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A Socio-Political Analysis of Homosexuality in Jordan

von Eva Hilskamp (Autor:in)
©2013 Bachelorarbeit 56 Seiten


This paper will give a general socio-political analysis of homosexuality in Jordan in order to raise awareness of the universal need for LGBT rights. It will be examined how, despite the attempt of Professor Joseph Massad to claim otherwise, there are indeed homosexuals in Jordan and they are oppressed. It will be shown that despite Jordan being the most gay-friendly country in the Middle East, and the only Arab country where homosexuality is technically legal, the situation is less than ideal. Honour killings are still common and only lightly prosecuted, police crackdowns are common, and the pressure from family and society is massive. The coverage of homosexuality in the Jordanian press is almost entirely negative, associating homosexuality with moral decay and perversion.


Table of Contents


Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

List of Tables


1. Joseph Massad – a Jordanian Scholar and university professor who denies the existence of homosexuals in the Middle East

2. The legal situation of homosexuality in Jordan, oppression and honour-killings

3. Visibility of Homosexuality in Jordan



List of Illustrations

Homosexuality Laws in the Arab world

Chart of distribution of advertising expenditure in Jordanian Media

List of Tables

Statistics on Jordanian Newspapers and their coverage of homosexuality


While studying for a year at the University of Jordan, I decided to write my undergraduate dissertation about homosexuality in Jordan because I was shocked by the stories that homosexuals in Jordan told me about their suffering and the harassment they were facing. Despite the technical legality of homosexuality in Jordan, social pressuresagainst them are massive. Also, not much is written about the topic, because the situation is worse in neighbouring countries. So I wanted to take the opportunity to raise awareness in this matter while gaining knowledge of a topic of interest.

In the first chapter I will examine the book Desiring Arabs by the Jordanian author Joseph Massad, in particular the chapter based on an article entitled Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International in the Arab world[1] about whichgay-rights advocate Brian Whitaker wrote in a review article: “ The central thesis of his polemic was that promotion of gay rights in the Middle East is a conspiracy led by western orientalists and colonialists which produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians where they do not exist”.[2]

Massad’s book is factually wrong. I will point out some of his errors, and try to show that if Massad, who wrote his book Desiring Arabs partially in Amman, doesn’t believe in the existence of gays and lesbians there, it might be due to his imperialistic paranoia.

While I was living in Amman for almost a year, I met Jordanians who identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or simply queer. This was just like in parts of the worldMassad calls“the West”. The difference was in fact, that homosexuals in Jordan lived their lives in constant fear that somebody might find out, because their family would disown them, they might lose their jobs, their friends and / or social position. This might also be why they would not tell a Jordanian scholar, who believes that being gay is somehow not an Arab thing, about their sexuality.

Could it be that it is maybe this Jordanian scholar who is forcing his view of the Arabs by telling them how they should identify, and not the “Gay International” that merely asks for more rights? I will defend this in the second and third chapters, by taking a closer look at the legal situation of homosexuality in Jordan, harassment and honour killings. And later on, I will look at the visibility of homosexuality in Jordan, by analysing the Jordanian press coverage on this matter and the gay scene in the country. I will try to portray the reality of gays in Jordan and prove that there are homosexuals, and that they are no different from western homosexuals in any way, except for the oppression they face. I will show how homosexuality in the press is portrayed as something happening in the west, or if happening in Jordan, as a perversion endangering the society.

Because I wish to raise awareness about the oppression homosexuals in Jordan faceand make clear how much harm people like Joseph Massad doby claiming their non-existence, I would just like to remind the reader about the universality of homosexuality by quoting a study of the Royal College of Psychiatrists which came to the conclusion that:

“Despite almost a century of psychoanalytic and psychological speculation, there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation. It would appear that sexual orientation is biological in nature, determined by a complex interplay of genetic factors and the early uterine environment. Sexual orientation is therefore not a choice, though sexual behaviour clearly is.”[3]

Since Arabs in general, and Jordanians in particular, are genetically no different from people in any other part of the world. No matter how much some scholars like Joseph Massad try to portray the Arabs as somehow distinct from the west, while blaming the Occident of being Orientalist, it won’t change the facts, which are that we are all human and if genes cause homosexuality they do so in the Arab world as-well.

