[Marxism] More on Shia attacks on gays

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 24 14:24:22 MST 2006


 From March 24 JuanCole.com:

Readers have been asking me about the stance of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani 
regarding homosexuality. I take it they are inquiring about this entry at 
my colleagues' great Pandagon site.

Let me begin by saying that the charge leveled by some, and mentioned at 
Pandagon, that Sistani has called for the killing of Sunnis, is completely 
untrue. The implication given by exiled gay Iraqi, Ali Hili, of the 
London-based gay human rights group OutRage, that Sistani has called for 
vigilante killings of gays, is untrue, though it is accurate that Sistani 
advises that the state make homosexual activity a capital crime; it is also 
accurate to call this "sick."

In traditional Islam there was no conception of the "homosexual" as a 
permanent identity or social role. As in ancient Greece, the real 
distinction in sexuality (as Michel Foucault showed) was between the 
penetrator and the penetrated. Medieval and early modern Islamdom were like 
the Greece of Plato. Adult males were the penetrators. In premodern Muslim 
society, women could be penetrated if they were legally married to the man 
or if they were his slaves. Likewise, slave-boys (catamites) could be 
penetrated, although it was typically disapproved of by the Muslim clerics. 
Exclusive adult male-male sexual relationships are not recorded, and a 
taste for a slave-boy did not stop a wealthy man from being married or from 
having liasons with his female slaves, as well. About half the famous 
love-poems of the medieval Baghdad literary figure, Abu Nuwas, appear to 
have been addressed to boys.

As slavery was forbidden in the Ottoman Empire in the course of the mid- to 
late-nineteenth century, obviously the keeping of slave-boys by wealthy men 
ceased. As society modernized, notions of sexuality moved away from the 
penetrator/penetrated model similar to that of the ancient Greeks, and 
toward a modern male-female binary. Many Muslim societies in the course of 
the twentieth century also moved away from polygamy toward a model of one 
man, one woman as the family unit.

Modern homosexual identity has only slowly emerged in the Middle East, and 
has sometimes faced great hostility. I say sometimes because real-life 
Muslim societies are not as puritanical as outsiders or local elites 
imagine. It is obvious that American writer Paul Bowles liked living in 
Tangiers precisely because anything went as long as it stayed fairly 
private. In cosmopolitan Muslim cultures like Egypt, at best the modern gay 
subculture is winked at, but sometimes there are crackdowns. The situation 
resembles the US in, say, the 1930s and 1940s, when the police would arrest 
gays. In a radical Muslim regime like Taliban Afghanistan, gays were 
executed. This was in part an attempt to keep discipline in the Taliban 
military ranks, which were notorious for gay liaisons. So there is a 
spectrum. It should be underlined that Taliban Afghanistan was weird and 
not like most of the Muslim world.

So on to Sistani, who upholds a slightly modernized version of medieval 
Muslim canon law. The first two fatwas he gave on the subject have to do 
with adult men penetrating boys. That is, Sistani appears to take as the 
connotation of lawat that it is an adult man penetrating an under-age boy. 
Unsurprisingly, he deeply disapproves. The first two fatwas, however, come 
in response to questions about what this sexual relationship means for 
later marital relations between the two families. Say a 21-year-old man 
from Khazraj had relations with a 17-year-old boy from Ruba'i? Then, say 
the first man's family wanted to marry him off to a girl from the Ruba'i 
family. Can they? And to what degree of relatedness? Can he be the husband 
of his former lover's sister? The answer is "no." In contrast, Sistani 
would allow a man who had an affair with a girl to later on marry her 
sister. Personally, I think the gay guy is getting the better advice here; 
having a brother-in-law or sister-in-law who is your former lover would be 
awkward at family reunions. Sistani does say that if a man has an affair 
with a married woman, and fathers her child, and she later gets divorced, 
he cannot in good conscience marry her, as a punishment for the earlier sin.

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