Excerpts from Peter Drucker: Warped. Gay Normality and Queer Anticapitalism
Excerpts from Peter Drucker, Warped: Gay Normality and Queer Anti-Capitalism (Leiden/Chicago: Brill/Haymarket, 2015) (pp. 250-2, 287-91, 330-40) Homonationalism Alongside demarcation as a stable minority, growing gender conformity and the separation of gay from trans, a fourth feature of the new gay normality has been the increasing incorporation of some lesbians and gay men into the imperialist nation. Here gender identity and sexuality were still closely linked, especially for men. Masculinity has been defined in feudal and capitalist societies for centuries by a positively valued propensity for violence, whether in the military, in everyday interactions with other men, or in sublimated form in sport. Incompetence at fighting and sport and exclusion from the military were therefore markers of insufficiently masculine men – while atypical competence, athleticism and military careers were markers of insufficiently feminine women. Exclusion from the military, and therefore from the ranks of full male citizens, has often been one of the last forms of discrimination to fall. It was for example explicitly reaffirmed when homosexuality was decriminalised in Britain in 1967 (and only lifted in 2000), and perpetuated in US President Bill Clinton’s curiously contradictory ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, adopted in 1993 and only lifted in 2011. The demand to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation in the military has been a constituent element of a new, nationalist homonormativity. This has been particularly evident in Israel, where Jewish open gay men’s inclusion in the army was a marker of their incorporation into the Zionist project – understandably viewed without enthusiasm by Palestinian queers, who like other Palestinians in Israel face pervasive discrimination on the grounds of their exclusion from military service. Jason Ritchie has recounted his discovery that each gay bar in Tel Aviv has a ‘sort of checkpoint … manned by a queer agent of Israeli nationalism, whose job it was to determine who belongs in this gay/Israeli space and who does not’. More broadly, gay Israelis ‘consolidate their membership in the nation’ by acting as ‘gatekeepers at a metaphorical checkpoint, where queer Palestinians are inspected, policed, and occasionally admitted into the fold of Israeli gayness as “victims” of Palestinian culture’ – or more often ‘denied entry as excessively Arab or insufficiently “gay”’.1 More generally in the twenty-first century, the instrumentalisation of lesbian/gay rights in the service of imperialist and Islamophobic ideologies, which Puar has defined as ‘homonationalism’, has played a crucial role in integrating lesbian/gay people into the neoliberal order.2 Its upshot, or at least its intended upshot, is a ‘seemingly seamless articulation of queerness with an imperial nation state’.3 Particularly but not only in countries like the Netherlands4 and Denmark, where both same-sex partnership rights and anti-immigrant racism are strongly developed, this homonationalism has been key to consolidating and taming lesbian/gay identity. More broadly, it is an integral part of the neoliberal multiculturalism that masks capitalism’s reliance on regional and racial hierarchies.5 More generally in Europe, sexuality has become ‘the sign of the European Union’s benevolence’ and a justification for prejudice against non-Europeans.6 Blatant racism has hardly disappeared; it continues notably in the form of stereotypes of black sexuality.7 Increasingly in the last two decades, however, popular and right-wing racism based on skin colour has made way for a racism that is more often pseudo-cultural than pseudo-biological, and particularly for Islamophobia. It coexists in Northern Europe and North America with an ersatz form of multiculturalism that blurs the persistent, deniable, shifting but still crucial global divide between dominant and dominated groups and nations. The French variant is an intensified emphasis on ‘republican universalism’, which relegates expressions of difference to the private sphere. The French LGBT mainstream has embraced this republican ideology in a way that obscures social and economic inequality and racism among LGBT people, which in reality are making sexual relationships and ties of solidarity across class and race lines more difficult. A recent survey in the French gay magazine Têtu showed that LGBTs of immigrant origin had trouble finding white sex partners for more than one-off encounters or brief affairs. Across the imperialist countries, ethnic minorities and working-class people are eroticised, notably in pornography, while the dominant gay image becomes increasingly white and middle-class in increasingly racialised societies.8 […] The right and homonationalism The gay right as a whole is homonationalist. In the Cold War years