Turkish community in the 1970s, Islam was more a cultural presence than a deep religious commitment. “Religion wasn’t a huge thing in our family. My younger brothers don’t even believe. The only time we discussed faith was when my parents wanted to end an argument: it’s in the Koran. You can’t argue with it. It’s the word of God.” And the word of God, it seemed to Ali then, was that Turkish boys marry the girls their parents select for them. “We stayed married for ten months. I never tried to kid myself. She was very attractive, articulate, and a lovely person, but there was no way I was ever going to be attracted to her physically. I knew I was never going to fulfil her or be the husband she deserved, and the guilt was eating me. She had given up everything in Turkey – her whole life – for me, and I had nothing to offer her.”
“The one thing I did that I’m proud of in that whole terrible part of my life is that I never consummated the marriage,” he continues, in a soft, measured voice. “We shared a bed for ten months but we never had sex. I knew that once we had slept together, she would be seen a ruined goods and she would never be able to marry again. She obviously couldn’t understand my attitude, and began to think there was something wrong with her. She even tried coming on to me, which for a Muslim woman is an incredibly humiliating thing.” Ali was so afraid of telling his parents about his sexuality that he tried to make his wife leave him. He got male friends to put lipstick on his collar so she would think he had another woman. He would stay out late without any explanation. Nothing worked.
“Then one night I came home and finally told her I couldn’t ever love her,” he says. “There was a phenomenal amount of family and community pressure for us to not get divorced. Getting permission took another three months. Finally my parents gave in, but on one condition: that I take her back to her parents in Turkey and explain why.” It was potentially a death-wish: go to a very conservative part of Turkey, and tell a group of religious men that you are divorcing their daughter because you’re gay. Ali went. “My one saving grace in their eyes was that I hadn’t ‘defiled’ her. Because of that, I survived.” He lived – but the day he returned, his parents explained that he was no longer their son. They told him bluntly that they never wanted to see him again, not even on their deathbeds.
Nearly two decades later, there is still complete silence from all of his relatives. I ask if he is angry with them. “No,” he says, almost surprised by the question. “I had tarnished the whole family’s character: their eldest son wasn’t a man, he hadn’t slept with his wife. I don’t blame them for what they did. It was damage limitation for them within the community. That was their whole world, and if they had stood by me, that world would have come crashing down. They would have been outcasts. What right have I got to ask them to do that? They had to choose between their son or their world.”
There is a family eating their dinner two tables away from us. I wish they would leave; I wish Ali never had to see another family again. After such a terrible experience, it would seem natural for Ali to renounce Islam, the religion that seemed to wreck his life. But he explains, “If anything, I’ve become more religious since leaving home. I have a much stronger understanding of my faith now. In times of crisis, it’s my faith I turn to. At my lowest point, when I was first expelled from my world, it was Islam that kept me from the edge. I would have committed suicide without my faith.”
“The only thing I have left that identifies me with my family, with my community, with my life before I was disowned, is my religion,” he continues. “Nobody can take that away from me. It’s the last shred of the person I used to be.” He considers himself today to be a devout Muslim – indeed, more devout than many of the people who cast him out. “It’s not like the Muslim community isn’t aware that there are gay Muslims. But as long as they stay married and only have gay sex on the side, they’re tolerated. I think that’s disgusting, and I wasn’t going to play that game. If I had been a hypocrite, if I had cheated on my wife and actually been a much worse Muslim, then I would still be with my family and my community.”
Yet he believes that the Koran does clearly condemn homosexuality. “If there was any pro-gay interpretation, I would have seized on it. The only ammunition I have is that the Koran makes it clear that no Muslim has the right to judge another Muslim. Only Allah has that right.” Ten years ago, the words ‘gay’ and ‘Muslim’ seemed like polar opposites, and an out gay Muslim seemed as probable as a black member of the Ku Klux Klan. All of the seven countries that treat homosexuality as a crime punishable by death are Muslim. Of the 82 countries where being gay is a crime, 36 are predominantly Muslim. Even in democratic societies, Islam remains overwhelmingly anti-gay. Dr Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of North America, says “homosexuality is a moral disease, a sin, a corruption… No person is born homosexual, just as nobody is born a thief, a liar or a murderer. People acquire these evil habits due to a lack of proper guidance and education.”
Sheikh Sharkhawy, a cleric at the prestigious London Central Mosque in Regent’s Park, compares homosexuality to a “cancer tumour.” He argues “we must burn all gays to prevent paedophilia and the spread of AIDS,” and says gay people “have no hope of a spiritual life.” The Muslim Educational Trust hands out educational material to Muslim teachers – intended for children! – advocating the death penalty for gay people, and advising Muslim pupils to stay away from gay classmates and teachers.
But some gay people like Ali have begun to contest this reading of Islam. There have been a small number of groups for gay Muslims over the past twenty years, and their history is not encouraging. A San Francisco-based group called the Lavender Crescent Society sent five members to Iran in 1979 after the Islamic revolution there to spur an Iranian gay movement. They were taken straight from the airport to a remote spot and shot dead. Gay Iranians went underground straight after. Even in the West, a Toronto-based group called Min-Alaq was formed in the early 1990s but closed down after fundamentalists threatened to murder all its members.
And then came Al-Fatiha. With seven branches across the United States and offices in London, Johannesburg and Toronto, these gay Muslims ain’t going to shut up or scuttle away. They are here and they are fighting. The group – whose name is taken from a Koranic term meaning ‘the beginning’ or ‘the opening’ – was set up in 1997 by Faisal Alam. Faisal, now 27, arrived in Connecticut from Pakistan when he was 10 years old. In an unfamiliar rural area with “more cows than people”, he explains, he found his faith a source of comfort and inspiration. He became very active in the local mosque and a leader in his Muslim youth group. Yet when he was sixteen he began to realise something was wrong – “something I didn’t have a word for.”
He started a relationship with an older male convert to Islam, but it fizzled out and – in the classic gay Muslim pattern – he became engaged to a very religious woman. Fortunately, she broke it off after a year because “she had a feeling in her heart that something was deeply wrong.” When he started college, Faisal embarked on a dual existence: the good Muslim boy by day and the gay boy by night. His parents found out about his sexuality when someone copied some of his internet messages to a gay chat-line and distributed them at his family’s mosque. “My mom’s first reaction was to say, ‘You can’t be a Muslim any more,’” he explains.
