Prospects for Progress in Arab Lands


Hattersley, Michael. 2002. “Prospects for Progress in Arab Lands.” The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 8 (6): 20.

Author: Michael Hattersley


The fate of sexual minorities is closely tied to the fate of women in Muslim countries, as it has been elsewhere. But liberating women poses a much more fundamental challenge to Islam than it does to Christianity or Judaism. The three "religions of the Book," in fact, have radically different attitudes toward war, human rights, and sexuality. It's somewhat speculative but not irrelevant to relate these differences to the characters and historical eras of their founders. Abraham, the figure claimed as the father of all three faiths, led a clan out of Ur, a relatively sophisticated Mesopotamian city, into Palestine circa 1800 BCE. Anxious to be fruitful and multiply, but married to a barren woman, Sarah, he agreed at her request to have a child by her handmaiden Hagar. God later rewarded Sarah with a miraculous son. According to the Old Testament, Sarah's son Isaac became the progenitor of the Hebrews, while Hagar's son Ishmael became the progenitor of the Arabs. 3. American foreign policy over the last twenty years has often rewarded Arab terrorism. We can trace the growth of terrorist organizations to America's turn-tail evacuations in Somalia in the 1990's and Lebanon in the 80's. Bin Laden himself was reportedly encouraged by the fact that the U.S. reduced its naval presence in the Persian Gulf after the attack on the Cole. Pulling out at the first sign of American casualties sent the message that the U.S. was a paper tiger. Bin Laden, like Hitler, thrives on his ability to convince people that the Western democracies are unwilling to fight back on a broad front. Recent developments, of course, have sent a very different -- and salutary -- message 4. The U.S. is partially responsible for the fact that the Middle Eastern countries have not evolved politically in the second half of the 20th century. Iran, while not an Arab country, provides a case in point. In 1954 Iran elected a democratic, left-wing regime headed by Mossadegh, who intended either to depose the Shah or turn him into a constitutional monarch. CIA intervention restored the "Westernizing" Shah Pahlevi as dictator. As a result, Iran was denied the opportunity to liberalize from the bottom. Its political development was postponed for thirty years, and the resulting fundamentalist reaction in 1979 was all the more violent. Similarly, the ever-accommodating U.S. State department has coddled, financed, and pretended to negotiate with cynical regimes in Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere. (Still, it should be noted that in recent years the U.S. has intervened repeatedly in the Muslim world to help prevent ethnic cleansing, starvation, or conquest -- in Bosnia, Somalia, East Timor, and Kuwait. These efforts have been at least partial successes, and not all have been motivated by a desire for cheap oil. But they have gained us no real friends.)

Topics: Gender, Women, Gender Roles, LGBTQ Regions: Africa, MENA, Americas, North America, Asia, Middle East Countries: Iran, United States of America

Year: 2002

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