the US military had become a mainstay of racial liberalism, symbolised by Colin Powell’s rise to its command, and even a certain kind of feminism, incarnated in the George W. Bush administration by Condoleezza Rice. Imperialism acquired a gender dimension, portraying women in the US as ‘saviors and rescuers’ of oppressed women elsewhere. Imperialist ideology has also always had a sexual dimension. The novelty is that it now has a same-sex dimension. The general orgy of patriotism in the US after 9/11 was picked up in US LGBT communities as well: ‘The American flag appeared everywhere in gay spaces, in gay bars and gay gyms, and gay pride parades [featured] the pledge of allegiance, the singing of the national anthem, and floats dedicated to national unity.’ Many middle-class gays and lesbians also responded to appeals to save the US by continuing to buy, ‘marking this homonational consumer as an American patriot par excellence’.9 Neoliberal multiculturalism also wards off, in Jodi Melamed’s words, any mobilisation against the neoliberal order by ‘the racialized poor … by portraying this class as strangely susceptible to terrorist seduction’. In the words of the 2006 US National Security Strategy, ‘In some democracies, some ethnic or religious groups are unable or unwilling to grasp the benefits of freedom otherwise available in society.’10 It is a commonplace to observe that with 9/11 the Arab and Islamic world supplied North American and Western European rulers with the enemy image they needed after the Cold War. This enemy image is often gendered. Examples of the sexual repression of women in different parts of the world or segments of the population are exploited ideologically as evidence of the supposedly more civilised character of imperialist countries. Campaigns to free Muslim women (with or without their participation or enthusiasm) are one obvious example. The US Feminist Majority Foundation tried to enlist Afghan women in the US war, leading the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan to condemn it as a manifestation of ‘hegemonic, U.S.-centric, ego driven, corporate feminism’. There was a flurry in 2006 of condemnations of anti-gay repression in Iran – the details of the specific incidents involved were disputed among international human rights observers, though the repressive character of Iranian sexual legislation is not – just in time to provide ammunition for the US Bush administration’s campaign for military intervention.11 Condemnations of homophobic measures fall on fertile ground among LGBT people. Resentment of religious bigotry runs deep in LGBT communities, particularly among people who themselves suffered from it during their own Catholic, Protestant or Jewish upbringings. Indignation at anti-LGBT persecution by Islamic fundamentalist regimes and movements is a logical consequence of opposition to Christian bigotry. The political problem arises when people’s resentment is projected away from their own context and experience and focused on the Islamic world – as if Islam were inherently more homophobic than Christianity, a notion flatly contradicted by the preponderance of the historical evidence – especially when that resentment is manipulated to fit an imperialist agenda. The resentment can become poisonous when it is generalised to extend to all people of Muslim origin and/or Arabs, independently of any positions individuals take on LGBT issues. The litany, ‘Homosexual acts are against Islamic law’ – eliding the question of what individual Muslims or groups of Muslims think or do – has been used to create a monolithic image of Muslims and Arabs. This essentialism is sometimes used to violent and even deadly effect. Anthropologist Raphael Patai’s The Arab Mind, and especially its chapter on sexual taboos in Arab culture, served not only as the neoconservative bible on Arab behaviour but also as a justification for forcing Iraqi prisoners to engage in same-sex acts as a way to turn them into informants. Whereas a century ago images of pervasive Arab homosexuality served as a pretext for European colonial repression (or homosexual sex tourism), in Abu Ghraib the ‘(perverse) repression of the Arab prisoners [was] highlighted in order to efface the rampant hypersexual excesses of the U.S. prison guards’.12 In the space of a decade or two, the place of sexuality in the hegemonic European and North American view of the Islamic world has been virtually flipped upside down. Today Europe and North America are seen as bearers of sexual enlightenment – mainly women’s emancipation, and to a lesser extent LGBT rights – to an Islamic world seen as benighted and backward. The issue of same-sex formations among people of Muslim origin and in the Islamic world became even more of a political and intellectual minefield after 9/11. In a bizarre twist, neoconservatives and other rightists who were hostile for decades to feminism and the