Civil Liberties

The West Is Lavender


Doug Ireland reviews a disturbing book about the lives of gays and lesbians in the Middle East. One interesting tidbit:

In dissecting the wide gap between portrayals of homosexuality in Arab media and official discourse, and the lived reality of Arab same-sexers, Whitaker writes that "Arab portrayals of homosexuality as a foreign phenomenon can be [plausibly] attributed to a reversal of old-fashioned Western orientalism. Western orientalism, as analyzed by Edward Said in his influential book, highlights the 'otherness' of oriental culture in order (Said argued) to control it more effectively. Reverse orientalism—a comparatively new development in the Arab world—taps into the same themes but also highlights the 'otherness' of the West in order to resist modernization and reform. Homosexuality is one aspect of Western 'otherness' that can be readily exploited to whip up popular sentiment….Where symbolism of this kind applies, the sexual act must necessarily be described in terms that maximize the reader's disgust: there is no scope for portrayals of homosexuality that are anything but negative."

For more on this "Occidentalism," see Chuck Freund's pioneering Reason essay of December 2001.