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Lady Boy Defense Egyptian Homosexuals

Egyptian journalist Ahmed Saad is softspoken and reserved and a devoted Muslim. The 20-year-old is also a self-proclaimed gay rights activist.

With his slight frame, Saad seems more like a polite high school student than the new face of gay rights activism in the Arab world. Yet his convictions never falter, and he says he is determined to speak out on behalf of gay men, even if he isn’t one himself.

Saad has done extensive research into Egypt’s gay population, learning about homosexuals through what he deemed the only possible method, by pretending to be one, he explained during an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm. In order to accurately portray gays in his new novel, Shab Takaya, Saad spent time on the gay dating website to connect with gays who he also met in person to understand their lives. He incorporated their stories into his novel’s characters.

Saad’s Shab Takaya, published in December 2010 by Al-Alamiya, is the first Egyptian book that seeks to defend homosexuals on the basis of Islam, and in so doing, offers a complex and seemingly contradictory perspective. It begins with the apparent suicide of Haytham. As the story progresses, the book’s protagonist seeks to uncover the truth behind Haytham’s death, and in the process, discovers the injustice faced by homosexuals in Egyptian society. The book’s primary purpose, Saad said during the interview, is to convince its intended audience--heterosexuals in Egyptian society--to sympathize with the plight of Egypt’s homosexuals and put an end to their societal persecution.

Yet whether Saad’s work actually helps serve that purpose is a matter of interpretation, which explains why since the book’s publication, Saad has fielded insults not only from homophobic heterosexuals opposed to conciliatory aspects of Saad’s message, but also from homosexuals who believe that the writer’s ideas only serve to further stigmatize them.

Based on the writings of the Quran, many Muslims believe that homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Saad sees this attitude as a disastrous textual misinterpretation, and reminds us that God only punishes those who refuse to atone for their sins. Instead of condemning homosexuals, Saad told Al-Masry Al-Youm, we must “adopt a merciful approach and help them to repent.”

Nevertheless, the book suggests the possibility that homosexuals may be executed if they refuse to commit to a heterosexual way of life. If you think homosexuals should be persecuted, he writes, “don’t forget that God” waited until “after they refused his guidance to sentence them to death.”

Saad explicitly confirmed what the book merely implies. “As the homosexuals of Sodom and Ghomorra were executed because they didn’t heed God’s words, homosexuals should be ‘stoned to death,’ as Islam decrees, if they refuse to reform,” he said. With these words, one cannot help but feel that in the book, Saad deliberately avoided explicit mention of what he sees as the legitimate execution of homosexuals. Perhaps, one suspects, he feared that delineating the stance would go against his mission of persuading a conservative society to become more accepting.

With regard to his position on homosexuals, the true sin is unwillingness to change, not homosexuality itself. Believing that every gay man deserves a second chance at heterosexuality, Saad is determined to become an advocate for that second chance by speaking out on behalf of gay Muslims, a group he affirms, that faces more difficulties than any other oppressed section of Muslim society. “Homosexuals suffer the most,” Saad asserted in the interview, “and they experience intense psychological turmoil wrought by the necessity to hide.”

Saad is not alone in his condemnation of the unjust treatment, which often includes arrest and torture, of homosexuals in Egypt. International criticism surrounding the issue reached a climax in 2001, when Egyptian authorities arrested 52 men, beat them, and forced them to undergo humiliating trials because of their sexuality. Since that time, numerous NGOs such as Human Rights Watch have decried “arbitrary arrests” and prison terms for those accused of engaging in the “habitual practice of debauchery,” a phrase that covers the practice of consensual sex between men.

Saad is also not the first Muslim to criticize persecution of homosexuals. In Irshad Manji’s best-seller The Trouble with Islam Today, published in 2005, the lesbian writer urges Muslims to “democratize the spirit of ijtihad,” or independent thinking, and employ one’s conscience in overcoming homophobia. Scott Kugle’s book Homosexuality in Islam, published in 2010, that denies the presence of verses in the Quran, as well as the authenticity of Hadiths condemning homosexuality. Faisal Alam, a Pakistani American, founded the organization al-Fatiha in 1998, which advocates for gay Muslims.

Saad explained that Islam advocates sympathy and forgiveness: “Society must forgive [homosexuals] for their past, for Allah is a great, merciful forgiver.” As expressed in the book, gays are a direct result of a modern society that “participates in young men's conversion to homosexuality.” Therefore, society should turn inward to examine its own behavior before it begins judging that of homosexuals.

