Author's blog: 2006 - 2007

31 March 2007: Yacoubian Building

The popular Egyptian film, The Yacoubian Building, was shown at Bafta last night as part of the Arab cinema weekend in London. I arrived to find that tickets for all 230 seats had sold out three days earlier but got in at the last minute when a few people failed to turn up.

The three-hour film is a reasonably close adaptation of Alaa Aswani's novel of the same name. One strand of the story is the relationship between Hatim Rasheed, a gay newspaper editor, and Abdu, a young policeman from upper Egypt. I analysed Aswani's treatment of this in Chapter 3 of Unspeakable Love (the film was still being made at the time).

A couple of points I noted about the film version:

1. It successfullly resists the temptation to portray Hatim as stereotypically gay. In the book, his appearance is described as "a skilful compromise between elegance and femininity". In the film, "smart casual" would be more accurate, though the interior of his flat looks expensively exotic. Meanwhile Zaki Bey, the drink-sozzled womaniser, might easily be mistaken for an ageing queen.

2. In the novel, Hatim is killed by Abdu after an argument. In the film, Abdu ends the relationship and disappears. Hatim then picks up another young man and takes him back to his flat. As Hatim lies face-down the bed, the youth comes up behind and strangles him with a belt - apparently it's a homophobic attack. Reading the novel, I was not particularly convinced by the account of Hatim's murder by Abdu, and I think the film version may be an improvement.

POSTSCRIPT: A friend informed me the other day that Egyptian cinema audiences usually applaud at the point where Hatim is stangled. Can anyone confirm this?

COMMENT FROM A READER: Saw it at three cinemas in Cairo with different Egyptian friends (all straight) and while there was some nervous giggling one time during that scene, there was no applause. 

However, during the scene where the young bawab shoots the officer who tortured him, MANY clapped on all three occasions! 

When I chatted with Alaa al-Aswany, he told me that this was one reason the Mubarak regime decided to organise a media campaign against the film, which played up the homosexuality as a controversial issue in a way that audiences for the most part didn't think it was ...

COMMENT FROM ANOTHER READER: I saw the film in Cairo in the summer of 2006, when it was released; the theater was packed. A significant portion of the audience clapped during the murder [of Hatim, the gay newspaper editor], and several yelled "Praise be to God" and "It is God's will." I was quite shaken by the incident.

21 March 2007: Absent students

I gave a talk entitled 'Coming out in Arabic: Islam, human rights, and gay rights' at the University of East London. It was a seminar aimed mainly at postgraduate students which had been organised by the Centre on Human Rights in Conflict but advertised quite widely around the university.

I had been looking forward to this because the university has a relatively high proportion of Muslim students and I wondered how they would react.

In the event, several students turned up who had not attended previous seminars in the series. The newcomers were certainly not Muslims and, from the discussion that followed the talk, I would guess that a couple of them, at least, were gay.

The other side of the coin was that 10-or-so Muslim students who normally go to the seminars stayed away. One of the teaching staff found this very interesting and suggested they were probably worried about what friends would think if they attended.

This is reminiscent of the reaction at Southampton University a month ago, when the Islamic Society turned down an invitation to a joint meeting and debate with the LGB Society.

In a similar vein, a few months ago I took part in a discussion on the Islam Channel (on a totally different subject). After the programme I went for dinner with the presenters, one of whom was Inayat Bunglawala, press officer of the Muslim Council of Britain. I have known him for some years and we have always been on friendly terms. During the meal, conversation eventually got round to the delicate matter of my book, and I offered him a copy. He replied that he would accept it as a gift but had no intention of reading it. On that basis, I decided not to give it to him - though on reflection, maybe I should have done.

The text of my talk can be found in PDF format here on the CHRC website and in HTML format here on al-bab.

POSTSCRIPT: On March 29 I wrote about the Yogyakarta Principles for Comment is Free. This prompted a fairly positive response from Inayat (see above) and some interesting further discussion ensued.

