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Thoughts on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Statement Regarding Homosexuality in Iran

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Though much ridiculed, the statement itself-- "In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country" -- might in fact be true if understood in its proper context, and if proper attention is payed to the word "like." It seems that what Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant was that the concept of "gay-identity" doesn't exist in Iran. "Gay identity" was, for the most part, an invention of 1970s America, along with "black identity," "Jewish identity," "female identity," and others. In the 70s, America's melting pot faced its first severe identity crisis, and it responded by drawing rigid lines around the various and often arbitrary categories of race, gender, and sexual behavior.

These "identity movements," however, were a particularly American phenomenon, and one would be hard pressed to find similar examples elsewhere in world history (though the American movement did subsequently spark various offshoot movements around the world). Of course, homosexual activity exists today in Iran and has always existed; but, generally speaking, the Persians, like the Japanese, have not felt it necessary to define themselves by it as they do in the U.S. In other words, the lines are blurred, there's room for ambiguity, and a defiant proclamation of identity is unnecessary, even laughable.

Themes of pederasty, sodomy, and homosexuality are in fact quite common in both the pre-Islamic and Islamic literature of Persia (up through the present), and, like the Greeks and the Japanese at particular times, Persian poets often praised homosexual relationships, which they considered to be the purest expression of human love.

"Ryan, are you gay?" I can hear now the doubts being raised. No, I'm not gay (not that there's anything wrong with it), either in the contemporary American "identity" understanding of the term or by the standards of the Persians. I'm just explaining what I think the President of Iran meant by his statement. This explanation, of course, does not excuse him for treating homosexual activity as a crime (assuming the accusations are true); but neither should these claims be used by the media to excuse the U.S. from waging war on Iran.


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Ryan is a researcher of Japanese literature currently investigating the influence, for better or worse, that the importation of Western realism had on modern Japanese literary history. He keeps a blog -- -- that is in (more...)
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