Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Out in Algeria

The 10th of October was National LGBT Day in Algeria. Despite the impression the name gives, in Algeria homosexuality is a crime punishable by imprisonment and a fine, and October 10th is not an officially government-sanctioned celebration but a day of activism and protest. Like Jamaica Algeria is also celebrating its 50th year of independence this year.

North Africa has a much different heritage than that of the African Great Lakes are mentioned last time. Its proximity to the Middle east has meant that the most significant influences have come from Muslim cultures.

The first National LGBT Day was in 2007 and is now also referred to as TenTen – the date. This date was chosen because it was the birth date of Sultan Selim I of the Ottoman Empire in 1467, one of the greatest rulers of the Arab world.

Various groups have supported TenTen over the years, including a group called Women Living Under Muslim Laws. In 2010 the day was organised by a group of activists called Abu Nawas. This group is named after a poet from the 9th century who wrote romantic, and often erotic, poetry about his love for boys.

Black History Month embraces more than just African-American history. It also features other non-European/Oriental BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) history such as Australian Aboriginal and Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and regions of the medieval Ottoman Empire in Africa.

During the medieval period the whole of north Africa was controlled by the Arabs. It is believed that sex between men and young boys and teenagers occurred across the whole region. The city of Algiers in particular gained a reputation as being the most sexually liberated city in the western world. One book in particular describes the opportunities which any 17th century man could find there. It is titled “The Topographical and General History of Algiers” and was published in 1611. The Spanish writer Cervantes spent some time in Algiers. He wrote of an acquaintance who was a Christian convert to Islam and who kept a harem of young men purely because of the sexual freedom the city gave him.

Algiers was the main Turkish port on the north African coastline and a huge naval base for both the official trading vessels from Turkey and the unofficial ships of the Corsairs, the famous Barbary Pirates.

One of the main trades which fed the Ottoman economy was in white slaves captured by the Corsairs and black slaves captured from the east coast of Africa in modern Tanzania. As with other cultures who practised slavery those enslaved often found themselves the victim of the sexual urges of their masters.

The use of boys for sexual purposes in Algiers and north Africa could also have been seen in the form of the dancing boys of the pleasure gardens and coffee houses. It became a part of the culture. Europeans and merchants would go to these venues and see the erotic dances of the boys, and it would be perfectly acceptable to have a more intimate performance with them if they wished.

This sexual freedom came to an end in 1830 when the French took control of Algeria. Whilst they imposed their Christian-based French laws over the country the Muslim culture continued to thrive. The slave trading and piracy was brought to an end, though. But the same-sex activities continued behind furtively closed doors. The French authorities knew it still went on but turned a blind eye.

Algeria and the north African countries, most of which were under European control by the 19th century, became a refuge for gay men escaping imprisonment and persecution in Europe. Or some would purely wish to live there because they enjoyed more freedom. Famous names who enjoyed the delights of Algeria included Oscar Wilde and André Gide.

After World War II Algeria turned against France and a war of independence began. Led by western Marxist ideology the country adopted an anti-homosexual stand. Today homosexuality and cross-dressing in Algeria is illegal, though the supporters of TenTen are campaigning hard to urge the Algerian government to have both decriminalised.

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