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7 Apr 2008

singapore bans documentary about gay muslims from film festival

A Jihad for Love, a highly regarded documentary about gay Muslims, alongside three other documentaries have been banned from being screened at Singapore's film festival this month.

The highly controversial and high profile documentary A Jihad for Love - the world's first feature-length film about Islam and homosexuality - has been banned by the censors from being shown at 21st Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF) where some 200 films will be screened.

Jihad - 'an inner struggle' or 'to strive in the path of God'. The 81-minute documentary features subjects who speak about their struggle to reconcile their belief with their sexual orientation.

The festival organiser told the Straits Times on Saturday that he was informed of the ban on Thursday over the phone by the Media Development Authority which oversees the censorship board.

A Jihad for Love was filmed over five years and in nine languages by India-born and raised director Parvez Sharma who travelled the world from India to Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa and France to interview devout Muslims who are lesbian, gay or transgender to speak about their faith and their sexuality. In the film, a gay South African imam argues that homosexuality is not banned while another imam rebuts his view.

The paper quoted the chairperson of the board of Film Censors Amy Chua as saying that the film was "disallowed in view of the sensitive nature of the subject that features Muslim homosexuals in various countries and their struggle to reconcile religion and their lifestyle."

About 14 percent of Singapore's 4.4 million population is Muslim.

According to traditional interpretations of the Quran, homosexuality is strictly forbidden and officially carries the death penalty in some Muslim or Muslim dominant countries including Iran, Saudi-Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Sudan and Nigeria.

Three other documentaries were banned from the censors: Arabs And Terrorism and David The Tolhildan, were "disallowed on account of their sympathetic portrayal of organisations deemed terrorist organisations by many countries;" while Bakushi, a film on a Japanese form of sexual bondage involving elaborate rope patterns was disallowed because it "normalises unnatural fetishes and behaviour," Chua said.

Singapore

Reader's Comments

Comment #1 was deleted by its author
2. 2008-04-08 12:22  
Please note that the documentary was not actually banned but merely "disallowed". Now, doesn't THAT make you feel much better ? :-))
Note also that YouTube seems to have hastily removed (or "disincluded" maybe?) the video clip which was inserted at the end of the article.
My father was born in a country (Romania) which lived for years under the iron rule of a demented autocrat. What made it work was FEAR. Same in every dictatorship around the world. Same in Burma, same in Irak under Saddam, same under Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet etc etc etc.
What made it CRACK and ultimately FALL was INFORMATION.
Fundamentalists around the world, no matter whether they are Muslim or Christian or Hindu, are perfectly aware of that, and the very FIRST thing they will ALWAYS try to control is information as well as her big sister EDUCATION.
Singapore removes the documentary. YouTube removes the clip. Nobody asks them to do it except fear. That's what terrosim produces : fear. And see ? it works !
3. 2008-04-08 14:22  
Great answer! Although for me, a ban is a ban is a ban. It's amazing how history continues to show us how futile it is to stand in the way of change, whether it is social, political or religious and how FEAR has been used to death (no pun intended) by dictators that have come and gone. Denial will get no one nowhere especially in this digital day and age. I look at this government and I shake my head with a nice big grin on my face. In the words of the great Lily Allen, I say to you dictators: are you stupid or just a little slow? Go on and censor whatever you want. We don't care. We really don't. Because we all know you're yesterday's news and we're not afraid of you anymore.
4. 2008-04-08 15:57  
Next week: The Singaporean Media Authority for We Know What's Good For You So Do What We Tell You (Or Else) to ban lesbians from swimming pools "to prevent possible inappropriate sexual gratification via the medium of chlorinated waters", and known homosexuals to be banned from inhaling oxygen "to prevent possible exhalation of gayness upon traditional-value citizens, who may be offended by such wantonly disrespectful actions in our conservative society."

Honestly. As a media person myself - yes, one of those pesky, pesky Press people who raise all kinds of annoying questions (like an even grumpier John Humphries or younger, even more incredulous Jeremy Paxman - both heroes), I can't relate to how the overseeing SG 'media body' decides such things.

In any other first-world country, open debates are welcomed on matters such as religion and sexuality - but, as usual, the Singaporean population must be patronised and treated like children and not allowed to think for themselves.

Then again, a thinking population is a Dangerous population - which still seems to be your government's worrying view...

In the meantime, gay muslims are welcome in Ireland, where people are much more concerned with more mundane matters - cost of living, property slump, gang warfare, the education crisis, etc etc - than - shock - somebody actually being gay, and even having a faith at the same time!

