National Commentary

Anything But Straight: Constructing Closets

In the Middle East, homosexuals don't exist because there is a discernible lack of rainbow flag waving, show tune loving and Mimosa-sipping gays. There is also an absence of out politicians, ala Barney Frank, GLBT political organizations or trendy gay nightclubs. This, of course, is because homosexuality is a Western invention and Arab men – without the moral corruption of foreigners – have no capacity to fall in love with others of the same sex.

These are the incoherent ramblings of Joseph Massad, a Columbia University professor and the author of, Desiring Arabs , published this year by University of Chicago Press. Ironically, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran had no gay people in his infamous Columbia University speech, he was greeted with belly laughs. In the case of Massad, on the other hand, instead of jeers he gets cheers and is up for tenure.

In this week's New Republic magazine, James Kirchick discusses how this dangerous ideologue is part of a larger movement to justify the brutal repression and murder of gay people in the Middle East. The idea is borrowed from the sometime intellectual wasteland of "Queer Theory" which says that homosexuality is a "social construction" and not inborn.

What I find amazing is that these pseudo intellectuals never seem to grasp the obvious. When you put a gun to a gay person's head, they "construct" a closet. Given the option of freedom, they construct gay institutions – political organizations, social clubs and marriages. This is universal and not confined to Western civilization – precisely why we have gay people escaping the Middle East to find freedom in the West, and we don't have gays clamoring to enter Saudi Arabia – where they are beheaded.

Those whose sexual and romantic interests are centered on the same-sex have a right to proclaim their inherent worth and demand that governments protect their families. Borders cannot be used as an excuse to butcher, nor culture a justification to kill. What we are talking about is state sanctioned, cold-blooded murder no matter what intellectual, regional or religious garb (or garbage) it is wrapped up in.

The emptiness of the social construct model is seen in the arguments put forth by Massad. In his tome, he discusses the mass arrests of fifty-two gay men in Egypt on the Queen Boat in 2001. The men were publicly humiliated, imprisoned in hideous conditions, paraded like animals in front of the media and some were tortured.

In Kirchick's New Republic article, he points to a gay activist who called the incident, "our own Stonewall." Massad disputes the Stonewall analogy by saying it was different because "the drag queens at the Stonewall bar" embraced their sexual orientation while the Egyptians did "not seek publicity of the events by the media by covering their faces in order to hide from the cameras and from hysterical public scrutiny."

Is this guy a university professor or the last place finisher on a Middle School debate team? The circular logic is astounding and shows either intellectual shallowness or remarkable antipathy towards homosexuals. Is it not obvious that traumatized and imprisoned gay men facing an "hysterical public" might not be so enthusiastic about wearing their freedom rings?

This sort of disjointed thinking can be applied to any group in the Middle East. For example, a woman who drives in Saudi Arabia will also be humiliated and arrested. I suppose we can twist this to show that cars are a product of colonialism and women do not drive in Saudi Arabia, thus proving that they have no desire to do so. We can take it further by saying that any woman who expresses the desire to drive has been corrupted by a Western mindset.

It is tempting for some misguided Americans to buy into this nonsense in the aftermath of George W. Bush's botched invasion of Iraq. The administration's inattention to cultural differences contributed heavily to the current quagmire. Still, we must be wise enough to distinguish between regional differences and universal truths – such as love. The only difference between gay people in Tehran and Toronto is that one group is protected while the other persecuted.

Massad, and others university professors who promote such barbarism, should be denied tenure for their shoddy scholarship and offering the "intellectual" underpinnings for mainstreaming murder.

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