Shaheryar Ali

 

Understanding the issue of Gay liberation in Islamic Republic is a theoretically difficult and problematic notion for a variety of reasons!  Whilst the level of historical development as with other post-colonial states, ensures incomplete modernization, the existing union with international capital, forces a post modern sensitivity through out urban centers of Islamic Republic. It is still theoretically problematic to assert the existence of either “Gay” community or Gay liberation in the country. The pattern of “Men Having Sex with Men” and their women counterparts remains largely “pre-Modern” in the sense which Foucault elaborates as an “aberration” rather than “specie” (as is the case in industrialized societies). The pattern which exists mostly in the Islamic Republic takes form of Man/boy, Senior/junior and Macho/effeminate polarities and enjoys a level of social acceptability in almost all parts of Islamic Republic especially outside major urban centers but it could be dominant pattern even in these. The practice does not seem to induce “gay label” on the participants, which is especially true for the dominant polarity (man/senior/Macho). A common binary opposition which has been defined in these contexts is the one based on “performance” (Active vs Passive) where the “active partner” appears to enjoy a level of societal approval as this role is understood to be enshrined in the “Masculine identity” in many parts of the country. This also seems to suggest the “gay” label is only extended to receiving partner. This is the argument that one listens most from the urban gay activists but have always been a problematic notion for me to understand. Urdu has no word for “Homosexual” or “gay” nor does any of the regional language. “gando” the word commonly referred to in this context denotes some thing else. It does not strictly or exclusively denotes a passive partner. In Pre modern pattern “bacha” and Londa” are more important in this context. One can argue the extant of specificity these terms have as londa in vernacular denotes simply a “lad”but has been used in sexual context as well. Mir the foremost Master of Urdu poetry said “ Mir bare saada hein jis sabab bimar hue! Ussi Attar ke “londe” se dawa lete hein! Moreover there are no words for “Top” in in Urdu as such apart from words coined by urban chatters. Which represent more of constructed jargon than language! Language has been understood as “house of being” so I am not very convinced about this binary opposition. The trap here is too fall for what West has taught us.  The discourse on these matters is heavily laden with orientalist connotations. What is very conveniently forgotten In this regard is the fact that the same sex relations historically were more socially acceptable in East than in West. The Baghdad which is frequently alluded too by our moslem romantics was not only rich in philosophy science and Jihad but also in hedonism. Mutawakil had herm of thousands of castrated Roman lads and one Caliph had to explain to a visiting Mufti who was astonished to see his highness surrounded by cute youth that “he has never untied his trouser cord for what has been forbidden”. The European travelers to Ottoman empire were horrified to observe the openness of same sex relation in baths of Consentinople. Europe of middle ages remembered the Arabs and muslims as “sodomites”. Literature is full of such episodes. One ironic example is that of a Austrian lad who went to a handsome Turk prisoner of war and was utterly disappointed on his refusal failing to understand how a Turk not be a sodomite! Kohat observed frequent same sex wedding in Raj. Photographs exist in private collections. The “modern gay scene” is limited to only a handful of people mostly exposed to European society and westernized or semi westernized families. They are not representative of most of the “People who have sex with Same Gender” (PSSG) in the Islamic Republic. In absence of gay community the efforts to “liberate gays” might reduce the “social immunity” which a wide number of PSSG seem to have in Islamic Republic.

The so called pride event in USA embassy has in my opinion exposed these people to risk of death, social alienation and torture. The behavior which is indigenous will now become “western disease” which needs to be eradicated. Any one who is properly integrated in Pakistani society (not the isolated modern or semi modern Islands in Islamabad Lahore and Karachi) knows that homoerotic behavior is a significant part of local discourse and is not noticed or bothered much unless it crosses over from its designated sphere ie It is not worn on ones face or pumped up as a pride event.  Rather is often a matter of laugh, taunt or dislike by friends and usually does not lead to much serious consequences. (Apart from few cases in recent past which are result of more Gay visibility and emergent homophobia). The strategy of modern gay liberation in a society where modern lifestyles have not been universally accepted can be counterproductive. The orientalist approach in this regard must be discarded. The movement must be integrated with movement to secularize the country. The queer activists need to integrate themselves to the wider political struggle in the country. They need to be part of the rank and file of the resistance movement.  Winning the respect and acceptance of their colleges and comrades they need to introduce the agenda of sexual liberation in the emerging political leadership of the country. Not only this, they need to become part of this leadership.

