Thursday, August 31, 2006

I'm Coming Back

I will start updating this again, I promise!

I'm moving to Chicago, I've decided....going to get a job there, perhaps. See what life has in store.

I plan to start updating this site hard-core in one week.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Gay Jewish Porn Actor to Visit Israel

PinkNews recently reported that Michael Lucas, a Jewish-American porn actor, will be visiting Israel to offer a live show to entertain the troops. A quote:

His claim to be entertaining the troops will not be sanctioned by the Israeli army. Instead he offers free entry to soldiers attending his ‘performance’ in a Tel-Aviv nightclub.
And another:

Lucas also hopes his trip will bring awareness to the plight of gay people caught up in the current conflict:

"People need to see the faces of war, and I plan to shed light on the world where gay Israel exists," he writes.

"I will expose the reality that the people of Israel face right now, especially that of gay Israelis who are targeted by the hate of Hezbollah."
I was infuriated when I read this, and I didn't know why. It's great that he's going there to entertain, and it's great that such a show is accepted in Israel. I am competely supportive of that.

But the last lines irritate me immensely; they are inappropriate and uneducated. Gay rights are an international issue, and should not be confused with nationalist, ethnic, or religious conflicts.

Hizbullah has not been attacking Israel because of Israel's comparative support of gay rights, and Israel has not been attacking Lebanon in some spectacular defense of gay rights.

Going to entertain the troops is one thing, but going to ally gay rights with a national cause is wrong on many levels.

Arrests at a Gay Wedding in KSA

I know posts have been scarce recently; I've been traveling around Connecticut and New York with my sister. I've been trying to decide what to do. I don't think I'm going to return to Lebanon right now, I'll see what's in store for me here first. I think I'm going to go to Chicago; I have friends there. Then I'll go back to my old twice-per-day posting routine. I hve a lot to say, anyway.

In the past few days, there have been reports in the Western media about arrests of gay men in Saudi Arabia, starting with South Africa's Independent Online. It says it's from al-Watan, but I don't know if it's al-Watan from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman, or even al-Watan al-Arabi, and I don't feel like searching for it to compare the English with the Arabic. A quote:

Saudi authorities arrested 20 young men after raiding a suspected gay wedding in the southern town of Jizan, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The detainees, who were among some 400 men attending "the wedding party of two men" on Tuesday, had been "emulating women," the Al-Watan paper said.

In all, some 250 people were detained in the police raid on the party but the rest were later released.

Police had "arrested the wanted people and released those who have nothing to do with the matter," the paper quoted a police commander as saying.

Some guests were also seen chewing qat, an illegal narcotic widely used in neighbouring Yemen, on a hill above the square where the party was being held, Al-Watan said.
This really isn't surprising. Gay people being arrested, and homosexuality being linked to socially unacceptable (at least on the surface) vices such as drug use and femininity. I mean, the guests were probably using qat as al-Watan states. But who doesn't? That's like reporting young men in Morocco for smoking kif or Egypt for shisha.

It's all demonization. People who themsleves have used qat will act outraged at the use of others, when really they're attacking something else - a commonly-used tactic. There's an extremely few people who will stand up for the rights of gay people in the Middle East to live unbothered, especially when they are portrayed as effeminate drug users.

I hope the media will cover what happens to these young men. If the fact that the story's barely been touched b Western media is any indicator, however, I don't expect to see too much more of this story, unless they're publicly hanged - doubtful after the Iran scandal.

One question - why isn't the gay media pouncing on this? Why did they pounce on Iran and not KSA? Saudi Arabia has an equally horrible gay rights record. I don't evern want to think about the discrepancy; my mind gets carried away with conspiracy, bias, and unscrupulous foreign policy.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hizbullah Defeats "Gay" Israeli Army, WorldNetDaily Bogus?

I've been M.I.A. for a few days, roaming the countryside with my sister, and this is what I come back to? WorldNetDaily yesterday reported that al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade leader Abu Oudai came out with a gay slur in his exaltation of Hizbullah's victory. The article, "Hezbollah defeated 'gay' Israeli soldiers" is long, but the gay quote only a few lines. Here it is, from the fourth paragraph:
"If we do [what Hezbollah accomplished], this Israeli army full of gay soldiers and full of corruption and with old-fashioned war methods can be defeated also in Palestine."
You would think Im angry, but I'm not...I'm nonplussed. Something is wrong here. I first became suspicious when the title of the article makes it seem like the article will be about gay issues, when they truly play a very minor role in the article. This made me wonder...was the title only there for shock value?

You have WorldNetDaily, a newssite that has ads for Ann Coulter and whose readers have repeatedly chosen the infinitely aggregious book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) as one of their favorite books.

Can you trust this news source?

Also, look up Abu Oudai on the web...the only people he's ever talked to are WorldNetDaily. So, essentially, a leader of a terrorist group in the West Bank decides to talk to the media and chooses a small, anti-Islamic news organization to pledge allegiance to? Unlikely.

Honestly, I don't think Abu Oudai exists...and I don't think that the articles in WorldNetDaily are legitimate. There's nothing in Arabic to back up Abu Oudai's existence. Abu Oudai conveniently says exactly what we think he'll say, and is often the only Palestinian source in WorldNetDaily's articles. I might understand using Abu Oudai to discuss Palestinian issues, but Hizbullah? Is WorldNetDaily unable to pick up a phone and call Lebanon? Faulty journalism.

I find it funny that the other news organizations that picked up the story, such as Ynetnews (which often takes from WorldNetDaily), PinkNews, and Gay.com didn't question the source. Were they just happy to see what they wanted to see?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

In America

I made it to America, and now I'm in Queens, NY with my sister. For a bit. I'll probably go somewhere else. I'm not really in the mood to post right now, but I'm getting back to it.

First, some interesting things:

At the customs in Newark International Airport, I was kept for a few hours, being questioned over and over again. One officer would ask me a few questions, go away, and be replaced by another who would start all over again. Painful. One word that was mentioned that seemed crazily inaccurate: Taliban. I'm coming from Lebanon, not Afghanistan. Granted, to some people, they may sound similar - they both have "an" in the second syllable. But, as far as I know, they're not the same country, and they're not in the same region. I could be wrong.

In Cyprus, I went to a gay bar on the Greek side one night. I took a taxi into town. When I got there, the driver asked me where I wanted to get out, implying that he would take me there. I told him the gay bar of Limassol, called Allelum. He pulled over immediately, asked for 3 pounds, and drove away. I knew I was near it, but I got lost - I'm no good at reading Greek. What I found is that Cypriots, when I met them, were so very nice to me. They asked where I was from, how I was doing, if I had a beautiful sister. Then I started asking directions to the gay bar. They told me, but shut down and were very cold. There was no conversation after that.

