Thursday, October 04, 2007

"No Homosexuals in Iran"

When Ahmadinejad made -- what appeared to be an insane comment to those of us living in the western hemisphere -- the statement "In Iran, we don’t have homosexuals like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you we have It." when addressing the crowd at Columbia University, he truly believed it.

The Arab and Muslim world do not define "homosexual" as we do in the west. The words, "gay", "lesbian", "bisexual" and "transgender" do not translate into Farsi, Arabic, Bengali or any of the languages spoken in Muslim countries. As long as homosexuality is not categorized in western terms, “gay rights” terms, there is a great deal of freedom for people we would label homosexual or gay, but they themselves would not define themselves as such. Most "gay" Arabs do not identify themselves as gay; they see what they do as an act and not in a way that would have social or personal repercussions. Ironically, homosexuals have more freedom to act upon their desires than we do, but much less freedom to identify themselves by their sexuality. Most, if not all people of the Islam faith marry people of the opposite gender but if they have homosexual tendencies, they will adopt a second life where they can for the most part, freely act out their sexuality.

Our reaction to Ahmadinejad's comment makes absolutely no sense when we interpret it through our own cultural filters, but if you take the time to comprehend what he said through the cultural lens of his very different world, it makes more sense, even though we may not agree.

This is an example of why we should not impose our ways onto other parts of the world as we are doing in Iraq. It's arrogant to translate the predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a different part of the world with only the knowledge of our own culture. In order for translation to be accurate, the translator must understand all the knowledge and values shared by both societies.

Having said that, it is clearly wrong for any society to impose such harsh penalties for loving the wrong person but taking the time to learn a little bit about how and why they believe the way they do will give us a much better chance, in the long run, to change the aspects of their belief system that can lead to barbarous acts such as executing people for identifying as gay.

Documentary filmmaker Parvez Sharma, a gay Muslim, who recently released the film, Jihad for Love, wanted to, as he said, “give voice to a community that really needed to be heard and that until now hadn’t been; it was about going where the silence was strongest.” Mr. Sharma explores the complex and often paradoxical issues that exist between Islam and homosexuality. He doesn't condemn the Islam religion, rather he lets the viewer observe for themselves what it's like to be gay and live in a part of the world that has practiced Islam for the last 1400 years, and he does this through a distinctly Muslim prism.

"Clearly, in these times of the slickly packaged and devastatingly ignorant "War on Terror," the desire for nuance, for understanding, has been lost. Knowledge and intellectual curiosity are clearly undervalued; to vilify and demonize Mr. Ahmadi Nejad in the absence of any real understanding of the context from which he comes is all too easy. The kind of "Evil Satan" rhetoric that has been drummed up for a quarter of a century in Iran finds its perfect mirror in America today. The religious extremism found in parts of Iran is no different than the kind that has crept into the American psyche." -- Parvez_Sharma

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