The example of 20th century has explained to us the limitations of the identity politics in general. Whilst African communists and ANC were able to end apartheid in South Africa at level of the bourgeois state, the segregation in the society has not been abolished. The overwhelming number of Africans still lives in abject poverty without any access to the social standards which a White South African enjoys. Xenophobia has emerged as a dangerous consequence of the discontent which the “liberated” Africans feel. Same could be said about USA where the historic civil rights movement apparently ended the legal segregation but failed miserably to achieve social integration. An African American has become president of USA but the socio-economic and health indicators of the most advance nation of the world demonstrate a divergence which is startling to say the least! The poverty and health indicators of parts of USA are comparable to African states. African Americans are still more likely to have no access to health care and are more likely to be in prisons than the white Americans.

Though Gay rights have been granted in Europe and USA, Homophobia in the society effectively nullifies these gains. Homosexuals still face discrimination, exclusion and violence in USA and Europe. The most problematic aspect of this is the fact that these legal reforms tend to discriminate on a class basis. Where more socially advantaged classes seem to get benefit from these reforms but those from under privileged classes suffer exclusion. From the perspective of a social activist who is interested in emancipation it presents itself as an existential dilemma , where one tends to stand at the same point where he started before the “victory”. The criticism we are offering to the “liberal” model here is frequently misunderstood and sometimes described deliberately by our liberal friends as “deference” of the Question of Rights! This essentially is not the case!  This is essentially is a criticism of the political approach which deferred the question of “Human emancipation” indefinitely in favor of certain legal protections which practically have favored a small minority of oppressed communities thus resulting in actual increase in discrimination and social segregation. This is a criticism of the fragmentation of progressive movement which plays one oppressed community against another! Jews vs Blacks Vs Hispanics in USA.  Women vs Gays etc and favors the dominant sections of society to effectively remain in control. This is the criticism of the approach which sees “reforms’ as the endpoint of the struggle rather than emancipation. Reforms are certainly desirable and should be encouraged but only in a context of a holistic political agenda which seeks to unite people in struggle for socio economic emancipation or we will keep having “victories” without effect and ‘changes” without change!

The problem in front of the great Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci in the fascist prison was the “problem of sustenance of capitalism” in Europe despite its great logical contradiction. Why the Revolution was not coming when all the conditions were right? In his famous “prison notebooks”, he takes the question into the realm of ideology. This was the start of analysis of “ways of thinking”. He gave the concept of “cultural Hegemony”. Capitalism Gramsci suggested, maintained control not just through violence and political and economic coercion , but also ideologically , through a “hegemonic culture” in which the values of the bourgeoisie became the ‘common sense‘ values of all. Thus a consensus culture developed in which people in the Working-class identified their own good with the good of the bourgeoisie, and helped to maintain the status quo rather than revolting.

