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But They Would Kill You in the Middle East


Written by Vish Kumar (he/him) | @theevishkumar/@the.kun.manifesto | Contributing Writer

The conversation between people involved in the modern sexual liberation movements and people of Arabic and Middle Eastern countries is disheartening at most. Despite the quite blatant prejudice in both communities, there is a bridge between them that not many care to discuss nor acknowledge - especially in Aotearoa.

Here is a translation of a quote from the Quran: “...their Lord responded to them, “Never will I allow to be lost the work of [any] worker among you, whether male or female; you are of another. So those who emigrated or were emigrated or were evicted from their homes or were harmed in My cause or fought or were killed - I will surely remove from them their misdeeds, and I will surely admit them to gardens beneath which rivers flow as reward from Allah, and Allah has with Him the best reward.” [Surah, Ali Imran. 193.] Passages like these appear throughout the Quran. Many of them highlight an eventual mutual and equal understanding of the rights of both men and women.

The discussion of female liberation and Islam is usually people of Non-Muslim faith speaking on behalf of Muslim women, and never lending them the chance to speak for themselves. One may be quick to argue that the Quran adheres to oppressive patriarchy; however this is not necessarily the case. One journal article written by Ndeye Adujar, writes on several female Muslim scholars in regards to their stances on the holy text, “…Beyond these differences in labelling (which are, in fact, strategic), such Muslim women scholars are unified by their conviction that the Qur’an does not defend patriarchy, as well as that discriminatory laws against women must be changed (as laws created by men, not of divine inspiration).” One must also provide the context that texts in the Bible have referred to quite outdated laws pertaining to women; for instance, “1 Timothy 2:12 - "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet."

It is not just the sexual liberation of women, but also queer people where this applies. It’s easy to presume that the Middle East’s relationship with the concern of queer sexuality is mainly based on an attack on the sexual liberation of the queer community. However, the relationship is a bit more nuanced and complex, and it’s not impossible to understand its relationship altogether.

People talk about the relationship between queer sexuality and the Middle East by examining it through non-modern lens; it should also be important to note how modern populations of those practising Islamic Faith in other countries perceives queerness. According to one set of data from the Human Rights Campaign website, “more than half (52%) of American Muslims agreed that society should approve of homosexuality." This particular data contradicts the notion that all Muslims living in other countries are inherently homophobic.

On the other hand, a lot of media outlets seem to ignore that homosexual activity was at one point decriminalized in the West Bank due to Jordanian ruling of the region. On the other hand, “same-sex sexual activity is prohibited in Gaza under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance 1936. The relevant provision carries a maximum penalty of ten years’ imprisonment. Only men are criminalized under this law.” That, in itself, is a British implemented law. 

It was stated in one article published in the Jerusalem Post several years ago, that homophobic incidents in Israel had increased by at least 26% by 2017; it contradicts a lot of the claims of Israel being the haven for gay people in the Middle East. As of the 23rd of April, at least more than “34,000 Palestinians have been killed; 72% of those killed were women and children.” Some of those women would be queer women as well. 

Ultimately, we must choose to speak of and for the liberation of minorities living in the Middle East. In this country, we are at least given some privileges to thrive; others in their situation barely struggle to survive in the face of persecution. Our liberated sexualities, in and by itself, are not always going to be revolutionary alone; rather, it is through the act of relating the liberation of one’s sex and body through its potential to cross the boundaries, whether social, political or religious, that has bound your bodies and sex in the first place. That gives such liberation its potential. What is not revolutionary, however, is silence. You must show those in the Middle East that you care for their revolution as well.


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