1. Joseph Massad – a Jordanian Scholar and university professor who denies the existence of homosexuals in the Middle East

The Palestinian-Jordanian author Joseph Massad published a book in 2007 with the title Desiring Arabs about sexuality and especially homosexuality in the Arab world, which received positive reviews frommany scholars in different parts of the word.For example Michael Ferguison says: “Joseph Massad has a message that is interesting and significant and badly needs to be heard in the West.”[4] Frances S. Hasso writes: “Joseph Massad’s valuable study, Desiring Arabs , examines writings on sex and sexuality () also challenges universalizing sexual identity.”[5]

The book does indeed have interesting content, such as a profound analysis of homoeroticism in Arabic literature. After writing in the first two chapters about appearances of homosexuality in Arab literature, in the third chapter Massad urges resistance to narrow Western notions of sexual identity “[6] He says: “By inciting discourse about homosexuals where none existed before, the Gay International is in fact heterosexualizing a world that is being forced to be fixed by a Western binary.”[7]

Brian Whitaker, author and publisher of Al-Bab, criticised the quote above by saying that Massad:

“revives and old and largely specious argument as to whether such people exist, and have existed, at all times and in all societies. Denying their existence is a familiar practice in the Arab countries, and in other places where their rights are denied, and it serves a political purpose: if they do not exist, there is no need for any action to protect them.”[8]

Furthermore sexual orientation in “the West” is not binary at all. It is at least ternary. Astudy in United Kingdom showed that 1% identified as gay or lesbian and 0.5% as bisexual. A further 0.5% self-identified as "other", and 3% responded as "do not know" or refused to answer.[9] If one is not happy to identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transsexual, one still can identify as being Queer, which can encompass anunlimitedly wide range of different orientations and is also against hetero-normativity.[10]

Furthermore as Whitaker points out:

“Contrary to the impression given by Massad “the west” does not speak with a unified voice in matters of LGBT rights. While focusing on gay rights activists, he ignores the well-funded and often-strenuous campaigns by western, “pro-family” organizations to resist progressive legislations (...). Five years before Jordan ratified the international Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, much to the annoyance of the Islamic Action Front, the American religious right also fulminated against US ratification. According to one Christian activist, the treaty served a “frivolous and morally corrupted agenda” and it would “legalise prostitution and open the door for the homosexual agenda.”[11]

Massad is influenced by Edward Said’s Orientalism theory. He even dedicated the book to Said. He makes many interesting but factually erroneous and consequentially dangerous claims, the most dangerous is to say that being gay in a western concept that is not suitable and does not exist in Arab countries. And western gays should stop trying to force their values on the Arabs. Comparing it to the western women movement he says:

“The gay movement sought a similar missionary task. Western male white-dominated organizations (the international lesbian and gay association ILGA and the international gay and lesbian human rights commission IGLHRC) sprang up to defend the rights of “gays and lesbians” all over the world and to advocate on their behalf.”[12]

The IGLHRC is “a leading international human rights organization dedicated to improving the lives of people who experience discrimination or abuse on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.It is dedicated to strengthening the capacity of the LGBT human rights movement worldwide to effectively conduct documentation of LGBT human rights violations and by engaging in human rights advocacy with partners around the globe. They work with the United Nations, regional human rights monitoring bodies and civil society partners. IGLHRC holds consultative status at the United Nations as a recognised Non-Governmental Organization representing the concerns and human rights of lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people worldwide.”[13]

According to Massad, the ILGA has an equally evil imperialist mission, since they are aiming for a “world freed from any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.[14] Massad, however, sees “efforts of Western capital to impose a European heterosexual regime on Arab men” plus all “the machinations of the Gay International”[15], in their work.

These “ missionary tasks, the discourse that produces them and the organizations that represent them” is what Massad calls the Gay International. Apparently this ominous Gay International, whichalways is an advocate of evil imperialist goals, does nothing but harm to what he says is his cause. Massad says:

“in contradistinction to the liberatory claims made by the Gay International in relation to what it posits as an always homosexualized population, I will argue that it is the very discourse of the Gay International, which both produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist, and represses same-sex desires and practices that refuse to be assimilated into its sexual epistemology. I will show how this discourse assumes prediscursively that homosexuals, gays and lesbians are a universal category that exists everywhere in the world and, based on this prediscursive axiom, the gay international sets itself the mission of defending them by demanding that their rights as “homosexuals” be granted where they are denied and be respected where they are violated. In doing so, however the Gay International [] is producing an effect that is less than liberatory.”[16]

Massad then goes on to quote selected scholars supporting his questionable claims. For example, like Arno Schmitt, asserts that “in Muslim societies male-male sexuality plays an important role. But in these societies there are no homosexuals – there is no word for homosexuality – the concept is completely unfamiliar. There are no heterosexuals either.”