He also made a distinction between the “Political society” (the police, the army, legal system, etc.) which dominates directly and coercively, and civil society (the family, the education system, trade unions, etc.) where leadership is constituted through ideology or by means of consent. Its this “civil society” whose “thoughts” are being “controlled” to suit the masters [If only Pakistanis understood]. In order to understand these thing the “discourse analysis” was developed. “Discourse” is nothing but all “written and verbal communication”. In line of Gramsci and later Foucault we have to understand “discourse” as “institutionalized” way of thinking, or in words of Judith Butler “limits of acceptable” speech. Its these limits which must be subverted in order to reach a true libertarian discourse. The discourse is controlled by means of “exclusion”, no other opinion simply exists. Foucault writes:

“I am supposing that is every society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organised and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures, whose role is to avert its powers and its dangers, to cope with chance events, to evade its ponderous, awesome materiality. In a society such as our own we all know the rules of exclusion. The most obvious and familiar of these concerns what is prohibited

Of the three great systems of exclusion governing discourse — prohibited words, the division of madness and the will to truth ———“

“I believe we must resolve ourselves to accept three decisions which our current thinking rather tends to resist, and which belong to the three groups of function I have just mentioned: to question our will to truth; to restore to discourse its character as an event; to abolish the sovereignty of the signifier…. One can straight away distinguish some of the methodological demands they imply. A principle of reversal, first of all…. Next, then, the principle of discontinuity ….”

I am planning to do all this , i am trying to bring forward the “prohibited voices”, those which have been totally eclipsed in the society by the dominant discourse. This is not “endorsing” one and rejecting “others”, rather, its simply a act of breathing , an act of subversion ,of saying what is not pleasant to hear, Its simply an act of living in the rotten stagnant conformity. “The Bengali Genocide” is one such “absent voice” in Pakistan. We only hear “India -America-Jews divided Pakistan”, the act of liberation and resistance against one of the most brutal fascist militarism is “dismissed” as “sakoot”. The Last encounter is a short story by Kazi Fazalur Rehman , its taken from the anthology of stories from 71 by the name of “Fault lines”

The Last Encounter

By Kazi Fazlur Rahman

Another push by the soldier propelled Rashed into the room. He stumbled. The Pakistani officer standing in front of the table caught hold of him. He ordered the soldier out and untied Rashed’s hands. Then he moved behind the table and sat in the chair facing Rashed.

‘Sit down.’

Rashed blinked. Even the pale light of the winter afternoon was too harsh for his eyes after the long hours being blindfolded.

He rubbed his eyes without seeming to have heard the officer.

The enemy officer was of his age or perhaps a little older. He was fair-complexioned and of rather slight build. Under the broad forehead, his eyes had a hint of blue. And those eyes, Rashed could not help noticing, did not have the taunting look of the captor for the captive. The eyes were tired, and the face heavy with fatigue.

After being asked a second time, Rashed slowly sat down. He touched his right temple, which was covered with congealed blood. With his left hand, he tried to feel if any of his ribs were broken.

‘What’s your name?’
Rashed’s hands froze. But he kept quiet.

‘Are you a student? How many other miscreants were there with you?’

Rashed did not respond. He felt sure that these were the preliminaries before the torture began. This was the moment he had been dreading since regaining consciousness. He knew only too well what there was in store for him. He had seen too many, both dead and dying, who had been tortured by the Pakistanis. Instinctively, he clenched his fists.

‘It won’t be very difficult to make you talk,’ the officer, smiled faintly. ‘Even if I can’t do it myself, I can ask some of my soldiers and razakars to come and help. You surely know how experienced they are in this business and how much they enjoy it.’

‘We may have to spend some time together,’ the officer added after some moments of silence. ‘We should at least get acquainted. My name is Azam — Captain Azam.’

‘I am Rashed,’ Rashed said after a moment of hesitation.

Captain Azam pushed the packet of cigarettes across the table, ‘Have a cigarette. Whether you or I want it or not, we are both fated to be on the same stage for the time being. Once the war is over, each of us will be back in his own world — provided we survive till then. I really wanted to meet a proper mukti — a so-called freedom fighter. Almost all we manage to catch alive seem to be illiterate farm-hands, young schoolboys or old men. You, I think, belong to the right category — if ‘right’ is the proper word!’

He pressed the bell. ‘First, let me get some tea for us. Meanwhile, you may like to have a wash. There’s the bathroom.’

