Last edited: January 27, 2005

A Just Cause

What’s your worst political nightmare?

The Advocate, April 29, 2003

By Andrew Sullivan

Here’s one to ponder. By some awful turn of events, the radical religious right, spearheaded by Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, and even more extreme elements among Christian Reconstructionists, orchestrates a military coup. The Constitution is abolished.

Biblical law is established as the only legitimate form of authority. Adulterers are stoned. Women are barred from going to work. And homosexuals are tortured in order to expose others; the ones flushed out by omnipresent religious secret police are systematically turned into informers, executed by mass stonings, or buried under piles of rubble.

This isn’t likely to happen, of course, even in our most paranoid fantasies. However bad Falwell, Dobson, and Robertson are, they’re not that extreme. But the truth is, in hard and irrefutable detail, this is the kind of regime under which millions of gay people live. Throughout the Arab and Muslim world, vicious persecution of gay people is the norm. Under the most brutal Islamist dictatorships, the violence is about as awful as it can get. In the Taliban’s Afghanistan, for example, gay people were routinely executed. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, the death penalty for gay people was the law. On the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, under the Palestinian Authority, gay people are regularly harassed, arrested, and tortured.

One such victim’s story was recounted in The New Republic last year by Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. After a young man, whom Halevi calls “Tayseer,” was discovered having sex with another man, he was arrested by the Palestinian police and hung by his arms from the ceiling. “A high-ranking officer he didn’t know arranged for his release and then demanded sex as payback,” Halevi wrote. Tayseer fled Gaza for the West Bank, but he was arrested there too. Halevi reported, “He was forced to stand in sewage water up to his neck, his head covered by a sack filled with feces, and then he was thrown into a dark cell infested with insects and other creatures he could feel but not see. (‘You slap one part of your body, and then you have to slap another,’ he recounts.) During one interrogation, police stripped him and forced him to sit on a Coke bottle. Through the entire ordeal he was taunted by interrogators, jailers, and fellow prisoners for being a homosexual.”

Another gay couple under Palestinian rule told Halevi that they woke up one morning and “found a letter under our door from the Islamic court. It listed the five forms of death prescribed by Islam for homosexuality, including stoning and burning. We fled to Israel that same day.”

We know these stories because these people have fled to a free Western country, Israel. Can you imagine the untold stories, the unheard screams of torture, the web of fear and terror that envelopes gay people under the auspices of Islamist dictatorships where there’s no escape, no hope, no refuge?

Now imagine it’s you. And imagine that there’s another country, miles away, with the military power to stop this in some instances. A country that allows gay freedom to an extent you and your friends cannot even dream of. How would you feel if you heard that many gay people in that country described the attempt to liberate you from this terror as “state terrorism”? How would you feel if those gay people sided not with your bid for freedom but with the dictators who oppress you? How would you feel if these gay people preferred instead to march and protest against any war to liberate their imprisoned and persecuted brothers and sisters?

We are at war now—with regimes and terrorist groups whose loathing of homosexuals is matched only by their utter contempt for human dignity, their sadistic violence, and their hatred of women’s freedom. We will have good and important debates about how and when to intervene. But what we shouldn’t debate is the morality of our system as opposed to the depravity of theirs. And in all these debates, two questions should resonate more powerfully than many others in the minds and souls of gay Americans: Whose side are you really on? And how much longer can you afford, actively or passively, to side with the oppressors?

To: The Editor of the Advocate (

From: Faisal Alam, founder & director, Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims & El-Farouk Khaki, legal advisor, Salaam Toronto: Queer Muslim Community. (,

CC: Andrew Sullivan (

April 17, 2003

Dear Madam / Sir:

I was appalled to read Andrew Sullivan’s diatribe (A Just Cause, Advocate, April 29, 2003), in which he argues that the oppression of gay people is widespread and extreme under “Islamist dictatorships.”

It is distressing to see that Sullivan illustrates no comprehension of the diversity of Islam, a religion that is followed by more than 1.2 billion people around the world. Every day, LGBT people in predominantly Muslim nations work to defend the rights of sexual and gender minorities in their respective societies. Sullivan fails to acknowledge the historic and grassroots organizing conducted by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists in countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and Pakistan. He dismisses their groundbreaking work and instead focuses his attention solely on several examples of the supposed brutality of “Islamists.” Further, he does not recognize the context in which these events have occurred.

Predominantly Muslim countries do not exist in a vacuum and human rights abuses being committed against gay people are fueled by poverty, the political manipulation of religion, authoritarian regimes, economic hardship, the imposition of cultural and social mores, and military occupation. Sullivan also forgets that our own government has historically supported brutal regimes and dictators that oppressed gay people, including the Afghan Mujahideen (freedom fighters that later became known as the Taliban) and Saddam Hussein himself; all to further our own foreign policy agenda. In fact today, we continue to ally ourselves with countries that oppress sexual minorities, women and religious minorities—in the name of our “homeland security,” and the current “war on terrorism.”

To argue that the “morality of our system” is purer than the “depravity of theirs,” is a slap in the face to a religion that is rooted in justice and peace. Sullivan fails to mention that the majority of predominantly Muslim countries do not follow strict interpretation of Islamic law (shariah), including Iraq, but in fact still continue to use laws that were introduced during colonization. These same laws (in this case sodomy laws) are often used to oppress gay people and are politically motivated to justify the silence of perceived voices of government oppostion.

While the world might think that the intentions of the United States are to “liberate” the oppressed people of the world, and while Sullivan might argue that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans should support this “liberation,” one must only go as far as Afghanistan to see that nothing significant has changed in our government’s supposed quest to promote human rights. The current government of Afghanistan has not passed any legislation protecting the rights of gay people and the social conditions for women have not dramatically changed.

Sullivan’s diatribe appearing in the Advocate this month perpetuates false stereotypes of Muslims and the peaceful religion of Islam. I urge the Advocate to be cautious in publishing another article that fails to recognize the complex history and culture of Islam—a dynamic faith that promotes notions justice, and a religion that is practiced by more than six million Americans.


Faisal Alam
Founder & Director
Al-Fatiha Foundation (LGBTIQ Muslims)
Tel. 202-223-3738
Email: Web:

El-Farouk Khaki
Legal Advisor
Salaam Toronto: Queer Muslim Community

[Home] [World] [Editorials]