Who killed Aseel? An Algerian student’s murder exposes western failures in the pursuit of gay rights in the Middle East

Tuesday 5 March 201908:41 am
On Sunday, 10th of February, the body of third year medical student  22 year old Aseel Balalta was found wrapped in a blanket soaked in blood, in his university dorm at the University of Ben Aknoun in Algiers. Daubed on the wall were the words “his [sic] gay” in English. Authorities quickly began to search for the perpetrator, as the murder became the subject of public discussion. Regardless of Aseel’s sexual orientation, the phrase written in his blood on the wall suggests that the writer is not solely responsible for his slaughter, but also that a series of events preceding the crime provided the right climate for it to occur. So who really killed Aseel?

Colonial laws that "We Love"

Two weeks before Aseel's death Mohamed al-Eidouni, head of the Algerian Judges Syndicate announced that international human rights organizations had demanded that the Algerian government repeal article 338 of the Algerian Penal Code, which provides that anyone who "commits an abnormal sexual act" will be punished by imprisonment for a period of up to two years and must pay a fine of 500-2000 dinars. Eidouni rejected this demand, stating that “Algerian society is Muslim and conservative and has its own special character.” “It is not possible to change the laws with amendments that are not suitable to all strata of society,” he said. He refused to abolish the criminalization of same-sex sexual practices in that article on the grounds that those demands impose foreign Western agendas on conservative Algerian society and its independent law. He added: “Judges are recruited to defend the sanctity of Algerians and their national laws and to confront anyone who wants to dismantle Algerian society and strike at its values ​​in the name of human rights.” Many considered these statements to be direct incitement. The phrase “his gay” written in blood on the wall of Aseel’s room seemed to offer a justification for the crime. The problem is that I agree with Mr. Eidouni that the interference in the affairs of Algeria by  super-colonial Western agendas is truly outrageous. Algeria is the nation of a million martyrs, the country that is held up as an example throughout the world for how to fight colonialism and be free from it. But does he know that the law he is talking about is a law imposed by French colonial powers not only in Algeria but also in Lebanon, Syria, Morocco and many of the French colonies at the time, and was applied in French law until 1966? Does the president of the judges' union not know the history of the country's laws and their source, or does he use such clichés to distract attention from the upcoming elections? Does the protection of the "particularities" of Algerian society lie in defending the law imposed by colonial powers in our country or in protecting the people of this country and preserving their lives? Sadly, Eidouni is not the only one who believes that homosexuality is an exotic practice introduced by Western powers in order "dismantle" the structure of our societies. This is what Western countries constantly espouse and our people who are still suffering from the effects of colonialism continue to fall into that trap.

The Rainbow flag will not save us

On July 4, 2018, seven months before the crime, the British Embassy in Algeria raised the rainbow flag in the presence of Lord Ahmed and Ambassador Barry Lewin in order to celebrate the “London pride,” as was written on the official embassy account on Twitter. The tweet was  accompanied by a picture of the rainbow flag alongside the flag of Great Britain (the embassies of Canada and the Netherlands in Beirut held similar celebrations in May of the same year), making it seem as if Britain was pushing a homosexual agenda on the Algerian people and that homosexuality was a western product being peddled by the British, which led the Algerian people to express their rejection of this celebration since it goes against ”the values ​​and traditions of the conservative Algerian society.” Such behavior does not take into account the local context at all, nor the safety of homosexuals in the region, because one of the most dangerous stereotypes in our societies against homosexuals is that they are "traitors" to their culture and that their sexual practices are a "Western agenda" being imposed on our societies. Raising the flag only confirms this stereotype while we in the field work day and night to eradicate it. Raising the flag is the complete opposite of what gay activists working in the field need, and endangers them. More importantly, do they really believe that raising the flag in their fortified and closed embassies will make our society safer and more receptive to homosexuals?

Visibility Politics

To return to the subject of organizations, associations and platforms for LGBT rights, we have tried for years to persuade them to refrain from promoting the idea of visibility politics as a kind of advocacy for "gay rights" as they have proven over time that this is a dangerous practice for many homosexuals. They assume that public disclosure of their sexual identity in public will make society "accept" them, "sympathize" with them, and they usually focus on differences rather than similarities between homosexuals and their community, where in fact it is what isolates them from their societies rather than integrating them. This policy is clearly seen in video campaigns like the “You Are Not Alone” campaign of  Human Rights Watch, and many articles in Arabic and English that try to push homosexuals in the Middle East and North Africa to reveal their identity and sexual orientation. The narrative of these campaigns flings the responsibility for reforming society onto them (homosexuals) and not with governments and power holders such Eidouni, and pushes them toward public declaration of their differences, exposing them to many risks such as family punishment, state imprisonment, expulsion from work or displacement in the absence of a source of income or the risk of murder as in the case of Aseel (who some Western LGBT outlets claimed was bi-sexual). In 1869, Karl Ulrkaz, a German gay writer, lawyer, and activist, claimed that "hiding" was a major obstacle to social change, and urged homosexuals to recognize their attraction to same-sex people, and that recognition and confession was a means of emancipation. In 1906 Ewan Bloch, a German doctor, encouraged elderly homosexuals to disclose their secret to their family members, and today after more than 100 years, this method is now being discussed in Arab contexts. Which raises the question, is this the best method by which to share our stories and sexualities in our societies today? Is the societal acceptance of homosexuality - if it is indeed achieved by these policies - more important than the safety of homosexuals themselves? Why not focus on alternatives that do not expose homosexuals to danger?

Conclusion

This crime, which we are talking about today, is ringing the alarm. Aseel was not only a murder victim but a victim of men holding government positions they do not deserve, and a victim of embassies mindlessly waving the rainbow flag without respecting the local context and the needs and safety of homosexuals, and a victim of the policies of associations and organizations and platforms who claim to defend him and who did not care about his safety and security. Finally, he is a victim of our silence about all this.
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