Nineteen and desolate, he sent out an e-mail that started an avalanche. “Is anyone out there a gay Muslim?” he asked in a discussion list linking Muslim student societies across the US. Most of the responses were filled with revulsion – “There is no such thing as a gay Muslim!” they howled. But there was a trickle saying, “I though I was the only one.” As a network for those people – and for gay Muslims across the globe – he established al Fatiha. “The Muslim community as a whole is in complete and utter denial about homosexuality,” he explains. “The conversation hasn’t even begun. We are about 200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues. Homosexuality is still seen as a Western disease that infiltrates Muslim minds and societies.”
He admits that al Fatiha is dealing with troubled, torn people. “For each of us, it’s a struggle. Probably 90 to 99 percent of gay Muslims who have accepted their sexuality leave the faith. They don’t see the chance for a reconciliation. They are two identities of your life that are exclusive.” One gay man – who asked not to be named – summarised this belief that the two poles of his identity could never meet: “It’s a choice between praying and sucking cock,” he said. “You can’t do both.”
Yet Faisal is trying to articulate a pro-gay Islam. He believes that the homophobia of most contemporary Muslims is based not on their faith but on their culture, and there is a surprising amount of scholarly research to back him up. The punishment for almost all crimes is laid out very clearly in the Koran – 100 lashes for fornication, for example – but there is no punishment mentioned for homosexuality anywhere. There is one passage that is often interpreted as legally forbidding homosexuality, but it is comparatively mild: “And as for the two of you who are guilty thereof, punish them both. And if they repent and improve, then let them be. Lo! Allah is merciful.”
There are seven references in the Koran to the “people of Lut” – named ‘Lot’ in the Christian and Jewish holy texts – which is a town destroyed for the immorality of its men. But the conventional interpretation – that this ‘immorality’ took the form of gay sex – is increasingly being contested. Mushin Hendriks, an American Muslim scholar and a gay man, claims that the story of Lut “sees God destroying men because of male rape, sodomy and promiscuity. But there is a difference between sodomy and homosexuality, between rape and love. The story says nothing about homosexual love.”
During the Prophet Mohammed’s lifetime, there was not a single recorded case of a punishment or execution for homosexuality. It is only two generations after Mohammed, under the third Caliph, Omar, that a gay man was burned alive for his ‘crime’. Even then, it was fiercely debated, and many scholars argued that this was contrary to the traditions of the Prophet.
Several scholars and historians have proven that homosexuality was fairly common at the time of the Prophet. They have also shown that at certain points in history gay people were much more tolerated – and indeed, sometimes celebrated – in Muslim societies than in Europe. Before the twentieth century, the regions of the world with the most prominent and diverse gay behaviours on display were in northern Africa and southwestern Asia – Muslim lands. The current gay-hating, homo-cidal climate in Muslim countries is a fairly recent invention.
Look, for example, at the homoerotic poetry that flourished in Spain after the Muslim conquest in 711. This is stuff that wouldn’t be out of place in the porn section of Clonezone: “I gave him what he asked for, made him my master/ My tears streamed out over the beauty of his cheeks” and so on. Or how about the ninth century Caliph of Baghdad, who “gave himself over entirely to dissipated pleasure in the company of his eunuchs and refused to take a wife”?
These pockets of gay freedom persisted in some areas right up to the early twentieth century, when Victorian colonial influence started to erode their tolerance away. For example, the oasis town of Siwa, located in the Libyan desert of Western Egypt, sounds like something from a Bel Ami movie. The anthropologist Walter Cline described it in the 1930s: “All normal Muslim Siwan men and boys practice sodomy. Among themselves the natives are not ashamed of this; they talk about it as openly as they talk about love of women and many, if not most, of their fights arise from homosexual competition.”
Another visitor, the archaeologist Count Bryron de Prorock reported “an enthusiasm that could not have been approached even in Sodom. Homosexuality was not only rampant, it was raging.” Men would marry each other with great ceremony, and this was only stamped out – by non-Muslims – in the 1930s.
Al Fatiha is not as mad a project, then, as it might initially seem. Along with the homophobic strands, there have been strands in Muslim thought for a very long time encouraging tolerance of gay people; they have simply died away. Today, there are some groups who are prepared to kill in order to prevent a pro-gay Islam from being revived. In 2001, Al Mujharoun – a fanatical British-based fundamentalist group who believe in establishing “the Muslim Republic of Great Britain” – issued a fatwa against Al Fatiha. They said any member of Al-Fatiha is an apostate (traitor to the Muslim faith), and the punishment for apostasy is death.
Faisal refuses to be intimidated. “We’re challenging 1,400 years of dogma. There’s bound to be a battle,” he explains. Ali has had death threats too. A group of black-clad men even turned up at his flat one night “to make it very clear that if I wanted a quiet life I should shut up about being gay.” I asked if he considered being quiet. “No, I moved,” he laughs.
Despite the threat of violence, at least in democratic societies gay Muslims can wrestle with their dual identity. For most of the 50 million gay Muslims in the world, this isn’t an option. They are more likely to be worried about avoiding imprisonment or even execution. For example, when 52 gay men were recently arrested and jailed for attending an unofficial gay club in Egypt, even the Egypt Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) refused to condemn their prison sentences. EOHR’s Secretary-General, Hafez Abu Saada, said, “Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them.”
In Lebanon, one of the more free countries in the Middle East, a popular weekly TV programme – Al Shater Yahki – discusses sexuality and includes gay voices. Even there, every gay person speaks from behind a mask, or they would risk being killed.
Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest gay Catholic organisation, explains, “In many ways, Al-Fatiha and the first wave of gay Muslims exactly parallel where gay Catholics were 25 to 30 years ago. Our first five years were just about putting the words ‘gay’ and ‘Catholic’ in the same sentence. I pray they have a very deep faith.” And even now, the Catholic Church is hardly a model of tolerance. The Pope describes gay marriage as “evil”, calls on gay people to be celibate, and has acted at the United Nations to block protection of the human rights of gay people. But things are far better than they were for gay Christians. Gay Jews have made incredible progress, with the largest group of rabbis in America openly endorsing gay marriage.
