This intimate documentary I AM GAY AND MUSLIM follows a number of young Moroccan gay men in their exploration of their religious and sexual identity. The men portrayed in the film openly share their personal experiences and talk about the ambiguity and secretiveness of the life they feel condemned to live, although some have openly acknowledged their sexual orientation. (Imdb)
Note di regia:
The past years the Dutch political party ‘PVV’ led by Geert Wilders has raised a lot of media attention to the Dutch Muslim youths who harass and discriminate homosexuals, hereby stigmatizing all Muslims in the Netherlands. This film has multiple goals.
‘I AM GAY AND MUSLIM’ aims to raise awareness and break the taboo surrounding homosexuality while exposing a broad spectrum of dilemmas that the men struggle with or have overcome in the past. The Arab spring seems to have awakened in Morocco as well. People wish to live freely and openly. I have decided to portray people who look ahead and are not afraid to state their opinions. Secondly I have attempted to give a platform to people that have no voice in politics and media. (Chris Belloni )
After arriving in Morocco, the first thing I do is phone Omar. I’ve been concerned about him for weeks. He hasn’t responded to any text-messages and his profile on Facebook has been removed. It seems impossible to get in touch with him. In the taxicab headed for Rabat, I make one final attempt. Finally Omar answers his phone. He sounds exhilarated and announces a ‘life changing event’ that he wants to share with me. The first thought that crosses my mind is: ‘he’s had his coming-out’, but because I don’t want to steal his thunder, I keep my mouth shut. We arrange to meet at Café Venezia Ice that evening.
Six months ago, when we first met, the situation was completely different. Omar was a troubled adolescent, wrestling with his true identity, questioning his sexual orientation and trying to figure out how everything matched with his religious convictions.
Furthermore, his pursuit of personal happiness hardly could compensate the suffering he would put his parents through, were he to openly practice his homosexuality. For these reasons he had declined a study abroad at a university in Paris, because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to resist the sexual liberalism of the Western world. However, as time went by, Omar seemed to go through a transition. He spoke less and less of religious matters and appeared to give the development of his sexual identity more priority. He was beaming when he told me about his impressive first boyfriend, Ouassim and while walking together in a political march during Naqba-day Omar mentioned how proud he felt to be part of this movement. This was the first time he had actually stood up for a cause with like-minded people which led me to believe strongly that he was following his own path.
That evening Omar and I greet each other with a warm hug. He is beaming and appears quite self-confident. I am happy to see him. The boy struggling with his identity six months ago is a shadow of the man standing here in front of me today. I tell him how worried I was because his Facebook profile has disappeared. The reason why would be explained shortly, revealing my clouded judgement of the situation.
Apparently, Omar spent his summer soul searching for religious truth. An Imam he confided in about his homosexuality, introduced him to a discussion group composed of boys in the same situation. These boys talked about their faith and the willpower to resist the temptations of the flesh. Soon Omar began to change and draw strength from the discussion group. ‘The group was quite pleasant,’ Says Omar. ‘I met a lot of people that are the same as I am. It is extremely important to learn to accept oneself and not feel guilty.’ A number of sessions with psychiatrists and his group have changed Omar’s point of view. He doesn’t deny he still has feelings for men, but he says: ‘I am able to control myself now. The other day I was here in Café Venezia when a cute boy beckoned me. I followed him to the car and he opened the door. I could have gotten in and driven away, no question about it, but believe me, I managed to resist. There were times that I would have gotten in without a second thought, but now I can resist. I feel that I have overcome a huge obstacle. I’ve decided to leave everything behind me. If I could, I would have my memory erased. I just want to be normal. I realise I have really changed and I’m proud of it.’ Slowly it dawns on me that the pressure of the discussion group, propagating self-acceptance but also acting from a religious point of view; has diminished Omar’s appreciation of individualism. This conversation has a completely different outcome then I expected but Omar seems reassuringly content with his decision.
We agree to meet again in three days when he will elaborate on the Koran and the truth in his religion. However when the day arrives I receive a disconcerting message from Omar: his father has been involved in a car accident which will turn out to be fatal. When I phone him to express my condolences, his voice sounds remarkably composed. ‘At this moment there is no room to grieve, because I have to make a lot of arrangements. My time will come, now I have to be strong for my family.’
The first time I meet Anouar is at the tram stop on Hassan II Avenue. He has a slim build and looks around him with a careless glance that cannot conceal his curiosity. Our search for an appropriate place to talk is somewhat complicated; we pass three cafes before Anouar feels enough at ease to talk. Barely have we taken our seat when Anouars phone rings: he has to deliver a report at work and needs to take off immediately. I grab a crumpled 20-dirham note and slide it underneath a saucer. In the meantime Anouar has hailed a cab and is yelling at me to hurry up: “Yallah! Yallah!”
