Tuesday, August 2, 2011

On US Embassy and Pakistani Homosexuals

Now that its been sometime since the US embassy Pride event took place I believe it is time to shout back at the ensuing homophobia resulting out of it. The resultant fear of many queers that a public anti-homophobia discourse would only be harmful and call more of uncalled attention to the LGBT community made me contain my thoughts and emotions for the right time. The pride event was held on June 26 but reported later on, and that is when the trouble started.
The fact that the pride event was held by an American embassy, made it a field day for Islamist parties in Pakistan. According to Jamaat E Islami homosexuals “…don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani, and the support and protection announced by the US administration for them is the worst social and cultural terrorism against Pakistan,”.
Once again the Mullah pressure groups have deemed it their responsibility to assure us who is and is not a Muslim. If anything the Islamists who are largely responsible for the notorious image of Pakistan in the world “don’t deserve to be Muslim or Pakistani”.

What social and cultural terrorism? Homosexuality was,is and will be an aspect of Pakistani society,just as it has been present in all times and places. Rants by the religious parties of homosexuality being a western import are laughable, especially given the amount of same-sex pedophilia cases against Mullah class itself.
Nevertheless, Uncle Sam must understand it has to stop poking its nose unnecessarily and that may one be secular, liberal or conservative, there is hatred for American foreign policies across the board. Given the situation American embassy’s insouciant behavior to issue a statement showing encouragement to LGBT activists is plain shocking. Have they hit the same road of complacence British Empire did? Hold a pride event for sure, as US embassy is technically considered American soil. Call whomever you wish. But why endanger already handful of LGBT activists? An event consisting of mere seventy-five people decided behind the closed and protected walls it was time for gay rights in Pakistan, showing their oblivion to the turmoil Pakistani state at present is going through and the disastrous result it could result in.

It was all the more astonishing for me, when I heard a fellow queer activist inform me how she was told by someone she knew in the embassy that US would not be willingly to give asylum to any homosexuals in Pakistan. No security. No funding for community building in Pakistan. No asylum for the bunch of activists, on whose head danger already looms, in case extremist parties come for their lives. But oh well! We have the wonderful words of encouragement from Mr.Richard Hoagland.
Our kind request,and I speak for a plethora of queer community in Pakistan, to any embassy, especially Anglo-American, is to kindly deal with such a sensitive issue in the light of present circumstances in Pakistan, for it can easily endanger many a lives, after much consultation and farsighted critical thinking.

In a country where raped women still await justice, where Ahmedis are targeted out and about and where every other person roams around the street as a guardian of Islamic faith ready to slit the throat of dissident it seems we’d have to work thrice as hard as India or US for Gay equality.
It would be much wiser if US pushes Pakistan for a more Secular constitution and to provide security to the warriors of humanity. The rest than then would be the job of activists and communities themselves. The change has to come from within and not without. Perhaps Anglo-American officials need to embed this notion. At most they can be our allies with unflinching support. But given the history of American politics it seems like a silly idea.

The anti-Gay protests in Karachi,Lahore and Islamabad were not as much about as homosexuality but US. Its an old trick called “killing two birds with the same stone” and it just could not have been more perfect of an opportunity for the anti-American rightwing. Raising a fear of impending doom were homosexuals to be allowed basic rights and freedoms,right wing made sure to fuel anti-Americanism. So were this pride event held by Dutch or Swede embassy, it would not have led to so much clamoring by the rightwing and Islamists.And so it puts an extra pressure on Britain and US when dealing with advocacy of minorities.

As for the Jamaat E Islami and other religious parties and clerics, it is kindly advised to focus on and label much more ruthless event and acts as inhuman and vile than what goes between two consenting and loving adults of same sex who harm none. I am waiting for them to take out the rally next time against those who bury five women alive in Balochistan. And it would be really appreciated if they first try to eradicate pedophilia and same-sex activities within their own class and institutions before barging into other people’s homes.
They are also advised to read or listen to Amreen Jamal, Imam Muhsin Hendricks or Imam Daayiee Abdullah next time before they go around as the only authority on the story of Lot and his people with their orthodox analysis.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Condemn Zamir Akram

(Originally published in Express Tribune -Pakistani daily newspaper- on July 2 2011)

In 2003, Brazil brought the case for homosexual rights on the United Nations table, only to be derailed at the lat minute by the Muslim and African countries.