Yes, the fight for tolerance within Islam is going to be very long and very painful. There will be many more casualties. But one day the beheading of gay men in the Middle East and the internal exile of men like Ali will be remembered the way we remember the burning of witches today. When that day comes, men like Ali Orhan and Faisal Alam will be seen as heroes.
February 2009 – oneworld-publications.com
Islam and AIDS, Between Scorn, Pity and Justice
by Farid Esack and Sarah Chiddy
Islam and AIDS is the first book to comprehensively address the HIV/AIDS pandemic from an Islamic perspective, with contributions from a number of internationally known activists and scholars of Islam, including Kecia Ali and Abdulaziz Sachedina. With an introduction by Peter Piot, Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, this landmark work provides an insight into new possibilities of critical and progressive Islamic approaches, in both law and ethics, to one of the most urgent crises facing humankind today. Covering emotive issues such as gender, justice, poverty, health, disease, addiction, and sexuality, Islam and AIDS provides the religious analysis so essential for the communities at the forefront of the epidemic.
Farid Esack is a South African Muslim scholar, writer, and political activist. Former gender equity commissioner for Nelson Mandela, he was a founding member of both the AIDS Treatment Action Campaign and Positive Muslims. He is currently Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies, Harvard University. Sarah Chiddy has master’s degree from Harvard Divinity School and works as a spiritual counselor for people with HIV and AIDS in Boston.
“A groundbreaking, thoughtful, balanced and sober engagement of a difficult yet imperative subject. The diverse range of perspectives is realistically representative, yet visionary and humane in its conception and orientation.” Abdullahi A. An-Naim, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law “The first book on Islam and AIDS which has succeeded in putting together within a single volume the whole spectrum of attitudes and positions on the subject expressed by Muslims from different backgrounds. It has raised the debate on some of the controversies related to AIDS to a higher level.” Chandra Muzaffar,President of the International Movement for a Just World
February 4, 2009 – PinkNews
Al-Qaeda accused of using male rape to ‘create’ suicide bombers
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
Islamic terrorists are raping young men in order to drive them into suicide bombings. The Sun quotes Algerian militant Abu Baçir El Assimi: “The sexual act on young recruits aged between 16 to 19 was a means to urge them to commit suicide operations.” The paper claims that “intense social stigma and fear of more gay sex attacks leaves Muslims prepared to die.”
Rape and homosexual acts are punishable by death under Sharia law. A suspected terrorist bomber killed in an attempted attack on a security installation in the Tizi Ouzou province of Algeria last month may have been raped, an autopsy revealed. News source Ennahar Online said there was “a large tear in the anus of the terrorist, which confirms the sexual abuse. In addition, semen analysis is underway to determine the perpetrator.
“The young terrorist subject of sexual abuse, was aged 22, from Diar El Djemaâ, ElHarrach. He would have joined terrorist groups in March 2008. He was a candidate to execute a suicide operation in the region of Boumerdes.” The al-Qaeda terrorist movement is a loose association spread across nations from Algeria to Iraq. Terrorists have been trained in camps in Sudan and Afghanistan.
Cells operating in the US and western Europe have claimed responsibility for a range of suicide attacks including the attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11th 2001. Al-Qaeda has also been linked to an insurgency in Algeria. Characteristic al-Qaeda techniques include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets.
04 February 2008 – The Jakarta Post
Islam ‘recognizes homosexuality’
by Abdul Khalik, The Jakarta Post
Homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus permissible within Islam, a discussion concluded here Thursday. Moderate Muslim scholars said there were no reasons to reject homosexuals under Islam, and that the condemnation of homosexuals and homosexuality by mainstream ulema and many other Muslims was based on narrow-minded interpretations of Islamic teachings.
Siti Musdah Mulia of the Indonesia Conference of Religions and Peace cited the Koran’s al-Hujurat (49:3) that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation.
“There is no difference between lesbians and nonlesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety,” she told the discussion organized by nongovernmental organization Arus Pelangi. “And talking about piety is God’s prerogative to judge,” she added.”The essence of the religion (Islam) is to humanize humans, respect and dignify them.”
Musdah said homosexuality was from God and should be considered natural, adding it was not pushed only by passion. Mata Air magazine managing editor Soffa Ihsan said Islam’s acknowledgement of heterogeneity should also include homosexuality. He said Muslims needed to continue to embrace ijtihad (the process of making a legal decision by independent interpretation of the Koran and the Sunnah) to avoid being stuck in the old paradigm without developing open-minded interpretations. Another speaker at the discussion, Nurofiah of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said the dominant notion of heterogeneity was a social construction, leading to the banning of homosexuality by the majority.
“Like gender bias or patriarchy, heterogeneity bias is socially constructed. It would be totally different if the ruling group was homosexuals,” she said. Other speakers said the magnificence of Islam was that it could be blended and integrated into local culture. “In fact, Indonesia’s culture has accepted homosexuality. The homosexual group in Bugis-Makassar tradition called Bissu is respected and given a high position in the kingdom. Also, we know that in Ponorogo (East Java) there has been acknowledgement of homosexuality,” Arus Pelangi head Rido Triawan said.
Condemnation of homosexuality was voiced by two conservative Muslim groups, the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) and Hizbut Thahir Indonesia (HTI). “It’s a sin. We will not consider homosexuals an enemy, but we will make them aware that what they are doing is wrong,” MUI deputy chairman Amir Syarifuddin said. Rokhmat, of the hardline HTI, several times asked homosexual participants in attendance to repent and force themselves to gradually return to the right path.
March 30, 2009 – PinkNews
Comment: False hope – LGBT rights in the Middle East
by Omar Hassan
Execution, public humiliation and imprisonment have long plagued the lives of the LGBT community in the Middle Eastern world. It is a well-known fact that “LGBT individuals are at a constant struggle,” notes the Imaan secretariat (an organisation dedicated to the wellbeing of gay Muslims, based in Britain). “[They] must [fight] for the right to be LGBT…[and] for the freedom to love somebody of the same sex,” he argues further.
Brian Whitaker, of the Guardian, who authored the book ‘Unspeakable Love’, notes that the subject of homosexuality is as unmentionable in the Middle East as it was in the UK 60 years ago. This tension can be attributed largely to Islamic conservatism. In 2006, it was reported that radical Islamic militias were attacking homosexuals in Iraq; and it was only a year later that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad claimed that there were “no homosexuals in Iran”.