lesbian/gay movement have repackaged themselves as defenders of oppressed Arab women and gays. This ideological prism seriously distorts the interpretation of Arab sexualities, Will Roscoe and Stephen Murray have pointed out, and does no justice to the historical ‘variety, distribution, and longevity of same-sex patterns in Islamic societies’.13 Islamophobia masquerading as support for women’s equality rears its head in the most surprising places, as in remarks by Fidel Castro – no fan of either neoliberalism or the ‘war on terror’ – blaming the persistence of machismo in Cuba on ‘Moorish’ influences via Spain.14 The irony is that while the ‘heteronormalisation of society was seen to be a marker of modernity in the 19th century, the exact opposite has become the case’ now. Yet there is a constant: ‘the “West” continues to arrogate to itself the power to define the content of modernity, to shift the goalposts of modernity … as it sees fit’.15 9/11 gave the right in Europe and North America a unique opportunity to redefine itself as feminist and sexually tolerant. Military intervention in the Islamic world has been legitimated in part by portraying Muslims as ‘sexually deviant – whether repressed and frustrated or polygamous and sexually excessive or both simultaneously’.16 This has helped many rightists, after acting as a not very effective brake on feminist and sexual change for half a century, to reinvent themselves in short order as defenders of Western enlightenment, women and even gays against ‘Islamic fascism’. LGBT and feminist movements have been harnessed to a political project aimed at obscuring responsibility for colonialism and global inequality by focusing instead on the allegedly unique misogyny and homophobia of non-Western countries.17 Anti-LGBT attitudes on the part of some non-white and poor people allow middle-class white gays who are drifting rightwards to pose as champions of black and ethnic LGBTs while stigmatising blacks and immigrants in general as homophobic.18 In countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, right-wing forces have shown since 2001 how Islamophobia can be used to win right-wing acceptance or even hegemony in mainstream lesbian/gay organisations – unwittingly abetted by Muslim fundamentalists like Rotterdam imam Khalid El-Moumni, who in 2001 declared that Europeans who condoned same-sex marriage were ‘less than pigs and dogs’.19 In France the immigrant suburbs of Paris and other major cities are portrayed as breeding grounds of homophobia, ‘a few zones where the light of republican liberty had not yet penetrated’ – mysteriously, since the media tend to focus on religious prejudice and downplay discrimination and poverty.20 The suburbs abruptly forfeited their supposed monopoly on prejudice in 2013, when mass mobilisations against same-sex marriage revealed the depth of homophobia among millions of white French people. The norm defined by gay ghettos like the Marais in Paris or the Castro in San Francisco, magnets for LGBT people in the far larger heteronormative communities around them, nonetheless works to reinforce a straight norm in the larger society, white or non-white. Even in the US, neoconservatives – the Republican faction least ideologically committed to Christian fundamentalism – have shed their former secular brand of social conservatism and homophobia21 and repackaged themselves as virtual feminists. The fact that the right was at least temporarily shaken and divided by its debacle in Iraq opened more space for gay voices in the centre and centre-right of US politics. The new homonationalist right is also fervently Zionist. Unfortunately broader international and regional lesbian/gay networks, especially those in or run from the imperialist countries, have tended to embrace Israeli homonationalism and ignore or sidestep Palestinian objections, as in InterPride’s decision to hold World Pride in Jerusalem in 2006.22 This tendency has been very strong in North America, as witnessed by Toronto Pride’s decision in 2010 (later reversed) to ban Queers Against Israeli Apartheid from marching, and the New York LGBT Centre’s decision in 2011 to ban a Palestine solidarity group from meeting there – enforced by a director from a corporate rather than a grassroots background – later transformed into a moratorium23 that was only lifted in 2013. A similar mindset was visible in the decision of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association to hold its 2009 conference in Tel Aviv, over the protests of groups like the Lebanese LGBT Helem.24 In general mainstream Israeli, Western European and North American lesbian/gay groups have been complicit in ‘pinkwashing’: celebrating Israeli gay life and rights in a way that includes Israel in the charmed circle of the enlightened while explicitly or implicitly excluding Palestinians, other Arabs and Muslims. The emerging homonationalism of sections of the