19 March 2007: Shortlisted for award 

I heard about this rather blatedly when someone sent me a congratulatory email. Unspeakable Love has been shortlisted for a Lambda award in the US, in the non-fiction category. Winners will be announced on May 31.

25 February 2007: Dangerous Living (2)

There will be another opportunity to see the film, Dangerous Living, in London on Sunday March 11. 

It's a multi-faith charity showing at the Prince Charles Cinema (just off Leicester Square) organised jointly by Beit Klal Yisrael, the Safra Project and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. It starts at 1pm and will be followed by a panel discussion.

I wrote a brief note here about a previous showing in London last June.

Quote from the blurb:

In the last decade of the 20th century, a new heightened visibility of lesbians and gays began spreading throughout the developing world and the battles between families, fundamentalist religions, and governments around sexual and gender identity had begun. But in the west, few people knew about this historic social upheaval, until 52 men on Cairo’s Queen Boat discothèque were arrested for crimes of debauchery. That explosive story focused attention to the lives and trials of gay people coming out in the developing world and the film chronicles those events.

24 February 2007: Mai Ghoussoub

Along with many others, I was very saddened by the sudden death last weekend of Mai Ghoussoub, co-founder of Saqi, which published Unspeakable Love.

Mai embraced the book with her usual irrepressible enthusiasm. Within days of seeing my first draft she was coming up with ideas for the cover illustration and suggesting more authors who should be mentioned in the chapter about homosexuality in Arab literature. When the book finally came to fruition last April, she was with me in Beirut for the launch.

Mai had also, in a way, laid the foundations for Unspeakable Love with the ground-breaking book, Imagined Masculinities, back in 2000.

On Thursday there was a party in London for the launch of A Lost Summer - a fundraising book project for Lebanon United which Mai had been closely involved in. There were thoughts of cancelling it after her death but in the end the organisers decided to go ahead, believing it was what Mai would have wanted - and I am sure they were right about that. The party, held in the Kufa Gallery next to Saqi's bookshop and publishing headquarters, turned into a wake, with tearful speeches. Someone remarked that they had never seen the gallery so full of people.

There's an obituary of Mai here in the Guardian. Others have appeared in the Arabic press and on the Open Democracy website. Most of them talk about her talents and achievements but for me Ann Wilson's tribute best captures the essence of her bubbling personality.

23 February 2007: Not-so-gay life in Iraq

By the time he reached his teens, Haider Jaber knew he was different. Maybe it was the way he walked or talked, but other kids noticed it too. Some of them used to hit him or throw stones.

“They would gather round and call me ‘gay boy’, ‘woman’ or ask me to suck their penis,” he said. 

“Sometimes, I would have to wait in school until everyone else had gone for my parents to collect me, or I would take very long routes home to avoid them.”

In many countries Haider would have had people to help and support him, but growing up gay in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq there was little chance of that. “In my society it was something that I had to hide,” he said.

If that wasn't bad enough it got worse after the American-led invasion. Much, much worse. You can read the full story in the March issue of  GT magazine (formerly known as Gay Times), which is now in the shops. An online version of the article is here.

Gay and lesbian Iraqis can get help from a British-based group, Iraqi LGBT-UK.  

22 February 2007: Non-debate with Muslims

Travelled to Southampton last night and gave a talk about Unspeakable Love to the university's Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Society. This was followed by a debate about religion and homosexuality in which a number of Christians took part.

The LGB society had been hoping to make it a joint event with the Islamic Society (which would have been some kind of first) but the Islamic Society stayed away - according to the organisers, on the grounds that they "strongly disagreed".

Disagreeing with people does seem an odd reason to boycott a debate, but there we are ... Sounds to me as if they are not very confident their arguments will stand up to scrutiny.

7 December 2006: Interview with Terry Gross

On Tuesday I was interviewed by Terry Gross, host of the Fresh Air programme on National Public Radio. They had arranged a hook-up to Broadcasting House in London - in one of their tiny remote-controlled studios.