“Ironically, Ahmadinedjad’s remarks and the laughter from his audience probably did a lot to bring [the issue] out in the open’, Whitaker told us. Indeed, soon after, filmmaker Tanaz Eshaghian released a documentary entitled ‘Be Like Others’. The film revealed that the government had been paying for homosexual men to have sex-change operations. Arguably, this was the Iranian administration’s humane ultimatum to the death sentence, which is bestowed on any two men who wish to engage in a homosexual relationship.
At the time of the film’s release, the filmmaker stated that it was easy to find her subjects, noting that gender reassignment surgery is a “public phenomenon [even] encouraged by the Islamic clerics”. These instances do not begin to explain the extent of the pressures that one faces for being gay in this part of the world. Even at a basic level, one can argue that Arabic language in itself does not accommodate a neutral definition of the term ‘homosexual’. The most inoffensive branding for an LGBT man for instance is ‘Luti’ or ‘Shaz’, which roughly translate to mean ‘pervert’ or ‘deviant’. How then, is anyone who identifies as part of this minority group going to be able to stand up to such political, social and linguistic barriers?
Human rights activists the world over had hoped that a UN joint statement released last December would help alleviate the situation. Signed by over 60 countries, the assertion called for the decriminalization of homosexuality and the protection of various other LGBT human rights, including the protection against discrimination. However, according to human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, it is important to note that this is not a resolution.
“It has no force on international law. [Still], it is an important symbolic benchmark, being the first time that the UN General Assembly has ever heard such a statement,” he said. As expected, the statement was opposed by Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. “They will ignore it…[and it will] have little moderating effect on their abuse of LGBT citizens”, argues Tatchell. Undeniably, Middle Eastern politicians and religious figures are prone to use arguments relating to cultural rights and relativism, claiming that the West (and its allies) have no authority to infringe on any nation’s legal system, regardless of whether the matter concerns the seemingly universal human rights to life, freedom and personal liberty.
Indeed, one can make an example out of the public reaction to the Queen Boat raid, which took place in Cairo nearly eight years ago. At the time, the relatively liberal Egyptian government enforced a crackdown on an unofficial floating gay nightclub, which was moored on the Nile. The raids subsequently lead to 52 arrests, with many of the victims claiming to be arbitrarily detained whilst simply passing by the docks. The men involved were publicly humiliated (whilst in court, they were placed in cages) with their faces splashed across the covers of newspapers. Although there is no law in Egypt that explicitly bans homosexual practice, the accused men were charged on the grounds of ‘debauchery’. In the end, over twenty of those arrested faced sentences which ranged between three to five years in prison. Many of those who were released returned home to find that they had lost their jobs and were rejected by their families.
Hossam Bahgat, an Egyptian human rights activist and journalist who was working at the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) at the time, protested against these injustices. He argued that the administration was using the raid as a means to sidetrack public focus from the impending recession, its Western alliances (which are unpopular with the public) and to quell the tensions growing in the Islamic Brotherhood (who are of increasing importance in the Egyptian political arena). Soon after speaking out, Bahgat was removed from his position at the EOHR. The EOHR’s secretary-general, Hafez Abu Saada told the press at the time: “Personally, I don’t like the subject of homosexuality, and I don’t want to defend them.” He also went on to explain that sexual preference was not a human right.
At the same time, the Egyptian government went so far as to arrest individuals who used online chat rooms and social networking websites as a means for sourcing homosexual relationships.Futhermore, reports were circulating that government officials were masquerading as potential suitors in order to set gay men up for arrest. Scott Long of Human Rights Watch has spoken previously about this matter, asserting that when governments crack down on homosexual gathering places, whether real or online, 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 said.
In turn, the politicians, journalists and even the human rights activists of the Middle Eastern world are arguing back at egalitarian impositions that beg for the equal rights of the LGBT community. Considering the sensitivity of the issue and the rise of anti-Islamic attitude in the West, it is very easy for Islamic states to claim that announcements (such as the UN statement) are imperial infringements by the secular West on the Islamic world. Accordingly, it is evident that the UN’s efforts will reap only meagre benefits for the distressed LGBT community in the Middle East. How then do we begin to envisage change in the region for this vulnerable community? On an individual basis, many Middle Easterners seeking an escape believe that Western states should implement more liberal asylum policies towards LGBT groups.
However, if we are going to be realistic about safeguarding the rights of these communities than we need a new strategy. The West must use political leverage to bring LGBT rights up on the international agenda as, undeniably, many of the biggest gay rights’ abuses committed in the Middle East are by Western allies. Undoubtedly, this will require significant effort, especially considering that many of the Arabs and Muslims who live in the diaspora also occupy negative attitudes towards homosexuals. Still, the beliefs of an increasingly blindsided religious majority should not take precedence over anyone’s basic humanity. According to Tatchell, what is most likely to change is the self-organisation of LGBT people in Muslim states, as has happened in Lebanon, through the work of the LGBT group, Helem.
“Some…changes might also come through HIV prevention work, where governments will have to reluctantly recognise the LGBT communities in order to combat the HIV pandemic,” he added. Whitaker argues further that “it is becoming more difficult to keep a lid on discussion of homosexuality in the Middle East”. “Western debates about gay priests, films like Brokeback Mountain, and even George Michael’s arrest [coupled with the use of the internet] are all heightening gay awareness” in the region, he says.
However until these governments recognise that gay rights are of importance, it should be the obligation of the international community to take a holistic approach to ensuring the protection of this vulnerable LGBT population. Only then, will the new UN statement be able to ensure that our universal human rights are protected.
Omar is a writer and freelance journalist. He has also been involved with a range of TV production companies and currently has a film project in development. Born in Cairo, Egypt, he has lived in the U.S.A and Saudi Arabia and currently resides in the United Kingdom.
July 12, 2009 – The Sunday Times
Why can’t Muslims be gay and proud?
Theologian Amanullah De Sondy wants Islam to tolerate homosexuality again, just as it did generations ago
by Joan McAlpine
You don’t expect to start an interview with a leading Muslim academic by discussing the state of Rafael Nadal’s knees. But Dr Amanullah De Sondy, from Glasgow University’s School of Divinity, is a bit different from your average theologian. He has just returned to Scotland from Wimbledon, where he worked as an umpire for the second year running. Our dinner-time meeting has to be rescheduled because of the late finish of the men’s final between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.
