Following the Alem Dechasa scandal that opened the eyes of many Lebanese to the horrible conditions in which migrant workers live, now an article about homosexuality in a university newspaper has stirred up a fierce debate online.
Mohamad Sibai, a student at the American University of Beirut (AUB), wrote a short opinion piece entitled “Please me at any price” in the university's newspaper, Outlook, restating all the traditional homophobic accusations and insults. He began by saying:
The other day, I saw a couple holding ands along Hamra Street. Normally I would never look twice, but something was not right. They both had short hair, facial hair, and rough voices. The sight was disturbing. Call me sexist, call me whatever you like, I couldn’t get that image out of my head for the whole day. I couldn’t believe what I saw, I know that Lebanon aims to be an ideal “secular” country, but if this is what “secular” is then maybe it’s not such a good idea.
Mohamad's ideas were not new or original, but the strong reaction to his post was interesting. Shortly after someone copied the content of Mohamad's article online, the Lebanese LGBT Media Monitor put out a call on its Facebook page for bloggers to post their responses online, promising that it would publish them.
Elie Wafi wrote:
So you saw a gay couple holding hands? Suddenly, you world is shattered, Lebanon’s long lasting problems becoming so insignificant, and the Earth will stop spinning until we solve that matter. Is it so important that two guys held hands? Did it stop you from crossing the road, or going to work, or driving your car, or eating your lunch, or cutting your hair, or buying a new pair of jeans, or partying hard at night with your friends? I don’t think so.
Antoine Atallah addressed the newspaper's editors:
It pains me to know that AUB's official newspaper has become the tribune for homophobic statements to be freely expressed, published and spread to the entire AUB community. I will not even talk about the false-facts, arrogance and skewed logic that Sibai has expressed. Anyone has the right to express all the fallacies that please them, this is what freedom of speech is about. However any sort of freedom stops where the freedom of the others starts. To insult, ridicule, stigmatize a significant portion of a population is not called freedom.
Elie Fares responded to Mohamad's claims one by one:
I felt it is my duty as a holder of a biology degree with an interest in psychology, two domains that Mr. Sibai is apparently very fond of citing, to say a few things, respectfully of course. […] Mr. Sibai, twin studies have shown that their is a genetic correlation for homosexuality. It’s not a linear correlation but there is an effect of genes on a person’s sexual orientation, whether you like to admit or not. […] Mr. Sibai, the rate of STDs is not correlated with homosexuality in any way whatsoever.
Gino described the piece as “silly”:
The sheer ignorance, arrogance and homophobia makes me embarrassed to say I probably shared a few classrooms with the writer.
Beirut Boy explained why he loves Mohamad Sibai:
I love you Mohamad Sibai because you’re just a kid who shared his raw opinion, which is exactly the opinion of the majority of the people in this country. You just had the balls to speak up. (Even though you’re wrong).
I love you because I have that much love to give to someone who has some growing up to do.
I love you because you showed me just how much support the gay community has from straight people online!
Alloush at the group blog Homos Libnani wrote:
We, as Homos Libnani, will not dignify this article with a response because, firstly, we do not want to fight hatred with hatred, and second, we do not want to contribute to Sibai’s 15 minutes of fame.
The most moving response was undoubtedly by a man called Raja Farah, who invited Mohamad to have coffee with him. He wrote:
I’m a 33 year old gay man. Everything you’ve written in your article is something that I have read or heard a million times before, here in Beirut, as well as in Los Angeles, Paris, London, and South Africa. To be honest, you haven’t said anything groundbreaking, and more importantly, you haven’t said anything that hasn’t been debunked hundreds of times. I have learned to not get upset when I read such blatant homophobia. It hasn’t been easy, and you can imagine what having to deal with this on a daily basis can do to someone. I’ve gotten used to the stereotypes, to the fears, to the hatred. I’ve even gotten used to people inciting others to be violent towards me, which you have also done in your article. […] I don’t know about you, but, and this may be the gay in me speaking, I think a world full of love is better than a world full of hate. Have a coffee with me. Let’s talk about anything you want. We can talk about hate, religion, and faggots, or we can talk about cars, travel, and happiness. We can even talk about love, dreams, and hope. Let’s just talk. Like two human beings. You’ve accused me of not being human. I am responding in a way only a human can: by reaching out.
It should be noted that there were some people who sympathized with Mohamad's views. Others, although disagreeing with and condemning the content, stressed that freedom of speech should be granted to all. However, most bloggers spoke out strongly against the piece. A list of responses can be found on Brian Whitaker's blog and at Homos Libnani.
Lebanese media failed to report the case, with the exception of Al-Akhbar who interviewed a gay rights activist.
Outlook's Editor-in-chief, Lojine Kamel did apologize, as did AUB's Dean of Student Affairs, Talal Nizameddin.
I think that Sibai is very, very wrong, but I would like to point something out that many people are ignoring. This was not an ARTICLE, but rather an OP-ED. An article is supposed to be to-the-point, non-biased, straight factual reporting, while an op-ed is simply the opinion of the author (although any facts stated should indeed be accurate). Seeing as AUB is chartered by the NY Department of Education, I see absolutely no reason why Outlook shouldn’t publish this student’s opinion piece. It isn’t an article, it in no way represents the editorial board of the publication, so people need to take a step back and calm down. Do I strongly disagree with Sibai? Absolutely, but do I stand by and support his right to have his opinion published? Of course. Let’s be fair to Outlook (which I don’t particularly care for, by the way). They did the right thing by publishing it, if you don’t like it, don’t read it (I didn’t).