A shocking sight in Beirut

The offending article (larger version here)

Student Mohamad Sibai was in Hamra Street, Beirut, when he witnessed a "disturbing" sight. So disturbing, in fact, that he could scarcely believe what he had seen: "I couldn’t get that image out of my head for the whole day."

The sight that disturbed him wasn't a murder. It wasn't a robbery, or even a traffic accident. No. What Mohamad had witnessed was two men holding hands – and he decided to share his thoughts about it with readers of the American University's newspaper, Outlook, where he is described as a staff writer.

His article is only seven paragraphs long but he manages to include all the most familiar homophobic tropes:

  • Homosexuality is repulsive, "whether in public or in private".

  • "Almost every holy religion has condemned it." (with supporting quote from Leviticus 20:13)

  • "According to psychologists ... homosexuality can be treated in various ways."

  • Gay people spread diseases – "the rate of STDs would skyrocket".

He also throws in a new one: if homosexuality is legalised, what's to stop marijuana being legalised too? (Nothing, I would hope – but that's a different issue.)

Mohamad Sibai's article is by no means unique. Similar articles appear in the Arab media from time to time (as they do elsewhere), and in more important publications than the AUB newspaper. There were some particularly inane examples in the Egyptian press around the time of the Queen Boat trial

The interesting thing in this case, though, is not the article itself but the critical response to it – which is a sign of how attitudes are slowly but surely changing. Just a few years ago, an article of this sort would have gone unchallenged, with scarcely a murmur of public dissent. That is still the case in most Arab countries but Lebanon (the first to see LGBT activism established, more than a decade ago now) is different.

In the space of just a few days since the article appeared, there have been no fewer than 18 published responses, mostly on blogs (see list below). Some of them are anonymous but others are written by people willing to divulge their names ... and their sexuality.

In the mainstream media, the Lebanese daily, al-Akhbar, has also taken up the issue: "AUB paper's homophobic rant sparks fury".

Meanwhile, the editor of AUB's Outlook has issued an apology:

"I would like to personally apologise to the LGBTQ community and readers about the offensive nature of this article. I personally did not edit this article, and realise that it was a poor decision to publish it in its crude form. Outlook will be issuing its own formal statement in our next issue and will be publishing a spread of responses directed towards this article. Thank you all for your cooperation and consideration."

Responses to Mohamad Sibai's article:

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 5 May 2012.