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Is it time for gay rights in Pakistan?

in PAKISTAN, 25/07/2011

Whether Pakistanis like it or not, the resolution is binding on Pakistan as a member of the United Nations. Unfortunately, as the status quo goes, there is no enforcement mechanism to make violation of rights punishable. As hopeful as the global affirmation may seem, the situation in Pakistan is quite abysmal.

Earlier this month, for the first time in its history, the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to protect and uphold gay rights universally. The US Department of State successfully lobbied to bring under the banner of universal declaration of human rights, equal rights for lesbians, gays, and transgender people. The resolution was passed with 23 affirmations against 19 disavowals.

While some of us celebrate this momentous turn in attitudes, it is sobering to note that it took the UN this long to recognise the oppressive violence faced by homosexuals everybody and to finally declare that yes, gays are human beings as well. We have got to somewhere, I suppose.

Excerpts from some of the speeches on the floor were posted on the United Nations blog including the following statement from Pakistan:

“Introducing new rights “may misinterpret the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…these attempts jeopardize the entire human rights framework,” and that “while considering the issue of human rights many things must be kept in mind… these things [gay rights] have nothing to do with fundamental human rights.”

Similar repudiations citing religion, cultural and sociological arguments were made by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Ghana, Nigeria, Mauritania, Uganda and several other Organisation for the Islamic Conference (OIC) countries.

Whether Pakistanis like it or not, the resolution is binding on Pakistan as a member of the United Nations. Unfortunately, as the status quo goes, there is no enforcement mechanism to make violation of rights punishable. As hopeful as the global affirmation may seem, the situation in Pakistan is quite abysmal.

A gay friend lamented:

“The very term gay rights is an oxymoron here. There is no such thing. We have no rights in Pakistan.”

Where does one even begin the debate in Pakistan?

How do you get past the literal interpretation of religious texts that leave no room for such a debate?

Islam if read as a monolith, stuck in time and fixed in space, will not allow equal rights to homosexuals.

To change opinions in Pakistan, however, we need to be able to find solutions within the faith. Rebuttals and recantations will not win hearts and minds, we need to fight this battle employing the language that is heard and understood.

There are several Muslim scholars who maintain accepting views on homosexuality, the discussions are available for anyone to peruse.

In Indonesia during the Conference of Religions and Peace in 2008 it was concluded that homosexuals and homosexuality are natural and created by God, thus permissible within Islam. Siti Musdah Mulia cited al-Hujurat (49:3) from the Quran and said that one of the blessings for human beings was that all men and women are equal, regardless of ethnicity, wealth, social positions or even sexual orientation. She said:

“There is no difference between lesbians and non-lesbians. In the eyes of God, people are valued based on their piety. And talking about piety is God’s prerogative to judge.”

There are countless practicing Muslims who have managed to reconcile their sexual orientation and faith and find no reason to focus on conflict within the two. Some maintain blogs to document their every day experience while others prefer to challenge the plethora of preconceived notions through academic writing.

Trouble is that such voices are few and far between. You don’t hear them because they are afraid to speak up. They are afraid for their life and safety of their loved ones if they come out.

They are unwilling to be subjected to a lifetime of shame and ridicule.

We have shunned millions of our brothers and sisters and they have given up all hope of finding support from us.

UN resolutions are nice enough but they are a result of a decades-long struggle for equality, fairness and justice. It did not happen overnight. A million lives had to be sacrificed for a million more to speak up.

Speaking up won’t be enough anymore. If we don’t yell, loudly and proudly to make ourselves heard, I’m afraid the battle will already be lost.

(Rabayl Manzoor)

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