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Gay rags support war agenda July 28, 2006

Posted by Rasheed Eldin in Homosexualists, Media.
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Faisal Alam apparently doesn’t mind forwarding filth, but this innocuous-looking interview request just clicked into place in my mind alongside a bunch of surely-not-unrelated happenings in the world of LGBT advocacy.

Hi,

I am writing an article for the UK magazine Gay Times on the topic of gay rights in Syria and I would be very interested in the views of your members on the situation for LGBT people in Syria. What is the prevailaing attitude? What forms does homophobia take? How easy is it to come out to friends, family, employers? What reasons are there for society’s attitude? I am happy to publish any comments under a false name if you prefer.

[…]

Best wishes,

Debbie Stowe

Syria? Not the most common area of interest to British readers, surely. Could this be an exercise in cultural exploration, or is it rather a humble contribution to Yo Blair’s Bush-led machinations for the Middle East?

See also Al-Fil’s concerns about a recent article praising Israel and bashing Palestine at the Advocate.com. (OK, Al-Fil and I might not agree on much, but it’s worth noting that the problematic nature of the article is obvious to anyone against the Bush-Blair wars.) 

And I dare say that, whether the homosexualists meant it to be so or not, the July 19 demonstrations against Iran hanging two boys a year ago (allegedly for rape) fitted into this agenda as well as the one they were promoting primarily.

I don’t know any unique facts about that case; but below I reproduce a long statement by Scott Long of Human Rights Watch (Director, LGBT Rights Program), because it might contain important points for consideration not found elsewhere…

MORE DETAILS ABOUT MASHHAD (by Scott Long)

The one fact we–and the world–knows for certain is
that two youths in their late teens were executed in
the Iranian city of Mashhad on July 19,2005. The
*initial* reports that the youth were being executed
for “being gay” came down to the translation of a
report on the Farsi-language ISNA website. This
article was dated July 19–thus presumably posted
immediately after the executions– and referred in the
3rd paragraph to their crime only as “lavat”
(“sodomy,” from the Quranic story of Lot). This was
the part that was translated and rapidly circulated in
the Western media.

However: both the headline and the lead to the article
actually described the crime as “lavat beh
onf”–sodomy by coercion. “Onf” is an archaic term
and the article doesn’t use the colloquial term for
rape, but Iranian legal sources, and even the people
in the West who were orginally circulating an account
of the crime as solely “lavat,” agree that this is a
term of art for rape (of a male by a male).

Meanwhile, Quds daily, a local Mashhad newspaper, on
the morning of July 19–even before the
executions–contained a detailed account, apparently
based largely on court papers, of their alleged crime,
which was the rape at knifepoint of a 13-year-old
boy.

Because this information was circulated only later,
after the initial account of executions for “sodomy”
had gone round the globe, the appearance was created
that the Iranian government was in some way trying to
replace an “original” report of an execution for
consensual “sodomy” with a smokescreen story of a
rape. In fact, the chronology was the opposite,
though–the rape story came first, then became,
particularly in the West, a story of execution for
“homosexuality.”

This said, and this is important to stress, *even if*
the charge was rape–and even if the proceedings,
which were held in camera and about which we hence
know nothing substantive, could be considered to have
“proven” it–nothing can justify the execution of
people for offenses committed while minors (or, in our
view, the death penalty itself), the torture they
underwent (228 lashes) or the ferocious public
character of the executions. Professor Anna Enayat of
St Antony�s College, Oxford has documented a number of
the peculiarities of the case in comparison to other
alleged rape cases in Iran–the masked executioners,
the unusual interview on the way to the gallows–which
suggest that the youth were executed in part as a
symbolic gesture. As professor Enayat has communicated
to us, though, this doesn’t necessarily mean the
symbolic gesture was directed at homosexual conduct
per se. More likely, it was meant to show how
severely the regime planned to treat moral offenses in
general.

However, one reason for our persistent skepticism
about the subsequent attempts to prove a) that the
youths were “gay,” b) that they were executed for it,
has to do with this chronology. Several committed
themselves to this version at the start; found that
essentially all the reasons they had endorsed it
disappeared when one looked closely at the media
reports; and then, it would appear, started to search,
retrospectively, for other evidence to support the
claims they’d already made. Neither HRW nor anyone
else can say authoritatively that they are wrong or
right in continuing to make those claims. We can only
say that we are still skeptical.

