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!

Shaheryar Ali

I was just surfing the blogsphere, when i came across this very good progressive blog by the name of “Bradistan calling Archives”.It contained a post on a Moslem Gay Poet. Ifti Nasim, who is a life long anti war and anti imperialist activist. He as one can understand, had to wage a existential battle against religious orthodoxy and cultural bigotry which plagues Moslem societies.

These men are now the rare creed of “radical subversives” who are increasingly becoming an endangered specie in Moslem world.

Ifti Naseem , must be called a “cultural Hero”, because if ever a Modern Progressive Culture developed in the moslem world , he will be hailed as a hero. He comes from the Pakistani city “Faisalabad”. A city which was robbed of its soul, identity and being by re-naming it after fundamentalist King of Saudi Arabia, King Faisal.

Naseem was aware of what Michel Foucault calls the “absolute difference”, and he never tried to hide it. He spent time with the Eunuchs in Pakistan as a young boy. Associating with “Hijras”, the local Eunuch and cross dressers, is considered an ultimate insult for Pakistani males. When he went to meet the greatest of the Urdu writers, Quratulain Haider, he was wearing a lipstick.

This is celebrating the difference, which is the only way to make non-fascist societies where difference is celebrated not killed in name of conformity.

I can re-call some thing from Foucault, which perhaps depicts the similar dilemma, why some one needs to assert  his or her absolute “difference”

“But there is another kind of loneliness which is terrible to endure.”
“He paused.
“And that is the loneliness of seeing a different world from that of the people around you. Their lives remain remote from yours. You can see the gulf and they can’t. You live among them. They walk on earth. You walk on glass. They reassure themselves with conformity, with carefully constructed resemblances. You are masked, aware of your absolute difference. That’s why I always live in the bars — les lieux de drague — simply to be among the others who were like me.”

It was this which took Naseem to the Hijras, the Eunchs. Naseem lives in USA, but he is not happy, its not the USA he came to. The naked imperialism of USA haunts him, and he does not remain silent. This moving poems tells us how pure the heart of this moslem “fag” is:

The Iraqi Children

you wanted a villain
so you got him
you wanted to create a monster
so you did
life is not a Hollywood movie
and the desert was not a backdrop
of a studio
Armed forces were not the extras
(They are now suffering from the desert storm syndrome)
there were no props and cuts
Baghdad was not a movie set
Where the real bombs were dropped
Did you ever go back to see if the splinter
Of bomb had licked the life of a civilian
or a child.
what do you care you just wanted to show
your military superiority
so you did.
A little country smaller than your toe has
Kicked you so hard that you have to invite the whole world To attack her.
Was it an experiment of a new weapon?
Baghdad is a not laboratory. Baghdad is a history.
The economic embargo is the biggest racist notion.
I have ever seen in the modern history.
Iraqi children are drinking milk and eating food
Laced with your arsenic.
You have sown a crop of hatred and I am afraid
When it is going to be the harvest time.

The hell which is being the “other” both in USA for being Moslem and Gay, and also being the “other” in Pakistan for being a Progressive and a Gay, is a  dual hell, Naseem’s poem expresses this pain, when he talks about his “otherness” in USA. A poem that touches ones heart.

Why the Children did not Knock on My door

There was no knock at the door
My cats were waiting in the foyer,
Listening to the steps passing by.
Children were knocking at door
of the apartment in front of  mine.
“Trick or treat. Trick or treat”
My money jar full of quarters
looked so empty.
What happened? Who played
These dirty tricks on me?
Thirty one year as a law abiding citizen
I am still a foreigner. Foreigner
With a crude face and features of
a terrorist. My color two shade
Darker than an average white man
Is not accepted anymore.
My café ole color, once I was so proud of,
Is a guilt trip for me now.
My ethnicity has become a crime.
Mean streets of Chicago have become meaner.
“Go back to your country. Go back to your country.”
They yell at me.
And I am a citizen of USA
with no country.

