“A Jihad For Love”
Parvez Sharma directed the first documentary on the coexistence of Islam and Homosexuality – A Jihad for Love.
Sharma speaks tonight at the University of Richmond campus following a 5:30 p.m. screening at the International Commons. The event is free and open to the public.
GayRVA.com: Could you please tell me a little about yourself.
Sharma: I am a Muslim filmmaker and I have lived in the US since 2000. I was born and raised in India. Over the years I have worked as a filmmaker, a print and television journalist. I have also taught media studies and film courses at the university level in both D.C. and New York City and continue to teach–and have developed and am teaching courses on Media Convergence and the Social Web with a special emphasis on the possible (and often mis-represented) role of social media in the recent (and still ongoing) “Arab Spring,” as it came to be known in the media.
What motivated you to create A Jihad for Love?
I am Muslim. I am also gay. After September 11, as a fresh arrival in the US–with my religious identity really questioned for the first time and with Islam under attack from within and without–I felt it was the best time to make the film. I sought to empower the most unlikely storytellers of Islam–”gay” and “lesbian” Muslims. I wanted to empower them to create a narrative around Islam. And I think I succeeded way beyond my expectations at the time.
Were there any obstacles to filming?
The obstacles were enormous. In addition to trying to film in countries where seeking government permission to film was not an option, I always carried the additional burden of bearing the responsibility for the safety of the protagonists in the film, who were risking so much in sharing their lives with me and who I was often leaving behind.
I’ve seen your articles about the revolution in Egypt. How did you get involved with the Arab Spring?
My involvement and work within the region and especially Egypt goes back a decade. Many of my friends and colleagues over the years were active participants and sometimes even catalysts in the “revolution”. From January 25th till February 11th–I spent all my time, with little sleep or sustenance on the phone to various, incredible “sources” in Egypt “reporting” the revolution and writing about it through first hand accounts from trusted friends who were on the streets of Cairo.
I used social media very successfully during that time and because of the depth of my understanding and background within that country I was also able to successfully make the argument that the media hysteria created by the self-appointed “gurus” of social media in the US and much of the West– that the unfolding events could be primarily credited to Twitter and Facebook alone was a disingenuous take on these events and a dangerous misrepresentation of what was unfolding and how it had come to pass. For me, it was an intense and difficult time and a very meaningful experience. I learned a lot and I hope I was able to inject a somewhat different take into the blogosphere and online discourse.
Critically though–I often joked that much of the hysteria around Revolution 2.0 Egypt style was delusional at best–and that yes, a social media revolution was happening, but, primarily on laptops like mine situated in New York as we used the in-built amplification and echo chamber effects of Twitter to create meaning from the very small but critical mass of “tweets” or social media information actually coming from Egypt. (A very poor country, with very high mobile phone penetration of course (but then it is 2011, after all) but also with an incredibly small penetration of the kind of “social web” we talk about here in the US)
It was hilarious for example, when I ended up live on CNBC with a social media “pundit” speaking with “authority” about the events that were unfolding at the time–to the best of my knowledge this person had never been to Egypt and had no clue about what was actually going on. This was a perfect example of misleading cable television punditry and the “self-congratulatory” echo-chamber social media “types” in the West created for themselves during the “Arab Spring” as they patted each other on the back.
Do you think the revolution in Egypt will prove beneficial for the country’s LGBTQ community or not?
I do not think these things are related at all–even marginally. In fact I was asked to talk about just this–during the revolution and I felt it would be very inappropriate and misleading to equate any “LGBTQ” cause (in any case–a kind of Western categorization/labeling that I have openly disagreed with) with the ongoing struggle for democracy. I did write one piece for the Advocate on the subject but I was and continue to be very clear that any attempt to try and create easy connections between these ongoing struggles for “democracy” (and I always put things in quotes, deliberately) and the rights of marginalized minorities (like the “LGBTQ” label for example) is very erroneous.
In Egypt we saw the Bible and the Quran held up together against a brutal dictator. In what ways do you think religion has a natural place in social movements (particularly movements which move society towards equity among marginalized people)?
I answered some of this above–there are no easy or natural connections between movements for equity for the marginalized and broad “revolutions” like the one that unfolded (and continues to unfold) in in Egypt. In terms of the Bible and the Quran being held up together during the collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s tyranny in Egypt–the easier way to look at it would be as a meaningful example of sectarian and religious difference being overcome for a greater good. The reality of the Coptic and Muslim divide in Egypt is way more complicated–and its complexity comes from the intricate weave of Egypt’s social fabric created by centuries of civilization building upon each other. We must remember that this is one of the oldest civilizations in the world and its religious fabric has been created by a complicated history. And this continues to unfold in so many ways, not all of which give hope for an easy, equitable “secular” future.
Are there any future projects in the works?
Yes–I am very excited about a brand new film currently in production and also a new book in the works. Unfortunately that is all I can reveal about them at this time. Also to be back in academia, albeit with both of my feet still somewhat firmly planted outside of it–being able to teach and talk about this constantly changing social web and media environment is very exciting. I feel blessed in so many ways.
Photo still from “A Jihad For Love.” The University of Richmond is located at 28 Westhampton Way.
Jon Henry comes from the small town of Washington, Virginia. Xe finished xes degree at the University of Richmond and was named GayRVA.com's Out.Spoken. Richmonder of the Year for 2011. When not in class, xe is either in the studio or rabble rousing with other queer activists. Follow xem on Twitter.
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