Kadamtali, a rather small river port, had an oil storage depot and lay right on the river routes of oil tankers plying between Chittagong and Dhaka. The guerrillas desperately wanted to disrupt the oil supply. They had damaged a couple of passing tankers and also made an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the depot. The Pakistanis reacted by increasing the size of the army contingent guarding the depot. Fortified bunkers were constructed within the depot perimeters.

A few days earlier, Rashed had received reports that Pakistani soldiers had stopped coming out in the open after sunset. Now was the time, he had decided, to blow up the storage tanks. The plan was simplicity in itself. With grenades in a waterproof plastic bag, he would swim over to the depot landing. The usual heavy December fog would provide adequate cover. From riverbank to the depot it was only about 30 feet or so. He would toss the grenades, run back to the water and jump into it. Balai and Jalal would open fire from safe distances to distract the Pakistanis.

But things had not worked out as planned. The fog had suddenly cleared just as Rashed was getting ready. Nevertheless, he had decided to go ahead. He would have perhaps changed his mind had he only known that on that very day the army contingent had been reinforced by a large group of razakars. They were put on patrol duty outside the depot. After all, their Pakistani masters could not care less if they got killed. These wretches were expendable.

Rashed, after crawling up to the depot fence, had already lobbed the grenades when, the razakars started shooting. Even with their wild marksmanship, the hail of bullets was thick enough to cut off his escape. Meanwhile, the grenades set off a chain reaction of explosions among the oil drums. As he lay prone on the ground, a large metal fragment, possibly a piece of a bursting drum, hit him on the head.

He regained his senses only to gasp from the savage kicks to his head, face and chest. Soon he sank into oblivion again. When he woke up again he found himself blindfolded. His hands and feet had been tied. He was quite surprised that he was still alive. He did not know that only the captain’s intervention had saved him from a slow and extremely painful death.

‘I don’t know how well-informed you are,’ Captain Azam took a sip of tea, ‘but it’s almost all over with the war. It won’t make any difference whether you or I live or die. The Indian army has won this round.’

‘Not the Indian army alone,’ Rashed’s voice rose in protest. ‘It’s the combined allied forces of both India and Bangladesh.’

‘Rubbish! It is the Indian superiority in the numbers of planes, tanks, artillery and soldiers. You Bangalis simply act as their porters,’

‘You lie! Is it because of the Indian army that you dared not come out of the bunkers? How many of your officers and men of the so-called best army in the world, equipped with the latest American and Chinese weapons, died in the last nine months? How many in Dhaka alone? Who killed them? Surely not the Indians!’

‘You can’t win a war by a few stray murders or by throwing a bomb here, planting a mine there. Without the Indian army your ‘Joi Bangla’ would have remained just an empty slogan.’

‘Again, you are wrong. Our victory was inevitable. We would have driven you out on our own. Sure, that would have taken much more time. The process would have been far more painful and the price paid for freedom still higher. Yet, perhaps that would have been better for my country’s future.’

Captain Azam crushed his cigarette in the ashtray. ‘Enough of that. Now tell me how you got involved with this ragtag band of muktis. You don’t look like a miscreant.’

Rashed’s eyes flashed. ‘What would you have done if your brother had been made to dig a grave and then was buried alive in the grave he had dug? Or your sister had been ravaged and mutilated; by a gang of savage beasts in the shape of men?’

‘Yes, I know there have been some excesses. A few such unfortunate things are bound to happen if an army is called upon to suppress a rebellion.’


My days in East Pakistan have convinced me that I should have resisted my father’s wishes. I’m not cut out to be an officer of the Pakistani army.


‘No. This was planned and cool-headed savagery Yahya the drunk, Tikka Khan the butcher and Bhutto the smoothtalking charlatan ordered you to perpetrate all these bestialities in the name of defending Islam and Pakistan. They felt sure that killing and brutality on this massive scale would frighten the Bangalis into silence. But they made a mistake. Yes, brutality within a certain limit may temporarily terrorise a people into inaction. But beyond this limit, it is counterproductive. There are many in our ranks who never bothered about politics or their identities as Bangalis. Your senseless yet systematic brutality made them take up arms.’