Airports, train stations, shopping malls, schools,
Hospitals wherever I go, I am watched and scrutinized.
I yearn for the freedom I came here for.
Right now I am worst than a slave.
I am tired. I am tired. I feel like Rosa Park
and there is no bus for me.
Because I am not only two shade darker
than an average white man
But I am also a Muslim

Ifti Naseem has no country, just like a Palestanian, becase he is a Moslem, Gay and Progressive. He is the “other” in USA because he is a Muslim and he is an insult in Islamic Republic of Pakistan because , to quote him “God made me Gay so—-“

Ifti Naseem is a Cultural Hero, he is pure and honest , he is more brave than any male chavunist will ever be, he is living a dual hell, and he is proud of it.

The Bradistan entery can be reached here

http://bradistancalling.blogspot.com/2007/07/coz-allah-made-me-gay-ifti-nasim-editor.html

A particularly beautiful Ghazal can be reached here, for those who enjoy the traditional ursu poetry

http://www.kamli.com/poetry/poetry_detail.asp?poetry=412&poet_id=59&title=Taq%20par%20jazwan%20may%20lipti%20duaenrah%20gayin

by Shaheryar Ali

Fire billows from the Taj Mahal Palace hotel on 27/11/08

Once again they have attacked, at the heart of Bombay. Bombay is every thing which they hate. Bombay is Freedom, Bombay is Life, Bombay is Music, Bombay is Light. This is the  attack on city of Lights. 100 people have been killed in cold blood. The attack is an attempt to over throw Indian democracy and secularism. The madness which has engulfed this world due to George Bush’s and OBL’s war of Terror has now struck  India.

Mumbai citizen reads the morning newspaper on 27/11/08

India stands as an anti thesis of every thing on which OBL and Bush believe. A country with many languages, cultures and religions and yet a nation united on the principles of democracy , secularism, equality and social justice and modernism..

They will fail to destroy India , they will fail to destroy the thousands of years old tradition of culture of tolerance and wisdom. Bombay lives, united and whole, full of lights and music, it will once again be. Prophets of darkness can never defeat Light. Because Light is eternal because Light is truth .  Bombay is the new Beirut , a war zone , where Imperialists  and Fascists play havoc. But neither did Beirut surrender nor will Bombay.

The gloomy night which came to city of lights has reminded me the lines of Faiz Ahmad Faiz , which he wrote for Lahore. “O city of Lights”. Today his city is Bombay. Today our city is Bombay and we will not surrender.

“City of Lights”

On each patch of green, from one shade to the next,
the noon is erasing itself by wiping out all color,
becoming pale, desolation everywhere,
the poison of exile painted on the walls.
In the distance,
there are terrible sorrows, like tides:
they draw back, swell, become full, subside.
They’ve turned the horizon to mist.
And behind that mist is the city of lights,
my city of many lights.

How will I return to you, my city,
where is the road to your lights? My hopes
are in retreat, exhausted by these unlit, broken walls,
and my heart, their leader, is in terrible doubt.

But let all be well, my city, if under
cover of darkness, in a final attack,
my heart leads its reserves of longings
and storms you tonight. Just tell all your lovers
to turn the wicks of their lamps high
so that I may find you, Oh, city,
my city of many lights.

(Translated by Agha Shahid Ali)

Shaheryar Ali

“Not a famous man” Ralph Russell called himself in his autobiography “Findings, Keepings: Life, Communism and everything“. It’s quite an understatement. Anyone who loves Urdu and has any interest in the literary movements in Indian subcontinent knows Ralph Russell. He was one of those rare men who become legends in their life time. Ralph Russell spent all his life serving Urdu language. He popularized it , built structures and mechanisms of teaching Urdu in Europe especially in the UK. He has been called the “Baba e Urdu of Britain”. He developed friendships with great Urdu poets and writers. He wrote books introducing the classic Urdu poets , introducing their thought and craft to the western audience.