Instead, amendments were introduced for removal of any reference to discrimination based on sexual orientation.

My country, Pakistan was the captain of Team Homophobe .It distributed a memo to the member states declaring that the approval of the recommendation would be “a direct insult to 1.2 billion Muslims around the world.”

This year, thanks to three abstentions, China being absent, Libya’s suspension, and the efforts of South Africa to table to resolution again, it was approved. This is the first time UN has officially condemned homophobia and commissioned a study into the plight of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community, so that they may be reviewed and discussed later on in Geneva.

But then what? How long will China be absent? How long will Libya remain suspended?

Ironically the states which sat there, disapprovingly eyeing the resolution, are the ones with the worst human rights violations- be it freedom of expression, religious minority rights or any other democratic principle for the essential working of a modern and open society.

Who are they to vote on “fundamental” human rights when their own record reeks with violations?

Frankly, it seems like a joke to allow these countries to cast a vote on human rights.

I am here to inform the world and Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s envoy to UN, that homosexuals do exist in Pakistan and that we demand our rights to love people of our own gender or even change our gender when we feel necessary to do so.

It is our body- the state and the ordinary mullah on the street, must keep out of our beds.

We, the Pakistani queer people and our straight alliances, disapprove of the statement by Mr Akram that the resolution has nothing whatsoever to do with “fundamental human rights”.

Quite the contrary, LGBT rights are as much of incontrovertible human rights as the rights of women and religious minority. It’s only the rampant homophobia of the aggressively heterosexist society which has come to believe and make us believe otherwise. It is the fundamental right of homosexual, bisexual or transgender man (or a woman) to love, to marry, to form a family, and to work without discrimination in a workplace of his choice and be unapologetic.

It might seem like an elite concern to heterosexuals but this is a basic right to those demanding the right to love.

As a Pakistani, I condemn the words of Zamir Akram and stand as a proof that there are many in Pakistan who dream of an egalitarian and gay-friendly nation here.

Some rights are “fundamental” and need to be defended against the face of notoriety and odds. Queer rights are one of them. Full stop. Nothing to be apologetic about it.

Muslim and African countries must be pushed, by the international community, to give into gay rights, just as we would want to push them greater application of women’s rights and freedom of expression (or any other human right for that matter).