I spent a night two expatriates, one Iranian and one Irish. It was an interesting night, and I got a bit too drunk. We ended up on a pier, sitting on a bench. Just sitting. A car pulled up, and they stood up quickly - they were worried the police might cause trouble for us. An interesting thing about Cyprus: the laws may have been changed to be pro-gay in order to please the European Union, but no one has told the police. Cyprus is a very conservatice country, to put it lightly, and will be dragged kicking and screaming to the modern social policy of the E.U.

It's probably a good example of the situations in a lot of countries - the laws don't tell you much. Just because homosexuality is legal or illegal doesn't predict the situation for gay people in actual day-to-day life. Egypt, for example, has no laws against homosexuality. But it's not a gay haven. In Morocco, there are laws against homosexuality. But it's not nearly as bad.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of coverage on normal gay life in many countries outside of Europe and North America. Many times, all that people have to reference are laws, treaties, and speeches of political and religious leaders. It's less than half the picture.

Gay Iranians Show Thanks for Protest

I'm a bit behind because of the travel, but here's something interesting. MAHA, an e-mail-based magazine for gay people in Iran (not having a website means the government can't shut it down) sent out the following letter on August 6:

We note some differences of opinion in the international lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) movement about how to best support LGBT people in Iran. We would like to express our view, and we believe that a great number of our readers share our opinion. Iranian society has developed despite the oppression. The demand for democracy and human rights is growing in our country.

We believe that the human rights of Iranian women, students, workers and LGBT people are not western phenomenon but aspects of universal human rights and are important for human freedom, dignity and fulfilment in Iran – and everywhere.

Despite all our difficulties and dangers, the Iranian LGBT community is getting more and more informed and is expressing its demand for human rights. We identify as LGBT people and want the same freedoms that LGBT people worldwide want.

Let no one claim there is not homophobic oppression in Iran. Every LGBT Iranian is at potential risk of arrest, imprisonment, flogging and execution. Avoiding such a fate requires leading a double life and hiding one’s sexuality. Even though there are secret gay parties and magazines, we are all at risk. Great discretion is the only thing that keeps many of us from the jails of the authorities – and worse.

Any disagreement over the reason for the execution of Mahmoud and Ayaz in the city of Mashhad last July does not alter the fact that the execution of men and women indulging in same-sex relations is mandatory in the penal code of Iran.

For the record, we believe the two teenagers were hanged (left) because of their homosexuality. The authorities are well-known for pinning false charges on the victims they execute. We urge people to never take at face value the charges claimed by the courts and newspapers. They are not reliable. In late July 2006, for example, a BBC television programme in England exposed how the Iranian authorities made false allegations about Atefah Sahaaleh, who was executed in the city of Neka in 2004 for “crimes against chastity”. The Iranian courts even lied about her age, claiming she was 22 at the time of her execution. In fact, she was only 16 – a minor, like Mahmoud and
Ayaz.

We express our appreciation and admiration for the united efforts worldwide on July 19 in support of Iranian LGBT people, against homophobic oppression and all executions in Iran. These efforts gave us Iranian LGBTs hope and inspiration. It is good for our morale to know that people in other countries care about us and are pressing the Iranian authorities to halt their homophobic persecution.

Some prominent authorities here in Iran publicly condemned same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage, following last year’s international protests against the Mashhad hangings.

This shows that your protests are having an effect.

The authorities in Tehran are concerned about the bad publicity they are getting all over the world.

Please do not stop. International protests are effective and we urge all groups around the world to work together for the common good of LGBT Iranians.

There is growing activity by Iranian LGBTs, both inside and outside Iran, to enlighten people about sexual diversity and respect for individual sexual orientation. Our E-magazine is part of that process.

The Iranian LGBT community in exile plays an important role in the struggle for LGBT rights in Iran. We believe that unity and cooperation between all LGBT Iranian activists is vital and important and we advocate this unity.

LGBT rights are part of human rights and they will be achieved in Iran by a joint effort from all Iranians for a democratic and modern Iran. International support for the democracy struggle inside Iran, at every level, is laudable and helpful.

We express our strongest opposition to any military intervention or military action against our beloved county Iran. It will not help the democratic struggle here but only strengthen the position of the conservative religious hardliners. War would close down the opportunities for reform. The authorities would use the pretext of “national security” to suppress debate and dissent, including the work of LGBT Iranians

Within our country, LGBTs need to make alliances with other oppressed sectors of the population who share our commitment to democracy and human rights. It would be a mistake to see LGBT rights as separate from the broader humanitarian struggle in Iran. Isolating our movement would keep it weak and marginal. LGBT rights should be a part of the mainstream Iranian democratic agenda.

We believe that Iranian LGBTs need support at every level, both nationally and internationally – from the UN, EU and national governments, and from human rights, NGO and LGBT organisations worldwide. We value your solidarity.

International pressure on the Iranian authorities regarding human rights and LGBT rights is effective and we welcome it.

Portraying homosexual rights in Iran only as a socio-cultural issue is harmful for our unity and the success of our struggle. It is our view that LGBT rights are about social, cultural, economic, legal and political justice. One cannot fight for LGBT people but ignore discrimination in the law and the fact that the Iranian authorities have made sexual orientation a political issue by denouncing and outlawing same-sex relations, and by punishing LGBTs with imprisonment and violent abuse, including torture and
hanging.

We do not agree that the LGBT issue in Iran is purely a cultural matter. LGBT rights are a political issue too. Achieving LGBT rights in Iran demands hard work, both socio-cultural and political – changing laws and institutions, as well as changing people’s values and attitudes.

Iranian homosexuals are oppressed by the authorities. But in some other Muslim countries, like Lebanon and Turkey, LGBT people are able to form their own organisations, organise conferences and publish their information. This shows that greater liberalisation is possible in a Muslim country.

That is why, we strongly believe that in the current situation, the central obstacles against homosexual rights in Iran are the anti-homosexual laws. That is why the removal of discrimination against LGBT people in the country’s penal code is vital. It would pave the way for a significant improvement of LGBT people’s lives by changing the law and removing the threat of arrest and other abuses. We also need democratic, reform-minded people to lead the country and to secure changes in the education system and the media to combat homophobic prejudice and to promote understanding and acceptance of LGBT people.

