Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Clash of Sexual Civilizations

Questioned about the state of homosexuals in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University: "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals, like in your country. We don't have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who's told you that we have it" ("President Ahmadinejad Delivers Remarks at Columbia University," CQ Transcripts Wire, 24 September 2007). The audience, shocked, responded with boos and laughter.

Now, that's a clash of sexual civilizations! In America, at least the liberal part of America represented by its great universities like Columbia, it is a norm that people define themselves by the gender of their sexual partners -- homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual -- and that self definition, sexual identity, is a very important part of themselves. In Iran, too, some people, especially younger urbanites, have adopted the aforementioned sexual categories whose origins Michel Foucault traces back to nineteenth-century bourgeois culture of the West.1 But a majority of Iranians, apparently including their President, have not adopted the idea of sexual orientations, nor have much of the rest of the Third World.

Western liberals and leftists know what to think of the North-South economic gap, but they have yet to figure out a way to sensibly handle this North-South sexual gap.

By the way, Jezebel, having laid out a typical American liberal case against the President of Iran (including the sexual question), declares: "he's definitely hotter than Khatemi" ("So Is Ahmadinejad Kind Of Hot?" 24 September 2007).

Ahmadinejad: Hot?

I doubt that this will help moderate the clash of sexual civilizations, but take it for what it's worth.

1 See, especially, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction (New York: Vintage, 1990 [originally published in France in 1976 and translated into English in 1977]). Other useful works on the origins and development of modern discourse of sexuality include John D'Emilio, "Capitalism and Gay Identity," Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, eds. Ann Snitow, et al. (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1983), pp. 100-113; and Jonathan Ned Katz, The Invention of Heterosexuality (New York: Dutton, 1995).

Strange as it may seem, historical materialism in the West today, qualified by insights of such theorists as Foucault, may be most useful for understanding the question of sexuality on the international level rather than resisting the interests of the capitalist class advanced by the US-led multinational empire, which Chavistas, populist Islamists, etc. fight far better than Marxists in practice (though not in theory). Western liberals promote their cultural particularism as if it were cultural universalism, positing their culture as the end of humanity and their path as the universal path of development; those who live in the global South and who are not liberals tend toward cultural relativism, often mistaking the creation of capitalist modernity in the West for the timeless essence of the West to be distinguished from the timeless essence of their cultures. Historical materialism differs from both, seeing contingent evolutions of diverse ways of life, now all colored in the ether of the capitalist mode of production to various degrees, which may or may not converge in the future that is still open.


Yoshie Furuhashi, "Khomeini on Sodomy," Critical Montages, 25 September 2007.

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