Thursday, June 16, 2011

An Open Letter To Tom MacMaster

Mr.Tom MacMaster,
I would refrain from using the entitlement of 'dear' and 'respected, for I believe to millions of LGBT people you no longer remain the former nor do they,or I for that matter, would have respect (apart from your being a human being perhaps?)for a person who not only molested the feelings of many who were extremely worried about the kidnapping of her (Amina Arraf, your darling creation) but also then tried to cover up his fault by declaring one of the most bizarre,and shall I say moronic,explanations I could expect at the very least.
They are reporting you are a peace activist. I am still trying to decide whether I should be banging my head against the wall over it or leave the usage of the term 'activist' to describe myself altogether, for not only its a clear evidence of as to how much the term has become overly used and misused for that matter. I donot wish to remain in the league of heterosexual men who for some reason decide to play with the feelings of many and still be called 'peace activist'.
You not only jeopardized the security of people who would have ended up on Syrian streets to inquire about your (Amina's) whereabouts, but also then came out with your immature explanation for your still largely inexplicable behavior: somehow because you were not taken seriously in the intellectual circles on Syria and Arab-Israeli conflict (should we be surprised Mr.MacMaster?) being looked down upon as some kind of traitor hating his own freedoms you decided to lead people on into believing you are Gay Syrian woman. Bill Graber,Paul Brooks you might remember since you are both the sailors of the same boat,seems to also have come up with this sort of unbelievably moronic explanation:They would take my activism for Lesbian cause seriously since I am heterosexual.Heck yeah they wouldnt Bill, if you steal the identity of your own wife! Let me spell it out clearly for you , both of you straight men. I,being a Pakistani stand against antisemitism under my real name,in person,during discussions with conservatives in a country like Pakistan where everything wrong is labeled as the export of Anglo-American world and/or Israel/India.I dont use a pseudonym necessarily for that,and certainly not because I feel iwouldnt be taken seriously but purely for security reasons. If anything the fact that straight man has started "Lez Get Real" and believes in Queer cause would only be more beneficial and thought provoking then a Lesbian fighting for her cause, for it would be largely unthought of by homophobes. Same goes for a white married straight man in discussion of Arab/Israeli conflict and Syria.Its...ummm... common sense! I wonder why didnt Ellie Weisel or Noam Chomsky start their own hoax blogs to get their opinions to reach the other side of the room without prejudice? Let me think for a minute: Because they have intellectual integrity,intellectual honesty and strength to stand up against opposition and critique! Not too much to ask of a Peace activist now,is it?
Can you kindly explain to me ,if it were all about your great(and greatly unneeded as many would agree) service to the Arab cause and/or contribution to the debate over the whole Mid East issues, why in the world would you end up abruptly stating the disappearance of Amina? Why would steal the pictures of Jelena Lecic? Why would exchange romantic letters with Sandra Bagaria?
Wait. I guess I found some answers.Thank Goodness this time you didnt come up with an unbelievably screwed up explanation. According to Guardian, you do admit to having acted out of "vanity" and created the blog. You do admit that you are "guilty" of trying to play with emotions of a human being. As you state:
"I feel really guilty about that ... I got caught up in the moment and it seemed ... fun"
However just when it starts to surface about your psyche (as well as of common heterosexual men!) and you realize you have your tail between your legs you tell us you dont want to talk about any talk being sexually aroused by the interaction between you and Miss Bagaria stating "I don't want to go into that aspect particularly of it."
Oh no, we,and more especially Miss Bagaria, deserves honesty and honest explanation from your part. Perhaps its hard for you, but its one of the things you would have to do to save your humanity in the eyes of world.
Let me check. Just a minute.Fine.I am back and I just read all the activism oriented literature in the world and nowhere does it say you have to screw the romantic feelings a grown adult woman (human) or risk the security of media persons just to interact with you, in order to become some big hot shot peace activist. Kindly recommend something.
But Mr.MacMaster, more importantly my personal feelings are outraged for I write under a pseudonym.Right now,as you are a Peace "activist" you must know, openly speaking about LGBT rights is a far cry.If we just get to keep this country on a road to basic humanity and proper democracy,it would be an achievement in itself. Thus I am at risk for displaying my photograph or state my real name,even if some fellow activists do know it.Your idiocy may have shown us the flaws in the culture of activism under pseudonym and the internet blogging, but it also means next time someone shows a Pakistani homophobe my article,and if the knowledge reaches the homophobe about me using a pseudonym, the first and major reaction would be to question Nuwas Manto's existence and the authenticity of my being a Pakistani.While I would take it positively and optimistically hoping in the best outcome and as stated above some fellow activists do know my "other" persona, it does in no way redeem you.What you did was heinous and immoral (I dont need refer to read Kant or Mill(s) in order to reach that conclusion.Majority of irate articles on you may have shown you that already).
In our country,Pakistan,we,as children,are often told as to how hiding one lie leads to another. You perfectly demonstrated it to us this day.Also how the lie shall never be everlasting. Next time I have to show my nephew and nieces how lying can get you ended up as a loathsome piece of crap,I'd post a photography of yours on their FaceBook wall.
You apologized for you actions. You are too late.You are to be held accountable for identity theft,molestation of million of people's feelings,taking the focus off the real Syrians fighting out there bravely to oppose the Assad regime, jeopardizing the security of not only the activists up in alarm to run out and rescue you but also media personnel as well as making a complete mockery of the word "activist".Apology NOT accepted.Or else I'd have to accept the apology of Tracy Morgan as well,and then the list goes on.I dont know why,but you people to think with you feet and do the actions and then if and when there is reaction come out and apologize. I wonder what your reaction would be if someone can entangle your darling daughter in romantic relationship only to reveal to to her he is Gay and was acting out of "vanity".
Nuwas Manto.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Birdcage, distorted in Pakistan

Originally published in Express Tribune

Having first learned of the theatrical debut of ‘BirdCage’ in Lahore, I could not help but feel jubilation and mirth.

A gay-themed play? I almost fainted with anticipation. This was something I was definitely going to watch.