Due to the current homophobic repression in Iran, we are unable to openly express our demand for LGBT human rights. That is why international LGBT pressure on the Iranian authorities, in solidarity with Iranian LGBT people, is most vital and welcome.

We thank you for your support -- MAHA
No disagreement here. I said something similar here. It's good to hear Iranians say it. It's impossible to find a perfect way for Westerners to address gay rights in other parts of the world - there's not enough information. Going on e-mails like this one at least let people know they're on the right track.

In most cases, a misguided attempt to help people is better than no attempt at all.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Wikipedia Argument Over Gay Palestinians

I can't write much, as I'm paying an incredible amount of money to use the internet in Cyprus. But check this out:

Wikipedia, as you know, is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Over the last few weeks, it seems there has been a small battle in the entry "Gay Rights in Israel".

Check out the history page and compare older versions. One day, something that shows abuse of gay Palestinians by the Israeli Secret Service is added. The next day, it is deleted, replaced by something that documents abuse of gay people in the Palestinian Territories.

The pro-Israel writers don't seem to want anything that shows Israel in a bad light, despite the fact that it is true. I recognize that Israel is far ahead of any other country in the Middle East regardging gay rights. But to portray it as a gleaming tower on a hill is unfair and untrue, and serves Israeli political interests. It's important to note that Israel treats Israeli gay people very well, but Palestinian gay people are subject to a different standard.

Palestinian gay people are in one of the worst situations worldwide: they are seen as threats by both Palestinians and Israelis, and cannot live in peace on either side. On the Palestinian side, they are tortured and threatened. On the Israeli side, they are left with no income but prostitution and are recruited by the secret service. Only when this dichotomy is understood can their needs be addressed.

Hopefully, this Wikipedia debacle will calm down and turn out well.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A Conversation with a Jordanian Taxi Driver

I've heard that a lot of Jordanian taxi drivers are spies of the government sent to keep watch on the Jordanian people. Someone told me 1 in 10. I don't know if it's true, but this conversation was definitely strange. I was taking a taxi across town, which took about a half an hour in the traffic, so we had a while to talk. For your information, the driver was around 40 years old, an avid smoker, and had a booming voice. We started talking about the war, how I'm going to America, and what Beirut is like to live in. Here is what it became, in loose translation:

Taxi Driver: Do you have a boyfriend of girlfriend in Beirut?

Me: I have a girlfriend.

TD: Really? What's her name?

Me: Amal. She's Shi'a.

TD: Is she pretty?

Me: She's okay. (Here I explain what my imaginary girlfriend looks like. For the record, I do not tell random taxi drivers I'm gay. It's not a good policy.)

TD: Do you like only girls?

Me: Yes. You?

TD: I like men only.

Me: (Laughing.) You say it so openly.

TD: What do I care what people think?

Me: Do you have a boyfriend?

TD: No. I had a boyfriend three years ago. He was American. Every been with a black?

Me: No.

TD: (Some things about black people I won't repeat.) He was great. He was here for 8 weeks. Every day for 56 days, I would go to his apartment after work and we'd...(Some gestures I won't explain.)

Me: (Laughing hard and trying to move on to another subject.) Really? Do you meet people often?

TD: Sometimes.

Me: How do you meet them? Is there a bar or something you go to? (I'm trying not to seem too interested, but I'm truly very curious.)

TD: I meet them in the taxi. (Of course!)

Me: Interesting. (We pull up to where I'm getting out.)

TD: If you ever need a taxi, here's my number. (He writes his number on a pack of cigarettes and gives it to me.) Call me any time.
I got out of the car quite quickly, but gave him a nice tip - I always tip gay people well. It was scary, but interesting, and not the only gay come-on I've gotten in Jordan. The conversation would be funnier if I included the parts cut out, but I cannot, in good taste, do that. I try to keep this site clean.

Mostly, I'm just amazed at how open he was, even after my pretending to be straight. Is he really that free with his words? Am I obviously gay? Or am I just too hot to resist? (Haha.)

I'm not going to call him, if you're wondering.

Lebanese Video Speech at Montreal's Outgames

Well, I'm back from southern Jordan, in Amman for a bit before I fly to Cyprus and America. My visit to Sodom was interesting; I'll post on it when I can get my photos of it uploaded. But here's an interesting bit of news:

At the world's first Outgames in Montreal, which has been considerably more international than Chicago's Gay Games, a Lebanese activist from Helem, Rasha Moumneh, was supposed to give a speech during the opening ceremonies. The statement drew attention to the atrocities being committed in Lebanon by the Israeli military and Helem's support of the boycott of this year's World Pride in Jerusalem. It also highlighted the bind that Helem finds itself in: struggling against an oppressive government at home on the one hand and resisting the pull of neo-colonialist agendas that attempt to co-opt human rights causes to justify their ends on the other.

The speech was recieved with a standing ovation from many of the audience members, some of whom openly voiced support and solidarity with Helem and the people of Lebanon and Palestine. The video can be accessed here, but it is not working on this cheap internet cafe computer. Nevertheless, To Be, a Canadian magazine, had some quotes:

Nowhere was the solidarity of the conference attendees more felt than in the reaction to a video sent by the LGBT rights group Helem, which has branches in both Lebanon and Montreal. The delegates gave a standing ovation after a representative of the group explained why she could not attend. “The air, land and sea blockade imposed by the state of Israel have killed three hundred in Lebanon and by conservative estimates, 650,000 have been internally displaced,” she said. “As of July 12, when the hostilities started, all of Helem’s LGBT work stopped and Helem is donating its space and resources to humanitarian relief efforts.”
There was also a bit in another Canadian magazine, Capital Xtra:

"Today, we are fighting for human rights, more so for those in Lebanon," says Remy, from Helem, a Montreal-based organization that fights for the rights of Lebanese queers around the world.

For its part, Helem found tremendous support from athletes and participants as they gathered outside the stadium entrance.

"I was overwhelmed," Remy says in a quivering voice.

With Lebanon and Israel in conflict, Helem was approached by the Outgames to take part in the opening ceremony as a keeper of peace.

Members of the Israeli team shared in the call for peace. Gur Rosen and Dan Alogor from Team Israel had a talk with Helem members, something that would only have been possible at a meet like the Outgames.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Sad State for Gay Palestinians

A great article by Brian Whitaker just appeared in the Jewish Quarterly. It's well-documented, brings in other news sources, and is hard to dispute. It points out how Israel is generally a great place for gay people, but not for gay Palestinians. It documents how gay Palestinians are abused in Israel, and abused worse in Palestine. Here's a good bit:

For gay Palestinians who feel persecuted at home, the obvious escape route is to Israel, but because of the political conflict this can be fraught with difficulties. As far as most Palestinians are concerned, fleeing into Israel is a betrayal of their cause, while gay men who remain in the Palestinian territories also come under suspicion.