De Sondy was living in All England Lawn Tennis Club accommodation overlooking Federer’s garden until the day before we meet. But it is where he chose to watch the Centre Court action last Sunday that is most interesting. He could have stayed in London, but had promised to attend church in Dumbarton with a Christian friend; “as I do now and then”. They joined the minister for lunch, and spent an enjoyable afternoon watching the tennis from the comfort of the manse.
When we finally meet he is charming and informal. He wears jeans and a loose, embroidered tunic in the traditional South Asian style. It makes him look rather like a Bollywood heart-throb. Recently poached by a leading New York college, it is easy to imagine him making quite an impact on the American academic circuit. De Sondy is militantly ecumenical; he counts priests and rabbis among his friends. However, his commitment to good interfaith relations is the least controversial thing about him.
Several leading publishers are vying to buy his recently completed PhD thesis as a book. At the moment it is called “Constructions of masculinities in Islamic traditions, societies and cultures, with a specific focus on India and Pakistan between the 18th and the 21st century”. With a racier title (How about “Men, Sex and Islam”?) it is easy to see its commercial potential. It challenges assumptions about what it means to be a Muslim man. The Koran does not, says De Sondy, demand a bearded patriarch with several wives and dozens of children. There are dysfunctional families in Islamic tradition, he says, prophets without father figures and revered holy men who led “effeminate” lifestyles. Most controversially, he challenges homophobia in Islam. “Homosexuality is not incompatible with Islam. The two can and have co-existed. The important thing is to link it with living a good life and creating a good society.”
He disagrees with those who claim the Koran condemns homosexual practices. Gay men are regularly put to death in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, so this is explosive stuff. “If you ask them privately, the vast majority of my generation of Muslims are deeply homophobic,” he says. “I think it is particularly entrenched because so many Muslim societies are rooted in traditional ideas of the family and patriarchy. It’s time to challenge all of that.”
De Sondy knows his conservative opponents will use one particular story, which appears in both the Koran and the Bible, to justify oppression. This is when God sends angels to destroy the sinful inhabitants of Sodom. “It is often said to illustrate God’s disappproval of homosexuality. But on closer inspection it is really about his disapproval of the rape of young boys that was happening in the place. There is a big difference.”
Intolerance is not necessarily part of Muslim tradition, De Sondy argues. Islamic cultures are diverse and, historically, there are examples of people living openly in same-sex relationships. He blames conservative political Islam, spread by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Saudi Wahhabi sect, for creating a puritanism which limits sexual freedom and demands the subjugation of women.
“In the 16th-century Punjab, there lived a Sufi \ saint and poet called Shah Hussain who is greatly venerated. He fell in love with a Hindu boy. They lived together and are buried side by side in the same tomb. Pilgrims come to the tomb and shrine in Lahore district even today, but some people want to rewrite history, saying the boy was in fact a girl.” He also points to the presence of “antinomian Sufis in the Indian subcontinent — men who have pierced ears and dance in women’s clothing”.
The concept of antinomianism probably comes close to describing De Sondy’s own academic approach. Rooted in the Greek word for unlawful, it can be applied to people of any religious denomination who do not consider themselves bound by traditional ethics or morality. They believe salvation comes through faith alone. De Sondy argues that the central tenet of Islam is submission to God; this is what the word means. “Everything else is secondary to that, whether it be ideas about women being second-class or veiled, or men being patriarchs. These are cultural constructions. They are rituals. What we really need to ask if we want to know whether something is right or wrong is: ‘Does it affect our relationship with God?’”
Still only 29, De Sondy is a second-generation Scottish Pakistani who grew up in the shadow of the Gothic university in the west end of Glasgow, where he attended Hillhead high school. His father travelled the world before settling in Scotland and served as a policeman in Hong Kong. His mother, a talented seamstress, did not finish primary school. Although conservative in religious belief, they had friends from diverse backgrounds and De Sondy’s father was popular with the white Scottish customers at his newsagents in Pollokshields.
It was one of these customers, an elderly catholic woman, who changed the course of De Sondy’s life. When she stopped coming to the shop, she wrote to his father to say she was ill and in a hospice. De Sondy, then 16, found the letter and began visiting her. They struck up an unlikely but strong friendship. When she died, she left him a small legacy, which he spent studying Arabic at religious schools in France, Jordan and Syria. “I began to realise that these schools were very conservative. It made me ask questions,” he recalls.
On his return to Scotland, he enrolled for a degree in religious studies and education at Stirling University and is qualified to teach about all world religions. “Some Muslims have asked me how on earth I can teach about other religions. But there is no reason why not.”
Forced conversion and demonisation of “the infidel” are not Islamic, he says. He points out that the Prophet Mohammed took as his wife a Coptic Christian woman. She refused to convert to his new religion and he accepted this. Although De Sondy argues that the Koran was written for a tribal society and should not be interpreted literally, he still believes in its primacy. “The Islamists are free to interpret it in their own way. I hope to challenge that, however,” he says.
Outwith academia, he writes a popular blog called Progressive Scottish Muslims. Many Muslims privately approve of it, but remain wary of publicly supporting him for fear of a backlash from hard liners. He likes to undermine stereotypes. He has just returned the kilt he wore to receive his PhD at Glasgow University two weeks ago. “I am very proud of both my Pakistani and Scottish heritage,” he says.
As a student, he was a member of the SNP but worries the Scottish government is too close to conservative Islam. “They should be careful. The Westminster government allied itself closely with the Muslim Council of Britain, then discovered some of its leaders opposed commemorating the Jewish Holocaust annd supported the jihad against Salman Rushdie.” Soon he will fly to America, where he has accepted a post as assistant professor in world religions at Ithaca College, one of the country’s most respected teaching universities, in upstate New York.
“I think it is easier to speak out and ask questions in the US,” he says. “Many Muslims in this country, because they originate in Pakistan and India, have been shaped by the Raj, by notions of anti-imperialism. In the States, it’s different. They are not obsessed with Islam versus the West and they are obviously not anti-American. They can therefore concentrate on nuances of faith and how it is practised.” There is the added attraction of more tennis. He hopes to umpire at the US Open, which, by fortunate coincidence, takes place in New York City, a short hop from his new home.
