Unspeakable Love: Gay and Lesbian Life in the Middle East / Edition 1

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Overview

Homosexuality is a taboo subject in Arab countries. Clerics denounce it as a heinous sin, while newspapers write cryptically of "shameful acts." Although many parts of the world now accept sexual diversity, the Middle East is moving in the opposite direction.
In this absorbing account, journalist Brian Whitaker calls attention to the voices of men and women who are struggling with gay identities in societies where they are marginalized and persecuted by the authorities. He paints a disturbing picture of people who live secretive, fearful lives and who are often jailed, beaten, and ostracized by their families, or sent to be "cured" by psychiatrists.

Whitaker's exploration of changing sexual behavior in the Arab world reveals that—while deeply repressive prejudices and stereotypes still govern much thinking about homosexuality—there are pockets of change and tolerance. The author combines personal accounts from individuals in the region with a look at recent Arab films and novels featuring gay characters and conducts a sensitive comparative reading of Christian, Jewish, and Islamic strictures around sexuality. Deeply informed and engagingly written, Unspeakable Love draws long overdue attention to a crucial subject.

Copub: Saqi Books

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While the mainstream media cover Middle Eastern cultural tensions over the interpretation of Islamic law and the position of women, little attention has been paid to the complicated place of same-sex affection and relationships in these countries. Whitaker, Middle East editor for the Guardian, delivers a modest but informative primer on the complex historical, religious, social and legal status of same-sex acts and identities in the Middle East. Aware of the complexity of this undertaking, he points out that words such as "homosexual," "lesbian," "gay" and "queer" are Western constructs and can be misleading or dangerously inaccurate when applied to non-Western cultures. Whitaker is best when describing the lives of the dozens of women and men, some of whom he interviewed, such as a young Syrian man whose therapist outed him to his family and two Saudi men who killed a third man they feared would report their relationship to authorities. He also offers a larger view of the religious and political implications of homosexuality: there's no uniform Islamic position about the legality of homosexual acts; the Iranian government will frequently use the charge of homosexuality to further stigmatize its Arab Ahwazi minority population. While Whitaker's findings aren't conclusive, this is an illuminating book on an important topic. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The distressing, archaic treatment of Middle Eastern homosexuals is addressed in straightforward, documentary fashion. The persecution of homosexuals, described in Lebanese as "shawaadh" ("perverts"), continues to thrive. Interviews with a variety of gay Arabs, Syrians and Egyptians finds many depressed and lonely, with support and understanding as rare as rainbow flags in Lebanon. Conflicted by an intense sense of family loyalty and an awareness of the devastating, family-wide consequences of exposure, gay and lesbian Arabs often find suicide to be their only salvation. Some manage to outsmart the system and emigrate while others become ingeniously resourceful in manufacturing an outward appearance (marriage to a gay partner of the opposite sex) that will appeal to conventional domestic expectations yet enable them to cultivate covert homosexual affiliations. Coming out to family is often fruitless and considered a "high-risk strategy," though often, Whitaker asserts, it is parents who will question their children's sexuality, suggesting that it has become "time for marriage" and children: an inevitable, obligatory stipulation in Arab households. But all is not lost as the author deftly underscores cultural changes at play in places like Beirut, where members of gay-rights organization Helem hand-stitched a multi-colored flag for a ten-person marching contingent against the war in Iraq; where the gay dance club Acid flourishes; and where Dunkin' Donuts remains a well-known (albeit controversial) gay hangout. Though Saudi Arabia is thought to be the most militant against open sexuality, the author proffers quotes from Saudi gay youth to the contrary. Many declare stories of gaypersecution as being greatly exaggerated and point to the Internet as the ultimate resource for same-sex liaisons (and entrapment). Most interestingly, Whitaker takes into account the varied contradictions and evolutionary growth of Arab media, literature, cinema, etc., juxtaposing harsh current-day restrictions with notions of emerging freedoms. While directing readers toward the pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, Whitaker clearly demarcates tradition and family honor as two powerhouses eternally keeping Middle Eastern alternative lifestyles in the dark. Strong, condensed, world-weary portrait infused with hope.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520250178
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 11/6/2006
  • Edition description: 1ST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Brian Whitaker is the Middle East Editor of the Guardian.

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Table of Contents

1 A question of honour 17
2 In search of a rainbow 41
3 Images and realities 65
4 Rights and wrongs 109
5 'Should I kill myself?' 143
6 Sex and sensibility 177
7 Paths of reform 201
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