“A better understanding of Arab gays at diaspora”

“A better understanding of Arab gays at diaspora”

- in News
@Manon Monnier

“I am muslim and I am gay”. That is the title project of master student Ihsan Zakri and the senior lecturer Reza Arjmand. Their goal is to explain why homosexuality had been tolerated in Arab societies for centuries and why the attitude has changed.

Ihsan Zakri. Photo: Lukas J. Herbers.
Ihsan Zakri.
Photo: Lukas J. Herbers.

Ihsan Zakri, 34, has three nationalities, since he is Iraqi, Emirati and Swedish. He lived abroad for more than 17 years and he studied for his bachelor at the University of Bagdad. Now, he is leading this project about Arab homosexuals in Sweden under the supervision of Reza Arjmand, senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology of Lund University. Since February 2014, they have worked on this project, which will be published soon as an article.

Why this topic?
“When I applied for the Master’s program in Middle Eastern Studies, I carried my sentiments as an Arab, raised in Iraq. However, since I have been living in Sweden for the last seven years I came to realize the differences between my perception of things and the ones in my surroundings. So, I was a homosexual raised in a hetro-normative society, exposed to the liberal values of Swedish society. Through the courses at CMES, I got to know Reza Arjmand, he supported me and I felt more comfortable with this topic.”

How is the project built?
“The project is about Arab gays in Sweden. It sounded easy at the start since I thought that I could use my contacts to conduct the study, but it turned out to be much more complicated. I had to build trust between the informants and myself as a researcher. I am planning to interview at least 50 people to finalize the findings and write the report, but for the time being I have interviewed 20 Arab gays living in Sweden. I use their stories, their experiences and their confrontations with different social issues as the main source of data.”

Can you explain us how it is to be a homosexual in the Middle East?
“A lack of freedom and human rights across the Middle East is a sad reality. However, as long as you are not challenging the authorities or religion and keeping a low profile you can get around with things. So, the demand across the Middle East is right now not something like gay marriage or civil partnership, we are still fighting for our basic rights. On the other hand, the gender segregation of society as a norm makes it easier to practice homosexuality”

What are the aims of your project?
“The study aims to explain why homosexuality has been tolerated and practiced in Arab societies for centuries and what caused those societies to change that attitude. We also intend to explore how migration might change the dynamics of homosexuality.
Using grounded theory, I am expecting to be able to contribute to a better understanding of Arab gays at diaspora. I am hoping that this study and its findings serve as a platform for an extended study for a doctoral degree.”

Personally, what has this thesis brought you?
“I learned a great deal about these guys, but also about myself. I have been lucky enough to have a family that understands and supports me.  They never judged me knowing that I am a homosexual. However, listening to the stories of others, I could see how difficult that experience might have been if I was not accepted.
Then, I have been really lucky to have the support of to conduct this project and having Reza Arjmand has been a big support during the process. I really feel more confident because of this experience.”

Do you want to know more about the project? Visit the seminar were Ihsan Zakri and Reza Arjmand will present their results:

  • When: 4th of December, at 13:30
  • Where: Centre for Middle Eastern Studies Finngatan 16, Lund
  • Price: Open to everybody
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