‘You see, I don’t really know much about all these things.’ Captain Azam was somewhat apologetic. ‘It’s been only four months since I came from West Pakistan. Anyway, even if the things you allege did really happen, they were under the orders of superior authorities. The ordinary officer or soldier in the field can’t be held responsible for carrying out orders.’

‘Hitler’s generals and soldiers took the same plea. The civilised world refused to accept it. They were found guilty and hanged. Even now those war criminals are being hunted down and brought to justice. And you’re also going to be tried and punished.’

‘You delude yourself. We aren’t going to be tried. Your leaders will forget all about it in their scramble for pomp and power. And if you really want to try anyone, you’ll have to look for the guilty amidst you — the razakars and al-Badars who joined us in the killings, and the Peace Committee members who pointed out to us the villages to be burnt down, the persons to be tortured and murdered. They are the ones who captured the young girls trying to escape and delivered them to our camps.’

‘Yes, I know. Every people fighting a war of liberation has to contend with some quislings. We also have ours. Certainly they’re going to pay dearly for their crimes.’

‘Again you err. Perhaps some small fries will be caught. But the really big ones will manage to have their protectors. They may temporarily disappear only to surface again when the time is ripe. They will be as useful to the new rulers as they were to us.’

The telephone rang before Rashed could speak again. Captain Azam picked up the receiver, listened in silence for a couple of minutes. Then he said, ‘Yes, I understand,’ and put the receiver down.

‘The war is over. General Niazi has just signed the surrender document.’ Captain Azam looked both shocked and relieved.

‘Really? Joi Bangla!’ Rashed jumped up from his chair.
‘Yes, but that doesn’t mean that I am surrendering to you. My orders are to surrender with my men only to the Indian army.’

Rashed made a move towards the door.

‘No. You can’t go. My soldiers and the razakars outside won’t know that the war has ended and they can no longer have the fun of killing a captured mukti. You’re still my prisoner.’

Rashed stopped in this tracks.

‘In a manner, I am also your captive. Still, I carry a weapon. If I shoot you, no one will bother to find out if you were killed before or after the surrender. You better take your seat again.’

Rashed thought for a moment or two and then returned to his chair.

The silence was broken by Captain Azam. ‘The war is over. We don’t have to keep up pretences. Let’s rather talk about ourselves. Are you a student?’

‘Yes. I was.’
‘What were you studying?’
‘English Literature, at Dhaka University.’

‘Strange coincidence! I was also a student of English at Lahore Government College. But I had to join the army before I could get my degree. Mine is a family of soldiers. My grandfather was a non-commissioned officer; my father retired as colonel. And he wanted his only son to become a general. I am afraid he is going to be disappointed. My days in East Pakistan have convinced me that I should have resisted my father’s wishes. I’m not cut out to be an officer of the Pakistani army.’

‘Why?’ Rashed could not help asking.

‘My first posting was in a big outpost near Comilla. Our orders were to go out on daily sorties to raid villages reported to be harbouring guerrillas, Awamis or Hindus.

There was a competition among the officers. Each had to keep a tally of how many houses his men had burnt down, how many persons he had personally killed.

Each evening in the mess, with a glass of whisky in hand, each had to announce the numbers. The one with the highest score would be declared the champion of the day, and glasses would be raised to toast his feat. Some even announced the number of Bangalee women they had raped, not, as they would take pains to explain, to satisfy their carnal desires, but in discharge of their patriotic duty of ensuring a better breed of Pakistanis in this part of the country. Yes, men under me also burnt, killed, and raped. But my personal score was nil on all these counts during the fortnight I was there. And that made me an outcast. I was forced to seek a transfer to a place where I would not have to compete with others to prove my prowess. That’s how I am in Kadamtali.’