My publishers were very excited about this because the show has an audience of 4.5 million and they said it is almost certain to boost sales of Unspeakable Love in the United States.

Reading about Terry Gross beforehand, I discovered that she is a very unusual interviewer - there's none of the "sorry, we've run out of time" stuff. She takes it at a leisurely pace and doesn't cut you off in mid-sentence. I was told in advance that she would want to chat for an hour - which is how it turned out.

The programme went out on Wednesday and can be heard on the NPR website. I haven't heard it yet myself but a few minutes after the broadcast finished I got an email from an enthusiastic listener in Washington.

FOOTNOTE, December 8: Checking this morning, I found that Unspeakable Love has shot up in the sales rankings since the programme was broadcast. At the time of writing it is number 6,717 in the overall list and number seven in the "gay and lesbian non-fiction" list.

3 December 2006: Moral panic in Egypt

The New York Times magazine has a long article today about the gay issue in Egypt and I think the writer, Negar Azimi, gives an accurate picture. In an ironic comment on the article, the Arabist blog says:

It’s a pity that there aren’t any gay politicians, no one at a senior level (say ministerial), who could speak out on behalf of a culture of personal rights and against the culture of crass politicking that surrounds the issue. Of course, that person would have to be well connected and virtually impossible to remove no matter what he said or did. Yep, pity there’s no one like that around.

Egyptians, familiar with local gossip and accustomed to reading between the lines, should get the point instantly. 

1 December 2006: Go West

There’s a festival of Bosnian films in London at the moment and on Thursday evening I went to see Go West, an award-winning film by Ahmed Imamovic.

Like many recent films from Bosnia it’s set during the war in the early 1990s, but with one important difference: the two main characters are gay. One is a Bosnian Muslim, the other a Serbian Christian. It’s the first film of its kind from Bosnia and - predictably - its release last year caused some local uproar. In Serbia, meanwhile, it was deemed not sufficiently interesting for cinema audiences.

Personally, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a gay film. It’s essentially a war film which deploys both tragedy and comedy to attack the absurdities of nationalism and sectarianism. As war breaks out, the couple escape from Sarajevo with Kenan - the Muslim and the more feminine-looking of the two - disguised as a woman. The pretence becomes ever more precarious as Kenan arrives in his lover’s Christian village and the father organises a marriage ceremony.

The After Elton website has a review by Robert Urban which I broadly agree with, so I won’t retrace the same ground here. However, one thought came to mind several times while watching the film: would the story have been very different if its main characters were a straight couple (say, a Christian man and a Muslim woman)?

The gay angle does add some dramatic edge but most of that comes from the cross-dressing and the potentially fatal consequences if Kenan’s true gender (rather than his sexuality) is found out.

More interestingly, though, the film portrays the gay relationship, along with classical music (Kenan plays the cello), as a metaphor for civilised values struggling to survive in a country brutalised by war - a radical view from that part of the world.

25 October 2006: Talks at universities

Unspeakable Love was published in Britain towards the end of the last academic year and, with students preoccupied with exams, I didn't get much opportunity to give talks about the book at universities. Now that the new term has started, however, I have given two talks this week - one to the LGBT society at St Andrews and another to the London Middle East Institute (an offshoot of SOAS) in their Tuesday Lecture series. 

I'm happy to email a copy of the talk to anyone who missed either of these events. Naturally, I'll do my best to meet any similar requests from other universities. Email me here:

24 October 2006: Arab sexuality

Worth noting: Sexuality in the Arab World, a new book from Saqi. It's basically an academic book, which may be a bit off-putting for some readers, but it ventures into a number of previously unexplored areas. It contains a lot of fascinating new research, including a chapter on "Arab images of the sexuality of domestic maids" and some interesting opinions about sex among students in Beirut.

There are two gay-related chapters: one by Jared McCormick on "Gay indentities, lived realities" and another by Sofian Merabet on "queer space" in Beirut. 

I won't say more about the book now because I've been asked to review it for the New Statesman magazine and will link to that in due course.

