My dear friend Souhaib Ayoub wrote an article for Raseef22, in which he presented many arguments against the Pride March that Iman Association is holding in the United Kingdom, the first Pride March for Muslim LGBT people, in spite of the contradiction and peculiarity of the term. In light of Souhaib’s criticism of the association, I wanted to add several points that could further expand the discussion adding more nuance to the thought and to question the context in the Arab world.
I do not think that Iman Association cares much for what the stance of Muslim scholars, whether Sunni or Shia, is on homosexuality. They actually believe that Islam does not condemn or criminalize homosexuality at all; an aspect of Islamic jurisprudence worth debating, but this is not the purpose here.
The purpose is giving visibility to the Muslim LGBT community, as it is with the varied identities within that community. That visibility in the public sphere is what gives the struggle of Muslim queers its importance.
It is enough, from the liberal point of view, to appear in the public space in order to gain, or, more precisely, seek the acknowledgement of their existence, for in the symbolism of appearing, the reasons for exclusion or hiding are extinguished, without looking at the structural or social reasons that contribute to suppressing them as a group. And maybe this is what we have to do: criticize the liberal view of the concept of identity, and the limited nature of the so-called identity politics, as a progressive political programme that breaks the savagery of neoliberalism, which breaks down the community to interest groups fighting with each other over crumbs, with whatever it can invoke in the sense of grievances and injustices.
This is one of the biggest defects of identity politics, which have emptied the radical content of queer movements since their inception in the mid-sixties, a part of the student movements and civil rights movements, whether in the university movements in Europe or the civil rights and anti-war movements in the United States.
Queer movements, in their first inception, were not run by the state, multinational corporation, or even civil society. They came from the margins, and expressed the issues of the marginalised. Therefore, it was not particularly interested in how widely it gets accepted by society, or whether or not it is aligned with the existing political process.
What happened was that these movements gradually calmed down, and, in light of the death of politics under the pressure of neoliberalism, and the death of organization as well, the mere scenes of a group of downtrodden people came to recreate the injustice that has befallen them in a more theatrical each year.
What added fuel to the fire, as they say, is the commercialisation of that scene, in order to make it part of the humane side of companies or authoritarian governments (as is the situation with the Pride march of Tel Aviv), which support these marches as a form of pink-washing, like they do in the Israeli context.
The second and more controversial point, which irritates all sides, is the question of religion in the LGBT community. It is always the question, the one that irritates many who do not look at the Pride March outside its context, the context of diasporas in the west, and the context of diasporas is entirely different from the context of communities at home
As an LGBT person who lives in a Muslim country with a long history and practice of persecuting and clamping down on homosexual and transgender people, such question cannot be dismissed that easily.
Millions of LGBT people who live in Egypt, and in other Arab and Muslim countries, do not have the luxury of dismissing or neutralizing the question (as Sohaib says, religion is a choice but homosexuality is a nature, and I disagree with his view of religion as a choice, but this is a discussion for another time).
Every time one of us is confronted by society, the first reaction is that “this homosexual identity is rejected by our religion and culture”. As a group that is a minority, we do not have the luxury to say: to hell with your religion and your beliefs, like many queer activists do, in a way that can be described as political and social cluelessness. I do not intend to lecture anyone about their suffering, or downplay the suffering of the LGBT in our communities, but that does not at all mean that we should lose our political and social senses.
Not only are we in a weak position, even though the public opinion has somewhat changed in the past few years, but there are many people inside the LGBT community who do not want to be forced to choose between religion or homosexual identity, that despicable and cheap game that we have grown fed up of playing.
I would like to expand the discussion even further, and say that the pressing need to wonder about the role of religion in our society goes beyond the issue of the LGBT, not just from a secular and enlightenment perspective (those are more annoying and authoritarian from the state and Arab regimes themselves) but from the stance that realises that the role of religion in light of Arab revolutions must be questioned repeatedly, and that we do not seek that delusion of hiatus (the heritage of the French revolution and the age of enlightenment) between the religion and its role and shape in the public life. What we must seek is reconsidering all those authoritarian structures within religious rhetoric, and how it identifies with the authoritarianism of Arab regimes in one way or another, and admitting that many amongst us do not desire or see an absolute need to ablate religion in such a bad and naïve fashion.
There is no doubt that this is not an invite to reproduce the religious revival movements (in its shia incarnation in the Islamic Revolution and the sunni incarnation in the Islamic awakening movements), we all know what happened because of those movements, and what kind of authoritarianism and systematic impoverishment it has practiced in the public sphere in all Arab and Muslim countries. This is a lesson we must learn very well, and we must emphasize that such a superficial, authoritarian, and ridiculous vision, which replaced the authoritarianism of modernism and post-colonial countries with an nostalgic authoritarianism imagined in the “Islamic State” and its variations, was the reason behind many tragedies that occurred during the past four decades, and in leading many Arab revolutionary movements to fail (the most famous polarization in Egypt is military/Muslim brotherhood, and sunni/shia in Lebanon and Iraq).
What we must think about is this serious question: how can we continue to try to create a society that is more just and humane, one that would rescue humanity from the savagery of neoliberalism, and the catastrophic heritage of Arab regimes in their repression of their people, for the deceptions of pride and dignity (where is pride in the crushing and humiliating of millions)?
That dilemma is what Arab revolutions tried to address, by breaking all those polarizations that we inherited from the 19th century, in a more complicated vision than just “separating” or “rejecting” religion, or announcing a certain identity as a way to acknowledge it, or even attempting to reconcile religion and that identity. Such a vision, which transcends polarizations, is what we really need at that moment.
If the world is going to end because of the fossil economy and the mismanagement and abuse of this planet's resources, does this catastrophic situation not impose on us the necessity to confront ourselves with all these belated and extremely difficult questions at the same time? And doesn’t that require a lot of honesty and sincerity with ourselves? And that we are more loyal to the queer heritage which is basically a utopian heritage that sees in the eradication of the capitalist-patriarchal system the greatest and most important form of struggle. I think that this sort of critical sense is what we really need now.