‘In the West Bank and Gaza, it is common knowledge that if you are homosexual you are necessarily a collaborator with Israel,’ said Shaul Gonen, of the Israeli Society for the Protection of Personal Rights (‘“Death Threat” to Palestinian Gays’, BBC, 3 March 2003). Bassim Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, explained:

In the Arab mindset, a person who has committed a moral offence is often assumed to be guilty of others, and it radiates out to the family and community. As homosexuality is seen as a crime against nature, it is not hard to link it to collaboration – a crime against nation (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways Survive on Israeli Streets’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).
Regarding gay men as politically treacherous is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. There are parallels here with Britain in the 1950s and 1960s, when gay men engaged in secret government work were treated as a particular security risk. In the popular imagination, this may well have been seen as an intrinsic part of their psychological make-up, although the fact that their sexual activities were illegal did expose them to the possibility of blackmail by Soviet agents.

Equating homosexuality with collaboration makes it extremely dangerous for Palestinians to return home after fleeing to Israel. One man told Halevi in the New Republic of a friend in the Palestinian police who ran away to Tel Aviv but later went back to Nablus, where he was arrested and accused of being a collaborator:

They put him in a pit. It was the fast of Ramadan, and they decided to make him fast the whole month but without any break at night. They denied him food and water until he died in that hole.
There is little doubt that some – though by no means all – gay Palestinians are forced by their precarious existence to work for Israeli intelligence in exchange for money or administrative favours such as the right of residence; both Eid and Gonen said they knew of several. Others, meanwhile, are coerced into undercover work for the Palestinian authorities; one 19-year-old runaway stated in an interview with Israeli television that he had been pressurized by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to become a suicide bomber in order to ‘purge his moral guilt’, though he had refused (‘Palestinian Gay Runaways’, Reuters, 17 September 2003).

Estimates of the number of gay Palestinians who have quietly – and usually illegally – taken refuge in Israel range from 300 to 600. Although Israel is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and recognizes same-sex partnerships for immigration purposes, it does not welcome gay Palestinians – mainly because of security fears. This often leaves them trapped in an administrative no-man’s-land with little hope of finding a proper job and constantly at risk of being arrested and deported. Some try to disguise themselves by wearing fake military dog-tags and even Star of David medallions.

‘The Palestinians say if you are gay, you must be a collaborator, while the Israelis treat you as a security threat,’ Gonen told a news programme (‘Palestinian Gays Flee to Israel’, BBC, 22 October 2003). But even if they are neither collaborators nor a security threat, they can easily become targets for exploitation by Israeli men. ‘They work as prostitutes, selling their bodies unwillingly because they have to survive,’ Gonen said:

Sometimes the Israeli secret police try to recruit them, sometimes the Palestinian police try to recruit them. In the end they find themselves falling between all chairs. Nobody wants to help them, everybody wants to use them.
The quote is from the end, which is definitely better than the beginning, for in typical Whitaker style, the article jumps from topic to topic, often throwing in details that distract from the flow of his articles. This especially pertains to Britain. Whitaker can't resist mentioning Britain, even when it's not very germane. Is it a remnant of imperialism, national pride, or unrestrained blabbering? Who knows.

One thing I did notice: Whitaker mentions that the Israeli police try to recruit gay Palestinians, but didn't go into it. I would have liked to know more.

Al-Jazeera Points Out Helem's Good Deeds

In a nicely-written article in al-Jazeera, there is this tidbit written about Helem:

In west Beirut an office for the gay NGO Helem has been turned into the coordinating centre for Samidoun.

Underneath the rainbow flag the activists work around the clock to make sure the refugees in their care are provided for.

"I don’t think the refugees really care about the fact that we are a gay rights NGO. They only care if the NGOs helping them are American," Helem activist Ghassan Makarem said.
I didn't see a similar version of that written in Arabic, but, whatever. This article was written by Christian Henderson, not an Arab name, so that could explain why it's written so positively. I don't mean to say that an Arab would not write positively about gay people, merely that al-Jazeera won't get as much flak if it's written by a white guy. Gay people can be happy there's positive coverage of them, and people who hate gay people can just tell themselves that it's Western projection of gay rights onto the Arab World. I estimate that angry letters to al-Jazeera over a positive depiction of gay people would be double if the article was written by an Arab. This way, everyone wins.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Gay.com Sorta Covers Lebanon, Almost

Two articles on Lebanon recently appeared on Gay.com, one about Helem helping out in relief efforts, and one semi-interview with a Helem member about the war. The articles aren't very good, but here's the first one:

Remy is a member of the Montreal chapter of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People." As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, Remy shared with Gay.com some background on the crisis in Beirut, its impact on LGBT people, and his feelings about the upcoming observation of WorldPride in Jerusalem.

Helem is a Lebanese group, which started in Lebanon, so we are always in close contact with the chapter there. Helem has the one and only LGBT center in the Arab world. That center is now being offered by Helem as a relief center for refugees. Helem is offering its offices, computers, Internet access and volunteers to help with the crisis.

The thing Helem Beirut members miss the most (as gay people) is probably the fact that they can't be together right now. Everyone is with his or her family, and some are giving volunteer time in different places, so they are not meeting every week as they used to; they don't gather and do group activities. I suspect they are going back to a stage of isolation -- being gay, and having to stay within the mainstream community (which can be difficult for some who have had Helem as a support for a while now).

Gays and lesbians have always lived in Lebanon (and other Arab countries) a life of isolation and fear. The law is against us (article 534 of the Lebanese penal code). Society is against us; religion is against us. All we have is each other . . . and Helem (the Dream!). We are seeing an evolution in mentalities (younger people are more open-minded than older generations), but things are changing slowly.

Lebanon has always been known for its more modern way of living and thinking than other Arab countries. Gay clubs, gay shops, gay cafes and restaurants were starting to allow LGBT people to lead a kind of normal life. I say "kind of" because even though there seems to be more freedom for gays to meet and go clubbing and organize events, it is still a sense of freedom, an impression that we are free at last. But living as a gay man or woman is still a day-by-day situation: You never know when the government will decide Helem is not allowed to exist anymore, or when the government will start jailing LGBT people. But the situation was more or less improving.

