November 23, 2011
For our World AIDS Day 2011 section, we wanted to capture the diversity of the AIDS community. So, we reached out to people across the world -- regular contributors and those who have never written for us before -- and asked them to guest blog. These columns are written by people who are living with HIV, have been affected by HIV, or work in the field.
To be an activist is not about how big the effort you make; it is about how you think and what you believe. To challenge perceptions and misconceptions is either in your DNA or nowhere. Achieving the goal of World AIDS Day 2011 requires a spirit of activism, willing to challenge many predominant principles in our society. Some of these principles and values are entrenched not because of their validity but because of who benefits from them and promotes them, or who has the power to affirm them. Just as one philosopher stated: "The ruling principles are the principles of the ruling class."
When I decided to speak up and blog on TheBody.com about what it means to be a Middle Eastern Positive person, I could not imagine the types of reactions I would generate. Most of the emails I get from the readers are encouraging and deeply touching. Often individuals from different parts of the world contact me, excited that there is a word out there that speaks their feelings. It is amazing how sitting behind the computer made me a close friend to someone in a village in Africa that I never expect to see in my life. How wild could my thoughts be to imagine an encouraging blog could wander to an island in Indonesia?
However, still, sometimes, I get another group of emails that are adorable in a different way: emails from people who curse me, thinking that I got the divine punishment I deserve, and accuse me of promoting homosexuality among Muslims ... refuting my arguments about stigma and acceptance, claiming that there is no such thing as LGBT Muslims, and insisting that HIV is a Western disease ... Not sure if the Iranian president wrote these emails ...
In reality, this angry reaction reflects the type of challenges HIV activists in the Muslim world could possibly face. For example, one Lebanese activist said that when she was handing a flyer about HIV, in the streets of Beirut -- capital of Lebanon -- on World AIDS Day, one man pulled away his hand and jumped back shouting NO, NO, NO thinking that he might get the virus from the flyer or the hand of the activist -- who was HIV negative!
In most of the Arabian Gulf countries, authorities detain migrant laborers that test HIV positive and deport them in shackles. Treatment interruptions are common in many parts of the Muslim world due to shortage of financial resources allocated to treat HIV/AIDS. These are great challenges that require greater activists, who are willing to go extra miles of frustration and disappointment to see a dream of zero problems come true.
World AIDS Day 2011 is a day for new activism, led by the new generation of youth activists, who are rebelling against what the elders still want to hold to. Today we see a generation that is so tired of injustice, inequality and a caste system that excludes other humans from participation. But most importantly, they are frustrated with the ones who are unwilling to go beyond their narrow interests.
When Islam first emerged in Arabia, one of the first objections by Arabian merchants to what prophet Muhammed was teaching: "This is not what the fathers and the grandfathers believed in." It is amazing how this dogma of renewal turned today, for some, to become "This is not what prophet Muhammed was teaching."
Our world today is witnessing turmoil in many parts. This is a sign of the new generations' willingness to embrace new-era challenges -- including the challenge of HIV/AIDS.
The question is: Who will lead this activism? Still the main player on the international level related to HIV/AIDS is UNAIDS. A United Nations agency associated closely with World AIDS Day, this agency is much needed in coordinating the international effort of combating HIV/AIDS; however, it has proved to be unqualified anymore to lead the activism in this regard.
UNAIDS is lagging behind any other small organization in combating HIV. In the Middle East, their programs are almost nonexistent -- with rare exceptions which they try to magnify, to hide their failure in a region that is witnessing a relatively rapid infection rate. The speed of infections in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), a predominantly Muslim region, is a proof of the failure of UNAIDS in promoting prevention programs. In reality, most of the few effective HIV programs in this region are managed by UNDP (United Nations Development Program) or other small NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) and not UNAIDS.
UNAIDS has a mandate to put HIV/AIDS on the political agenda. This goal did not exceed one Security Council resolution and few words here and there in speeches during UN side events that carry no significant importance.
When we compare UNAIDS to other international organizations functioning on world health issues, UNAIDS can be proud that it keeps the bottom of the list with honorary status. Even their scientific reports are perceived with skepticism. This skepticism when it comes to UNAIDS' scientific qualification is an important factor in negating UNAIDS' claim in leading HIV/AIDS activism.
Our generation understood an important lesson: This world of mega-corporations and gigantic organizations is not as effective as the activism of a few small organizations and individuals here and there. Individuals who believe in fighting HIV/AIDS and the stigma that feeds the growth of infection will achieve more results than the conventional old leaders. World AIDS Day starts with one here and one there to reach a great zero in the end ... zero new infections, zero stigma and zero viral load. Inshallah.
Ibrahim is a professional Muslim man in his 30s from the Middle East, living in the U.S.
Read more of A Poz Salam, Ibrahim's blog, at TheBody.com.