The main evidence subsequently introduced for the
claim that the youth were gay comes from Afdhere Jama,
the editor of Huriyah. According to Afdhere, three
sources inside Mashhad have told him that they saw the
two youths, in the summer of 2003, together at a gay
party in Mashhad.

I have the greatest respect for Afdhere and absolutely
no reason to doubt anything he says. However, his
sources have refused to speak to anyone else,
including human rights investigators. From a
professional standpoint HRW simply can’t adduce a
second- or third-hand account as evidence. Moreover,
even if we did, it would not prove that (as one writer
says) they were “lovers, not rapists.” It wouldn’t
bear on the rape “charge” at all; it wouldn�t even
necessarily prove that they were lovers. It would
prove that they were at a party.

The other key argument is the claim that Iranian
authorities, in cases of lavat or consensual “sodomy,”
routinely add on additional charges of rape or other
crimes, extracting “confessions” to these offenses by
torture if necessary.

This claim has largely arisen since the Mashhad
executions. Given what we have already described as
the opacity of the Iranian justice system–and its
many documented irregularities and persistent
corruption–it is entirely possible. I want, though,
to run through some of the reasons that have been
offered for why the Iranian authorities might do this.

a) It’s claimed that the Iranian authorities have
learned that executing or torturing people for
homosexual conduct will incur criticism from the West
(in particular)and so they want to conceal the fact.
This doesn’t make sense to me. The regime has shown
itself fairly shameless and insusceptible to pressure
in persecuting political dissidents and ethnic and
religious minorities, all of whom have considerable
constituencies of supporters both inside and outside
the country. I don’t see why they should be
particularly embarassed about executing people
“guilty” of same-sex relations–who don’t enjoy such
strong or wide support.

b) It’s claimed that Iranian authorities want to
discredit “gays” (and presumably lesbians, though they
tend to be left out of these arguments altogether) by
smearing them with additional offenses. This also
does not make a lot of sense to me. In the regime’s
intensely moralistic view, as well as in a society
which everyone agrees is intensely patriarchal and
overtly homophobic, the accusation of homosexual
conduct should be smear enough–it is probably worse
than rape in many (not just religious) eyes. (Nor is
it evident why they should single out homosexual
conduct as requiring added opprobrium. But so far as
I know, no one has claimed the regime is at pains to
burden e.g. adulterers with additional charges to
secure their complete discredit.) To the contrary:
the Quranic and social contempt for homosexuality
seems sufficiently great that I’m somewhat surprised
the government doesn’t use lavat (as Ceausescu used
sodomy charges in old Romania) as a smear to discredit
political opponents.

c) It’s claimed that the authorities need to throw on
additional charges because charges of lavat are hard
to prove. This also doesn’t make a tremendous amount
of sense to me.

-First, the claim is predicated on the fact that most
sexual offenses in Iranian shari’a require evidence
from four witnesses to prove: but for sodomy, as for
many other such offenses, the “knowledge of the judge”
(in practice, circumstantial evidence) can substitute,
giving extremely easy scope for convictions.

-Second, this might explain why prosecutors would add
on non-sexual offenses which have a lower standard of
proof; not why they would add charges of rape which
also require, *in principle*, four witnesses.

-Finally, if you can torture people into confessing to
something else such as rape (as you undoubtedly can),
you can torture them into confessing to lavat.

d) It’s claimed that the legal system itself
encourages rape charges in cases of lavat. This could
take several forms: for instance, a participant in
consensual homosexual sex may be encouraged to claim
rape in order, as a “victim,” to escape punishment
which otherwise would strike both partners. Or
prosecutors or judges may simply refuse to believe
that (in particular) a passive partner would
voluntarily incur the “shame,” and may simply assume
one would only submit to it by force. This argument
seems to me entirely believable. I say this based also
my experience elsewhere in the region (e.g. Egypt) and
in other countries where sodomy laws give rise to
extortion and dire misrepresentation.