I was personally in Lebanon for three weeks last spring, and I was very impressed by how far we have gone as LGBT community. Gays and lesbians are working as a community. They are supporting each other, doing business with each other, empowering each other, clubbing with each other. It could be seen as creating a ghetto, but that ghetto is doing wonders because LGBT people now rely on themselves and each other instead of relying on heterosexual society. [...]

WorldPride in Jerusalem -- a parade for love and acceptance in an occupied land, a land which knows no acceptance nor love? Helem supports the international boycott of Jerusalem WorldPride. Lebanese (and many other Arabs) have no right to enter Jerusalem. If our passports are stamped by Israel, we are considered to be fraternizing with the enemy or condemned for treason.

Right now, Helem Lebanon (as well as Helem Paris and Helem Montreal) is putting all its efforts toward the crisis in Lebanon in different ways: volunteering in Beirut, fundraising in Paris, marching for visibilty and fundraising in Montreal. Our main priority right now is to save Lebanon.
And here's the interview:

As Israel massed tanks and troops on the Lebanese border July 21 in readiness for a likely ground invasion, a Lebanese member of Helem, an Arabic acronym for "Lebanese Protection for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People," made time for a short interview with Gay.com about the current situation in Beirut and what it's like to be gay in wartime.

What's happening with gay people there now? Are gay clubs closing?

Almost all the clubs -- gay and nongay -- are closed since the Israeli aggression, so I suppose that means the gay clubs are closed.

How is the war affecting gay people in Lebanon?

The war is affecting gay people the same way it is affecting straight people for the moment. It is depressing for both gay and nongay people to see that all the effort Lebanese people have made for the past 15 years has been destroyed within five days.

Are gays able to support one another at this time?

Helem Lebanon joined a network of NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) working to provide aid for refugees coming to Beirut from south Lebanon and the city's southern suburb. We also suspended our normal activities and transformed our offices to a relief center. Somehow it is nice to see gay and heterosexual people working together to help the refugees.

That is all I can say for the moment -- but I will provide you with more information when possible.
Even though I'm glad Gay.com is covering the Arab World, the articles aren't very informative.

In the first article, why did Gay.com not consult anyone in Beirut to get information? Helem liss phone numbers on its webpage, can Gay.com not afford an international call? It seems like simple journalistic methodology to me.

In the second article, why is gay clubs the first thing they ask about? How superficial! Plus, who is this guy they're talking to? Is he someone who's word is important? Also, al-Fil told me that his friends are still going to gay clubs. Is he lying?

I'd like to find out more details on what Helem is doing in Beirut, not about World Pride, which is not so important now, or on the status of the clubbing scene. Nice try, Gay.com. Next time, do some legwork.

Google Does Care - We Heart Google

As al-Fil is currently in the desert, I promised him I'd actually post stuff while he was away. Well, here's an update on the Google mini-scandal from mid-July which began with the finding of a derogatory translation of "gay" and an unsympathetic letter from Google, but is now A-OK:

In the MEGJournal e-mail, al-Fil received this from Google:

Dear Sir,

I have just seen your complaint re the translation tool offered by Google. First of all please accept Google's apology if this translation has offended you. As you may well be aware this tool is still in Beta phase and hence some bugs or incorrect translations will occur. During the Beta phase many of our users provide us feedback on issues such as this, so we can take corrective action. I thank you for bringing this to our attention and strongly encourage you to provide us with extensive feedback of any other mistranslations you might come across.

Also, allow me to take a few minutes of your time to explain the mechanics of how the translation engine works. Our solution is built around a statistical model that depends on previously translated material to statistically determine translations for new sentences. The system continuously learns to update and improve translations. As a starting point we have ingested a number of translated documents and use this to provide the service you now see. Unfortunately many sources on the web use the translation you have seen.

[Here is a link he put in the e-mail here, but is so long, it messes up our formatting, and I saw the complaints about our formatting before, thank you very much!]

As we continuously improve the service and add more documents such occurrences should decrease. In the meantime we are working on fixing this error in the very near future and hope you accept our apology and understand the nature of this service and how it provides translations based on parallel data and not through human intervention.

Once again please accept my thanks for highlighting this issue in our feedback and feel free to provide us with any feedback you feel might improve or enhance our translation service.

Best Regards

Sherif R. Iskander
Regional Business Manager
Middle East and North Africa

Is that sweet or what? Pink News also ran a story on the issue. It said:

Despite the abundance of more derogatory slang in Arabic, Ali Asali, administrator of GayEgypt.com, one of the Middle East’s leading pro-gay websites, agrees that the term [luti] is unsuitable, he said: “It's not the term used on the street for abuse, there are hundreds of these which vary from country to country and indeed from region to region within countries. You could argue that the terms “khawal” in Egypt, “pédé” in Algeria and “ajala” (meaning bicycle) in upper Egypt and I could list many more, are much more abusive. However the term looti is still inappropriate.”

The controversy over “luti” arose about a week ago when the administrator of a blog called The Middle East Gay Journal wrote an open letter to Google upon his discovery that the international company's translation tools translated the word "gay" derogatorily into Arabic. Upon receiving a perfunctory, perhaps automated, response, the administrator was irked and spread the word to numerous other blogs, which spawned more letters to Google.

From his office in Egypt, Sherif Iskander, Google’s business manager for the Middle East and North Africa, told PinkNews.co.uk that he would fix the problem. He said that he had been out of the country for a few days and had learned of the problem upon his return.

“The machine is learning,” he said, emphasising that Google’s translation tools were still in their early phases, and they often went into the system to re-teach it better translations. “Several examples like this have come to my attention,” he said, adding, "Issues like that should not stay in the system." He said that the problem should be fixed in a few days.

Nevertheless, Mr Iskander welcomed the input, "We totally depend on user feedback to fix issues," he said, adding that when problems with translation are reported to Google, it allows them to improve the system.

Google’s translation tools use an approach similar to the methods used to decipher the Egyptian hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone – they take identical bodies of work in two languages and compare them side by side.

In Google’s case, they use the immense corpa of the United Nations. Despite using documents that totalled over 200 billion words, however, there were still some terms unknown to the tools.

To solve this quandary, the Google tools access online dictionaries to search for translations. “This is where most of the problems arise,” said Mr Iskander, indicating that the dictionaries often offered inadequate or imprecise translations, without context. Sadly, many of these online dictionaries employ “luti.”

Mr Iskander reiterated that Google’s translation services are a “very powerful tool” that is “opening up the Middle East” to non-Arabic speakers.

