Socialist Review February 2006

The bigoted outburst by the magazine of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association calling Islam a ‘barmy doctrine’ is the clearest example of the co-option of many in the gay liberation movement into the barmy doctrine of the clash of civilisations.

That homosexuals around the world face oppression on a daily basis is as true of the US and Europe as it is for those living in the Muslim world. Yet, some have chosen to shift the struggle into a racist argument against Islam. Listening to Western activists speak about ‘Islamofascism’ and, in the same breath, justify holding the 2006 World Pride in occupied Jerusalem should be a clear indicator. The apartheid wall alone makes a mockery of the pride’s slogan of ‘Love Without Borders’. 

Of course, repression of gays and lesbians does exist in Muslim countries, but the Islamic traditions advocated by the majority of the ruling elites are no different than those of TV evangelist Pat Robertson or the pope. The rhetoric of family values, first introduced in the Levant and Egypt by missionaries from the US and Europe, still prevails. But this has not always been the case. The bulk of homoerotic art, literature and folk tales that historically came out of the region attests to that, as does the poetry of Abu Nuwwas in the 8th century, Omar Khayyam in the 12th century and Muhammad al-Nawaji bin Hasan (Shams al-Din) in the 15th century – all living under Islamic rule. 

Ironically, modern laws that criminalise homosexuality in many Muslim countries are a direct result of imperialist intervention and stem from the Napoleonic code. This persecution has gone hand in hand with the very modern notions of the nation-state and policing public morality.

A recent high profile case of repression was the arrest and torture of 52 men in Cairo in 2001. Scott Long from Human Rights Watch states that ‘few if any provisions in Egyptian law dealing with sexual crimes are rooted in either sharia or custom’. The defendants were tried in ‘a security tribunal which permitted no appeal. When Egypt rammed through a renewal of the emergency law creating those courts in 2003, it cited the US Patriot Act as justification.’

According to Egyptian activist Hossam Bahgat, the ‘motive is certainly to divert public attention from economic recession and the government’s liquidity crisis’.

It is true that many Muslims are homophobic. So are many Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, Jews and atheists. Nevertheless, when the pope starts a witch-hunt against gay priests, we do not hear talk about ‘Christianofascism’, although fascism, as a movement, reached its heights in Christian countries. And what about the ultraorthodox Jews who attacked the Pride rally in Jerusalem this year? ‘Judeofascism?’

Whether in countries identified as Muslim, or in secular countries with Islamic traditions, gays and lesbians are fighting back, no thanks to Western ‘humanitarian intervention’. One of the most recent examples was the forming of Helem in Lebanon. Faced with a proposed amendment to strengthen the legal code criminalising same-sex relations, a group of activists decided that their liberation would not be brought about by emulating the consumerist attitude and the ghetto mentality of the movement in the West. They also knew that they were part of an international struggle to liberate all of society. 

During the ‘Cedar Revolution’ in Lebanon last year, George Bush’s allies – both Muslim and non-Muslim – carried banners calling their opponents ‘faggots’. Their youth banned gay democracy activists from their ‘freedom camp’. Most of the leaders were recipients of generous EU and USAID donations to ‘promote human rights and democracy’.

The first time a rainbow flag was flown in a demonstration in Beirut, a city whose culture and values to a large part stem from Islam, was not during a US-sponsored realignment of the ruling class. Nor was it flown by NGOs on a mission to civilise Arab heathens. It was in 2003, during the campaign to stop the war on Iraq, when a group of gay activists joined the 15 February demonstration where it was clear that the struggle for peace and for liberation is part of that worldwide struggle against war and oppression in all its forms.