Jillian C. York

Jillian C. York is a writer and activist.

Month: March 2009 (page 1 of 3)

On Homosexuality in Morocco

The Syrian blogosphere recently got fired up over the subject of homosexuality.  Specifically, a group of bloggers of a variety of backgrounds launched a campaign against homosexuality, and another group of bloggers responded rationally (though angrily).  As my dear friend Razan pointed out in this epic post:

It is very outrageous for some and for me to hear arguments that are against non-virgin women and homosexuals, but these very thoughts are real, and we need to feel good about having Syrian bloggers who depict the majority of the Syrian society, cause without them, we ourselves, won’t be real anymore, we will think that Syria is fine, everything is fine, and we won’t be able to touch a bit of what is not so fine about us.

Razan is right – until these topics are broached, they remain underground, silent.  As soon as they are raised, whether in opposition or not, they become real, a part of the fabric, something worthy of discussion.

Now, I need to take a step back, because I am an outsider – most certainly to Syria, but also to Morocco, which this post will eventually be about.  Yes, I lived there for two years, and yes, have had very intimate relationships and friendships with Moroccans, but I feel the need to place a caveat on this post: I am not Muslim, I am not Moroccan, and so my views are stated as such – as a citizen of the world, a believer in freedom of justice, and as myself.

That said, here goes: I read today that Morocco is cracking down on homosexual activity.  My first thoughts upon reading the article were very angry, reactionary.  I singled out this quote in particular:

“Homosexuality is copied from Western movies, TV shows, and porn channels that promote such practices, and which are, in turn, adversely reflected on younger generations who follow suit, unaware of the consequences,” added university student Mohamed Zahi.

That quote is what I want to discuss, because I realize that the Qur’an, like the Bible and like the Torah, and I’m sure like many other holy books, forbids homosexuality (at least by most interpretations).  I recognize that Moroccans, the majority of whom are raised with some degree of Islam or another at home, are brought up to oppose homosexuality on religious grounds.  That is reality.

What is not reality, however, and will never be, is that homosexuality is an import.  The same argument was made by Syrian bloggers: that homosexuality is an unnatural effect of a freewheeling society.  I will say it once: it is not.  Homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexualism, transgenderism, queerness, and anything else on the spectrum are acts of nature.  While we can control our actions, as many homosexuals raised in religious communities feel forced to, we cannot control who we fall in love with, who we are attracted to.

But rather than waste time debunking myths that have been debunked thousands of times (including here, in Anas’s fantastic post), I would rather say this: A society cannot progress by restricting freedom, as Morocco continues to do.  Morocco is a hypocritical nation: it gives equity to women one minute by allowing them to pass Moroccan nationality to their children, but refuses to do anything about its vast child labor problems.  It grants the freedom of the press to photograph the princess and her children, but places shackles on journalists for telling a few jokes.  And now, in the same breath, Morocco is clamping down on sexual and religious freedoms as it tries to push ahead economically.

Of the many reasons I left Morocco, the most poignant was that I never once felt, as a woman, equal.  Not once.  Not in my job where, despite my equal salary and equal teaching schedule, I was still sexually harassed by a fellow teacher.  Not on the street where it was a miracle if I could walk two blocks without being whistled at (didn’t matter if I wore hijab!).  Not in shops, where if I were with a man, he would always be deferred to even if I were the one paying.

People back home aren’t wont to listen to such complaints, thinking them the burdens of a Muslim society.  But I know better: that isn’t Islam.  That’s a society repressed to the point of explosion.

Magical Thinking

Step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back…Magical thinking is defined by nonscientific causal reasoning including ideas such as the ability of the mind to affect the physical world.  Although it can manifest in a variety of ways, the primary commonality of magical thinking is the belief of the person that his or her thoughts have some sort of influence on other outside occurrences – “if I think it, it will rain” to “if I don’t fall asleep, I won’t get attacked by monsters.”  Of course, there’s a spectrum of causes and reasons for magical thinking, from a child’s bedtime rituals to the belief in spiritual transfer from religious relics to full-on psychosis.

And yet there’s something to be said for the belief in fate, in karma, in soul mates.  In trusting your gut.  Most of us are taught that logic and reason should prevail; but for many of us who have tried relying on reason and failed time and time again, there’s relief in knowing that there’s another option.

I’ve lived with anxiety for years.  It started sometime in my 21st year; I’d wake up each morning at 7:30 with a start, previously having been a late sleeper.  It’s no coincidence: it’s the first year I lived far from home, and the first time I’d moved somewhere without knowing a single soul.  I was lonely, I was depressed, and sociable person that I am, rather than stay home and feel sorry for myself, I lived out loud but let the anxiety creep up inside me quietly instead.  Although I’ve moved far past that episode of my life, a hint of anxiety lingers, threatening to tear my insides whenever there’s something small to panic about: a late credit card payment, a missed phone call, a fight with a friend.

But the worst anxiety always comes when I am forced to reason, unable for whatever reason to rely on my instinct.  In the magical knowledge that something is, or isn’t, right.


I’ve been home from Syria for ten days, and pathetically, I have only written one blog post. I’ve been busy, you see – looking for a new apartment, catching up on work, being human…and absorbing. Since Prague, I haven’t traveled anywhere personally significant, and even Prague, even the city of a thousand spires, didn’t meet my expectations. Syria, on the other hand, exceeded them.

Of the cities I managed to visit, however, which were unfortunately quite few, Aleppo was my least favorite. Why, I still haven’t figured out. It was perhaps the similarities to Meknes; the meat hanging in butcher shop windows, the men welcoming me to Syria, the lack of women in the public sphere…

Before I go on, it’s probably worth mentioning the difficulty of going from one area of the Arab world to another with no real experience in between. From the Maghreb to the Levant is not a simple transition, you see. Many things look the same – the new parts of cities are almost identical; shop windows, signs, and even manner of dress are often very similar. The same language is spoken, for the most part the same religion practiced…but looks can be, and are, deceiving. Syria is a world away from Morocco but had you not spent significant time in one or the other, you might not notice how or why. I suppose in that sense I’m fortunate.

But Aleppo – you think you’re in Meknes but then you look up. And there it is, in all of its glory, towering above you, older than time, casting shadows over half of the city, just begging you to climb.

Aleppo Citadel

And climb we did…

Top of Citadel, Aleppo

There is so much to see from the top…

Aleppo skyline

And from the bottom…

Citadel from the bottom

And the souqs – oh, the souqs!  Although I had been turned off by my initial few hours in the city, it redeemed itself with glorious soaps, beautiful cloths, and towering stacks of spices…


With a last walk through the souqs, it was straight through to a taxi, then onward to Tartous.  But lest you think Aleppo left a bad taste in my mouth, it did not.  In fact, when I think of Aleppo, I will always think of fresh cherry kebabs:

Cherry Kebabs

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