Trouble in translation for Arabic gay book

Arabic-speaking gay community takes issue with publisher's translation of the word gay into the Arabic word shadh, which means abnormal or deviant.

gay couple 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
gay couple 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A book in Arabic about gay travel in the Middle East is running into problems because of what gay-rights groups perceive as a derogatory translation of the word describing homosexuals. The book, 'Gay Travels in the Muslim World', is a compilation of stories penned by gay Muslim and non-Muslim authors. It was translated into Arabic by the Lebanon-based publisher, Arab Diffusion. The Arabic-speaking gay community is taking issue with the publisher's translation of the word gay into the Arabic word shadh, which means abnormal or deviant. The book's editor, however, is pleased, as the controversial translation is fueling a positive debate in a region where homosexuality, for the most part, is taboo. "Arab Diffusion didn't mean any harm in using the word," Michael Luongo, editor and co-author of the book told The Media Line. He said the word was commonly used in the Arab world to describe gay people, and that gay-rights groups were trying to change this habit. Gay-rights groups in the Middle East take offense to having their sexual orientation described as a perversion and would much prefer the word homosexual be translated with neutral word such as mithli, which means same. "Arab Diffusion was very happy to put out the book and it wasn't their intention that this would be a problematic word, because the word is part of common discourse in the Arabic world," Luongo said. The issue of the translation is being debated in the blogosphere and in academic circles. Algerian blogger L'Algerie en Rose, who claims openly that he is gay and that "the majority of young people are frustrated because of the taboos", wrote that "the terminology in Arabic related to homosexuality is very derogatory". "There is a need for a neutral terminology to identify us; we must work to translate such terms, and enrich the Arabic dictionary," he added. But some, like Luongo, see the benefit of this translation, as it vitalizes the debate on homosexuality and the need to be more sensitive to this sector. The editor of Huriya Blog wrote, "I would have rather they used the word mithli, which literally means same (i.e. same-sex), but it is so nice that there is an Arabic translation to this great book, that one might even overlook the crude word." 'Gay Travels in the Muslim World' (Harrington Park Press, 2007) is a compilation of 18 edited non-fiction stories written by individual gay authors, both Muslims and non-Muslim, looking into gay life in these areas. U.S.-based Luongo, a Western photojournalist who contributed a segment about homosexuality in Afghanistan, insists it is not a guide book but rather a peek into a world that is widely under-covered. "A huge reason I did the book is that there are many people who write about homosexuality in the Muslim world-Westerners in particular-who have actually never been there," he said. "I found things were not as black and white as the news would have you believe." "Interestingly, the whole debate about the language issue - academics love it and I think some people are even thinking of doing a thesis on this," he said, notably amused. "It's a new audience that we discovered with the Arabic translation." Gay-rights groups have been arguing about the use of the word shadh for some time, and the controversy over the book helps them put their argument forward to the media using a live example, he said, and educate their publics about problems that arise in naming things. While the book in English challenged stereotypes that Westerners have about gay Muslims and about Muslims in general, the Arabic translation will serve to shatter prejudices within the Muslim world about gay people, he said. Luongo hopes it will also draw more Muslims into the debate about gay rights. The book is groundbreaking in that is the first book of its kind to be translated into Arabic before being translated into any other language. Luongo was advised he would be better off translating it first into French, but he said this would have limited the target audience to educated people in the Maghreb and in Lebanon. Now that it has been translated into Arabic, he hopes it can reach a broader audience, but he is under no illusion as to the distribution limitations of a book on such an explosive topic. "I don't know how people are going to get the book," he admitted, "and not a lot of the books will be published. But just having the book out there allows a valuable discourse." The Media Line website