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    Septembert 20, 1999

New Dark Ages

This is a letter in response to YekIrani's recent article "Acceptance". Same-sex relationships are currently outlawed in 26 Islamic countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Islam is also a significant and growing influence in Senegal, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Turkey, and the southern Philippines.

Of the Islamic states that ban lesbian and gay sex, Iran is the most zealously homophobic. Since 1980, when the fundamentalists came to power under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, over 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed, according to estimates by the exiled Iranian homosexual rights group, Homan.

In the early 1980's, for example, 70 people were executed after they attempted to set up a lesbian and gay organization. Nearly 100 homosexuals were sentenced to death in 1992 following a raid on a private party.

It is notoriously difficult to be certain about the exact number of lesbians and gays killed because some executions take place in secret, and the relatives of those killed often try to cover up the true reason, due to the strong social stigma associated with homosexuality.

Another factor preventing an accurate estimate is the regime's resort to false allegations of homosexuality against political opponents, in a bid to discredit them. Trumped up charges of homosexuality were levelled against a Sunni Muslim leader, Dr. Ali Mozaffarian, who was executed in Shiraz in 1992.

The methods of killing lesbians and gays in Iran include:

-beheading with a sword

-chopped in two with a sword

-stoning to death

-burning alive at the stake

-being thrown alive from a mountain top or high building

The death penalty applies not only to sodomy, but to repeated offences of lesser sexual acts such as mutual masturbation and body rubbing. The mere act of two people of the same sex lying naked together "without any necessity" is a crime punishable by up to 99 lashes. One man kissing another, even "without lust", merits 60 lashes. These floggings can cause permanent injury to internal organs, severe bleeding and sometimes death.

The Iranian authorities stepped up their crusade against homosexuality in 1990, with a wave of public executions. On the first day of the new crackdown, three gay men were beheaded in a city square in Nahavand, and two women accused of lesbianism were stoned to death in Langrood. Justifying these killings, the Iranian Chief Justice, Morteza Moghtadai, declared: "The religious punishment for the despicable act of homosexuality is death for both parties".

Simultaneously, Ayatollah Ali Khameni denounced "homosexuality, male and female". He condemned Britain and the USA for promoting gay relationships, claiming the two countries had legalised marriages between people of the same sex. Homosexuality was, he said, a symptom of the decay and corruption of Western culture.

His colleague, Ayatollah Musavi-Ardebili, demanded the strict enforcement of Islamic punishments for lesbian and gay behavior. Describing the procedures for the execution of homosexuals, he told students at Tehran University:

"They should seize him (or her), they should keep him standing, they should split him in two with a sword, they should either cut off his neck or they should split him from the head.... after he is dead, they bring logs, make a fire and place the corpse on the logs, set fire to it and burn it. Or it should be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown down. Then the parts of the corpse should be gathered together and burnt. Or they should dig a hole, make a fire in the hole and throw him alive into the fire. We do not have such punishments for other offences", boasted the Ayatollah. "There cannot be the slightest degree of mercy or compassion. ... Praise be to God."

Lesbians and gay men living in countries dominated by the New Dark Ages of Islamic fundamentalism cannot afford the liberal luxury of tolerating religious fanaticism. For them, the politically correct arguments about "cultural sensitivity" smack of surrender to the extremists who jeopardize their freedom and even their lives.

H. Tavakoli,

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