A homophobic article by an Israeli Islamic leader has sparked a flurry of condemnations by Arab civil society, shining a light on a usually suppressed debate on gay rights.
Commenting on the May 15 same-sex wedding of Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, Sheikh Kamal Khatib, deputy head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, launched a scathing attack on homosexuality in an op-ed titled “You make me sick,” published in a website associated with the group, Yaffa48.com.
“Western societies have reached the lowest of lows,” wrote Khatib. “Try as they may to call this marriage, or a natural phenomenon, or [to call for] respect of personal choices, these societies have been succumbing not to hostile armies but to moral degradation and the renouncement of human nature.”
“It is noteworthy,” he continued, “that suspicious local organizations, tabloids and biased writers have been advocating this perversion. To all those, I say not ‘may you be well and have boys’ but rather ‘may you be miserable and suffer plagues and AIDS, you perverts!'”
Khatib’s comments quickly drew fire from Israeli Arabs on social media, who attacked both the style and content of his article.
“Dear Kamal Khatib, how can any self-respecting person write an article titled ‘You make me sick?” wrote social activist and Arabic teacher Hanin Majadli to her 4,000 Facebook followers on Tuesday.
“The plague of cursing and degrading anyone who doesn’t agree with you and Kamal Khatib, using the worst phrases has proven many things, including the [realization] that my society is overflowing with intellectual Islamic Staters,” wrote Majadli.
Raja Zaatry, a member of communist party Hadash, the senior partner of the 13-seat Joint (Arab) List, decided to answer Khatib in kind.
“Dear Mr. Khatib, sick is to view women as nothing but a pile of flesh … sick is to call the participation of men and women in the same demonstration ‘terrible mixing’ … sick is to call for the downfall of Syria (sic.) not because its regime is undemocratic, but because its president is Alawite. What is sick, and nothing but sick, is that you don’t respect people and impose your opinions on them.”
It was Hadash — which partnered with the Islamic Movement and Arab nationalist party Balad in the Joint List ahead of the March 17 elections — that drafted legislation recently prohibiting discrimination in employment and in the education system based on sexual orientation.
Homosexuality is considered a sin in Islam, and homosexual acts are illegal in much of the Arab world and remain taboo in most Arab and Muslim communities, where it is rarely addressed. In some Muslim countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, homosexual intercourse is punishable by death.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Arab nationalist party Balad compared its opposition to homophobia to that of the “colonialist” Israeli regime.
“In its core, our wish for freedom by striving to liberate ourselves from the oppression of colonialism is part of our yearning for human liberation guaranteeing the rights of individuals in their personal lives,” the communique read, warning Israel against using Khatib’s comments to portray itself as tolerant towards minorities.
Al-Qaws, a Palestinian NGO supporting sexual and gender diversity in Palestinian society, argued in a rare statement issued Monday that Khatib’s concern over homosexuality may indicate a paradigm shift in Arab treatment of the subject.
“We wonder,” the organization wrote, “is he really troubled by the marriage of homosexuals in Europe, or does he have an emotional need extending to the political realm? Is this a miserable attempt to exploit the issue of gays for political purposes, or did the Sheikh see change taking place before his eyes and get nervous?”