Unspeakable Love

The Guardian's Brian Whitaker's new book on gay men in the Middle East is out.

I read an advance copy a few weeks back and highly recommend it. Clearly and engagingly written, in a calm and straightforward manner (there's no need to sensationalize how bad things are) it gives a good picture of the situation of gay men in Arab countries (focusing on Egypt, Lebanon and, to a lesser degree, Saudi Arabia).

There's an interesting discussion about the religious basis for discrimination against gay men. I don't know enough about Islamic texts to comment, although it does strike me that if there no basis in the Koran to condemn homosexuality, that is not the general interpretation.
The idea I found most interesting is the way that discussions of homosexuality in the Arab world have gotten caught up in nationalist frameworks--homosexuality nowadays is condemned as a form of Western decadence (whereas Whitaker points out that not that long ago gay Europeans used to escape discrimination and come to enjoy sexual idylls in the more tolerant Middle Eastern societies). In much the same way, feminist ideas nowadays are sometimes rejected as Western imports, in the name of an often fictitious cultural authenticity.

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.