It is a complicated stance that at once calls for forgiveness and asserts that homosexuality is acquired, and curable. Saad shakes his head in dismay as he recounts approaching all the major publishing houses and bookstores with his novel, only to be rejected over and over again because of the text’s incendiary subject matter. Although he eventually found a publisher, his book is all but forbidden to the public. Even in the few stores that carry it, Shab Takaya is not on display and must be obtained by specific request.

In the story, Saad blames Haytham’s sexual orientation on his lack of a loving family environment; his father gives him the cold shoulder and his mother is anything but a nurturer. He even pinpoints the moment in which Haytham is ‘converted’ to homosexuality: A classmate “whispered into his ear” and persuaded him that homosexual activity was exciting and allowable. Society’s intolerance, however, precludes a second conversion, a return to heterosexuality, because it denies homosexuals the moral and financial support--namely therapy--necessary to make the transition.

According to Saad, there are those who “surrender” to their homosexuality, and those who regard it as a medical condition with societal and religious facets. The former proliferate in the West. In the book, the character sheikh explains that when people in Europe and America were freed from religious requirements, they abandoned morality and “the direction of [their] bodies turned entirely to the path of sin.”

Members of the other group view their sexual orientation as a disease to be treated. Saad sees the treatment process as a heroic struggle in which men fight their instincts with the help of a doctor, and “hope for God's reward.” Fortunately for them, this ‘reward’ is virtually guaranteed; even those who fail to succeed in their ‘conversion’ find redemption in God’s eyes because of their efforts. The simple act of seeking treatment, Saad explains, “brings them closer to God.” Shab Takaya thereby envisions a society that treats homosexuality as a curable infection, in which the individual receives adequate support during the treatment process.

“I see it as a disease that’s possible to treat. This was proven by many people who were able to overcome the difficult treatment stage. They changed and the matter was resolved,” wrote Saad on the social networking site Facebook.

Saad adamantly opposes the idea of homosexuality as biological and unchangeable. He labels the “nature vs. nurture” argument as unsound and predominantly western, and insists that no individual is born with an unalterable sexual preference. “For every sin in Islam,” Saad explained during the interview, “there is a method to avoid or reverse that sin.”

What about homosexuals who refuse treatment because they do not wish to change or those who believe that homosexuality is their individual right? He said during the interview that there is no such thing as an individual right to homosexuality: “I do not support homosexuals who do not want to change. I support those who do. I know that my view isn't Western and may seem backward to you, but it's my belief.”


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Breasts of little girls mutilated in Cameroon to protect them from Boko Haram

IKOM, Nigeria — When Grace Tchami started showing signs of puberty at age nine, her mother, hoping to protect her, began to torture her. At about seven o’clock every morning, her mother would take one of the heavy stone pestles used for grinding food and heat it burning hot over a charcoal fire, then press it on Grace’s breasts, attempting to flatten them.

In a small, bamboo-roofed kitchen behind the house, Grace remembers, Mama performed this procedure day after day for three months. Grace’s older brother would hold her legs so she couldn’t run away. And then, still reeling from the ordeal, Grace would be sent along to elementary school.

I met Grace, who is now 16, in this southern Nigerian town where she had traveled across the Cameroonian border to buy fabric for her mother’s sewing business. She said she is permanently scarred and still suffers from the trauma. She said her mother told her the goal was to make her less desirable to boys, and thus to kill any chance of her getting pregnant early.

And Grace is not alone. The tradition of “breast ironing” has gone on for years in Cameroon, and appears to be spreading among parents who hope to keep their daughters out of the hands of Boko Haram’s brutal jihadists.

In its its 2014 human rights report on Cameroon, the U.S. State Department likened “breast ironing” to the more prevalent practice of female genital mutilation. This “procedure to flatten a young girl’s growing breasts with hot stones, cast-iron pans, or bricks” has “harmful physical and psychological consequences, which include pain, cysts, abscesses, and physical and psychological scarring,” according to the report.

The United Nations says breast ironing now affects 3.8 million women around the world. While the U.S. human rights report suggested reports of the practice are “rare,” the local press in Cameroon has reported that up to 50 percent of girls undergo the very painful procedure on a daily basis.