Western European and North American hard right has led it to selectively ignore the neoliberal agenda of many of the world’s most homophobic forces. The Mubarak regime responsible for the 2001 Queen Boat raid in Egypt and the ensuing wave of anti-LGBT repression a few months before 9/11 was of course one of the key US allies in the Middle East and one of the main Arab proponents of neoliberal policies. The newly pro-gay right has also generally avoided noticing the ongoing homophobic repression by US allies like Morocco, the Gulf states and the Saudi kingdom (the world’s single most theocratic state and the oldest US ally in the Middle East25). European and North American media have failed to report the blatant homophobia of the imperialist-linked, anti-Syrian bloc in Lebanon (which expelled gay activists from its ‘Freedom Camp’) since 2005, or the widespread prejudice or cowardice of Western-funded human rights organisations in failing to defend LGBT victims.26 US right-wing lip service to lesbian/gay rights is worse than useless to LGBT Arab people. The Shiite parties, militias and gangs that dominate Iraq today are guilty of vicious repression of people engaged in same-sex sexualities, which the US occupiers have hardly lifted a finger to stop. In one incident in 2007, an Iraqi LGBT activist heard Americans talking in the next room while Iraqi police were torturing him.27 […] Global and anti-racist solidarity Queer solidarity across racial and national boundaries is only possible through building anti-racist and global solidarity. For anti-capitalists, solidarity rests on the basic understanding that all oppressed people are contending with a global capitalist and neoliberal order, which can only be effectively resisted and defeated through a unified global fight-back. Because capitalism has now conquered the entire planet, opposition to it has to take account of the ‘interpenetration of … local arrangements with capital’s global structures’.28 In other words, human beings’ sexual lives worldwide need to be understood as part of a global totality, and at the same time as overdetermined by a wide array of local factors. LGBTs in the world today have converged enough to have a certain real commonality. This constitutes an objective basis for solidarity in oppression and struggles. Yet bitter experience has taught that global unity needs to be based on autonomy for and leadership by blacks, people of immigrant origin and people in the economically dominated countries if it is not to be a cloak for control by white Europeans and North Americans. Over the past century and more, racism and nationalism have repeatedly proved extremely potent as sources of division, within LGBT communities as well as among working people. In imperialist countries under neoliberalism, homonationalism has emerged as a key component of the new homonormativity. Traditional calls by labour and socialists to overcome these differences and unite in multiracial movements have often been ineffectual. Marxists’ insistence on focusing on the big picture has at times been seen as Eurocentrist, eliciting fierce opposition from revolutionary nationalists. The question has even been asked whether speaking of totality – of the global system as a whole – at all necessarily implies an ‘imperial, American universalism’.29 The question can and should be turned around, however: is it possible to effectively challenge an imperial, Eurocentric universalism without constructing a powerful, anti-imperialist, anti-Eurocentric alliance? Queer scholars of colour in the US and Britain particularly have done a good and vitally necessary job of exposing racist and Eurocentric assumptions and dynamics within queer studies and within LGBT communities. The task remains of demonstrating the full centrality of anti-racism to global anti-capitalist struggles today. Especially since the 1960s, the balance of opinion on the left has shifted towards seeing self-organisation of the nationally and racially oppressed as an important, even indispensable condition for unity. From the intersectional perspective of rainbow politics, identity groups should be seen as potential coalitions waiting to be formed. An African-American movement for example is in a sense a coalition of African-American men and women, LGBTs and straights.30 Similarly, every queer group should be seen as a coalition of white and non-white queers, male, female and trans. This has implications, for example that critical self-reflection and community organising lay the basis for effective coalition.31 Coalition-building based on conscious grappling with diversity can be the starting point for a new queer movement on a global scale. Building blocks for a global queer politics already exist in the creative analysis and organising done by LGBTs on every continent and by black and immigrant LGBTs in imperialist countries, drawing on both concepts drawn from lesbian/gay