Magazine article USA TODAY

To Arms over LGBT?

Magazine article USA TODAY

To Arms over LGBT?

Article excerpt

"It is time for our government to stop trying to whip up public support for our wars on Muslim countries by claiming that we are 'bringing them democracy,' 'saving Muslim women,' or, now, 'defending gays and lesbians.'"

WITHOUT being told, I found it impossible in the three Arab countries I lived in to say who was a lesbian. Arab women, both Muslim and Christian, are strong. They cany themselves with pride, appear comfortable in their bodies, and clearly possess a high degree of self-esteem. Arab women who I knew were married often reminded me of lesbians I had met in the U.S. The prevalence of physical demonstrations of affection among members of the same sex in Arab countries adds to the difficulty of discerning who is gay and who is straight. The whole issue of sex is private, rarely discussed-and even a heterosexual couple will not hold hands, much less kiss, in public.

Then there is the fact that men might have relationships with other men, and yet be married and have families. I was aware of this, especially in Cairo in the late 1970s, because I worked with American men who were open about the fact that they had Egyptian male lovers. I commented to one of these Americans that I was impressed at the size of the gay community in Cairo, only to hear him say, "What community? We don't have a gay community. We are just ourselves."

I was even more surprised when he told me that he had had a relationship with a woman some years before. I wondered if this viewpoint related to an interesting difference in Arab sexuality as compared to sexuality as it is lived here in the U.S. Was it possible that sexuality in Arab societies was more diffuse, that perhaps there was not the binary identification as gay or lesbian or straight there is in the West?

Whether this was true or not, I do not have enough experience to know. Even if true, this might be changing in more recent times, perhaps influenced by the gay rights movement in the West. On the other hand, I was told there were lesbians in the Palestinian community, and there was one city in the West Bank where people said many men were gay.

The world population, including most in the Muslim world, watch horrified as ISIS kills Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and men accused of being gay are shown in videos being thrown off rooftops. In the Syrian penal code, clearly not that of ISIS, "unnatural sexual intercourse" is punishable by up to three years in jail.

Most Arab countries still have laws on their books that restrict sexual freedom. Some of these laws, interestingly, date to colonial days, when Arab societies were seen as perverted in the eyes of their Western colonizers. Lebanon, for instance, criminalizes what it calls "sexual intercourse contrary to nature" in a law derived from the French mandate period. In Saudi Arabia, the U.S. government's principal ally in the Middle East, a married man engaging in sodomy or any non-Muslim who commits sodomy with a Muslim can be stoned to death. All sex outside of marriage is illegal.

However, laws vary across the Muslim world. In Islam, there are many points of view and many interpretations of the religion's two scriptural sources, the Qur'an and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad. As in the Christian world, the laws of each country have been-and continue to be-made mostly by males; these men create laws as they see fit. There is not one monolithic body called Islam, any more than there is one monolithic Arab point of view, which is consistent over time and across the region. Beliefs of ISIS and more conservative versions of Islam, like that in Saudi Arabia, are not representative of the world's 1,600,000,000 Muslims.

That said, there are passages in Islamic texts that clearly favor heterosexual marriage, and there are certain passages in the Qur'an (4:1516 and of the story of Lot), along with a collection of inconsistent ahadith that condemn sodomy, but the same can be said of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Talmud-and I personally know quite a number of Muslim gays and lesbians who, like LGBT Christians and Jews, regard the homophobic texts of their religion as irrelevant to their standing before God. …

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