I decide to join him and ride with him to the human rights organization where Anouar is doing an internship. Anouar announces that some day he will become a gay rights activist in this country, but at this moment Morocco isn’t ready; perhaps some years from now. As we climb the stairs to his office, Anouar quietly asks me not to reveal the real nature of my presence if any of his colleagues would happen to ask.
When we enter the boardroom, nine of the ten people present turn their heads. I feel ill at ease and foolishly hope that no one will wonder who Anouars guest is. Naturally, Anouars boss immediately inquires who I am and what my business is in Morocco. I feel flushed and stammer something in flawed French about researching reformations and social change. Finally Anouar rushes to my rescue and tosses his report on the table. After a short briefing he thanks everyone for their time and summons me to rise. I mumble “Beslama.” And we get the hell out of there. Outside again I feel king of the world.
Anouar and I continue our conversation on the roof terrace of my apartment. It is relatively secluded and Anouar feels secure enough to speak freely. It turns out that he is quite religious and has spent years believing that his attraction to men made him a sinful Muslim. After several years in his personal hell, searching for his true identity, he has learned to accept his homosexuality and no longer thinks of it as an impediment. He has found a way to express his religious views as well as his sexuality. The result however is that Anouar has stopped praying to Allah because it makes him feel uncomfortable. Yet he feels that he professes his religion sincerely, by respecting the values of the Islam and fulfilling his duties as best as possible. Nobody can tell him if it will suffice, but Anouar feels confident he will be judged fairly in the afterlife.
Before we wrap up the conversation Anouar asks about the situation of gay people in The Netherlands. I talk about the possibilities of gay cohabitation, marriage, adoption, but also about the bullying, verbal and sometimes even physical abuse. Anouar considers this for a moment and responds: “I think it’s better to be gay in Morocco than in the Netherlands. You know, people respect each other here, even if you’re different. You might have organizations standing up for gay rights, but that brings its disadvantages along. The moment they label you ‘gay’ you’re branded for life, even if you want to lose that mark. We avoid the subject and never speak of it, so we have less ‘problems’ “ His phone rings. It’s Ali, a boy he met on the Internet and is meeting for the first time today. Cheerfully Anouar announces: “That’s enough religious talk for today now. It’s time for some fun.”
I’m in a train heading for Casablanca. Today is the second attempt to meet Karim because he didn’t show up for our appointment yesterday. This morning he texted me to apologize and explain that a meeting would have been too upfront for him. He is prepared to tell his story, but without appearing on film. A sound recording won’t be a problem for him and I agree to these terms.
We arrange to meet between the harbour and the medina, in front of the Ibis Hotel. The hotel chain has a business-like feel to it which offers some anonymity and is right across from the train station Casa-Port. Karim is late and I am waiting for him in the hotel garden. Like nearly all communal parks and gardens in Morocco, this garden is very well maintained.
The lawn is neatly clipped, the paths are raked. A few palm trees grow in the shade. Meanwhile there is no trace of Karim. I hope he hasn’t stood me up again? The trouble is, I’ve never met Karim or even seen a photo of him. I don’t have a clue how to recognize him and as far as I’m concerned he could be any passer-by. All I know of him is the data included in his internet profile. I open his profile on my cell phone and take another look: Karim, 23 years old, 5 ft 8 and black, shorn hair, slender. His closing remark is: I speak English well. It’s not a big help, so I’ll have to trust him to approach me.
My phone rings once. In the shade, behind some rocks, I spot a slender boy. He is wearing shiny track pants, hanging loosely from the hips and a black t-shirt. I can tell he is holding something in his left hand but can’t get a clear view of it. At that moment my phone rings for the second time. When I answer, the call gets disconnected. He approaches me with a light, but confident step, shoulders bent slightly. It takes one glance to recognize each other without ever having met. Karim’s handshake is quite feeble but his stern ‘Viens!’ takes me by surprise. Silently we walk down the driveway, followed by the glance of the doormen of the Ibis. I don’t know where we are headed, but Karim leads the way. Every step leads us into narrower bystreets en closer to the clamour of the salesmen in the medina. While the harbour disappears from sight and we enter the medina, I start to feel anxious. What the hell am I doing here? Why did I start this project, in an unfamiliar country, with unfamiliar people and a calendar filled with unreliable appointments?
Within seconds I remember what I am doing this for: with this project I want to attack the oppression of homosexuality in Islam. I wantto create platform for those who are sentenced to a marginal life due to their sexual orientation in a country where Islam is the main religion. I want to offer a voice to the people that suffer without words, because they cannot show their true colours. This project is for those who wish to break the silence and tell their story. To get in touch with Islamic homosexual boys and men I have placed an announcement on an gay dating site. Karim is one of the young men that responded.