The problem is that, while as we say this adding-on of
charges seems plausible (particularly for reason d),
it is being presented as a proven fact–and so far as
we know no one has yet shown a single case where it
can be demonstrated as such. We haven’t even seen
instances where family members or other people close
to the case come forward to make the assertion
publicly. The plausibility of argument d) should
certainly give rise to questions about cases where
lavat is coupled with a rape charge–though hardly
enough to say anyone should throw out an alleged rape
victim’s testimony. But we cannot say without further
evidence that it is a fact of Iranian practice.

Unfortunately, in the months after the publicity
around Mashhad, a few *non-LGBT* diasporic Iranian
organizations started repeatedly reporting executions
as having been for consensual lavat. Most of these,
so far as we can make out, weren’t. Iran has one of
the highest rates of execution in the world. (Many of
these are for drug-related offenses.) There was a
spike in executions in 2005 even before Ahmedinejad
took office. The sudden attention to one particular
death-penalty case seemed to give exile groups an
opportunity and an audience for talking about the
crisis of the death penalty in Iran, which few people
had paid much attention to before. But in the process
almost any execution for any sexual (or other) offense
seemed to be capable of being called a “gay killing.”
In some of these cases there was absolutely no reason
to suppose they had anything to do with homosexual
conduct. For instance, Iran Focus reported in
September that “Four young men between the ages of 17
and 23 were hanged in public in the port city of
Bandar Abbas.” Without researching the cases further,
Doug Ireland immediately added these to his roster of
likely gay cases. In fact two of the men were
convicted of breaking into a house for robbery and of
raping a woman; and the other two allegedly raped
three young girls, 10, 7, and 8 years old. Both HRW
and IGLHRC did a statement on one case in Gorgan, in
late 2005, where the first Iranian press reports
indeed suggested that the executed men had a history
of rape and violence, but seemed to distinguish this
from the offense that led to their execution.
However, the Persian Lesbian and Gay Organization
subsequently indicated to us that in their view this
was probably a case of rape.

I should add that most of the gay-identified men (in
particular) whom we asked about the Mashhad case
during HRW’s research said they believed the men had
been hanged for consensual homosexual conduct. This
is not to be taken lightly. However, none of them had
direct knowledge of the case and I don’t discount the
possibility that they reached this conclusion largely
based on the emotional response in the Western media.
I should also note that Iran is extremely rich in
rumor and conspiracy theory. Ervand Abrahamian has an
excellent chapter on this in his collection of essays
“Khomeinism,” and more and more I feel this should be
required reading for anyone trying to negotiate a way
through what Dilip Hiro calls the Iranian labyrinth.

What we can say is that, regardless of these recent
cases, our research shows clearly that executions for
consensual “sodomy”, tried as such, do take place and
are a serious human rights issue. Surveillance and
detentions by regular police, basiji (religious
police), and other religious parapolice, are common.
People are detained regularly, in raids on private
homes and on cruising areas and as a result of other
forms of surveillance, including internet entrapment
and phone wiretaps. When they are arrested they are
tortured–flat-out, without exception. Sometimes the
torture is the result of a criminal sentence (usually
floggings); sometimes they are beaten severely or
sexually abused in pre-trial detention. Women whose
sexualities do not conform to heterosexual norms face
domestic violence, forced marriage, forced psychiatric
and medical treatment, and other abuses.

I must also stress yet again that the existence of the
death penalty for homosexual conduct, and the
widespread practice of torture, mean that governments
have an *absolute* obligation under international law
not to refoul people back to Iran where they might
face those penalties.

Scott Long

Director
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
Human Rights Watch

350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY USA 10118
Tel. +01 (212) 216-1297
Fax +01 (212) 216-1876
E-mail: longs@hrw.org

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Comments»

1. Rasheed Eldin - July 29, 2006
2. Rasheed Eldin - July 29, 2006

Mujahid briefly asked Debbie what the agenda was (without informing her of my thoughts), and this was her reply. I think she assumed Mujahid to be a “queer Muslim” himself. We reproduce it here for the sake of fairness:

———————–

In answer to your questions, Syria is the latest in a series of articles I have written on gay rights in countries/regions outside the UK, which includes Romania, Eastern Europe and Russia. Syria was chosen because a local writer approached Gay Times offering an insight and research into this area.

