February 17, 2011 By Amina Abdallah
The winds of change are blowing hard through the Middle East. In just a few short weeks, regimes that have seemed immune from change have been toppled by mass uprisings first in Tunisia, then in Egypt. While the name ‘tahrir’ – liberation in Arabic – has suddenly become familiar, new mass risings clamor for our attention: Libya, Algeria, Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, even Iraq are suddenly in the news with, instead of the usual depressing stories, examples of bravery and commitment to freedom and democracy flash around the world.
From where I sit – in Damascus, Syria, suddenly one of the few ‘quiet’ and ‘stable’ places – it seems like a fresh wind of freedom is sweeping away the tired old dictatorships. We are, we feel, sitting in the middle of a revolution. Maybe, we can hope, these changes will mean a real blossoming of freedom. We are ready, we’ve been waiting …
But we hear voices from beyond our region telling us that, instead of freedom, we should be scared. Those kings and dictators might be bad … but the alternative is worse, they tell us. Instead of these tired and compromised despots, they say, we will have new dictators who are harsher. They warn us of Islamic fundamentalists and Muslim brothers waiting to seize power and deny us any freedom.
Maybe, or maybe it is a risk we are willing to take. We’ve lived for decades without democracy, without freedom at all. Some of us, like our brothers and sisters in Iraq or Palestine, find themselves not just struggling for our dignity as a sexual minority nor just as women but also as human beings.
Queer Palestinians, like Afghan and Iraqi women, have consistently found their discourse co-opted by neo-conservative hawks and progressives alike in order to justify war and occupation under the assumption that such actions will ‘liberate’ the oppressed. It is this cynical manipulation that the forum’s speakers work to disparage. Claiming their own voices and movement, queer Palestinian activists are clamoring to be heard and wish for their American brothers and sisters to spread their message. So what is it they have to say?
The clearest message resounding from all three speakers was that if one actually cares about LGBT rights within Palestine, one should be working to end the occupation. That Israel has cultivated a vibrant and open gay enclave is laudable, yet such accomplishments do not give the ‘Jewish State’ a free pass to violate human rights, including the rights of the gay Palestinians they allegedly care for. As Haneen dryly explained, “It doesn’t matter what the sexual orientation of the Soldier at a checkpoint is, whether he can serve openly or not. What matters is that he’s there at all.” Sami echoed the same sentiment, jibing that “the apartheid wall was not created to keep Palestinian homophobes out of Gay Israel, and there is no magic door for gay Palestinians to pass through.”
Others of us have had to deal with secret police and brutal courts; in Iraq, not only do gay women have the American armed and funded state to worry about, but also its opponents.
Yet, we persevere. There are millions of us, yearning to be free and jealous of the freedom of our sisters in the west. We want what they want; the freedom to live as we choose, to love whom we choose, to live without fear or discrimination.
We know there are risks but we also know that the way we are living can’t last. This lack of freedom slowly suffocates us; I do not know a gay woman here who does not dreaming of living in the west.
We aren’t supporting the idea of replacing secular dictatorship with religious dictatorships; we hope that the religious parties do keep their word if elections come and they win and govern as an elected party. It can’t be much worse.
And we also know that many have used religion as a means of oppression for people like us, whether it is in the name of Islam, Judaism, or Christianity. But, even then, maybe there is hope. In actual Islamic legal thinking, as opposed to in that version practiced by oppressive cultures, the ‘sin’ of lesbianism is just that it is sex outside marriage. http://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/Pages/femalehomosexuality.html Maybe there’s hope even then.
But a revolution is underway and all of us want to see it revolutionize every aspect of our societies, rethinking not just how the states are governed but also the role of women in these societies, the rights of sexual autonomy, and, yes, the right to marry who we love.