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Gay, Arab,

Gay, Arab,


Singer-songwriter Dave Hall is proud of his Arab heritage. You know, the tradition that includes inventions like algebra, sherbet--and Kathy Najimy.

Recently a friend and I compared childhoods as we ate in an Arab restaurant. "Dave," she asked, "remember when we were just regular Americans?" I laughed a little at the question but took it seriously, because after entire lives spent as ordinary citizens, my friend and I, both Arab-Americans, were experiencing how it feels to be "other." And it wasn't feeling good.

I've dealt with stereotypes before. Arab-Americans are used to tired Hollywood images--the enslaver of virgins, the ardent lover (maybe I can live with that one), and lately, the terrorist. But before, when we encountered such caricatures, we could roll our eyes and keep eating our popcorn. At school, after learning the European view of the Crusades, we could go home and get the correct version. We never felt our very place in the world was in question.

Now it's all questions. Like: How do you feel about suicide bombing? Is terrorism part of your culture? How do you feel about violence against gays in the Middle East? What about Islam? When confronted with such questions one can either lament American ignorance or roll up one's sleeves and pitch in. Let me do the latter and attempt to answer those questions. Then I'll pose a few of my own.

Regarding suicide bombing and terrorism: There is nothing essentially Arab about terrorism, nor are Arabs the only perpetrators of terrorist acts. Just as we shouldn't lump all Irish people together based on the actions of the IRA or equate all Germans with Nazis, we mustn't assume all Arabs support terror or even understand it.

I feel the same about violence against gays in the Middle East as I do about antigay violence in Wyoming--terrible. But let's define terms. The Middle East is made up of many countries, not all of which are Arab. Under the Taliban regime in non-Arab Afghanistan, severe punishments were meted out to gays. And in non-Arab Iran, a nation that recognizes gender identity disorder and performs many sex reassignments each year, people have nevertheless been punished for homosexual acts.

I won't pretend homophobia doesn't exist in the Arab world, but it might be noted that Lebanon has a national gay magazine and a very active LGBT community. The Middle East has a long history of tolerance of homosexuality--it was European colonizers who introduced antigay laws to the region, and it is those laws that tyrants enforce for political gain.

What about Islam? Like most Arab-Americans, I'm Christian. But I do know that Islam is one of the great Western religions, and Allah, the Arabic word for God, refers to the same deity worshipped by Jews and Christians. Islam was born out of those two earlier monotheistic faiths, and Muslims revere all the Old and New Testament prophets. Sometimes American Christians ask about Islam being spread by the sword, as if their own faith was spread with a powder puff! I answer this way: My Arab Christian forebears lived for centuries with and among Muslims under Muslim rulers and were not forced to convert. Compare that to the European Christian model.

All of the above questions assume that Arabs behave more badly than Americans. Jesus said that to take a speck out of your neighbor's eye, you must first remove the plank from your own. Let's take his advice and reverse the questions: How do we feel when our tax dollars are spent destroying Arab cities and killing Arab civilians? And how do we feel when Christian leaders incite hatred of Muslims?

Arabs have brought to the world an extraordinary number of things I'm proud of. A very brief list would include algebra, geometry, astronomy, coffee, orange juice, sherbet, newspapers, the guitar, Kathy Najimy, and my mom.

You'd like my mom. She taught me tolerance. She's proud of me as a musician and as a gay man. She makes a really mean tabbouleh. And she's as American as you are.

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

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