29 July 2009 – Guardian.co.uk
What’s it like being a gay Muslim?
EastEnders’ current romantic storyline featuring a gay Muslim character has caused a stir. But what is it really like to be gay within Britain’s Muslim communities?
by Homa Khaleeli, The Guardian
Pav Akhtar is not usually a fan of soaps. But the 30-year-old local councillor and Unison worker has been paying special attention since EastEnders introduced its first gay Muslim character. Akhtar, the chair of Imaan, an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims, advised the BBC on the storyline in the hope that the character of Syed Masood would help tackle the double discrimination of homophobia and Islamophobia that many gay Muslims face.
The Muslim theologian Amanullah De Sondy said recently that the vast majority of Muslims were “deeply homophobic”, and a survey carried out this summer among British Muslims reported that 0% of those questioned thought homosexuality was “morally acceptable”. Yet, so far, the taboo-busting EastEnders storyline has not sparked the expected deluge of complaints – in fact, the soap’s first gay Muslim kiss attracted a healthy 7.9 million viewers. But what is it like being gay and Muslim in the UK today?
It’s good that a soap opera is tackling this. The EastEnders storyline may cause a bit of outrage, but anything that gets people talking can only be a good thing. I don’t think we should sweep everything under the carpet – people should be challenged. My family are liberal Muslims and I think coming out to them has been no different than if I was Jewish or Christian. But although I am out to my immediate family, I’m not out to my community, so I don’t want to identify myself fully. I couldn’t reconcile my sexuality with their teachings, and so I lost my faith.
I was religious up to my mid-teens, but once I started to understand my sexuality, I became confused. My understanding was that in Islam homosexuality was seen in the same way asadultery. That sends a message that being gay is something to be ashamed of and not socially acceptable. It was really upsetting and I would pray to Allah to turn me straight. At that point, if I could have done anything to make myself straight I would have done.
When my parents found out, my father did not really understand. But he tried hard to learn. The debate about lowering the age of consent was going on at the time, and he would cut out articles and videotape TV programmes to show me when I came home. He even went to a gay bookshop and bought a book about being the parent of a gay son. It really meant a lot to me. My mum was very different. She is a practising Muslim and has been to hajj twice. She cried for about three days when I told her. That was 15 years ago and I still can’t talk to her openly about it. I want to, but I can’t do it yet.
Farzana Fiaz, 37 Journalist
I don’t know about this report that said 0% of British Muslims believed being gay was acceptable. That has not been my experience or the experience of my friends. But I think Muslims do find the concept of having an identity based around sexuality an alien concept. I’m out to all of my friends and most people who know me, but despite being chair of an organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims, I have never identified myself in interviews before because I have tried to be respectful of my family’s religious and cultural sensibilities. But recently I was outed by a relative to family members both in the UK and in Pakistan. Now I realise I don’t want to give anyone that kind of power over me again.
I was brought up with a narrow interpretation of Islam from a traditional, working-class Pakistani perspective and believed, like everyone else, that being gay was wrong. I suppose this is still the dominant Muslim interpretation, but it’s not the only one. It was a very difficult time when I realised I was mostly gay in my early 20s; that it wasn’t just a passing phase. I had something of a nervous breakdown: I couldn’t stop crying for days, I had nightmares, I couldn’t sleep alone, I thought I was going to hell for feeling the way I did. I didn’t know any gay Muslims, or gay Asians even, so I couldn’t discuss the religious side with anyone.
Eventually I saw a meeting advertised in the Pink Paper looking for gay Muslims for a support group. Through Imaan, I listened to scholars and open-minded imams, and discovered that, like many things in the Qu’ran, there can be different interpretations about homosexuality.
When an Arabic paper picked up the story of our first conference, an extremist group issued afatwa against us. The police sent 40 riot officers to protect us. After 9/11, we experienced Islamophobia including from within the gay community – at Gay Pride, some of the crowd heckled us, and even a Pride steward referred to us as terrorists. True, most of the threats we had at Imaan came from Muslims, but they were also more generally from men.
I started telling my mum I was gay about 10 years ago. It took her about 10 years to accept and I’d have to reiterate it when the issue of marriage came up. When I told her the truth, she told me to pray and ask God to forgive me, but she would never disown me. Now she says maybe I know more about it – she left school at 16 in Pakistan, while I studied Arabic at university and researched the subject a lot, so she does take my opinion seriously.
Ibrahim, 40s Charity worker
I think things are getting worse for gay Muslims because of the more extreme interpretations of Islam around today. The Muslim community is more homophobic – at least towards those who are out and comfortable. People have become brainwashed and no longer want to think about the true meaning of Islam.
I’ve seen Muslim men sent to the US for electric shock treatment to “cure” them of their homosexuality; I know of gay men who have been murdered in “honour killings” – in fact, the police often contact our sexual health organisation if there is an unexplained death of a young Muslim man to check if he is on our database. I have even heard parents tell their children they would rather they were suicide bombers than gay.
Because of this attitude there are lots of men who outwardly lead an Islamic lifestyle, who are married and go to prayers on a Friday, but then go and pick up men for sex. They don’t see that they’re gay. I’ve worked with rabbis and imams and the one thing they agree on is that gay men should either marry women or abstain. But abstinence is not an option to most human beings and I always ask, “Would you marry your daughter to someone you knew was gay? Do you think they would be happy with him?” The nikah (Islamic marriage service) is not gender-specific, so why not just let gay Muslim men marry each other?
Many Muslims think gay culture is about promiscuous sex, drugs and drinking. But being a gay Muslim can mean committing to one relationship. If gay Muslims marry each other, it would discourage double lives and promiscuity. The imams I have said this to agree with me, but say they can’t say that in public.
My family know I’m gay; we don’t talk about it, but they have always known – probably before I did. My mother told me to be myself. But I was bullied very badly at school. It was continuous – homophobic and racist – and it stopped me completing my education. I used to pray to Allah to ask him to make me straight; I even visited the shrines of Sufi saints. Then I spoke to scholars, imams and academics and I learned that there’s no word for homosexuality in the Qur’an, but it does teach you to respect the diversity in the world and be honest – which is what I am doing. So now I’m looking for a partner for life, who will accept me and my religion.
