Gay Travels in the Muslim World
Gotham Travel Writing teacher Mike Luongo has recently published Gay Travels in the Muslim World
, an anthology of true stories, edited by Luongo, each of which deals with encountering homosexuality in the Muslim world. The authors are both Muslim and non-Muslim, ranging from a gay US soldier in Iraq to the editor of a gay Muslim news website. Luongo’s interest in the Muslim world ignited when he sifted through the rubble at Ground Zero, a volunteer in the wake of 9/11. Soon after, the Middle East became his travel beat, and he now counts Afghanistan among his favorite destinations.
Here’s a passage from Luongo’s preface to the book:
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I was raised in an America that taught me to hate Muslims. When I was in grade school, I was shown pictures of dead Israeli babies, blown up by terrorists and told, “This is what Muslims do.” Vanessa Redgrave was vilified in the same classrooms, the very example of evil, supporting the Palestine Liberation Organization and Arafat perform their horrific deeds. Beyond these unofficial injections by teachers of their opinions into the curriculum, there was of course the photograph of Malcolm X in our history books, a Black Muslim whom we were taught professed violence against whites. He was contrasted against the peace loving, and obviously very Christian, Reverend Martin Luther King. The photographs and explanations of the difference between these two civil rights leaders, made clear by their religious affiliations, only served to justify the words of my teachers in the minds of us pliable young students.
Certainly, the white ethnic make-up of my neighborhood, largely Jews and Catholics, played a huge role in this curriculum. The conservative and prejudiced Italians and Irish might have finally reached their long sought professional nirvana, but all still felt the sting of their sordid working class upbringings, which lurked precariously around the corner from furniture-less houses bought on over extended credit. They needed an enemy. Jewish playmates in the neighborhood always had visits from Brooklyn-based grandparents who had survived the Holocaust. Everyone had cousins and uncles and aunts living on kibbutzes, eking out a living in a fragile Israel little more than 3 decades old. Swords weren’t beaten into plow shears there though; the two were worshipped side by side. Livingrooms were adorned with photographs of relatives who had guns in one hand, farm implements in the other. The Palestinian conflict, the oil embargo, the Iran Hostage Crisis, all of these issues were alive and well in my classroom and in my neighborhood, with Arabs and Muslims the enemy all around no matter whether we were Jews or Catholics.
The indoctrination of this philosophy—the idea that these people of the desert lived in mysterious and evil ways—was part of the curriculum in my grade school. We were taught that these people who ran around with rags on their heads were a dangerous threat to our American way of life. This was a world and a people I had never met, and had no way of knowing, other than the images in my teacher’s hand, the messages in her voice, the words on the blackboard and in our school books, reified by the images at home on television. And I grew up not in a backwards place, but in suburban New Jersey, a short ride from Manhattan, the most diverse place in all of the world. Yet on matters Muslim, there seemed little in the way of understanding. Between school and television and community, there was no way to like or understand the truth of what a Muslim was when I was a child.
To learn more about Michael’s book, visit: www.gaytravelsinthemuslimworld.com