Some caveats about this book. I have no religious beliefs while without supporting the rights of others to have such. I respond to the peculiarities of (especially fundamentalist) beliefs of peoples of the Book as being somewhere between sad and silly. Silly particularly when it applies to ‘self’ imposed non-rational restrictions on things like clothing, head dress and wig wearing- sad when it comes to externally pressured beliefs that become foundational to social acceptability and personal choices. Second, I have visited a range of majority Muslim countries (especially the Middle East) and have listened. I read the Qu’ran as preparation for those visits and appreciate it as a highly censorious poetically Arabic extension of the Book. While visiting and talking (carefully) with Jordanians, Syrians, Egyptians and Lebanese people, I have often found my mind wondering about what it might take for fundamentalist Muslims to experience some kind of Renaissance/ Reformation experience that had the effect of gradually opening the minds of more and more (not all, by a long shot) Christians in the West. In this respect, sexual behaviour difference is something of a touchstone. ‘God in Pink’ touches on these issues in some interesting ways.
I am simultaneously writing a note on John Gribbins ‘The Fellowship’ looking at the early history of the Royal Society which exemplars part of this process in European experience, founded on scientific inquiry, (which can be extended to philosophy and Biblical studies) that has freed many believers of the Book to function in contemporary Western society when dealing with the issue of homosexuality. I was fascinated to be told that newton his Arianism all his life and may have been homosexual himself. It was also revealing to note the lingering deadening effect of religious demands on academic and scientific life, especially when it came to e matter of appointments.
So, does Hasan Namir have anything to offer? (Actually his name is Hasan Abood and he now lives in Vancouver with an Indian partner – something impossible openly in his native Iraq). His tale is fictional but obviously based extensively on his personal experiences in his native land. This is a tale of middle class life in Baghdad that is very current. There are plenty of references to the Saddam times which retain a tinge of nostalgia for relative stability compared with the current raging disturbances and extreme religious divisions between Shia and Sunni, the terrifying bombings, destruction and the’disappearances’ and suicides of young gay men (no mention of women here). This is highlighted by the fact of Ramy (the central character) having lost both his parents to that regime. He is living with his married brother and wife (childless) who expect him to study, marry, get a good job and continue the line – how many gay men have heard that line?
He has plenty of pressures and his emerging gay sexuality overlays it all. This aspect of the story I found a little troubling. Perhaps it was the telescoping of time or the nervous pressures of achieving a satisfying sexual emotional relationship, but I found the rapid succession of his relationships against the background of extreme outcomes a little hard to accept. Perhaps it was my failure to truly accept and understand his circumstances. He is an intelligent young man and has an appreciation that what he wants is not personally sinful and has some understanding of the tendentious nature of Book based strictures not dissimilar to those that have been exhaustively explored from within Christian and Judaism. It was interesting that the Story of Lot which was used most extensively in this respect. There are LGBTI groups that operate (with great risk and care) within such Muslim cultures and the arguments they use are well known as I noted above. Yet, how effective can they be within the culture Ramy daily experiences? Not a lot, I fear.
Namir uses an interesting and very Arabic device to promote his dialogue – a spiritual being. He has Ramy prod Ammir, a respected local Sheik (a learned careerist religious spokesperson) whom he presents as a not entirely unkindly man who has lived comfortably within the fundamentalist tradition (he requires his well-educated wife to take the veil, and she acquiesces) to discuss the issue of homosexuality at Friday prayers. His initial thoughts and responses are to avoid the issue and are predictably negative on the usual bases, when he has to consider it. The ice-breaking device is to introduce a spirit, an Angel, (Gabriel in this case) who appears regularly as a gadfly to force the issue towards some re-evaluation. It is symptomatic of this culture that this might be effective as a device to promote some degree of discussion. For those who know him, it is a bit like having Bishop John Spong in angelic form.
For the time being, the way out for most remains escape to the West. One can only wonder how many potential Isaac Newtons are being lost to cultures who keep accepting this kind of typically fear-based fundamentalism. Such a waste!