Now. Me to be banned from posting annoyed comments on Fridae's boards. Right after the anti-swimming and anti-breathing bans take effect...
5. 2008-04-08 18:06  
This must be very frustrating for those wanting to have a real International Film Festival to help promote Singapore as a dynamic movie-making hub in the region. The thing about international film festivals is that many people travel internationally to attend them.

But if no one can rely on the ticket they've bought for any film, as it seems in Singapore anything could be banned at any stage, why make international travel plans to attend such a festival, when the cost and time can all be wasted at the last moment on the whim of a censor? I'm betting they don't pay compensation to anyone inconvenienced.

Old habits die hard, but I suspect only a total hands-off approach by the censors is likely to lead to any possibility of this festival having any sort of international recognition. They can surely rely on the audiences of such festivals to look at anything shown with a critical eye. They're not children.

This sounds like a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is trying to achieve. However, if there was no valid legal reason given for the ban, I hope the festival organisers will take legal advice on possible claims against the relevant government official.

6. 2008-04-08 18:44  
I think all tickets - in most countries - have a disclaimer which say that organisers have the right to cancel the event at any time and a refund of the ticket price would be given...

I'm more concerned that the ban sends a message that homosexuality within a religious (in this case Islam) context can not be or is too sensitive an issue to be discussed. Why is that so? There must be hundreds of gay Muslims in Singapore and it's important for them and others to start a dialogue.

It's chilling to hear a imman say in the clip that that "homosexuality is punishable by death" in Islam and "the only difference among the jurists is how the person should be killed..."
7. 2008-04-08 18:46  
And I note, none of the 5 people discussing this story is Muslim...
8. 2008-04-08 20:37  
Well, this latest ban comes as no surprise anyway, as Singapore is just not taken seriously in a wide range of fields, especially related to Media and the Arts.

How can it be? It's impossible to attache any credible artistic weight to a society where dissent is so routinely banned, and where the vast and mythical 'Them' must not be offended.

Control is Power. And control of the media - including a niche sector such as a gay film festival - is just one more way for the regime to keep a smiling iron-fisted grip in what people are allowed to think, say and create in Singapore.

Consequently, that society is still seen everywhere else around the world as a First-World society, with Third-World rulers, as evidenced by this latest ban, which is, of course, just symptomatic of the wider problems in that culture and society.

But, keep smiling, everyone, and keep singing the wisdom of those who decided to silence a midlly controversial project, before a small number of people were able to see and think about it.

Or Else.
9. 2008-04-08 20:41  
Re: Post 6 - Well, although of course it would be useful to have a Muslim viewpoint on this - bearing in mind that it would be skewed/biased, as most gay muslims on this site, with access to these boards, are likely to be in favour of allowing such a film and an outlook to be shown and expressed - I don't think that one needs to be of the Muslim faith to defend it, or be annoyed at a controversial topic related to it being silenced.

After all, despite being a rigid atheist, I welcome all expression and considerations of Faith; and believe that it is important to give voice to another viewpoint, as seemingly would be expressed through this (now banned) film.

But, then again, I am not a devout Muslim, so... perhaps someone more qualified can shed better light on this, rather than my own, Humanist opinion...
10. 2008-04-08 20:49  
Hi Kellen. So apparently you could see the clip ? How come when i click all i get is a message that says "sorry this clip is now unavailable" ? Anyone has a clue ?
11. 2008-04-08 21:15  
I can see the clip fine too. Maybe some countries are blocking YouTube, or part of it, if that's possible.

