After the shootings at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, by Omar Mateen, a U.S. resident of Afghan descent, we can’t help but revisit a past interview with Afghani gay activist, Nemat Sadat. His intelligence and honesty on what it means to be gay in Afghanistan is extremely insightful.
All eyes are on the upcoming run off of the Afghanistan presidential election between Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani in mid June. But millions of Afghans are talking about a new emerging leader not on the ballot, Nemat Sadat, who happens to be gay.
Sadat was a professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan until he was relieved from his post in the summer of 2013. Students complained about his enlightened attitude and many felt he was against Islam, and insult of all insults, accused him of being an atheist. They also felt that he, like many returning Afghans, was a “carpetbagger.” Many Afghans feel that those who endured the Russians, civil war, and the U.S.-led invasion are the true Afghans and not the ones who left when times got tough and return to capitalize on the trauma of the war-ravaged country.
He admits he did want to capitalize on the Afghan situation, and that is to “spread tolerance for men, women, gay and transgendered Afghans.”
After provocative posts on Facebook of a play he performed in while in the U.K. wearing makeup and posting his flirtations with an airport customs worker, he was deemed a threat to Islam and relieved of his job.
Born in Kabul in 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion, his family moved to Germany. His father, who was a diplomat, was recalled to Kabul, but his mother moved Nemat and his two siblings to southern California in 1984 when Sadat was five-years-old. He was educated in the US, but like many emigres, he wanted to return to his homeland and try to make a positive change in his war-torn home.
For a quick refresher on Afghanistan’s history, please review the BBC’s timeline here.
In a country that has been teetering on the brink of catastrophe for almost four decades, with poverty, violence, corruption, not to mention the destabilizing meddling of Pakistan, India, the US, Iran, Saudi Arabia, UK, and many other players, (see Ahmed Rashid’s New York Review of Books review of Carlotta Gall’s The Wrong Enemy: American in Afghanistan 2001-2014.), why care about one gay man coming out?
Sadat believes that until the gender apartheid is addressed, where all men, women, gay and transgendered are treated equally without fear of being jailed or killed, Afghanistan will continue on its destructive path.
“Gender is the gateway for acceptance for all,” he says.
Not that gender equality will solve the countries ills, but it is one of many key steps that need to be made so that perhaps in a generation, some positive strides can be made. Once all people are allowed to go to school, work, love freely and thrive in their community, the economic and literal health of a community improves with it.
“Almost 65% of the Afghan population are under 25-years-old and they are hungry for a change.” says Sadat. “Yes, many want to kill me, but they are older more traditional people. The young people connect with me and are hungry for a different message.”
His coming out has changed the national discussion. When former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Columbia University in 20o7 and announced that there are “No homosexuals in Iran,” many felt the same in Afghanistan.
But now that Sadat has changed that. Afghanistan has homosexuals, and Nemat Sadat is one of many hundreds of thousands.
Although he lives in hiding in New York City, Sadat is extremely visible on social media. There are Facebook pages with hundreds of likes and numerous comments calling for his death, he continues to make provocative daily updates on gender and human rights issues in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This week the Mullahs of Afghanistan have issued a fatwa. Using Google Translator for the Dari text from the American Islam Facebook Page, 4/20/14, it reads as follows:
This person is permissible to kill in Afghanistan!
Dear Shia and Sunni scholars in the field of silence, do not!
Homosexuality in all religions, as it is an act of obscene and inhuman is mentioned by some perverted and Satanists are heavily promoted in Europe and America so far this approach has become a culture.
It is a blessing Sadat. Professor at the American University in Afghanistan and to promote homosexuality and Lvatt come to Afghanistan.
It is permissible to kill this person. And anyone who kills a person, not just a sin not work, but the reward of seeing.
“It is out of the bottle. It cannot be undone, and I will not be silent. It is the only way to bring about change,” he says.
Can’t see it on YouTube? Watch it on Vimeo.