He said that the translations are far from ideal, but are meant to give people an idea of what is being written in other languages, without having to actually learn to speak them, "It's like a five-year-old that knows two languages…it's better being stuck with a five-year-old than someone who speaks only one language," he explained.
On checking Google's translation page today, I remarked that when "gay" is put into the system, "مثلي الجنس" is now returned instead of "اللوطي". Thanks, Google!

I must say that Google did a great thing. I doubt, although I have no proof to back it up, other companies would be so quick to change such an error. Anyway, kudos.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Poetry, Religion, and Philadelphia

This is my last night in Amman. I'm leaving tomorrow, going for a small journey before joining my sister in America. I plan to return to Lebanon after the war.

Before I leave Jordan, I'm going to visit the ancient lands of Sodom, the baneful inheritance of gay people worldwide, and the namesake of "لوطي" and "sodomite". I wonder if it will change me in some way, but I don't yet know the manner. Will the earth open like an awoken, bitter clam and swallow me? Will the lapping of the sea greet me like the friendly tongue of a lonely dog? My heart is swarming with quietly whispering bees.

I spent the night eating falafel and onions (quartered perfectly, with just a hint of brown skin to give texture), and I wrote this poem:

With the molten night still flowing slowly over the hillsides,
not yet hardened into its opaline shell,
the cafes crowd with starched white shirts
and immaculately pastel peasant skirts,
every eye turned to the burning hillside of Jebel Achrafieh.
The words "amber" and "ochre" and "cinnamon" quiver in the air,
clumsily weighted by their Germanic accents
and clattering like bits of copper on the tiles.

Every house on Jebel Achrafieh is the exact same color,
an indistinguishable sandstone that rises organically from the earth.
If you run quickly, civilization disappears in a whirling panorama:
smeared in the rushing drab of the dirt and the bright of the sky.

If I had a house on Jebel Achrafieh, I'd paint it blue
with chalk, just once a year, in a month without holidays,
like Shaban or Thu al-Kadah,
months that dim in the light of Ramadan and Thu al-Hijra.
On that day, the women washing clothes would shout
"Such beauty held in sapphire walls!"
The sun would stop high in the sky, resting and admiring,
and the blinded women would spill their buckets of frothing water.

Every day the lazy strollers on the steep avenues of Amman
absorb the muffled beauty of endlessly rolling ginger hills.
But for one sunset in the year, the glory of difference would shine,
and before the mullahs could run from their hilltops and shout their curses,
would be washed away in the swirling rivers of the washer-women,
left to nothing but azure streams by the cold morning light.
I've been thinking a lot about the wars in the Middle East, and all the burdens that come with it. What comes to mind are the intangible riches of the ancient world: the philosophy of Greece, the law of Rome, the magic of India, and the wisdom of Persia.

What did the lands of Arabia bring? Religion. The East boils in religion, heated by the boiling sands of the Arabian desert, while the West fidgets with cool, calculating legality. The U.S. and Europe fight over what is legal, what is agreed-upon, what is enforcable, while the East argues over right, wrong and God, infinitely more difficult conceptions. Arabs have never really put faith in the United Nations, and the Arab League is a porcelain vase that is endlessly dropeed and glued back together. Religion is both the glory and the curse of the Middle East: it brings it light and it brings it war.

I remember watching "The Neverending Story" on television as a child, with the hungry "Nothing". It gave me nightmares. More than any other figment that terrorized me - Chucky, the djinn, the man under the bed - the idea of the Nothing tortured me. Chucky would stab me, the djinn would eat me, and the man under the bed would do something horrible. But what would happen to me when the Nothing came?

The deserts of Arabia are expanding, eating away at the Arabian nations. I once heard an American compare the deserts to the American plains, an awful comparison. While they may be alike in stark beauty, the plains give life - corn, wheat, and cattle - the desert gives empty gifts wrapped in shimmering brown paper. I wonder if I'll start dreaming of the desert, as I used to of the Nothing.

I may not post for a while, because of my stay in Sodom, so I am going to leave with a good post: the review of Unspeakable Love that I promised to do a while ago. It'll be right under this one, when I finish it. I'll also leave with this excerpt of one of my favorite poems, "La colère de Samson". It's a fight of lovers, of men vs. women, but it means so much more than that:

Bientôt, se retirant dans un hideux royaume,
La Femme aura Gomorrhe et l'Homme aura Sodome,
Et, se jetant, de loin, un regard irrité,
Les deux sexes mourront chacun de son côté.

Book Review: "Unspeakable Love"

I've been saying I'd review Brian Whitaker's Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East forever, but I haven't done it. I'm tired, but I'm going to do it now. So here goes:

There's a lot I like and don't like about the book. Firstly, I love Whitaker's writing style. He's very eloquent, and sometimes this leads to strikingly persuasive paragraphs. Here's one I liked on the Universal Declaration of Human rights, from chapter 4, "Rights and Wrongs", page 110:

The essential principle here is equality, and there is no room for selectively excluding some human beings on the pretext of local circumstances or cultural norms. Either the equality principle is accepted in whole or it is not; there are no half measures. The equal rights established by the declaration include an equal right to life, equal freedom from arbitrary arrest, equal freedom from torture and ill-treatment, equal freedom from torture and ill-treatment, equal freedom of expression and association, and equality before the law.

Despite this, and despite ample evidence of abuses in various parts of the world, the United Nations has been slow to grapple, with what, for a large number of it members, is a highly sensitive issue...
I think that's beautifully stated.

Unspeakable Love has repeatedly been called "groundbreaking", and in many ways it is. Never before has such a comprehensive study of gay civil rights been published, or so widely available to the public. The fact that it was the number 1 seller for a huge period of time at the Virgin Megastore in Beirut attests to the fact that a book such as this is long overdue. Brian Whitaker organizes this book expertly - information is easily accessible, easily understandable, and meticulously footnoted.

My favorite chapter is by far chapter 3, "Images and Realities". In this chapter, Whitaker analyzes media coverage of gay people in the Middle East. One of my favorite paragraphs, from page 72:


News media about same-sex marriage and gay clergy in the West tend to be reported factually and straightforwardly by the Arab media, often with quotes from opposing sides. Besides the stories dealing specifically with these topics, there were many others during the American presidential campaign of 2004 that mentioned gay rights as an election issue. The relatively calm tone of these reports in comparison with the more hysterical stories about local homosexuality may be partly explained by their reliance on Western news agencies. As with the nineteenth-century writings of Richard Burton, however, they can be read in different ways by different readers. They can be interpreted either as confirming Arab perceptions of Western decadence or as familiarizing readers with alternative views of sexual behaviour. The problem, though, is that the dearth of coverage about Arab homosexuality encourages the idea that it is entirely a foreign phenomenon.
Fantastic. Whitaker outlines here a major issue facing gay people in the Middle East: the push to portray them as foreign, thus making them at least non-Arab and non-Muslim, at worst traitors. If gay people are not seen as a true facet of Arab culture, then their rights are not something that needs to be addressed in Arab society. Whitaker, by laying out numerous examples of terrible media portrayals of gay people by the Arab media unfolds the institutionalized prejudice like a Chinese fan.

