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Murder and

Murder and


Democracy will not flourish in the Middle East until Islamic governments stop murdering their gay citizens--and we need to halt antigay violence at home before we can condemn it abroad

Although the United States claims to be the prime cultivator of democratic values in the Islamic world, a member of the Dutch parliament has far exceeded our flawed efforts. Ayaan Hirsi Ali received death threats for her film about Islam's treatment of women, Submission. In 2004 an Islamic radical murdered her partner on the film, director Theo van Gogh.

With the controversy over Submission still raging, Hirsi Ali has announced that her new film will concern itself with an equally incendiary subject: Islam's attitude toward homosexuality.

As American fundamentalist Christians have done with the Bible, extremist Muslims have interpreted the Koran as condemning homosexual acts, justifying the persecution of gays in many Islamic states. Even though the mainstream media have paid only passing attention to the situation, abundant examples exist of widespread and flagrant persecution of gays in countries that include Iraq, Iran, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia. Even countries seen as more moderate, such as Egypt, continue to brutally suppress homosexuality.

Several horrifying cases occurred in 2005 that may have influenced Hirsi Ali's decision to make her new film. In July two teenagers were hanged in Iran on questionable charges that they had raped another male teenager. And while Sharia courts generally reserve the death penalty for those convicted of rape, murder, and adultery, among other offenses, Sharia law decrees capital punishment even for consensual gay sex.

Such was the case earlier in the year for a Nigerian man who was sentenced to death by stoning after he admitted to having had sex with men.

And in November more than two dozen men were arrested at what police called a "mass homosexual wedding" in the United Arab Emirates, where gay men are subject to government-ordered hormone treatments, beatings, and prison time as punishment for their orientation. These are but a few of the recent cases in a long history of inhumane treatment of gay people in Islamic countries.

While Hirsi Ali's film will focus on homosexuality in Islamic states, it might also indirectly shed light on hypocrisy in the United States.

President Bush has clearly stated that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the opening salvos in a campaign to spread democracy and its attendant values throughout the Middle East. And to its credit, the Administration has promoted respect for and equal treatment of women as an integral part of the democratic ideal. So it is clear that when we as a nation believe that an aspect of Islamic fundamentalism flies in the face of democratic human rights, we are willing to challenge religious beliefs in other sovereign countries.

Yet the U.S. government never cites homophobia as a dangerous aspect of Islamic extremism.

In fact, the U.S. government has done its part in the Middle East to reinforce the view that homosexuality is inherently wrong. When our military denies openly gay men and women the opportunity to serve their country, it implies that such people are incapable of carrying the cause of democracy to foreign lands.

On a more visceral level, the images of abuse that took place in Abu Ghraib show the military using homosexual acts and identity as the ultimate symbol of weakness, shame, and degradation.

Despite certain passages in the Koran, it could be argued that homophobia is a modern phenomenon in the Islamic world. Until the early 20th century, when the West began to aggressively influence Islamic countries, same-sex attraction was a widely accepted part of life in the very countries where it is now suppressed. Sex often took place between older and younger men as a quiet but accepted rite of passage. While such a culture would hardly seem supportive to a contemporary gay man, it remains preferable to death.

In Islamic culture today gay identity is as forbidden as gay sex. In the United States gay sex is very much the problem. Here homosexuals are tolerated as long as they remain neutered entertainers playing in contemporary minstrel shows. Even the most traditional of institutions--marriage--becomes menacing to many Americans when tainted with the prospect of gay sex.

Can the United States ever claim to have moral authority abroad when gays still face so many challenges here? In the wake of the brutal murders of Matthew Shepard and Gwen Araujo, it is difficult for the United States to insist that killings stop abroad; as we have learned with the torture of prisoners, the United States cannot condemn with authority that which it practices.

Internationally, regarding treatment of gay people, the United States stands midway in a continuum that stretches from complete repression to acceptance. It is easy for a gay American to be discouraged when countries like Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands treat their gay citizens with so much more respect. On the other hand, it is important to recognize that, whereas we still face many hurdles here in the United States, in some parts of the world gay men, lesbians, and transgender people literally cannot survive if they are open about their sexuality.

Iran is such a place. Homan, an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Iranians in exile, estimates that more than 4,000 gay Iranians have been executed in the country since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said of the execution of the two teenagers in July, "We are alarmed at these latest hangings and call for an immediate investigation by the U.N. and national human rights monitors."

But where is the call from Ettelbrick and others to be heard? Even as the U.S. media wring their hands about the growing theocracy in Iran, they seldom recognize the sanctioned brutality routinely directed toward homosexuals. While members of the press salivate over gay cowboys, they are silent over the continued killings of gay people around the world.

Gay Americans must force their way into the U.S. foreign policy agenda using the same tools we utilized during the AIDS crisis: direct action and media savvy. Otherwise, we risk becoming as isolated and self-focused as our country has become on the world stage. Our victories at home will mean little if our brothers and sisters around the globe continue to suffer so horribly.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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