Pav Akhtar, 30, Union worker and local councillor
I really welcome the gay character in EastEnders because I want people to engage in the discussion. The Masoods are brilliant – even if they are caricatures, like all other soap opera characters.
I grew up in a household where no sexuality was discussed – it didn’t exist. That’s true of many British Asian families. You feel like you’re not supposed to have any sexual feelings – we had to switch channels if anyone was kissing on TV. It was a working-class Asian family, and I went to the mosque five times a week and was very attached to my faith.
My sisters and brothers are very supportive – I took my partner to Pakistan to visit my family there last year, and that was fine. My mother knows, but I have never actually discussed it with her, although I have introduced her to my “friends”. With parents it’s not just a cultural taboo, but their concern that without marriage and a family you will be alone.
21 August 2009 – The Local
Transgender belly dancer helps launch Arab gay initiative
by Rami Abdelrahman
As a human rights group publishes details of a bloody campaign of hate being waged against gays in Iraq, Rami Abdelrahman speaks to members of a recently founded initiative for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Arabs in Sweden. Dressed in a flashy black belly-dancing outfit, Nancy is a hobby transgender dancer from Iraq, ready to take to the stage with full make-up and skinny high heels. She is preparing to entertain more than 200 other Arab gays, lesbians and transgender people in Stockholm, Sweden.
The setting is the Stockholm headquarters of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL). The occasion is the launch of Arab Initiative, the first Arab LGBT rights group in Europe. Nancy has been in Sweden six years now. She lives with her Iraqi family in a Stockholm suburb and hides her preferred gender identity and hobby from her family.
“I was a hobby trans even back in Iraq. I believe most of my friends back then were bisexuals, they just refused to admit it, even if I had a relationship with them,” Nancy says, as she keeps watch of the entrance to the RFSL party premises. She lets a fellow Iraqi in, and kisses him on both cheeks. Turning around, Nancy says her family would never accept her lifestyle and explains how she has to stay out with other Iraqi friends when she’s in town dressed up as the person she prefers to be. “However, people here are more open to accepting a transgender belly dancer than in the Middle East.”
Ali, who started the Arab Initiative, takes some time off from serving alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks to members and their friends to speak about the purpose of the organization. “Our aim is to create new bridges between European and Arab cultures, spread information about the Arab world in Sweden, support LGBT people with an Arabic background, and hopefully to bring more tolerance and understanding of their issues and defend their rights in Sweden and abroad,” he says.
“We as Arabs are discriminated against in general as an immigrant group, and then we are discriminated against again amongst our own minority for being gay,” he adds.
Ali and his peers have received funding from the European Union, which supports several LGBT organizations for immigrant minorities around Europe. Since its establishment last May, the Arab Initiative has held parties, partaken in two Pride festivals, arranged three film showings, and four seminars. “We have been making connections with LGBT groups in the Middle East, promoting ourselves locally through word of mouth, and standing up for LGBT rights against media producers who portray this particular group in a negative way.”
Ali adds that it is not a political organization, but mostly a place for Arab LGBT people to find support and meet their peers. Karin Båge, head of RFSL in Stockholm, says that her group was contacted by the Arab Initiative. RFSL quickly gave the group full access to its premises, skills, and contacts. The difficulties faced by gays in Iraq was brought into sharp relief this week as Human Rights Watched published details of a murderous militia-led campaign against homosexuals in the Middle Eastern country. In response, RFSL called on the Swedish government to halt all deportations to Iraq of people who have sought asylum on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.
“We urge Sweden to investigate the possibility of evacuating homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people who are at risk of being subjected to ‘sexual cleansing’,” RFSL chairperson Sören Juvas wrote in a press release on Monday. Sa’ad Ibrahim, 37, is an Iraqi citizen who was granted asylum last May after being threatened with death due to his sexual orientation.
“One day in 2006, I received a call between 8 and 9 in the evening when I had arrived home from work. A friend of mine told me that another friend of ours had disappeared. So we asked around and after ten days we found out that his dismembered body had been found. Three of my friends were killed this way. I am the only one alive in my previous circle of friends,” Sa’ad tells The Local. He had previously received written threats in his ladies’ shoe shop in a conservative Shiite district of Baghdad, where he was told he was a “fag” and that “God hates fags.”
“Around 9.30 to 10 at night there were six people asking about me around the corner. I got the message to leave before they made it to my shop: I escaped through the back door and left everything behind me. I went far away to my uncle’s place where I stayed for the next five months. Every day I would imagine myself torn to pieces.” He made his way to Sweden through a smuggling network, using up all the money he had managed to gather. When he came to Sweden he was devastated and lonely, he says.
“Now I am very happy because here I am able to mingle and mix with all sorts of people. I met an Iranian man who became my boyfriend. I fell in love with him, as he took me to the Pride festival, which turned my life around 180 degrees. I was totally amazed by the energy of the festival.”
Meanwhile, it was time for Nancy to mount the stage and wow the crowd with her belly dancing shakes to Arabic music. Swedes, Arabs, Africans and people of other ethnicities, men and women, straight and gay, gathered around the stage and clapped to the rhythm – a sight unseen in any Arab country. Ali said the Arab Initiative will be organizing similar parties this autumn. The soonest will be in observation of Ramadan, the holy fasting month in the Islamic calendar, which starts this Saturday.
September 12, 2009, 3:25 PM – My.Kali.magszine
Middle East LGBT Monthly Magazine
My.Kali.mag has just published its September 2009 issue.
–Discover new visions of religions and sexuality, a taboo subject that’s been under the hush-hush, since always!
–From London read Ali’s new fantasy in the ‘heaven of gays’, never to miss our London-based interview-review with one Islamic organization for gay Muslims ‘Imaan’.
–An up-close talk with model of month, Amar, including pictures.
Check all that out now, Keep your gay and non-gay agenda updated with the latest news, articles and reviews. You can get to the site here
September 30, 2009 – PinkNews
Gay MEP Michael Cashman criticises UN General Assembly president’s ‘unacceptable’ anti-gay views
by Jessica Geen
Gay MEP Michael Cashman has condemned homophobic comments made by the new United Nations General Assembly president. As PinkNews.co.uk reported last week, Ali Abdussalam Treki said that homosexuality is “not really acceptable”. Treki, who is the Libyan secretary of African Union Affairs, opened the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly last Friday with a press conference.