Insofar as there is an “agenda”, the article will be a sympathetic look at the difficulties gay people in Syria face and any headway the gay rights movement might be making. Should you wish to check my veracity, please feel at liberty to contact Gay Times directly, http://www.gaytimes.co.uk.

———————–

None of that rules out my thought that the Gay Times (rather than perhaps the writer herself) may be indirectly supporting the government’s nasty agenda (on which I merely speculate). I’m sure she will be very sympathetic to “the difficulties gay people in Syria face”, but that is not what I’m worried about.

3. John Duqesa - August 2, 2006

There was a gay disco in Aleppo when I was there and gay guys were shagging like billy-o all over the country. I had quite a few of them. Remember that whatever its faults, Syria is thankfully a secular country, as Iraq was before the Zionist-Imperialist hordes inveded.

4. Rasheed Eldin - August 5, 2006

Here’s another view from Iranian-American founders of the “Queer Iran Alliance”: http://www.gaycitynews.com/gcn_531/peopletopeople.html

Excerpt:
———————————————–
Our suspicion of the cyber-writers is deepened by the language and attitude that they have adopted to talk about Iran. For example, Peter Tatchel, the head of OutRage!, proclaimed, “This is just the latest barbarity by the Islamo-fascists in Iran,” and he goes on to advocate economic sanctions and political isolation for Iran. And Doug Ireland has repeatedly used the word “pogrom” to refer to the situation of sexual minorities. This language is more in harmony with the “clash of civilizations” rhetoric adopted by the Bush administration than with human rights advocacy. It paints the violence of the Iranian regime as in a class of its own, barbaric and distinct from the presumably civilized violence of the war on Iraq, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo.

For this reason, the caveat of “no war with Iran” added to the bottom of the list of demands of the July 19 actions rang hollow and disingenuous. Intentionally or not, this rhetoric adds ammunition to the current U.S. administration’s stated goal of isolating and possibly attacking Iran, a policy that has nothing to do with protecting sexual minorities.
———————————————–

5. wha2eva - August 5, 2006

yes, what could one say about syria, i wonder.

everything and nothing i suspect.

as for a behind the scenes ‘agenda’, hmm, i’m not convinced. the LGBT movement simply likes to plant rainbow flags wherever none exist. it’s kinda territorial in that way. and a bit insecure, perhaps.

but from there to say that it works hand-in-hand with the military establishment is quite a statement. however, no doubt their interests converge, somehow, occasionally. last year iran made the headlines (in the LGBT press) because two kids were publically executed. it had something to do with sex. and ultimately it had a lot to do with politics, both within the country and without.

the LGBT movement wanted to make a point, score a goal if you like. so did Ahmadinejad. so too did politicians everywhere else in the world. and the final score was 1-1, everybody happy. except for the kids’ friends and family.

so, what will be said in the gaytimes article ? much truth, much nonesense, much crap. hey, i’ll just call it fluff, or toilette literature.

6. Sami - August 13, 2006
7. Rasheed Eldin - October 7, 2006

Here’s another, quite in-depth and with follow-up links:

http://www.wctimes.com/gay/lesbian/news/ARTICLE.php?AID=12791

8. Rasheed Eldin - October 22, 2006

An event took place a few days ago at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, organised by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies:

Thursday, October 19
Que(e)rying Islamophobia: Race, Sexuality and Imperialism

Discourses of race, gender and sexuality have always served an important ideological function within imperialist projects and the current phase of American imperialism, characterized by the War on Terror, is no exception. Given contemporary geo-political context, this contemporary imperialist project requires the deployment of increasingly explicit forms of Islamophobia. ‘Queer rights’ have become the latest front in this purported battle between Civilization (liberal modernity as embodied by ‘the West’) and barbarism (Islam). This panel will bring together scholars and activists to discuss these and other issues pertaining to the nexus – historical as well as contemporary – between Islam, sexuality and imperialism.

Panelists include: Saadia Toor, College of State Island, CUNY; Sahar Shafqat, St . Mary’s College of Maryland; Ayaz Ahmed, author of “Queer and Muslim in post 9/11 New York”; and Kourosh Shemirani, co-founder of Qiam, the Queer Iranian Alliance.

http://web.gc.cuny.edu/clags/calendar.htm


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