But Arno Schmitt criticised Massad’s book rather harshly, picking on how:

“As a typical Orientalist-in-reverse, Massad cuts the world into West and non-West” and “works with fixed entities such as “Arab Muslim”, “Western” and “medieval period”.[17]

Massad sounds to me and not only to me, since David E. Bernstein, professor of law at George Mason University and Richard Bulliet, a Columbia history professor had the same connotation[18], on this matter just like Iran’s President Ahmadinejad at a speech at Columbia University (the university Massad teaches at): "In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country. In Iran we do not have this phenomenon”.[19]

This was said by the president of a county whose supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned at an international Islamic conference in Tehran: “not to allow the U.S. or NATO to influence the types of post-revolution political systems they form.Never trust America, NATO, and the criminal regimes like Britain, France and Italy who for a long time divided and plundered your lands. Hold suspicion of them and don't believe their smiles. Behind those smiles and promises lie conspiracy and treason."[20]

I think Massad is doing exactly the same thing as Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; he is demonising the West, (where he lives and works) in a post-colonialist, counter-orientalistway. Edward Said argued that the Europeans divided the world into the civilised and the uncivilised and defined themselves in opposition to the uncivilised other” which is portrayed as irrational, menacing, untrustworthy, anti-western, dishonest, andprototypical in order to justify colonialism.

Massad commits various logical fallacies in thinking that Orientalism is a universal truth, and therefore all gay rights activists must have some imperialistic agenda. But in fact Orientalism is not universal, while homosexuality is.

Massad, and not the obscure construct, of what he calls the Gay International, is making wrong assumptions about a generalised Other, saying the West is always imperialistic.People might have a general tendencyto selfishness and opportunism. There is no general rule that people necessarily always exploit their power, and not even regarding the “Orient”. Neither Said nor Massad have any empirical data to back up their Orientalist paranoia. Besides Orientalism just being a theory as Bernhard Lewis points out correctly, Said is apologetic in his choice of sources, not looking at contributions to the study of Eastern cultures made by Westerners during the Enlightenment and Victorian eras. Said's theory does not explain why the French and English pursued the study of Islam in the 16th and 17th centuries, long before they had any control or hope of control in the Middle East. Criticshave argued that Said ignored the contributions of Dutch, and particularly German scholars, countries that where not aiming to colonise the Middle East. Lewis then shakes the Orientalism theory to the very foundations by asking: “ What imperial purpose was served by deciphering the ancient Egyptian language, for example, and then restoring to the Egyptians knowledge of and pride in their forgotten, ancient past?[21]


[1] Massad, Joseph. "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World."Public Culture 14, no. 2 (2002): 361-385.

[2] Whitaker, Brian. "Desiring Arabs - Review Article." Al-Bab February 2009 (2007): 6.

[3] The Royal College of Psychiatrists. "Submission to the Church of England’s Listening Exercise on Human Sexuality.". London, 2007.

[4] Michel Ferguson, "Desiring Arabs. Joseph A. Massad (Review), "Journal of Homosexuality 54, no. 4 (2008).

[5] Hasso, Frances. "Desiring Arabs (Review)." Journal of the History of Sexuality 20, no. 3 (2011): 652.

[6] Brendan Driscoll, "Desiring Arabs, "Booklist.From Literature Resource Center. 103, no. 21 (July 1, 2007).

[7] Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. p.

[8] Whitaker, Brian. "Desiring Arabs - Review Article." Al-Bab February (2009): 6.

[9] "Uk Gay Population Size Revealed." BBC News. 2010. accessed: 07/04/

[10] Hennessy, Rosemary. "Queer Visibility in Commodity Culture."Cultural Critique, no. 29 (1994): 31.

[11] Whitaker, Brian. "Desiring Arabs - Review Article." Al-Bab February 2009 (2007): 3.

[12] Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007.p.

[13] Mission Statement IGLHRC, "Iglhrc: Our Mission, "

[14] ILGA, "Vision, Mission, Core Values and Strategic Objectives"

[15] Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. p.372 and p.

[16] Massad, Joseph. Desiring Arabs. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. p.

[17] Schmitt, Arno. "Gay Rights Versus Human Rights: A Response to Joseph Massad." Journal: Public Culture 15, no. 3 (Fall 2003): 589-90.

[18] Goldstein, Evan. 01/10/2007 Ahmadinejad and "Desiring Arabs" [on Joseph Massad] The Chronicle of Higher Education Blog accessed: 08/05/

[19] Google News. "AFP: 'No homosexuals in Iran': Ahmadinejad." Last modified September 24, 2007.

[20] Dareini, Ali Akbar, "Iranian Supreme Leader Warns Arabs against West, "Huffington post, 09/17/11 2011.

[21] Lewis, Bernard. "Other People´s History." In Islam and the West, p.126. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Paperback)
1.1 MB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Manchester
2013 (Dezember)
socio-political analysis homosexuality jordan


  • Eva Hilskamp (Autor:in)


Titel: A Socio-Political Analysis of Homosexuality in Jordan