But now let's get into some of the things I don't like about the book. In the introduction, Whitaker states on pages 9-10:


There are twenty-two countries in the Arab League (if we include) Palestine, and to try to give a country-by-country picture would be both impractical and repetitive. Instead, I wanted to highlight the issues that are faced throughout the region, to a greater or lesser degree, by Arabs whose sexuality does not fit the public concepts of 'normal'. Most of the face-to-face research was done in Egypt and Lebanon, two countries that provide interesting contrasts. This was supplemented by a variety of other sources including news reports, correspondence by email, articles in magazines and academic journals, discussions published on websites, plus a review of the way homosexuality is treated in the Arabic media, in novels and in films.
First, I'm not sure if I agree with lumping modern Arab societies into one whole. The modern states are so different, and there has been an orientalist history of blurring the Arab people into one united, faceless mass. I mean, would you write a book on gay rights in the Western World, jumping from France to Britain to the U.S. to Poland to Greece to Australia? Actually, you might. I'm not sure there's actually an ideal way to approach such a book, and I don't fault Whitaker here. I just wanted to mention a possible drawback. If someone wrote a book just discussing each country individually, without pointing out trends, that would pose difficulties, too.

The problem I see is that, in effect, Whitaker ended up doing exactly what he promised he wouldn't do. He gets so involved in the legal issues facing gay people in Middle Eastern countries that he gets stuck in a country-by-country discussion of legality, which reads tediously. In many chapters, especially 2 and 4, Whitaker hops from country to country, trying to explain their individual situations. He he can't avoid this - it's impossible to put the legal structures of the Arab World, which are extremely complex and often very dissimilar - into a general thesis. Lebanon has no equivalent of Egypt's "Queen Boat" incident, just as Saudi Arabia has no equivalent to Lebanon's sectarian government. Essentially, Whitaker writes himself into a corner here; he spends so much time explaining political issues that he can't easily go back and discuss the social ones, which are much more important in the Arab World in the ways they affect gay people.

This is where the Western point of view really comes through in the book. Gay rights won't go anywhere in the Middle East unless gay people are more socially accepted first, roughly the opposite of the West. In America, there was Stonewall then Will and Grace. In the Middle East, the reverse is needed. A Stonewall in Egypt or Saudi Arabia will amount to bloodshed, with no real political gain. Whitaker consistently compares the movement the Arab World with the West, namely Britain, creating false parallels. He doesn't seem to consider that the Middle East might need a different form of activism than the West.

There is a vast amount of social issues that are never addressed in Unspeakable Love that are immediatly apparent to anyone who's lived in the Middle East. What about the thousands of men who marry and have sex with men on the side? The gay prostitutes on the corniches of Beirut, Aqaba, Manama, and Alexandria? Gender separation and sexism? The adopting of gender roles in the gay community? Class issues? Racial and Sunni/Shia schisms? The book says it's about "Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East", when really it only deals with politics, the media, and some insights on religion. Except for a discussion of family life, the book hardly touches on everyday gay life, at least for the majority of the people in the Middle East. When you finish the book, a lot seems to be missing.

For the interviews that Whitaker cites as research, his selection of people seems like a skimming of fat from a bucket of milk. They are almost all male, almost all in their twenties, and seem to be from higher classes of society. When I went to the book opening at the Zico House in Beirut in March, it was clear that Whitaker did not speak very good Arabic. He seems to have done all the interviews himself, which explains this problem: young, gay, wealthy men are the easiest segment of gay society for someone like Whitaker to find. They are more likely to speak English, have more social freedom, and go to places where a Westerner can find them. Unfortunately, they are hardly representative, and thus give a skewed view of gay life in the Middle East, as does the fact that they are from the Levant and Egypt, which are very different from the Gulf. The Levant and Egypt, sadly, dominate the book, leaving everyday gay life in the Gulf shadowed in uncertainty.

I don't want to come off as too negative about the book; I feel that there is a lot to be gained from reading it, especially chapter 3, and especially for Westerners who are unfamiliar with Middle Eastern politics. This book definitely has an important purpose there. However, a Beiruti friend of mine said he really liked chapters 1-4, but found the rest of the book tiresome, explaining that the book, in general, was interesting, but didn't tell him anything new about what was going on in the Middle East. I'm inclined to agree with him on the last part. If you're a gay person living in the Middle East, the book won't open your eyes to anything groundbreaking, or great analysis on how to help the movement for gay civil rights progress. It will, however, provide an amazing encyclopedia of modern gay history in the Arab World.

I'll finish with another paragraph I liked, from chapter 7 "Paths to Reform", page 212:

The debate is often presented as a choice between cultural authenticity on the one hand and the adoption of all things Western on the other. In fact, neither is a realistic proposition. Exposure to foreign ideas and influences cannot be prevented, but nor are Arabs incapable of making critical judgments about them. Equally, Arab culture cannot be treated as a fossil; it is a culture in which real people lead real lives and it must be allowed to evolve to meet their needs. The issue, then, is not whether concepts such as 'gay' and 'sexual orientation' are foreign imports but whether they serve a useful purpose. For Arabs who grow up disturbed by an inexplicable attraction towards members of their own sex, they can provide a framework for understanding. For families - puzzled, troubled and uninformed by their own society - they offer a sensible alternative to regarding sons and daughters as sinful or mad.
One more thing: I love the copper eyeshadow on the two men on the front cover. It's artistic, subtle, and beautiful. While politically, it might not have been the best choice to put men in eyeshadow on a book about gay rights in the Middle East, it added a gorgeous softness to the men's complexions.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Under the Flames of War in Lebanon

The ladies of Aswat, an organization for Palestinian lesbian women, sent out this e-mail today, entitled "Under the Flames of War in Lebanon":

To all our friends and colleagues,

Thank to all of you who have contacted ASWAT to ask about our safety as we are based in Haifa . It is much appreciated that you are thinking of us in these days. We want to thank you again for your support and the ongoing friendship.