One question concerned the UN resolution which calls for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality. In reply, Treki said: “That matter is very sensitive, very touchy. As a Muslim, I am not in favour of it . . . it is not accepted by the majority of countries. My opinion is not in favour of this matter at all. I think it’s not really acceptable by our religion, our tradition. “It is not acceptable in the majority of the world. And there are some countries that allow that, thinking it is a kind of democracy . . . I think it is not,” he added.
In a statement released today, Cashman attacked the “inappropriate and unacceptable” comments. He said: “Such statements are totally inappropriate and unacceptable. He must now speak on behalf of those who do not have a voice and forget his religious beliefs which must remain private. He must realise that the implications of his words could legitimise violence towards LGBT people.”
Cashman, who is the president of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on LGBT rights, called on Treki to “think again” and added: “He is there to defend the principles of the United Nations and that includes the Universal Declaration Human Rights Act 1948 and all following amendments and covenants of rights, including LGBT human rights.” The resolution on homosexuality which Treki referred to was signed by 66 countries and passed last December.
September 17, 2009 – Spiegel OnLine
The Gay Sons of Allah – Wave of Homophobia Sweeps the Muslim World
by Juliane von Mittelstaedt and Daniel Steinvorth
In most Islamic countries, gay men and women are ostracized, persecuted and in some cases even murdered. Repressive regimes are often fanning the flames of hatred in a bid to outdo Islamists when it comes to spreading “moral panic.”
Bearded men kidnapped him in the center of Baghdad, threw him into a dark hole, chained him down, urinated on him, and beat him with an iron pipe. But the worst moment for Hisham, 40, came on the fourth day of his ordeal when the kidnappers called his family. He was terrified they would tell his mother that he is gay and that this was the reason they had kidnapped him. If they did he would never be able to see his family again. The shame would be unbearable for them. “Do what you want to me, but don’t tell them,” he screamed.
Instead of humiliating him in the eyes of his family, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $50,000 (€33,000), a huge sum for the average Iraqi family. His parents had to go into debt and sell off all of their son’s possessions in order to raise the money required to secure his freedom. Shortly after they received the ransom the kidnappers threw Hisham out of their car somewhere in the northern part of Baghdad. They decided not to shoot him and let him go. But they sent him on his way with a warning: “This is your last chance. If we ever see you again, we’ll kill you.”
That was four months ago. Hisham has since moved to Lebanon. He told his family that he had decided to flee the violence and terror in Baghdad and that he had found work in Beirut. Needless to say he didn’t disclose the fact that he is unable to live in Iraq because of the death squads who are out hunting for “effeminate-looking” men.
In Baghdad a new series of murders began early this year, perpetrated against men suspected of being gay. Often they are raped, their genitals cut off, and their anuses sealed with glue. Their bodies are left at landfills or dumped in the streets. The non-profit organization Human Rights Watch, which has documented many of these crimes, has spoken of a systematic campaign of violence involving hundreds of murders.
Read the entire artilce here
October 14, 2009 – Anderson Cooper Blog
Women, bloggers & gays lead change in the Arab World
by Octavia Nasr | BIO
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs
The Arab Middle East teaches minorities some tough life lessons and shapes them in ways that might surprise you. While the effect of a conservative patriarchal society is expected to keep people under the thumb of tradition, culture and tribal and religious beliefs – sometimes too much oppression and control yields opposite results. Having lived in several parts of the Middle East as a child, I learned that a woman doesn’t exist except as someone’s daughter, sister, wife or mother. Her opinion is not required, her emotions don’t count and she has no rights whatsoever – except those granted to her by a male.
With a few recent exceptions, an Arab woman’s testimony is not accepted in court. Most Arab women can’t travel outside their countries without permission from a male guardian, and most Arab women still can’t give nationality to their children. In Saudi Arabia women are not even allowed to drive cars. A popular Arabic saying describes it best: a good woman “has a mouth that eats but not one that speaks.” The Arab Middle East taught me that sexual expression is exclusive to men. Men can have pre-marital sex, and when they’re married, their extra-marital affairs are ignored, justified or blamed on the wives. Their bodies are their own to do with them what they want. A woman’s body, however, represents her family’s honor. So, girls and women are expected to cover their bodies and repress their sexual feelings to protect the honor of the family.
This is such a deeply-rooted belief that, to this day, girls and women are killed by fathers, brothers or cousins at the suspicion of sexual activity. Even if a girl or woman is the victim of rape or assault, she can be killed under the pretext of “cleansing the family’s honor.” The practice known as “Honor Killing” is still common among all religions in the Middle East; it is even justified under the law and carries no penalty.
As someone who grew up and spent my early adulthood in the Middle East, I also learned that men run the show and they run it for life. Imagine that with the exception of a few, all Arab leaders haven’t changed since I was a child; and those who died were replaced by their sons. So far, the customary behavior has been such that if you wanted change, you had to ask men for their permission, their blessing, their support, their approval, their orders, and their actions to bring that change.
The women in my family were very active in the women’s rights movement of the 60s, 70s and 80s. Men listened to them, gave them a forum to express their desire to become equal through conferences, speeches and occasional articles in the media. They even gave them some rights – like the right to vote in some countries and the right to run for office in others. But, women’s rights were always controlled by men’s approval and that didn’t go far at all. As a matter of fact, a quick look at the Arab Middle East shows you that with very few exceptions it remains a region controlled by the ruling few who are unwilling to relinquish power. They resist change as if it were a contagious disease that will lead to their demise if they ever catch it.
Read Article HERE
New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books reviews: Gay City News and Philadelphia Gay News
More Lesbian and Gay Muslim Websites:
–Gay Middle East
–Social support group
–Web site aims for a broad-based reformation, social justice, gender equality, pluralism and free inquiry
–Arab Gateway–includes pages on gay Islam
–Safra Muslim Lesbian Project
–Mithly.com -“find true value in self-actualization and self-expression”
The majority of Muslim countries, including supposedly ‘liberal’ ones like Tunisia as well as dictatorships like Sudan, outlaw same-sex relationships. See full article (October 2000)
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