First things first. The producer Dawar Lashari, co-producers Waleed Zafar and Shaheryar Khan and director Ijlal Khan must not only be thanked for bringing us this light-hearted comedy amidst these insane times to our country, where one cannot switch to news channels without expecting another macabre breaking news, but also they should be lauded for their courage to even think of staging a gay-themed play.

However, as sometimes happens, Birdcage turned out to be one of those productions which are anticipated with joy and mirth but leaves us with disappointment and heartbreak. Even if crtieria for judging the play was simply how many people it made laugh or how good the acting skills were,the play would still rank average. Although many jokes were spot on and were clear to the public, sometimes they stretched too long.
This could not have been more apparent than in the very first scene where, Armand (Ijlal Khan),the co-owner of a gay club named ‘Birdcage’, is talking to his eccentric partner and co-owner of the club Albert (Ian Eldred). What started initially as a joke about bending gender roles, soon stretched out too long. Playing too much around the stereotypical images of gay people at first may have made the audience laugh but after repeated jokes along the same line, it atleast made me yawn a big one, (save for the acting of Waleed Zaidi.)
While Ijlal Khan’s acting as Armand and that of Ian Eldred’s as Albert was par excellence,Waleed Zaidi (playing Agador Spartacus) simply stole the show and possibly even saved it.
However,while these three were great in their art, the others just lagged behind. Ayesha Akram,playing Miranda, perhaps could not differentiate between the act of speaking loud enough (a theatrical requirement) and screaming in a high pitched voice – enough to irritate anyone. Muhammad Hayat, playing Garry, failed to deliver a commendable performance. With lack of real emotions in his acting he made it all look premeditated – just like the play.
But wait till you would have seen the whole Bailey family! A. Shehzad Shah murdered the character of Senator Bailey with his performance of a teenager. The booklets awaiting the audience on our seats,inform us that Huriyeh Iftikhar received a standing ovation for ‘Anybody for Murder’. Perhaps it would have been better had she put in an iota of that same effort into playing the character of Mrs Bailey. The worst performance was that of Esha Khan, playing Elanour Bailey. Calista Flockhart, the actress playing Elanor in the film,would have had a cardiac arrest watching her role being turned into that of almost a mute extra, save for one or two lines at most.
To be just, it must be pointed out that perhaps most of these actors were on stage for the first or second time. It does not in any way seem excusable that a perfectly good gay-themed comedy should be wronged and murdered in such a way as to make all the wrong adaptations to the play and making none where they were needed.

The worst change in the story was not that of changing the character of Garry to brother instead of son or that of Miranda as a mother for that matter but the change in the ending of Pakistani Birdcage.

While the movie played around with stereotypes of gay people it did justice to the homosexual community. Why? In the end it did what homosexuals craved most even until the late 19990′s when the movie came out: humanise them and their sexuality.

That is exactly what the movie and the Broadway play did in the end when Garry takes the wig off Albert’s (who is posing as his mother because his real mom failed to be punctual) head, and announces to the Senator that Armand and Albert were leading what this play’s production team terms as ‘eccentric’ lifestyle (a slap in the face of Pakistani LGBT community) in the accompanying booklet and that they were indeed his real parents who raised him.

What was the message of the film?

That gay people are humans and can raise ‘normal’ children too.

What did the Ijlal Khan and his team do? They totally changed the ending.

A fuming Armand is tired of the whole cat and mouse game and starts to narrate the whole story to the Bailey family, including how Garry persuaded him to hide the truth. So after all the most important part of the whole story was cut out. The excuse is that it would have bothered homophobes is inane.

All you could see in the audience were English speaking people from the elite or upper middle class. Besides, everyone there knew from word of mouth that Birdcage is a gay-themed play. The fact of the matter is that no matter what the excuse, people who have watched the movie or the Broadway play are going to make comparisons between them and this play.

Perhaps if somebody would have enjoined the production team about this beforehand they would have done better. Add to this the hurt feelings of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans gender community in Pakistan. Some other queer friends and I stepped in to the theatre hoping the production would at least do justice to the movie. It went the other way round and we came back feeling like we had been slapped hard across our faces. The play caged was surely caged by homophobic undertones.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Islamophobia?Are We Playing In The Hands Of The Morons?