We in ASWAT, our friends and families are safe and we will keep you posted if anything changes. Our reason to write you is to let you know that in these days our hearts and thoughts are in Lebanon , not forgetting Gaza and the West Bank in Palestine and Iraq .

We have a lot of pain and sadness, watching all the pictures as a result of the hits, seeing people killed, and hearing about all the refugees; it makes us stop and raise our voices in ASWAT and say out loud STOP THIS WAR on our sisters and brothers in Lebanon and start negotiating!!!

We have received some news from activists and friends from Helem, an LGBT center in Beirut . After the influx of refugees from the southern suburbs of Beirut as well as from the south of Lebanon , Helem center, together with other NGOs, has begun providing shelter, food, and supplies for the refugees.

More information can be found at http://www.helem.net

Helem also pointed out a few blogs so as to allow people to get first hand information from the civil society in Lebanon:
http://sanayehreliefcenter.blogspot.com/
http://lebanonupdates.blogspot.com/

Other important links:
http://arab-americans.blogspot.com/
http://www.aswatgroup.org/english/article.php?article=106&category=
http://www.aswatgroup.org/arabic/article.php?article=107&category=107

In solidarity,

ASWAT-Palestinian Gay Women
E-mail: aswat@aswatgroup.org
Website: http://www.aswatgroup.org/
Join Aswat's mailing list at: http://www.aswatgroup.org/english/newsletter.php
I'm glad they're safe, and the links are great. I have one issue though: their site is incredibly difficult to navigate, and when they post new articles, they seem to have no easy links to them. If you click on "activities", it only goes up to 2005. It's frustrating! Am I being trivial? Probably.

Turkish Government Seizes Gay Magazine

According to a press release by KAOS GL, a gay-rights organization in Turkey, the most recent issue of its magazine, also called KAOS GL, has been seized by the government. The issue, which discusses pornography and gay culture, was found to be pornographic by the 12th district court in Ankara. All issues were ordered by Judge Tekman Savas Nemli to be confiscated, as some of the content and pictures in the issue were deemed to breach general morality. A quote:

In the decision of Ankara Chief Republican Prosecutor's Office Press Crimes Investigation Bureau, the _expression that some texts and pictures are against "protection of general morality". But this _expression does not state which pictures and texts should be banned on what ground.
And another:

It is the first time that our magazine is banned on the same day it was delivered from the printing house even before it is distributed to bookstores. Kaos GL, which started to be published in 1994, was recorded legally at the end of 1999 and the Republican Chief Prosecutor did not find it "pornographic or obscene." Two of its issues following its registeration by officials were distributed in closed envelopes because of the Prime Ministry Council for Protection of Juveniles from Obscene Publications. Other than this, Kaos GL has not faced any investigation
And one more:

Today presentation of views on women bodies with a sexist mentality makes no problem but scientific, cultural and artistic criticism of pornography via gay-lesbian sexuality is seen and banned as an attitude against 'general morality'.

In the magazine with contributions from writers Ahmet Tulgar, Fatih Özgüven, Güner Kuban, Hasan Bülent Kahraman, Mehmet Bilal Dede, Meltem Arıkan, painter Taner Ceylan and photography artistı Bikem Ekberzade', the relation of pornography with homosexuality is discussed.

The file with headline "Visuality of sexuality, sexuality of visuality: Pornography", the doors of the world of pornography that invades the globe are opened and we question how all the images that confuse our minds turn into pornographic elements.

Now with the demand of Ankara Chief Republican Prosecutor and decision of Ankara 12th Justice Court, examination and questioning of pornography by writers, artists, academics, feminists and gay-lesbian individuals have been banned.
Interestingly, the press release points out that the ruling coincided with Turkey's Press Festival on July 24. Irony?

I wonder how this will affect things. Turkey, even though its population is still overwhelmingly against gay rights, has seemed to adopt a policy of "laissez-faire" towards gay people in the past. Is this a sign of bad things to come?

How will the European Union, with its progressive stance on gay rights, view this? Turkey wants to become a member; will they care about this? This is probably the worst time for something like this to happen. The West is increasingly being seen as meddling too much in the affairs of the East, and criticizing one of the more moderate states might not be a good tactical move. I predict that Western nations will remain silent.

It also seems from the press release that only the one issue is banned, and that KAOS GL can continue to publish, which makes the ruling not only seem less extreme, but minimizes the chances that anyone in the West will speak out, but will rather hope that it blows over. Maybe it's prudish, maybe its cowardly - it depends on how the Turkish government act in the future.

It's a dangerous precedent, nonetheless.

Yacoubian Building a Hit in Tunisia

In an article titled "The Film The Yacoubian Building Attracts Great Interest at a Carthage Festival in Tunisia", Radio Sawa shows how the Egyptian film is turning heads. A quote, translated by me:

The Egyptian film The Yacoubian Building by director Marwan Hamed attracted a great interest Saturday night during the 41st installment of the Carthage Film Festival and the critics pondered a while on its dimensions and content.

The film was presented in a Roman amphitheatre in Carthage in front of about 12 thousand viewers who did not leave during the entire three hours despite the repeated interruption of video and sound.

Raouf Ben Omar, the director of the Carthage festival, praised the interest in the film in a statement for Agence France-Presse and said that the Carthage festival always searches for high-quality, important performances that avoid stereotypes.

He added that it is not logical that the film and the novel, which were featured in a cultural event in France, would remain unknown in Tunisia. Tunisian journalist Saber Samih Bin Amer journalist Saber Samih Bin Amer praised the work of the young director Marwan Hamed, considering him to be bold in addressing social and political topics with great professionalism.

He added that although the film foreshadows Hamed's future works, it includes shots that are reminiscent of Hollywood films. Bin Amer confirmed that The Yacoubian Building allowed viewers to identify with the deep characters played by the Egyptian actors, especially with actor Khaled al-Sawi, who played the role of a young homosexual (Radio Sawa uses "sexual deviant" here). He called on Tunisian filmmakers to watch the film to gain the benefits of this rich experience.

In The Yacoubian Building, Director Marawan Hamed draws the image of life in a district in the center of Cairo through bold language that addresses the issues of the homosexuality (Radio Sawa uses a neutral term here), liberation, corruption, the caste system, and torture without bias.
All in all, it's a good sign. A movie deals with difficult issues, and people respond well. Plus, the media doesn't use "luti". Only one question remains: when am I going to be able to see the movie?

Also, I haven't read any updates anywhere on what's going on with the inquest of the Egyptian parliament into the film. Maybe it was lost in beaurocracy?