3 October 2006: Visit by Rauda Morcos

Rauda Morcos, one of the founders of Aswat, the organisation for Palestinian gay women, is visiting Britain. I met her for lunch on Thursday and on Friday she gave a talk to the Hackney branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. An article for Guardian Unlimited, based partly on her talk, is here.

1 October 2006: Tetu magazine

The October issue of the French gay/lesbian magazine, Tetu, has a series of articles of articles and pictures about gay Muslims (pages 82-95). It includes an interview with me about Unspeakable Love, and another with Parvez Sharma, whose film, In the Name of Allah, is nearing completion.

Incidentally, a French-language version of Unspeakable Love is now in the pipeline. I don't have a publication date yet, but it will probably be some time in 2007.

6 July 2006: Reading at 'Gays The Word'

I read extracts from "Unspeakable Love" at Gays The Word bookshop in London. There was some interesting discussion and I signed copies of the book.

Chatting with one of the staff afterwards, it occurred to me how much attitudes in Britain have changed since the shop first opened its doors in 1979. In 1984 (a date that readers of George Orwell will appreciate), it was raided by the police. I don't remember much about it, but I found an old article on the internet. Here is the relevant bit:

The importation of anything indecent is prohibited by Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876. “Indecent” has been defined in the courts as including anything “immodest or unbecoming”. This is a much wider definition than obscenity. In 1984 Customs officers raided gay bookshops throughout Great Britain, searching for and seizing indecent books of foreign origin. 

They took 800 books from Gays The Word bookshop in London and instituted the prosecution of the shop’s manageress and the eight other directors. 

Salvation came from the continent. On March 11th 1986 the Court of Justice of the European Communities ruled, in the case of Conegate v. H M Customs and Excise, that it was against Common Market Law for the United Kingdom to have a stricter prohibition for imports (indecency) than for home produced products(obscenity). As a result on June 27th 1986 H M Customs discontinued its prosecution of Gays The Word.

According to the staff member, this whole fruitless episode cost the shop thousands of pounds.

1 July 2006: Diva magazine

A few weeks ago I was asked by Diva, the lesbian monthly, to write an article about lesbians in the Middle East. It's in their July issue. (Web versions here and here.)

I'm not in the habit of buying lesbian magazines, but found  copies on sale behind the bar at Cosmo Lounge, near where I live. When I asked the barman for one he stared and said: "Is there something you want to tell me?"

This is the first time I've had my photo in a lesbian magazine, and possibly the last. I feared I was the only man in the mag, but then on page 55 I found a picture of Alan Sugar, the terrifyingly tough business entrepreneur. Is he some kind of lesbian icon, I wonder?

29 June 2006: Dangerous Living

Went to the Phoneix Cinema in East Finchley for the British premiere of Dangerous Living, a documentary about gay and lesbian people in developing countries. After the showing, I gave a short talk and took part in discussion.

I found it especially interesting because two of the main people in the film were Egyptians I had interviewed in connection with the Queen Boat case in the early stages of my research for "Unspeakable Love".

Also interesting: the event was jointly organised by Imaan, the Muslim gay/lesbian group and Beit Klal Yisrael, a Jewish congregation which welcomes gay and lesbian members. I was warmly greeted by their female rabbi, Sheila Shulman. "She came to the rabbinate out of a long experience of secular Judaism, political activism and radical feminism," their website says, adding: "She has left none of this behind."

25 June 2006: Jerusalem World Pride

I see that Helem has issued a statement about Jerusalem World Pride, and I share many of their misgivings. I don't think the "boycott Israel" argument is particularly relevant (since many of the Israelis involved actually oppose their government's policies), but I am worried that the event will provide more ammunition for homophobes in the Arab countries.

There's also a lot I would like to say about the organisers' choice of Jerusalem for the venue and their choice of slogan - "Love without borders" - but I think it's probably better to keep quiet for the moment and give them a chance to prove me wrong.