liberation and queer studies and on their own unique experience. One challenge in devising a truly global anti-racist strategy is grasping the full diversity of racism around the planet. While categories of class and gender are structurally embedded in the gendered capitalist mode of production and reproduction, categories of nation and race, however ideologically central, are constructed in a bewildering range of ways. For example, in politically aware British and South Africans circles ‘black’ is used to cover roughly the same groups that are referred to in the US as ‘people of colour’, while ‘Black’ is largely reserved in the US for African-Americans. Stuart Hall was taken aback when he left his native Jamaica, where he was ‘coloured’ and thus a step above ‘black’, to arrive in England, where he was still ‘coloured’ and nonetheless as ‘black’ as anyone.32 Other differences in racial construction go even deeper. In continental Europe in the twenty-first century, for example, where Islamophobia has become the single most powerful form of racism, the people of Muslim origin who are its victims by no means have a consensus on defining themselves as ‘black’, ‘people of colour’ or even ‘non-white’. The categories of ‘black’, ‘colour’ and ‘white’ are equally problematic when trying to grasp, for example, the racialised antagonisms between mestizos and indigenous people in much of Latin America. Only a truly global solidarity founded on an understanding of imperialism as a system can make it possible to navigate these complexities successfully. LGBT organising in dependent countries and among oppressed groups in imperialist countries needs to take account of the role of religion for their constituencies. The US radical queer group Southerners on New Ground noted for example in one of its campaigns in North Carolina that 35 percent of their 16,000 volunteers identified as religious, often continuing to take part in religious structures and even incorporating same-sex partners into them. The group had to be consciously inclusive of these people, ‘while still holding firm to our politics and our fight against religious supremacy and fundamentalism’.33 LGBT people of black, immigrant and Muslim origin have been organising in a number of countries to assert their dignity and demand visibility and inclusion. The French multiracial LGBT organisation Kelma was founded in 1997 with the aim of creating ‘a mixed space, beyond the dictatorship of looks, cash or skin colour’.34 Stigmatisation has greatly complicated the struggles of European LGBT Muslims, who have been increasingly visible in the twenty-first century in, for example, the Dutch foundation Yoesuf, German immigrant dance parties and the British soap opera EastEnders. They face the joint insistence of Islamophobes and Muslim fundamentalists that their very existence is a contradiction in terms.35 Queers on the radical left have increasingly made solidarity with black and immigrant LGBTs a priority. In Denmark in 2010, for example, the Queer Committee of the anti-capitalist Red-Green Alliance disassociated itself from that year’s pride march, which it said was being used to provide LGBT cover to Islamophobia. Much more visibly, Judith Butler generated international shock waves in 2010 by refusing the Civil Courage Prize offered to her by the Berlin Christopher Street Day Committee. ‘The host organizations refuse to understand antiracist policies as an essential part of their work’, Butler said; ‘I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism.’ Rightfully, she said, the award should go to LGBT immigrant groups that were mobilising in Berlin’s Transgeniale (Alternative Pride).36 Internationally, too, the reality of imperialism requires a great deal of sensitivity to the many ways in which well-intentioned interventions from imperialist countries undermine rather than support the agency of LGBT people in dependent countries. The sequence of events around the founding of a Namibian LGBT NGO led some Namibians to see homosexuality as ‘a Norwegian conspiracy’, for example, suggesting a sort of ‘unwitting conspiracy between homophobic regimes and local and international activists’ in imposing a hetero/homo binary.37 One egregious example was the protest at the Egyptian embassy organised by ACT UP Paris in response to the 2001 Egyptian Queen Boat raid. The protest’s slogans included a demand to ‘free our lovers’: hardly helpful for the Egyptian defendants, who were not defending themselves as open queer men, let alone as men with European lovers. Such blunders can only be avoided through more communication and coordination between activists in imperialist and dominated countries, in a way that allows Africans and Asians – in all their political and cultural diversity – to teach Europeans and North Americans ‘how to do rights work’.38 Related issues were highlighted in 2011 by the announcement by British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s government that it would cut aid to African governments that violated LGBT rights. A long list of African activists and organisations responded with a statement denouncing the threat. The decision to cut aid disregarded the agency of African LGBT movements and created the ‘real risk of a serious backlash’, the statement said. ‘Donor sanctions are by their nature coercive and reinforce the disproportionate power dynamics between donor countries and recipients.’ The British assumptions about African sexualities behind the policy also helped cut off LGBTs from broader civil society and lent credence to the notion that ‘homosexuality is “unAfrican”’. The statement called instead for tactics that took account of the history of colonialism.39 Yet threats of aid cuts multiplied after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay law in 2014. Opposing attaching strings to development aid poses in acute form the question of who sets the priorities. ‘As long as Western liberal democracies can name “gay rights” as the new litmus test for an appropriate twenty-first century democracy, we can obsess about “anti-gay” legislation in Nigeria and say nothing about the violence and economic exploitation of the Shell Oil Company on the land and bodies of Nigerians.’40 An agenda for LGBT equality is ‘reductive and distorting’, Scott Long has written, when it would only win LGBT people equal rights to the poverty and violence of a fundamentally unequal world. Cutting aid to Africa, specifically, is a gesture in favour of sexual equality that risks deepening economic inequality, thus making ‘some people less equal in the name of making others more so’.41 Not to mention the political inequality that is underscored when whole African nations are penalised for violations of LGBT rights, when no one suggests penalising the whole US (for example) for the murder of a trans person each month. More discussion is needed about what tactics actually work. At the least LGBT rights should be situated in the broader framework of sexual and reproductive rights, so that civil rights issues are not severed from their social and economic context. More thought should also be devoted to the risk that condemnations and retaliations from Europe and North America will further isolate African LGBTs in their own countries. A British and German cut-off of aid to Malawi following arrests in 2009 led for example to increased homophobia and threats to LGBT activists, who had to go into hiding.42 The result can be, in Long’s words, ‘More blood. More pain.’ African LGBTs need to have more say about their degree of visibility, if international solidarity is not to be reduced to ‘defending the defenders after they’re dead’. Finally, while the right of asylum for persecuted LGBT people must absolutely be affirmed and put far more into practice than it is, exile can mean for activists the destruction of ‘the way people live as connected and implicated beings in their cultures, contexts, communities’ – ‘social death’.43 Nevertheless, where LGBT communities are under siege, LGBT refugees and migrants to other countries can help defend and sustain queers in their countries of origin. Although the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has included sexual identity among the grounds for ‘well-founded fear of persecution’ entitling people to refugee status,44 LGBT refugees’ rights are routinely ignored and denied as anti-immigrant prejudice spreads in country after country. In addition, restrictions on movement, especially since 9/11, have highlighted commonalities between trans people and immigrants, refugees and the undocumented. Defending LGBT people thus involves joining campaigns that link fights against gender-normativity and homonationalism to resistance to state policing of gender and national boundaries.45
Solidarity between LGBT movements in imperialist and dependent countries has often piggybacked on the strong cultural influence that imperialist cultures traditionally have. The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), initially founded and run largely by lesbians and gay men in imperialist countries, has contributed to the growth of movements in the dependent world by carrying out solidarity actions, sending materials and money, and ‘twinning’ richer and poorer groups. International solidarity has also been a source of support for LGBT activism in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation and Eastern Europe more broadly.46 Yet sometimes the vision and solidarity of European and North American activists have had unfortunate limits, as when the 1985 ILGA conference in Toronto rejected a resolution supporting anti-imperialist movements. More recently leadership for ILGA at world level has largely come from Latin America and Africa – but resources have flowed disproportionately to ILGA’s European region, which receives funding from the European Union.