There was again a long moment of silence. Then Captain Azam said, ‘But you aren’t saying anything about yourself!’

‘It should be really a quite common story now. I am the eldest of four children in my family. My brother is missing, presumed dead, after the army raided his hostel on the night of March 25. My father, a college teacher, was shot dead for sheltering a wounded pupil. Our home was burnt down. My mother managed to escape with my two sisters. I can only hope that they succeeded in crossing the borders and are in some refugee camp, or that they are dead.’

‘What are you going to do now that the war is over?’
‘I really don’t know. What I know is that I won’t be able to go back to the life of a student.’

‘And I can’t go on being a soldier. But whatever happens, I look forward, to visiting your Bangladesh one day, perhaps years later. I would like to find out what sort of a country it is going to be — a country for which so much blood has been shed.’

A shadow passed over Rashed’s face.

‘I also wish I knew what the future holds in store for my Bangladesh. Sometimes I have more anxieties than hopes. You’ve not only maimed, tortured, and killed. In the process you’ve brutalised our people, both as victims and avengers of brutalities. We have also learnt to kill. Shall we now be killing each other? And we were such a gentle, peace-loving people!’

‘Perhaps you have good reasons to be anxious,’ Captain Azam smiled sadly. ‘However, our officers and soldiers also have learnt to kill unarmed civilians, women and children. They won’t be able to forget the taste of blood. When they go back, they will look for opportunities to kill and inflict pain on their own people. They may not spare even those who let them lose here. And that will be your revenge.’

Slowly, the darkness of the winter night gathered round them.
‘Have you ever read Wilfred Owen’s war poems? ‘Strange Meeting’?’
‘Yes.’
‘Do you remember the last lines ‘Let us sleep now…’?’
‘Yes, that’s what the dead soldier tells his killer when they meet in the afterlife.’
They sat still and silent as the room turned darker.
Captain Azam stood up and switched on the light. ‘Perhaps they would. But will you and I be able to sleep?’

 “I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul
.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body
.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep”

This is one of the most well known poems by Pablo Neruda , it strikes right to the heart of the readers. Breaking the textual barriers of Platonic Love , Neruda is bringing forward the “Original concept” of Love , one that has been converted into Sin due to the politics of intimacy. Why for thousands of years whole religious , social and political discourse wants to regulate “intimacy”. Why “Intimacy” between two people has to be sanctioned by God, State, Society and Family? Even when doing such a thing is logical violation of concept of “Intimacy” itself.

Why death , stones , hate , prejudice, bigotry , all dominate the poetic, social, religious, political and legal discourse involving Love , Why intimate love has to be “dark”, so that Neruda had to celebrate its “dark side”?

 

Why in 2007, still “Marrige” has to be defined, Why lovers have to be stoned and hanged? Why dont we leave all the definitions , all the statutes , all the verdicts on the two lovers who decide to hold hands!

Answer to all these “whys” is in Politics of Separation, control and power, intimacy has to be regulated in order to divide , subjugate and control the people. To create the “institutes” of Power and Segregation, the Church, The Mosque , The State , The Family.Thats why Love had to be the “Original Sin” causing all the misfortunes of Mankind , there had to be an Adam and An Eve . Eve had to be temptation of Sin, so that her daughters could be buried, stoned , killed, burned , sold , abused, converted into domestic slaves, or paraded Naked on stage and Porn flicks.

To keep slaves Happy , “Perverts” had to be created, to cause fear . Fear is another source of Power. Definitions have to be created , lust, temptation, longing, sin, adultery ,Normal, Pervert, Mad, Sane—. Knowledge is Power too , How Knowledge has raped the third words , one needs to read Edward Said’s Orientalism. And how it has affected Love , read Foucault’s “History of Sexuality“.

Every thing to stop Love, because Love completes and it cuts off the roots of power:

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep————