Wednesday, January 05, 2005

From Islamic movements to queerness

O.K. I am posting another long response to a comment, in the main body of this post. If I am disrespecting blogging etiquette, I apologize. But disrupting conventions is not always bad either. Besided, I think this subject deserves to have a discussion of its own.
Here is my response to Ahmadreza, who has kindly engaged with me in a discussion about anti-Arab sentiments and queerness. his comment is under my last post...
I don't disagree with you about the anti-Islamic base of anti-Arab sentiments in the U.S. (and elsewhere) today. yet, anti-Arab sentiments have histories according to their context. Among Iranians, it is actually connected to the Arab conquest of Iran and its traces go back to Ferdowsi's poetry (Kathryn Babayan in her Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs has an excellent chapter on this "Persiante ethos"). Many Iranians, of course, also become complicit with anti-Arab sentiments that are prevalent in the "West" and are connected to the Orientalist discourses that people like Edward Said have critiqued. The anti-Arab sentiments that we witness in the U.S. today, also have their links to the post-WWII ways of governmetality and "civilizational thinking" of likes of Huntington, whose Manichean rhetoric is echoed in Bush's crusade. The Islamic movement, which you refer to, however, is vague to me. Islamic movements have their specific histories in diffferent locations and different times. As Tim Mitchell has shown, some of these movements (such as Muwahhidin in Saudi Arabia) have not been in opposition to U.S. expansionism, but very much complicit with it.
My point is that anti-Arab sentiments among diasporic Iranians are contingent upon historical events. The same goes with hegemonic Anti-Arab sentiments in the U.S. Yet, this does not mean that these sentiments discriminate when it comes to targeting Muslims- or people who are from parts of the "Muslim world" (many queer Arabs were bashed after september 11... No one cared if they were "practicing" or not! Many Sikhs were killed, no body cared that they were not Muslim!) This was also demonstrated when many Iranians in Los Angeles were arrested during "special regstration" processses. I recall that many Iranians attempted to distinguish themselves from Arabs, by saying that "we are not terrorists, they are!" Unfortunately, it seems like there is a lot to be learned about coalition-building in the face of anti-Muslim, anti-Middle Eastern hatred.
But, let me go back to the issue of Islam and homosexuality. I believe that there are many forms of Islam. Who am I to say that "this is Islam, and the other is not!" Some feminists, like Fatima Mernissi have argued for different interpretations of Islam, while some queers, such as members of Al Fatiha have reinterpreted Qur'an's Sura, Lut. Now, you can call that a "sin," but you will be surprised to know that they even have Imams among them here in the U.S. They practice Islam fully and observe all its principles (some are Sunni, some Shia).
For me, Islam is something I grew up with. My mom, a born-again Muslim, took private Qur'an lessons before the revolution, as I sat next to her, listening to her teacher, Mr. Atashkaar, who was a talabeh at the time. It was then that I added divinity school to the long list of occupations that I wanted to be when I grew up! Of course, being a doctor, a lawyer, and an engineer were on the top of the list. I never did any of that. I ended up becoming an anthropologist and a feminist instead! Like many teenagers, I was also exposed to Islam's teachings as a "child of revolution." I was a "joojeh" leftist, and my mom never attempted to force me into practicing Islam. Yet, Islam in America took a different signification for me. At times, I was interpellated as a Muslim, by default. At other times I defended it in a political gesture against fundamentalist Christians or fundamentalist Zionist jews.
In any case, Islam in its different forms has been a part of my becoming and my identity. I do not practice it, but consider it as a fragment among many fragments that constitute me as who I am. I consider myself to be a secular Muslim woman, and frankly, I do not see a contradiction in this iteration. Is this the Islam that you believe in? Probably not. Is it one that you can tolerate? I certainly hope so, because I am willing to tolerate you, my friend. Am I a liberal? Not a chance! I have had my disillusionment with tenets of liberalism. However, I certainly hope that we can accept criticism from each other without hostility. I do believe in coalition politics and that is very much needed in these times.


The sidebar image is taken from Mahmoud Pakzad's "Old Tehran", Did Publishers, 1994. Thanks to Jahanshah Javid (www.iranian.com) for sharing it.

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