31 May 2006: Article in an-Nahar

Here is an extract from an article that appeared in the Lebanese daily, an-Nahar, on May 30. I won't comment beyond saying that articles discussing this subject in Arabic are still very rare. Translation courtesy of

Helem association demands the annulment of legal sanctions on homosexuals

by Tracy Abi Antoun and Cesar Mouawwad

They are punished by the law, refused by religion and oppressed by society … However, they are human beings in flesh and blood. They differ from the rest with their sexual identities and are homosexuals, or as they are called in society: gays and lesbians … Their voices are raised every time they get the opportunity to demand their human and civil rights for justice and equality, and their recognition as partners in citizenship and society. 

They have accomplished many achievements in numerous countries around the world, like in England, France, the US, Sweden and Brazil, but they remain oppressed in countries that are governed by closed regimes or the laws which are dictated by religious restraints. Between enactment and refusal, are they really entitled to get their demands and their rights? What about their status in Lebanon? ... Will the Lebanese society accept them for who they are and what they are? The percentage of male and female homosexuals in Lebanon is estimated at around 10% of the population. It is certainly a percentage that is not to be taken lightly.

Considering the confessional structure of the Lebanese society and all that this structure entails in terms of repercussions [via] the law and the people, how are homosexuals being treated and how are they living? Homosexuality in Lebanon has chosen to face all the restraints that ban its very existence and try to oppress it with all possible means. Helem [Dream] – Lebanese Protection for Homosexuals – a non-governmental organization in Lebanon, has embarked on a first of its kind initiative in the Arab world, entitled ‘We have the right to be part of the Lebanese society’, demanding the annulment of the legal sanctions that are imposed on homosexuals in Lebanon.

The coordinator of the association, architect Georges Kazzi, stated that ‘Helem includes people that are directly concerned with the issue, others that are interested in human rights, and also members of the civil society that have noticed the blunt violation of these rights’ … The Helem association based itself on the introduction of the Lebanese constitution, which in turn is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to demand the amendment or annulment of article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code which was amended in 2003 to conform to the requirements of social development.

The article stipulates the ‘punishment of all sexual relations that are unnatural with imprisonment from one month to one year, and a fine ranging between LBP200,000 [approx. $130] and one million Lebanese pounds [approx. $660]’ … Homosexuals often link their rights to those of women, due to the fact that they are perceived as inferiors by the law and society. Kazzi expected the emergence of a movement for the development of practices related to public freedoms and the limitation of the interference in private issues …

Homosexuals in Lebanon suffer from the rejection of society and are often the victims of harassment … The following are stories that convey their oppression by the law, society and their families. Fadi stated that he was often beaten without any justification by a group of young men who regularly wait for him in front of his house. They brutalize him because of his ‘soft and feminine’ look. He refuses to go to the police station and file a complaint for fear he would be imprisoned for being a homosexual … whereby homosexuals are considered outlaws… and must therefore be repressed.

This discrimination is not only limited to the law but is also part of the daily practices of homosexuals. Jean, a member of the Helem association, has suffered like all other homosexuals from a horrible discrimination at work, whereby he was treated by his colleagues as though he was a girl …, was given lipstick, depilatory products and women’s underwear. When the discrimination, the sarcasm and even the beating became more brutal, the manager of the company decided to lay him off …

Sami discovered his homosexual tendencies when he was 16 years old. He confronted his parents with the truth when he was 19. He said: ‘They did not accept my sexual identity. My dad told me: you have shamed us. I raised you to be a man and you turned out to be like this. My mom wished I had cancer instead of being a homosexual and my brother started to beat me up. After that, they decided to kick me out of the house because I had brought them shame’ … And let us not forget the threat messages sent to the website of Helem. They feature threats like: ‘We want to blow you up’, ‘We want to kill you’ …

This atmosphere of rejection and oppression has created a huge obstacle in the social life of homosexuals. Many of them are unemployed and their income is therefore continuously decreasing. These rejected pariahs often turn to making easy money by selling drugs or working in prostitution networks that are growing by the year in light of the increasing demand of the tourists that are coming from Arab countries, where societies are mostly closed, where sexual repression is a reality and homosexuality is spread …

