Gay Muslim's Case Puts Focus on German Asylum Law
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Many European nations struggle with how to accept their Muslim minorities, which matters to Americans because there are so many close ties between the U.S. and Europe. And if you think Muslims in Europe live complicated lives, consider this minority: gay Muslims.
NPR's Emily Harris has been talking with some of them.
EMILY HARRIS: Epec-epec Cholo(ph) comes across as confident and frank, even though she just got up. Mid-morning in her sun-filled living room, she sits cross-legged on the couch and smokes. She's a DJ and is out late most nights. Epec Cholo was born in Germany, but her family is Turkish.
Like many homosexual Muslims here, she says the gay community only partially accepts her.
Ms. EPEC CHOLO: There are many, many common things - of course, being a woman, being a lesbian - but there are also differences. The society thinks that it doesn't work. The Germans said the things, oh, you cannot be a lesbian and Turkish and Muslim at the same time. If you are, then you are assimilated.
(Soundbite of music)
HARRIS: At parties, Epec Cholo plays a wide range of dance music. She's gotten flack for Turkish or Middle Eastern songs.
Ms. CHOLO: One lesbian comes up to me, says, hey, your music's not normal. Or one male to female transsexual came up to me and told me at (German spoken) - which is a transgender, gay and lesbian festival in Berlin - well, you know, the Turkish and Arabic cultures are so against woman, and are so proclamating(ph) violence against woman, I don't want to hear this kind of music.
HARRIS: A few gay Muslim associations have emerged in Europe. Organizers say they get a mixed reception across the board. At one gay pride march in Britain, some participants called members of the homosexual Muslim support group Imaan "suicide bombers," and told them to go back to where they came from.
Imaan events manager Fiyaz Mughal(ph) says with more public attention on terrorism, the focus of the organization is shifting.
Mr. FIYAZ MUGHAL (Events Manager, Imaan): Initially, it was dealing with homophobia amongst our own community. That was our initial goal. And it still is a very important goal, and it will always be an important goal. But it has changed. In the past years, we have had to deal with less homophobia from Islamic communities, from our families, or from otherwise. And we've had to deal with a lot more Islamophobia.
HARRIS: Many non-Muslim Europeans criticize Islamic countries for allowing the abuse of women and homosexuals. European law was recently expanded to recognize societal - not just government - persecution on the basis of gender or homosexuality in asylum cases.
Mohammad Etani(ph) came to Germany from Lebanon, and hopes the new law will help him stay. He tells how he was once caught in Lebanon with another man.
Mr. MUHAMMAD ETANI: (Through translator) We were naked in the car, and all of a sudden somebody knocked at the window. We were scared. There were three young men, and we couldn't get dressed fast enough. And the guys asked what are you doing there? Why are you naked? They called the police. I didn't know what would happen.
HARRIS: He spent two nights in jail, he says, until his aunt bailed him out. But he fled to Germany when neighbors said they would kill him.
The image of the Muslim world as totally intolerant of homosexuality is not the whole picture, says Parvez Sharma of Halal Films. He's been interviewing gay Muslims around the world for a documentary due out this year. Sharma points out there has been homosexual life among Muslims since the beginning of Islam - sometimes celebrated in art, sometimes accepted as a rite of passage for young men.
Although laws in some Muslim countries like Iran say homosexuality is punishable by death, Sharma says gay life still exists on society's margins.
Mr. PARVEZ SHARMA (Halal Films): I know that there are gay gatherings in Tehran. I know that there are parties in Tehran. I know people are able to freely move around. The question is are you able to march down the street in Tehran with a banner saying you're proud to be gay and Iranian - I mean, and have a pride march.
HARRIS: The image of Europe among many gay Muslims elsewhere, he says, is that people do that all the time.
Mr. SHARMA: There's a perception to think that if you enter a European country, then you immediately faced with this very gay, gay all the time kind of situation, this kind of world where, you know, you flaunt your sexuality and you celebrate it. You go to bars. You go to clubs. You go everywhere. You hang out in the gay districts.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. ABDEL HALIM HAFEZ (Singer): (Foreign language spoken)
HARRIS: Abdella Tayah(ph) shuns the gay scene in Paris, preferring to curl up with the Sunday paper at home and sing along with Egyptian crooner Abdel Halim Hafez. Tayah is a writer from Morocco, gay and Muslim. His autobiographical books have been published in his home country, which made his homosexuality public. No one in his family will talk to him anymore, except his mother. But Tayah is thrilled with the attention in Morocco.
Mr. ABDELLA TAYAH (Author): There are some examples of Moroccans who try to be themselves and to ask the society to recognize them as what they are. Since the newspapers in Morocco and the magazines were interested in me, I felt it's my duty to say something which will help the society or some Moroccans in their lives. Because if we just respect too much the traditions, the religion, the power, nothing will change.
HARRIS: Tayah came to Paris not to escape Morocco, but because he loves the French cinema. Still, he avoids the Moroccan immigrant community in France as well as gay society. He says he wants to avoid being stereotyped as a member of either group. Even with few friends and still suffering culture shock after six years in Paris, Tayah says he does feel integrated in a way, because there he's found himself.
Emily Harris, NPR News.