Research in 2011 by Gender Empowerment and Development (GEED), a non-governmental organization based in Bamenda in Cameroon’s northwestern region, found that about one in four females in the country had experienced it. In about 58 percent of the cases it was mothers who performed the procedure, believing they were protecting their daughters.

Analysts say breast ironing was initially done by women with the thought of improving a mother’s breast milk. But the thought later changed when rape and teenage pregnancy became rampant. Mothers began to carry out the procedure on their girls as they believed that their daughters’ breasts would expose them to the risk of sexual harassment and early pregnancies.

Girls from rich families are made to wear a wide belt, which presses the breasts and is supposed to prevent them from growing.

While the tradition is widespread in Cameroon, similar practices have been documented in Nigeria, Togo, Republic of Guinea, Côte d’Ivoire and South Africa.

The United Nations Population Fund has named breast ironing as one of five under-reported crimes related to gender-based violence.

Findings from GIZ, the German state-owned development agency, revealed that 39 percent of Cameroonian women oppose breast ironing, while 41 percent support it.

Human rights activists say breast ironing affects women in all 10 of Cameroon’s provinces, and the tradition is practiced by all of Cameroon’s over 200 ethnic groups.

“The process of breast ironing requires the use of any metal, including wooden sticks, pestles, spatulas, spoons and rocks,” said Maryam, a Cameroonian hairdresser now based in Ikom, a home to thousands of Cameroonian migrants and a market place for traders from the Central Africa country. “The heat from these tools is expected to melt the fat on the breast, and stop it from projecting.”

Maryam who said she had practiced breast ironing on two of her daughters, added that other methods can also be used in the practice.

“Most people prefer to wrap very tight elastic bandages around the chest of their daughters overnight, but that system usually keeps the girls very uncomfortable,” she said. “For my daughters, I used hot coconut shells or heated stones to flatten their breasts.”

Breast ironing is less common in Cameroon’s northern region where the population is primarily Muslim. As of 2011, less than one tenth of adolescent girls in the region had undergone the procedure, according to GEED statistics. But now that may be changing as the presence of jihadist group, Boko Haram in the far north seems to be creating an upsurge in the practice.

One Cameroonian mother, who recently began breast ironing procedures on her daughter, told me in Ikom, where she came to buy goods, that she was carrying out the practice in an attempt to make her child less attractive to Boko Haram members who have been abducting adolescent girls and forcing them into marriage.

“I live in Tiko in the southwest but my daughter schools in Maroua in the far north where terrible things happen, and I won’t take chances,” she said. “If they [Boko Haram] don’t see her breast, they won’t think she has come of age.”

Another Cameroonian lady who was in Ikom for trade said she and her sister carried out breast ironing procedures on each of their two daughters, because militants were abducting girls in Maroua where they lived.

“We didn’t want our daughters to be taken to the Sambisa forest,” the lady who gave her name as Agathe said. “It wasn’t just us. Many women did it on their daughters for the same reason.”

In Nigeria’s northeastern Borno State, where Boko Haram was founded, a member of the state’s main vigilante group who spoke to The Daily Beast said some girls who fled the war in the far north of Cameroon into border towns in Borno told members of his group that the breast ironing procedure was carried out on them by their parents when the jihadists began to abduct adolescent girls in the region.

“We’ve spoken to a few girls who said their parents ironed their breasts so that they will appear less attractive to Boko Haram militants,” Abass Bashir of the Civilian Joint Task Force vigilante group, which works closely with government forces in Borno, said. “Some of them said they still feel terrible pain on their breasts and around the chest region.”

Parents in Cameroon’s far north region have grown increasingly scared of seeing their adolescent daughters develop breasts, especially since it was widely reported in February that eight girls between the ages of 11 and 14 were abducted close to the border with Nigeria, almost the same time rumors that the kidnapped Chibok schoolgirls had been married off to Boko Haram militants spread like wild fire in far north Cameroon.

“Some girls said their parents kept reminding them of the eight kidnapped girls and the missing Chibok girls as a way of convincing them to undergo the procedure,” Bashir said. “Their parents told them that these girls would not have been abducted if they hadn’t developed breasts.”

Until Boko Haram began to create a base in the far north, breast ironing was hardly spoken about in the predominantly Muslim region, perhaps as a result of the high rate of early marriage, which eliminates the need to maintain illusions of a girl’s youth. Now, locals say parents are talking themselves into carrying out the practice on their daughters.