Ralph Russel’s life is an inspiration. His struggle, his commitment to humaniyy and the oppressed and his continuous unrelenless opposition to colonialism, imperialism , capitalism and wars. In that he can be compared to likes of Eric Hobsbawm, perhaps the greatest of historians of our times. Just like him Russell remained till his death “an unrepented communist”

Just like every progressive Russell started his quest by adopting “Atheism”, which led to “humanism” than to Socialism and Communism. The opposition to poverty, war, oppression, colonialism,censorship, imperialism bound him to communism for life. He was sharply critical of the degeneration of Communism in Soviet Union and China. He never accepted their adoption of totaliterianism which is anathema to Marxist thought.

His love affair with Urdu is yet another fascinating story. At the age of just 16 years he joined Communist Party .In his 20s he was drafted in Army in 1940 and was sent to India where he learned “Urdu” , the language of the Army , as he calls it to spread the message of communist Party in India. During this time he spread the thought of revolution in sepoys and the village boys he met and was successful in setting up branches in Army sepoys who even gave “subs” to CPI. There he translated the classical Marxist-leninist literature in Urdu.

On his return he studied at SOAS, the traditional “den of communists” in London . He took degrees in Urdu and Sansikrat. Now for the first time he came accross the “Urdu literature”. He later went to Ali Garh Moslem University and there he met and befriended great Urdu writers. He frequently travelled to India and Pakistan and kept contact with any body who was anybody in Urdu Literature. His biography , the first part is fascinating account of his early struggle. Even as a young school lad he fought with the “school establishment”, this fight continued till his long war with “SOAS university establishment”

The second and third parts of his biography are named “Losses and Gains” and “Some day”. These deal with his time in UK and the development of British welfare state by Labour Party after the war. The nationalization, the Mccarthyism and red scare, Revolutions of 68 , cold war , disintigration of USSR and his battles with SOAS establishment. His scholarly work , his efforts to built mechanisms for Urdu teaching in UK and his efforts in introducing teaching of Urdu in British schools.

Russell in colaboration with his close friend Khurshid Mir introduced 3 of classical urdu poets to west. Mir, Sauda and Mir Hassan, in the book “Three Mughal Poets”. He translated Ghalib into English and introduced his poetry to west. He also gave an anthology of urdu literature.

Perhaphs his greatest contribution is his effort in developing courses for teaching urdu and his efforts to introduce Urdu into British school. By doing so he helped preserve not only a language but a whole culture and civilzation in British immigrant population.

He all his life remained critical to the colonial and imperialist mindset of Europeans. In SOAS he always struggled for “academic freedom” and against the racial and oriental biases of University establishment. He published it as “Oriental despotism: A report on School of Oriental and Africamn Studies , University of London”

This great man passed away peacefully on 14/9/2008. He was born in 1918.

“I was born in 1918. I became a communist at the age of 16 and am still content to call myself one despite the traumatic experiences from 1946 onwards of the corruption and eventual collapse of the communist movement and the Soviet Union, because I still hold to the humanist values which made me a communist. I believe that true communism is not only consistent with these values but is a logical development from them”

Ralph Russell

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

The non-existence of women is the most important problem that has plagued the discourse in the Muslim countries. “Representational discourse” is in itself a discourse of exclusion, the “woman” and “woman hood” are representational entities, the Woman has always been be represented in the discourse , she never had her own voice. The famous existential philosopher Simone de Beauvior whilst writing her seminal feminist work “The second Sex” reached the conclusion : “No Human is born a Woman”.

In fundamentalist ‘Islamic’ context this representational discourse acquired a legal status where woman was judged to be unworthy of testimony. De-humanization of woman reached its peak under the USA sponsored Islamization of the Muslim world. General Muhammed Zia ul Haq and the theologians brought the “Law of Evidence” according to which the testimony of the woman was to be considered half of that of man. The traditional reading of Islam brought about the concept of “Naqis ul Aqal” “semi compos mentis” for the Woman. An animal which is not capable of making independent decisions, is source of Sin and lust and hence must be covered in a black veil, to protect the piety of Men, whose place is within the 4 walls of the house and who cant leave it without a male relative escorting her.