In an attempt to get the opinion of young men and women about homosexuals, a random sample of jetsetters from Monot Street in Ashrafieh [the hub of the Lebanese nightlife] including 30 young men and 20 young women, was surveyed. The survey revealed that 42% of them were aggressive towards homosexuals and repulsed by them; 34% dealt with them normally; 24% were careful and avoided them. Very few were those who would accept to have a homosexual friend … They were then asked many questions about how they dealt with them and on what bases: 72% on the basis of their real gender and 28% on the basis of their sexual identity.

What was noticeable in the survey is that 90% of the surveyed would be very embarrassed if a member of their family was a homosexual. The survey also revealed that 85% of them considered that this phenomenon has become more widely spread lately and stated that it was due to the growth of the concept of globalization, whereby the Western social experiences and models have been transmitted to a number of Arab countries, amongst which is Lebanon. What was also noticeable was the fact that the jetsetters dealt with the issue very seriously, apart from a few jokes, but without any sarcasm, which denoted wide discrepancies between age groups in society. It was as though the younger generation was more understanding of the status of homosexuals in society, in comparison with the hostility of the parents, the police and the employers…

The New Testament refuted homosexuality, especially since Saint Paul considered it … to be against nature. That is the clear and honest opinion of the church. It defines homosexuality as a ‘relation between men and women who are sexually attracted, exclusively, to people of the same gender … The New Testament considers it to be a dangerous corruption and has always declared that homosexual activities were decadent’. And what is true in Christianity is also true in Islam, though in a different way. Despite the absence of any Hadith or Koranic verse condemning homosexuality, many interpretations and jurisprudences were made in those regards, all of which fall in line with the fact that Allah created men to populate the Earth…

Hence, any society that is not playing a productive role is walking on the opposite path of that which was drawn Allah … This was made clear by Sheikh Yahiya Mussa who indicated that the Western society was suffering from a low birth rate due to homosexuality, eluding marriage and living in absolute freedom. He also pointed out the high death rates that were due to chronic diseases transmitted through sexual activities, and that would lead the society towards the abyss. He stressed on the concept of globalization and the fast and wide communication between different people, as well as scientific development which carried all the corruptions of the Western societies.

He said: ‘Homosexuality is a new phenomenon in Lebanon and should be fought before it spreads, by directing the people towards reproduction. Homosexuals should be warned through religious texts, laws, and punishments … Hence, if a homosexual is not married, he would be whipped a hundred times and if he is, he would be stoned to death’ …

27 May 2006: Banned in Dubai

Word reaches me that 'Unspeakable Love' has been banned by the authorities in Dubai. Presumably this entitles the publishers to describe me as a "banned author" in their publicity material. Dubai also gains automatic nomination for my 2006 Unspeakability Awards.

26 May 2005: Sickness or sin?

Still in Beirut, I gave a talk to the Lebanese Psychological Association, entitled "Sickness of sin? Attitudes towards homosexuality in the Middle East". About 70 people attended.

During the ensuing discussion one therapist described the pressure on psychiatrists in the MIddle East to provide "cures" for homosexuality. She said she has lost many clients because their families are unhappy that she only offers "affirmative therapy" which seeks to reconcile clients with their sexuality.

23 May 2006: Best-seller in Beirut

Visiting Lebanon for a few days, I'm told that 'Unspeakable Love' has hit the local best-seller lists. Checking in the book department at Virgin Megastore in downtown Beirut, I find it displayed at Number 14 in their "Mega Top 20". An assistant says they have only one copy left, and some of the other shops in Beirut seem to have sold out.

This morning the book was featured on the BBC Arabic Service in a programme called "BBC Extra". Mai Goussoub of Saqi gave an interview.

