Perceptions and realities

‘How ironic that many Lebanese gay men, including myself, actually feel more comfortable in places like Damascus or Amman and go there often in order to escape the Beiruti agitation. There might be no Kylie Minogue nights there, but on the other hand there is a lot less snobbery and less fuss about homosexuality. My friend Ali recently went to Jordan to be wedded to his boyfriend by a Muslim cleric and then spent his honeymoon in Damascus. The advantage of such trips also comes in finding an anonymity one is denied at home.But even Amman seems to have its “globalised” gay crowd. Watching Ugly Betty and wearing D&G is what gay culture is about, these people seem to say, along with the NYT article and many gay men across the global village. I can still remember how discovering Steven, the gay character in Dynasty, during my childhood in the 1980s, opened a whole new perspective for me. It is another matter altogether to equate this mass consumption with gay culture, or even with gay rights advocacy. Just as Beirut’s old neighbourhoods are being gentrified, its “superb architecture” (sic) being torn down to make way for soulless, surveillance-camera-equipped skyscrapers, its local gay culture is facing the challenge of McDonaldisation. How long before writers start describing Beirut as a new Bangkok – rather than a Provincetown? Will sex tourism advance its population’s gay rights or social wellbeing? In the meantime, Beirut is certainly turning back into the playground of multinational companies, regional interests and greedy entrepreneurs.’

This, by the way, is only the second reference I ever heard to Sunni sheikhs performing gay marriages – the other case reportedly occurred some years ago in Kuwait, where a sheikh married two women – but only because one of them was actually born as a man and had undergone a sex change: as his birth certificate asserted he was a man, however, the sheikh saw no legal problem there.

As-Safir, a Lebanese nespaper, publishes an opinion poll (links to article in Arabic) by al-Sharika ad-Duwaliyya li-l-Mu3allamat which dismisses the usual dominant view that pictures Lebanon as a country divided between an anti-Syrian/Iranian (and thus pro-US/Israeli) ‘majority’ and a pro-Syrian/Iranian (and ergo anti-US/Israeli) ‘opposition’. In fact, the results show that a solid 93.9% of the Lebanese continue to see Israel as enemy nr. 1 (ranging from 89% of the Maronite christians to 98% of the Druze), followed by the US at 64.8%. Asked about friendly and protective countries, Syria (72.3%) and Iran (68.6%) were only surpassed by Qatar (86.8%) – a marked change from the same company’s poll of june 2008, in which Syria and Iran only scored 46.5% and 40% respectively. The US, on the other hand, slid in popularity from 37.3% to 26.5%, and Saudi Arabia (despite virtually single-handedly holding up the Lebanese sex tourism industry) from 60.6% to 53%. As for the biggest current threat to Lebanon’s security, Hizbullah’s weapons were considered so by a smashing 5.5%, while Israel is seen thus by 48.2% of the Lebanese. Which leaves us with the burning question: if 6.1% of the Lebanese do not see Israel as a threat to their country, but only 5.5% (presumably covering the same respondents) see Hizbullah as a threat to Lebanon, than what on earth is going on in the minds of the 0.6% that is left? And who are they? The cannabis exporters? The Israeli spy network? The error margin? So many questions…

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