“I visited a compound in Mokolo where every girl had undergone the procedure,” said Musa Oumarou another of Cameroon’s hundreds of traders visiting Ikom daily. “A woman whose daughter narrowly escaped Boko Haram capture started the procedure on her lucky child and then convinced her neighbors to carry out the same act on their daughters.”

But just as parents try to prevent abductions and eventual marriages to deadly militants in far north Cameroon, many girls in the region, in an attempt to escape early marriage, try to flatten their own breasts so they can delay their sexual maturity and continue going to school.

Children’s rights activists in Cameroon have for a long time carried out nationwide awareness campaigns in schools, churches and across media outlets aimed at drawing attention to the harmful physical and psychological consequences of breast ironing, a practice which was done mainly in secret until it was exposed to the international community in 2006. But in spite of their efforts, millions of girls are still victims of the horrific tradition.

Health workers believe better hygiene, nutrition and healthcare means that girls are attaining puberty early. A 2011 social and demographic health survey conducted in Cameroon showed that between 20 to 30 percent of Cameroonian girls get pregnant before their 16th birthday, and a third abandon schooling.

Grace became pregnant at the age of 15, but sadly lost her child during childbirth.

She said breast ironing is even more painful than childbirth, and that it did nothing to prevent her from getting pregnant before marriage.

“The whole practice was useless after all,” she said. “Rather than teach, breast ironing kills. My mother should have taught me sex education, rather she let this evil practice devastate me.”


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Santosh Mane held guilty of murder

Pune: The district and sessions court on Wednesday held Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) bus driver Santosh Mane guilty of murder. The quantum of punishment will be pronounced by the court, on Monday.

Additional Sessions Judge VK Shewale held Mane guilty of murder, attempt to murder, theft, damage to property and other offences under various sections of the Indian Penal Code.

While pronouncing Mane guilty in a packed courtroom, the judge dismantled the defence lawyer's theory that Mane was suffering from a psychiatric disease, when he committed the act.

"While on a rampage, he did not dash against buildings and this speaks volumes. Therefore, no man of prudence can say that he was insane at the time of incident. Considering his demeaning act, it is hard to believe that he did not know the consequences of his rash driving," the judge observed.

Mane sat expressionless and silent in the dock.

"When policemen Bapu Lonkar and Chavan entered the running bus and tried to stop Mane, he pushed them aside and told them they have no business to meddle in his affairs. This speaks about his sound mind. When the bus was finally stopped, a mob thrashed him inside the driver's cabin and also in the auto rickshaw when he was being taken away. He had tried to flee from police custody while being taken to a safe place. He had intention of committing murder of people," the judge stated.

Talking about his treatment by Solapur-based psychiatrist Dr Dilip Burte, the judge observed that Mane had taken sick leave saying he was suffering from viral hepatitis.

"He did not mention lack of sleep, loss of hunger, suspicious ideas of persecution, mood swings etc. for which Dr Burte claimed to have treated him. Dr Burte testified that he had diagnosed him of mania and administered with electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) but there is no certificate in this regard,? the judge added.

According to the judge the defence took undue advantage of Mane's sick leave in 2010 and falsified evidence by these problems (mania) which is afterthought. Dr Burte should be prosecuted for misleading the court as the history sheet of Mane is not in order.

Some family members of the victims also attended the proceedings.

Nandini Gaikwad, wife of late Milind Gaikwad, came to court with her 14-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son.

"Mane should be made to feel guilty for what he did. He should be awarded capital punishment. My children wanted to see their father's killer, hence they came to court. Now a new life will again begin for us," said Nandini, who is a teacher. Gaikwad's mother and other relatives were also present in the court.

Bhaurao Patil, father of 19-year-old Pooja Patil, also asked for capital punishment. "My daughter was a second year student of dental science. She would have become doctor soon. Her mother is yet to recover from the shock of her untimely death," he added.

Mane's lawyer Dhananjay Mane said, "I will argue for leniency in sentence as he is the only earning member of his family. We will also appeal in the High Court against his conviction."

On the morning of January 25, 2012, Mane hijacked an empty MSRTC bus from Swargate depot and went on a rampage killing nine people and injuring over 30. He also damaged over 25 vehicles.

The police and citizens managed to stop the bus near Neelayam Theatre bridge after a hot pursuit lasting 45 minutes on a 15-km stretch.


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