Whitaker on the “Brokeback Desert” March 23, 2006Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Homosexualists, Islam, Responses.
Brian Whitaker, who often writes interesting things about Arabs and Muslims, is very interested in the subject of being gay and Arab. He has long hosted a list of links (one-sided, and it's not my side!) about "Gay and lesbian Muslims" on his site.
He has a book coming out in May on the issue, called Unspeakable Love: Gay and lesbian life in the Middle East. Blurb:
Homosexuality is still taboo in the Arab countries. While clerics denounce it as a heinous sin, newspapers, reluctant to address it directly, talk cryptically of ‘shameful acts’ and ‘deviant behaviour’. Despite growing acceptance of sexual diversity in many parts of the world, attitudes in the Middle East have been hardening against it.
In this absorbing account, Guardian journalist Brian Whitaker paints a disturbing picture of people who live secretive, often fearful lives; of sons beaten and ostracised by their families or sent to be ‘cured’ by psychiatrists; of men imprisoned and flogged for ‘behaving like women’; of others who have been jailed simply for trying to find love on the Internet.
He now has a blog as part of the new Comment is Free collection at the Guardian. In a recent post, he tells us that "It is a pity Brokeback Mountain isn't showing in the Arab world, because it resembles current reality there."
His perspective is really one-sided, and doesn't really consider much of the religious dimension of the issue. It's worth a read for the sociological dimension, i.e. the implications of having homosexual feelings, and affirming a homosexual identity, in societies where the latter – at least – is condemned. As some comments pointed out, Whitaker may have made the Arab-West distinction a little too "black-and-white" in this regard.
I'd be interested to know more of his thoughts on the religious dilemma itself. What about the struggle that many go through just to understand their feelings, then to be confident in their identity, and to relate in the most suitable way to their Creator, considering what guidance He has revealed regarding human sexuality and behaviour? Whitaker rather takes it for granted that all his readers should accept that the modern Western understanding and attitude are the best, indeed correct, ones. Might I beg to differ?
UPDATE: Brian Whitaker has updated the sub-site about his book, which was recently launched. You can be sure that we will be getting ourselves a copy to peruse and critique (particularly the chapters about religion). A glance at his footnotes reveals reference to Scott Kugle, plus the following opinion: "Arguments equating anal sex between men with zina can be disputed. The act is physically different, as are its possible consequences…"
Out of all the comments at the Comment is Free page, I thought it might be helpful to respond to texasclaude, who criticised American Christian dislike of homosexuality by pointing out that "it was [in the past] also a sin to work on the Sabbath"… maybe it still is (from a Christian perspective)? I guess it would be clichéd to say that "Two wrongs don't make a right." I'll take this following point too, since it's so awfully common:
One must question if homosexuality is a sin, of course. I, for one, don't think that it is as how could a loving God create a person who was automatically sinful? Can a person be born a sinner? Unfortunately the Bible thumpers and bigots, even those in our highest offices, still think homosexuality is a choice. That someone would intentionally choose a lifestyle that isn't easy by any means today, even in the so-called "modern world" is beyond belief.
By all means question, but don't just dismiss. Can a Christian accept that someone would be born sinful? I'm not a Christian myself, but I suppose that notion would not be so shocking to people who do believe that children are born into Original Sin, which they are only cleansed of by accepting Christ as Saviour. Needless to say, I don't go along with that theology.
But from an Islamic perspective, we say that even if homosexual tendencies are explainable entirely by genetics etc., that does not mean that a person would be born a sinner. Sin is an action, not a state of being. Having homosexual feelings is not an action, and therefore not a sin. But nobody can deny that they have control over what they do, no matter how difficult it may become for a person to control himself.
As for the question of choosing to be homosexual, of course it is highly, highly improbable (though I suppose not impossible) on the level of feelings. But in the realm of actions and lifestyles, it is 100% a matter of choice. Is living a homosexual life easy? Sure, in many ways, no. But is it not easier, on another level, to follow one's desires than to resist and overcome them for a higher goal?
A general note: in order to conduct these debates properly, we must first agree to distinguish between actions and attractions. Otherwise, we end up muddled ourselves, and misunderstood by our interlocutors.