In recent years, interaction among LGBT movements within specific regions has become at least as important as connections to imperialist countries. The Asian Lesbian Network’s first conference in 1990 and Asian gay conferences beginning in 1986 helped consolidate Asian organising; Asian networking has continued in the face of obstacles, most dramatically the Islamic fundamentalist attack on the ILGA Asia conference in Surabaya, Indonesia in 2010.47 Latin American and Caribbean Lesbian Gatherings beginning in 1987 played an even bigger role in their region. LGBT movements in the dependent world have sometimes been spurred onwards by compatriots returning from imperialist countries or helped by immigrants in North America or Europe who have organised in solidarity with them. For example, the first two LGBT South Asian organisations were founded in 1985-86 in the North American diaspora and then spread back to India.48 The solidarity shown by Lebanese and Palestinian LGBT groups towards the rest of the Arab region has also been significant. One tragic factor in this region has been the mass movement of refugees, including LGBT refugees, across the Middle East. The Lebanese group HELEM has provided support to Iraqi refugees fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation, and campaigned for the rights of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, who face major discrimination. HELEM has remained open to everyone living in Lebanon, even at the cost of losing some Lebanese members.49 Solidarity becomes more complicated in the Arab region when the issue arises of working with Israeli LGBT groups. Maikey of the Palestinian group Al Qaws has said that ‘unfortunately, many of the Israeli LGBT groups have come to accept the nation and strive to become integrated in it’. Al Qaws has preferred working with Israeli anti-Zionist groups. For many queers worldwide, the Palestinian struggle is also a fight against Israeli self-legitimation through highlighting lesbian/gay rights in Israel (‘pinkwashing’), a fight waged by the coalition Palestinian Queers for BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions). ‘Israel commits human rights violations and occupies another people and then abuses my difficulties and my name by saying my society is backward and homophobic’, Maikey has said. ‘My struggle is dismissed and my people are demonized.’50 All these struggles benefit from queering history in anti-Eurocentric ways, uncovering Asia, Africa and Latin America’s same-sex past. In the last few decades, scholars have been busily uncovering what many nationalist forces had spent even longer burying. A wealth of material has been emerging about same-sex formations in for example Africa and Asia. They have also been busily linking together what Eurocentric and nationalist historians had worked to separate out, for example showing the centuries-long sexual interactions among captives, converts, renegades, diplomats, expatriates, tourists and their captors or hosts in Europe and the Islamic world,51 and the great influence of Europe and the US on both colonised and non-colonised Asia and of Chinese sexual culture on other East and Southeast Asian countries.52 And they have been demonstrating the enormous range of sexual formations in for example Africa.53 Against Islamophobia In responding to right-wingers’ repackaging themselves in recent years as defenders of oppressed Arab women and even gays, the left has sometimes been divided. When international human rights or LGBT groups have issued alerts about persecution of Middle Eastern LGBT people (for example in Iran), some anti-imperialist LGBTs have denounced the critics for contributing to the US war drive.54 Others have insisted on the importance both of opposition to US intervention and of solidarity with LGBTs. Yet international LGBT movements have been hamstrung by their relative weakness in and ignorance of the Arab region. The ill-thought out tactics and sometimes ‘outright colonialist mentality’ of some LGBT groups in imperialist countries may sometimes even play into the hands of repressive forces.55 There is an urgent need to link imperialism, gender and sexuality. One key point is that there is neither a historical nor a logical connection between anti-imperialism and cultural nativism. The British Empire was careful not to interfere with Islamic domination of civil society in countries it ruled like Egypt and Pakistan. By contrast, Muslim Turkey’s fierce resistance to colonisation after the First World War and Muslim Indonesia’s struggle for independence after the Second World War involved far-reaching secularisation, albeit from above by authoritarian regimes. It is no accident that Turkey and Indonesia have stronger LGBT communities and movements today than the Arab countries, almost all of which enjoyed the dubious benefits of European colonialism.56 The