I picked up the latest (May) issue of Time Out Beirut which has a double-page spread on the book. Also dropped into Helem's office for the new issue of Barra, the first Arab gay and lesbian magazine. This is the third issue (though they call it Number 2 because the first issue was Number Zero) and it is much improved - expanded to 80 pages and with a fair amount of advertising. The English section at the back includes a three-page extract from 'Unspeakable Love'.

Helem has had another visit from the police after a TV station mischievously claimed that they had shown pornographic films to mark the International Day Against Homophobia on May 17.

The Lebanese remain as cynical as ever about their politicians. This sign, in Arabic, was spotted attached to a car window:

Geagea is on the loose
Aoun is back
Siniora is getting greedy
Lahoud is staying
I am leaving
And the car is for sale

16 May 2006: Speaking the unspeakable

'Unspeakable Love' is featured in the BBC World Service's Outlook programme which will be broadcast at various times in different parts of the world tomorrow. Two people who figure in the book - Ghaith (a gay Syrian), and Laila (an Egyptian lesbian) - joined the discussion from studios in Beirut and Cairo.

15 May 2006: A small victory in Iraq

The Iraqi LGBT-UK group announce that they have negotiated the removal of a fatwa from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s website which advocated killing homosexuals in the "worst, most severe way possible".

The fatwa reflected Sistani's (dubious) interpretation of Islamic law on this issue and was probably not intended as an incitement to extra-judicial killings, even if that was its actual effect. A number of gay men have been systematically murdered in Iraq recently and campaigners say the fatwa provided religious sanction and encouragement for the killings.

Technically, the fatwa is still in effect because although it no longer appears on Sistani's website he has not formally retracted it. Another fatwa advocating punishment for lesbianism remains on the website, too. Nevertheless, it's a small step in the right direction for Sistani and a significant achievement for the Iraqi LGBT-UK group following some delicate negotiations with the ayatollah's representatives.

Contrary to popular opinion, the Qur'an does not require gay men or lesbians to be put to death, not does it contain any explicit condemnation of homosexuality (at least in the form that we know it today). As far as the position in Islamic law is concerned, it is all a matter of interpretation - as I explain in the book - and the idea that gay people should be put to death has more to do with prevailing social attitudes than theology.

It is worth remembering that Britain also had the death penalty for "buggery" - on supposedly Biblical grounds - until as recently as 1861.

13 May 2006: Sounds of silence (2)

Spot of bother at VIVA, an English-language lifestyle magazine in Jordan. The publishers have withdrawn the latest issue from circulation and reprinted it - minus a couple of articles. No prizes for guessing what the articles were about. You can view scanned images of the "offending" pages here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

12 May 2006: Radio discussion

Evening visit to the BBC for a live discussion of the book on Nightwaves (Radio 3). Mai Yamani joins in with enthusiastic support, and there's a chat on the phone with George Azzi, co-ordinator of Helem in Beirut.

11 May 2006: Sounds of silence (1)

Word reaches me that a journalist at ash-Sharq al-Awsat, one of the two big pan-Arab dailies, proposed to write an article about the book. She was told "No way".

The Egyptian English-language paper, al-Ahram Weekly, ran an article on May 4. Many thanks to Khaled Diab for writing it and to the paper for publishing it. I'm still waiting for any mention of the book in the Arabic-language Egyptian press, though.

The book is mentioned in a discussion forum on the Muslim Public Affairs Committee website. "Imaan", posting at 06.18 pm on May 6, says: "I read this book and it's a thorough and interesting overview of attitudes to and the experiences of Muslim LGBTs in the Middle East. I'd recommend it for the average Muslim to educate themselves on the subject."

Just 24 minutes later there's another posting, from "Shazan", which says: "Moderators delete this abomination". The moderators, to their credit, haven't done so. At least, not yet.

10 May 2006:  London launch party

Second launch party for the book - this time in London at Candid Cafe. There's a discussion chaired by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and enlivened by the presence of gay Iraqis, Lebanese, and Muslims from various countries. One of the Iraqis, now living in exile, makes a moving speech and shows a scar on his back where his brother shot him after finding out about his sexuality.