It seems like as rapidly as human beings are progressing upwards on the ladder of evolution,they also tend to more and more categorize things.It started with religion perhaps but then came at a point sexualities (if I am missing any intermediate stages,excuse me,but religion and sex are the two most important categories before me) and now the people who tend to be critical of religions and religious institutions.
This case seems to be especially true for Islam.To make it officially wrong to be critical of Islam a new term 'Islamophobia' has been introduced to the list of already overwhelming amount of labels.Wait!apart from the old term anti-semitic and the new one Islamphobe,a much wierder and newer one is also available.Christianophobe.I just happened to have come across it on wikipedia which reads:
'Christophobia or Christianophobia are also according to Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE) names for "every form of discrimination and intolerance against Christians"'.
I simply donot understand and/or approve of the term Islamophobia.What does Islamophobia mean? Going by the term,does it mean being hateful/phobia of Islam? Or does it mean being hateful/phobia of Muslims?If it means the hatred/phobia of Muslims,then it makes sense and I support it since not supporting it would lead to discrimination of Muslim peoples at the hands of xenophobic idiots such Geert Wilders and the Right-Wing asses of the West.But then it should be termed Muslimophobia.Islamophobia sounds like the first definition I so approve of,simply because criticism of religion is necessary,in whatever form.
The ever incredulous,lousy and showmaker UN has given in to the demands of Islamists.Since 1999 Muslim nations and their allies have tried to get UN to adopt suppression of the 'defamation of religion'.Well,now the UN has given in.
But the concerns are that this suppression of defamation of religion,which makes it simply wrong for being critical of religion,would further stagnate the already lagging behind Muslim world as this could be used to curb free expression.I know this too well because in my country,Pakistan,we are constantly told that we are living in an Islamic Democracy(again! I refuse to believe it.The only true democracy is Secular Democracy as a genuine modern democracy paves the way for secularization of society by process.There is no Hindu democracy,no Christian democracy and even the Israel is Secular state!Therefore there just cannot be an 'Islamic Democracy').This Islamic democracy is in actuality a pseudo-democracy.A democracy based on Shari'ah as well as the old British laws we were left with during partition,with little amendments.This Islamic democracy has contsantly given in to the Ulema and the Conservatives.The Left Wing has been too weak.The results are for all to see.
This dear Islamic democracy of my country grants me the luxury of free expression and free speech.But to what extent? The same constitution also unclearly states that defaming the Prophet of Islam and Islam is an offence which can be punished by death.
'Pakistan's Penal Code allows for the death penalty for directly or indirectly defiling "the sacred name of the holy Prophet Mohammed." It also stipulates a 10-year sentence for insulting the religion of any class of citizens, and provides for a sentence of life imprisonment for "whoever willfully defiles, damages, or desecrates a copy of the holy Koran."'.
So my question is:What's the point of free speech then? Islam for Muslims is a complete code of life.But this code of life has to be criticized because the Shari'ah contains misogyny,homophobia,allowance of treating the non-Muslims as Dhimmis (second class citizens) along with other inhumanities.Thankfully,Pakistan is NOT Afghanistan.Sometimes Shari'ah has been criticized on air on television channels and Nadeem F. Paracha can still make jokes about being 'too' religious or fanatic.But that is that.You openly criticize Islam as a political ideology or state what Fauzia Wahab stated,then Mother Mary,you are deep deep trouble! In short you have the free expression.But its quite meaningless except for political criticism.Then what is the use of free speech and expression if you are going to talk the talk of the town?
The prestigious newpapers such as Dawn have still got some secularism alive because of their staunch leftist inclinations.The exact opposite is seen in the Urdu newpapers.But even in the 'Liberal Secular' press you have to submit the article and the editor must be cautious that you must not be too direct or offensive.
Critical analysis of Islam as a religion as well as political ideology is necessary.This does NOT mean ridiculing Islam,making jokes about it and thinking of Muslims as not being equal partners in discussion out of fear that the only way they know how to respond to criticism is through voilence.Somehow amazingly I have met a Muslim who believes that striking the terror in the heart of Non-Muslims is something to be proud of.Its guarantees that you are subjugating Non-Muslims evils and serving Islam.But for heaven's sake! It is only leading more and more hatred towards Muslims.They are seen as voilent people and the whole countiries' natioanlity is labelled terrorist in the eyes of common man.