On the wider discussion of the subject in the banned film, i.e. gay Muslims, I'd love to learn more about this; maybe an article from someone like Alfian Sa'at would be enlightening.
Comment #12 was deleted by its author
13. 2008-04-08 21:43  
It's a shame they've pulled this out of the SIFF...depriving the public the only chance to bring a deeper level of understanding to gays whose sexuality apparently conflicts with their religious beliefs. Is there any way to appeal this decision?
14. 2008-04-08 21:50  
I would have loved to have been able to see how gay people in such a part of the world coexisted with others around them. It is a regrettable that the Singapore Censorship saw fit to remove the docu-film from the listing but whether rightly or wrongly, the decision is understandable. Muslims make up a huge percentage of the world population and I am sure that a large number of gays who are practicing Muslims would also have perhaps benefited from a connection with those featured in the film.
15. 2008-04-09 07:51  
I am in Thailand and I cannot view that clip either. I think it possible that clips are barred in a country and not another but would like to hear opinions from more internet savvy guys. Any around ? :-)
16. 2008-04-11 10:29  
I am looking forward to viewing this doco having Gay Moslem friends, one thing I wonder though is that many ideas about 'Homosexuality' is now borrowed from the more obvious behavior of western 'gay men' and the so called 'gay life style' which as we know really is varied, but in their small minds is rampant BB orgies every where, one can be forgiven for thinking that if gay men in more liberal countries didn't behave like 'scungy queers' and didn't abuse their freedoms by spreading disease it maybe wouldn't so negatively reflect back on decent Gay men in other nations & culturesyou just got to look at so many really hideous homosexual internet profiles to see how squalid many men are, after all as any one who is part of any minority group well knows the actions of a few do unfortunately reflect on to the majority, fair or not it's a reality we must deal with. Could be well time gay men became more thoughtful and cleaned the public face of being 'Gay' up.
17. 2008-04-12 03:39  
Hmm, I always thought the st8 world started the most base and vile of all porn and immoral sites/publications b4 the gay world caught up, and as usual, excelled at it. LOL.

I totally believe throughout history, ignorance, fear, delusional and self righteous people are the cause (as usual, yawn), of all mankind's greatest tragedies; be it slavery, discrimination against minorities, cruelty to animals..etc.

Borrowing a superior gene, boring Singapore simply copied blindly and just excelled in these travesties. Hmm, maybe if one look closely enough, there's some shade of pink in its communist red/white national flag afterall. :D
Comment #18 was deleted by its author
Comment #19 was deleted by its author
20. 2008-04-12 17:49  
At the heart of the ban seems to be the usual censorship viewpoint - in Singapore, at least - that 'They' (the great, mythical majority) must not be offended with something that is 'unnatural' to them - and there are few more unnatural things to 'Them' than people trying to reconcile their Faith and their Sexuality.

I am not saying that I want censors to turn a blind eye and let anything and everything fly about into the public eye - there's probably a terrific, thoughtful, moving documentary about one-legged Argentinian lesbian Necrophiliac nuns who're into Scat, but I can't say that I want to see it - but, still, I can't see the point in banning such a film involving reconciling being Gay with being a Muslim.

And? So what? Is there something to suggest that - Heaven forbid - Muslims are somehow intellectually unable to face such a viewpoint, or - shock - act like intelligent, reasoning adults, who can think for themselves?

And at what point did the State become allowed to act for the Church* and make decisions about what is religiously tolerable? (*Being Any mainstream Faith.)

If a documentary was coming out here in Ireland - formerly known as a staunchly Catholic country and society - about Catholic priests accepting their gay feelings, well, modern-day Ireland wouldn't care less, apart from a few lazy, cheap-shot red-top Tabloids with predictable 'Ban this filth' headlines, and a few weird older people writing annoyed letters to newspapers. And. That's. It.

People, in general, don't care about an interesting tangent on their faith or religion, or mind seeing it questioned and debated with a controversial viewpoint. It doesn't lessen their faith, or water-down the strength of it. Indeed, most Faiths (here) welcome debate and public discourse - and dissent -and engage with controversial viewpoints, rather than saying: Oh, no, you can't think or say that - as seems to have been the case with this latest film being banned in Singapore.

It may be strange to hear such an unshakeable atheist like me say this, but Faith is stronger than dissent or controversy, and endures despite controversial opinions, rather than because of it.

Or is that just a Western thing?
21. 2008-04-13 10:08  
any form of censorship is against free speech and freedom of expression...................how sad that ignorance rules in singapore
Comment #22 was deleted by its author
Comment #23 was deleted by its author
24. 2008-04-15 16:38  
Put it this way, majority of Gay Muslims are comfortable with the ban of the film in Singapore. We should respect that and not to make their life more difficult in Singapore.

Why do some people here have to make them stand out like a sore thumb in their own community ?? I think that those who are fighting for our rights are just a pile of bull *****. Nobody ask you to fight for our rights you know. How do you know what rights we want ??

We should respect each other's rights and not impose your rights onto others, especially when lives are at stake.

"any form of censorship is against free speech and freedom of expression...................how sad that ignorance rules in singapore" ...... well that depends on which angle you are looking at ..... certain issues are best not to be dealt upon.
25. 2008-04-23 20:55  
rules in singapore are just revolved around the way singaporeans are so conservative and afraid of letting new ideas in.

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