Not just that - as incredible as it seems - but Luongo is touring Lebanon, to be followed by Jordan, Palestine, and Egypt, with his book!
Not everyone is happy. The book, Gay Travels in the Muslim World, a compilation of stories penned by a collection of both Muslim and non-Muslim writers and edited by journalist Michael Luongo, has been translated into Arabic by publisher Arab Diffusion. The Arabic title "Rahalat Shazz" can be back-translated as "Travels of a Pervert", much to the dismay of both the authors and the gay community in the Arabic speaking world. The concern over the translation chosen by the publishers reflects a broader concern over the negative terminology used by Arabic media in general to descibe homosexuals. Gay rights organisations and individuals across the Arabic speaking world have been pushing for media adoption of the word "mithlyy" - a term without the negative connotations associated with "shazz", but linguistically very lame (it means, literally, "like me"). And although an Arab site for LGBTQ women states that "The Arabic language does not have positive words to express the emotional or sexual relations between two people of the same gender. The known expressions in formal or classical Arabic are negative and degrading: “shouzouz jinsi” (unnatural or abnormal sexuality), “loowat” (the homosexual act among men, in reference to the story of Prophet Lot in the Bible or Lut in the Koran), and “sihaq” (the homosexual act among women)," the Syrian writer Salwa Al Neimi would have disagreed. It is not the words that are offensive, it is the attitude.
“It was a real headache at first, and unintentional on the part of the publisher, and there were also issues of using a word more likely to escape Middle Eastern sensors since it can be interpreted in different ways” Luongo said, adding, “but when I talked with Middle Eastern civil rights groups they said it brought up in a very strong way the problems they have with terminology in the Arabic language and the media coverage of gay rights issues. So that is at least a positive outcome.”
An Algerian blogger Belphoros, writing in his blog, L'Algerie en Rose, points out that: "There exist few terms (for sexuality) in Arabic. We don't like to name things. In ignoring things, we think we erase them, deny them - but that does not work, its hypocrisy. We must face things and have the courage to name them; let's try to call a spade a spade." Or a gay person a "pervert"???????? He goes on to say: "Terminology relating to homosexuality is very derogatory.
There is a need for a neutral terminology to identify us, we must work to translate such terms, and enrich the Arabic dictionary…." The Arabic dictionary is rich, no worries. What needs to be enriched is people's mentality. It is sad that terms (and behaviours) that were acceptable in 12th century tolearnt Muslim world have now become indications of social pathology.
An interesting comment was made by an anonymous lesbian Lebanese translator and writer in support of the term "Shazz".. "2- As an activist and a writer/translator, i always have a problem with the arabic terms for the different LGBTQ identities and issues related. If I were to translate “LGBT” i would end up with an awkward “م ث م ” which stands for: مثلي أو مثلية، ثنائي أو ثنائية، متغاير الجنس I don’t like it, and I still can’t find anything that adapts the concepts and describes the community well enough. In addition, my personal identity as a queer in terms of gender identity and sexual identity just doesn’t exist in any politically correct form. The term شاذ أو شاذة, is just so perfect, because technically the term means “irregular” and I am irregular, even in my political and social opinions, in my taste in music etc. It’s the historical connotation that is demeaning." As a translator, I agree.
Luongo was apparently approached by someone from the Saudi government who bought the book and asked about the possibility of presenting it in KSA. Either he was not Saudi, or he was illiterate, or what he wanted presented in Riyadh was a part of Luongo's body that would ensure he will never write again :-D
Despite the negative response to the title translation, the fact that Gay Travels in the Muslim World has been translated and published for distribution in Arabic is in itself a great achievement. As most literature and information regarding homosexuality is not translated or published into Arabic, those from the Arabic speaking world who cannot read or understand European languages have been denied the opportunity to achieve the awareness, education and self-affirmation that stems from the exposure to such discourse.
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