Since Islam occupies each and every dimension of a common Muslim person's life (it doesnot matter if in the end they are hypocritical enought to believe some ideology which is obssessed with virginity and practice sex) the critical analysis of Islam is inevitable.
By introducing the ambigous terms such as Islamophobe and introducing suppression of Defamation of Religion, the West,which has a long history of intellectual renaissance,bloody war with Church and free intellectuals such as Bertrand Russel to look upto and even backto for lessons in history,has itself defeated the ideals it stood for.The ideals on which the modern Secular West was founded and the contitutions constructed.This might seem exaggeration to some as for them it might be a small step.But it by no means is an insignificant one.This is a time of worry for any self-respecting intellectual human,whether religious or non-religious.
Rather than these pathetic steps to overcome the short-sighted conflicts,the West and the UN especially should further the cause of Islamic reformists and the Western freedom be made available to the Voltaires,Sartres,Simone de Beauvoirs and Russels be fully supported as well as the Secular Muslims who are on their way for the Islamic Reformation.The Muslim world must be reiterated repeatedly,until they learn to listem,that closing ones eye at the time of trouble doesnot delay or vanguish the time of trouble.They must learn from the hard times and use these lessons effectively,just as Jews did.In all honesty,instead of hating Jews for what not including being dominant from politics to hollywood (Its their fault that they are on top poisitions in major world playing corporations today? What? They should wait for till Muslims take up all the positions first?) Muslims have alot to learn from the Jewish history.But nobody is saying to praise or even overlook the atorcities of Irsael on Palestinians.These acts must be condemned at all levels by all people.
Returning to my point,a revolution (somehow I have grown tired of reform.Reform is short-term solution I believe.Revolution a long term.I prefer the radical sound of Revolution,albeit a peaceful one.) in Muslim world from thoughts and conscience to media and the industries et al, on all levels is complusory for the well being of this 'world', apart from the Muslims themselves.There is a need for a Life of Brian' version in the Muslim world.There is a need for more Salman Rushdies.There is a need for more Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Irshad Manji and Tariq Alis as well (even if I dont agree with Tariq on his critique of Ayaan Hirsi Ali).Because only through blasphemy can there be innovation.Remeber! Once it was blasphemous to assume the earth is not flat but round or spherical.Today its taught even in the religious schools.Evolution was a blasphemy too but then today we have reaped much on following the lead of Darwin (who to this day is ridiculed by the conservatives).But when UN and the Non-Muslim world makes sch idiotc moves just to please the Mullahs and the fundamentalists,it takes away that opportunity,that chance for that revolution to come about.In my view,and I belive in any sane man's view, the supporters of Islamophobia and UN suppression of Defamation of Religion are accomplice in such a heinous crime against free thought and human liberties,perpetrated by the Islamic world.While the sanctity of Muslim human lives should be protected and that it be made clear that they are given their inalienable fundamental human rights,it should also be set out clearly that debating and even ridiculing the ideas (even religious ones) are not to be termed'-phobic'. If Communists cant say that ridiculing and criticizing their ideology is under the banner of 'Communophobia',why should the special previlege be given to Muslim community when we know it would further lead to playing in the hands of fundamentalists and intellectual backwardness,which would result in further economic downfalls and depressions in the Muslim world thus making it even harder to live in world for all of us.Just because Multi-Culturalist have started to play in the hands of fundamentalists.Discrimination against Muslim populace (or any other for that matter) must be condemned at all costs.But that doesnot mean using the term 'Islamophobia' to silence valid and constructive criticism of traditions followed widely or in parts of the Muslim world such as obssession with virginity,sex and sexuality,or resistance to Islamic Reformation,female genital mutilation,male circumcision, et al.
Some people believe that Islamophobia would be effectively used against Muslims as a population by the Right Wing Western Idiots.Thats true.And so was the AIDS used against LGBT community.Thats the part and parcel of being a minority.Using Christianophobia in Muslim world happens too.In fact to eradicate the Islamophobia I believe that the first responsibility lies with the Muslim Ummah itself to prove the hatred against Muslims wrong.That you can be an Arab and be a good human being.