“Zina” (or fornication) became the ultimate focus of the project that aimed to suppress women’s sexuality with the fear of stones and lashes. “Chador or Char divari” became the official state doctrine for “woman” with approval from Mansoora! [Pakistan’s self-styled Vatican, headquarter of the Jamate Islami]

The Progressive left led a heroic struggle against the Neo Fascist Zia ul Haq, resulting in one of the most brutal crackdown against them, hangings, torture,murders,exiles, lashes—. Fahmida Riaz , Kishwar Naheed stood up against this tyranny , the result was the emergence of a radical feminist discourse that was modernist and progressive and which challenged the Islamist discourse on woman.

Fehmida Riaz is a true artist who never compromised , she was victimized by Zia ul Haq and his political Son Nawaz Sharif but she stood firm. Chador aur Char Divari is one of the most important poems ever written in Urdu. It traces the origins of Islamist exclusionist discourse and de constructs it. It asserts the “humanity” of woman , her independent will and voice and her challenge to the tyrants.

Translation follows

Four Walls and a Black Veil
What shall I do, Sire, with this black veil?
Why do you bestow on me this great favour?
I am not in mourning that I should wear it
To show the world my grief.
Nor am I sick That I should hide my shame
In its dark folds. S
Stamp my forehead with this Dismal seal?
If I am not too impudent, Sire
If you assure my life, may I tell you, Most humbly:
There lies, in your perfumed chamber, A corpse that stinks.
It begs for pity. Cover that shroudless corpse.
Not me. Its stench is everywhere. It cries for seclusion.
Listen to the heart-rending screams
Of those still naked beneath the veil.
You must know them well, these maids:
The hostage women of vanquished peoples,
Halal for a night, exiled at dawn;
The slave girls who carried your blessed seed
And brought forth children of half status only, yet
Was it not honour enough for them?
The wives who wait their precious turns
To pay homage to the conjugal couch;
The hapless, cowering girl-child
Whose blood will stain your gray beard red.

Life has no more tears to shed; it shed them all
In that fragrant chamber where, for ages now,
This sacrificial drama has played
And replayed. Please, Sire, bring it down.
The curtain. Now. You need it to cover the corpse.
I am not on this earth merely as a signet
Of your great lust.

These four walls and this black veil—
Let them bless the rotting remains.
I have spread my sails
In the open wind, on the wide seas,
And by my side a man stands,
A companion who won my trust

An exceptionally bold critique of the traditional values about woman
in Islamic societies, A historicist reading of the poem
can lead to accusation of Blasphemy!.Another of the crime
which was being done by Islamist regimes all over was the destruction
and denial of woman's sexuality. She was being ordered to lie
passively beneath the man, her husband as a religious duty. 
The woman who denies the advances of her husband was the subject
of curses by the Angeles of God,  the Aroused man
was like a solider of God with sword in hand, any
expression of sexuality by her was Sin ,her perfume could destroy
the piety of Men,her voice can make them mad and put them on
path of Sin and lust.Any awareness of sexuality could make her a
"Rebel out of control". In Arab world the mutilation of female
children in name of "circumcision" is the politics of orgasmic
control.By doing so these women are deprived of "sexual pleasure"
for ever, making them just an instrument for pleasure of the male.
Any pleasure on behalf of her is a Sin."Modesty" and "Asexuality"
were another of Islamists doctrines,challenged by Fehmida Riaz.
French Kiss is a lovely poem by Riaz, an expression of 
female sexuality and her humanity.

 

Deep Kiss

Deep myrrh-scented kiss,
deep with the tongue, suffused
with the musky perfume
of the wine of love: I'm reeling
with intoxication, languid
to the point of numbness,
yet with a mind so roused
an eye flies open
in every cell.

And you! Sucking my breath,
my life, from its deepest,
most ancient abode.

Kiss.
Wet, warm, dark.
Pitch black!
Like a moonless night,
when rain comes flooding in.

A glint of runaway time
fleeing in the wilderness of my soul
seems to be drawing closer.

I sway across a shadowy bridge.
It's about to end, I think,
somewhere ahead,
there is light.

Breaking the Silence----Fahmida Riaz

Shaheryar Ali