relative rarity of LGBT identities in Arab countries today is not due to lack of European and North American influence; European influence has been stronger in the Arab region than in a country like Thailand, with its burgeoning LGBT scenes. On the contrary, as Joseph Massad’s wide-ranging analysis of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Arabic literature has shown, in the colonial period European influence was mobilised to promote heterosexuality and suppress the centuries-old wealth of Arab same-sex forms.57 Factors like the region’s relatively low rate of female paid employment, which limit women’s sexual independence and help narrow men’s leeway for gender dissent, have probably been more important in holding back the rise of LGBT identities. Another obvious factor is what Gilbert Achcar has called ‘the Arab despotic exception’: the fact that the US continued for so many years before the 2011 Arab Spring to back dictatorships in the Middle East, due to its vital economic and geopolitical interests there, rather than risk the kind of transitions to nominal democracy that it allowed in much of Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of Asia.58 The result has been less freedom for political and social organising, and specifically for LGBT organising, in the Arab region. Linking queer and anti-imperialist organising is therefore crucial. The example of the Lebanese LGBT group HELEM shows how effective LGBT participation in broad anti-imperialist movements can be in integrating LGBT people and their issues into a society and discourse of resistance. Based on the conviction that ‘sexual liberation cannot be achieved through imperialism [or] detached from the wider struggle for democracy’, HELEM joined in 2003 in Lebanese mobilisations against the Iraq war, flying a rainbow flag at one demonstration and getting prominent media attention. In 2006 HELEM joined the grassroots solidarity movement against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and became part of the largest independent resistance and refugee and war victim relief campaign. Beirut’s LGBT community centre became part of Beirut’s busiest relief headquarters during four weeks of bombing. One LGBT supporter of the campaign reported feeling ‘happiness like never before’ when an official of the Shiite fundamentalist Hizbollah thanked him for his work – a striking contrast with the homophobia expressed by the liberal forces behind the Cedar Revolution. Unfortunately HELEM’s appeal for solidarity to an international LGBT conference meeting at the time in Montreal elicited strong opposition as well as support.59 Beyond these promising beginnings, no one can know how or in what forms Arab LGBT communities and movements will develop. In particular, no one knows what proportion of Arabs who have sex with people of the same sex identify or will come to identify as lesbian, gay, trans or bisexual. But this is no argument for privileging either those who have LGBT identities or those who pursue their same-sex desires without such identities. Nor is it an argument for withholding solidarity, on the pretext of a sort of ‘reverse Orientalism’ that would reserve LGBT identities to Europe and the Americas.60 There have in fact been examples of anti-imperial solidarity beyond the Islamic world, in defiance of the strong tendency towards homonationalism among LGBTs in imperialist countries. A number of international LGBT organisations, including the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the international Muslim group al-Fatiha, joined in 2003 in opposing the US war in Iraq. Yet in general radical queers have shown more of an urge to international solidarity than mainstream LGBT NGOs. In the US it was Queers for Peace and Justice and the Audre Lorde Project, a group of LGBT people of colour, that created nationwide LGBT anti-war coalitions.61 Radical queer solidarity was visible in Israel at the start of the second Palestinian intifada in 2001 when an Israeli queer group marched in Pride with a black banner declaring, ‘There Is No Pride in the Occupation’.62 Queer solidarity with Palestine took on an international dimension in 2006, when in response to InterPride’s decision to hold World Pride in Jerusalem a New York queer coalition declared, ‘It’s not “World” Pride without Palestinian and Arab queers, and we refuse to pit our queer celebrations against Palestinians’ freedom.’63 Ultimately 22 LGBT organisations boycotted the Jerusalem event. LGBT activism also succeeded in 2010 in minimising attendance at a special, Israeli consulate-funded San Francisco Jewish Film Festival series for Israel Pride Month, and in barring a Tel Aviv municipal float from Madrid Pride. The formation of Palestinian Queers for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in Ramallah in 2010 was a crucial spur towards both international LGBT solidarity and recognition of LGBT people in Palestinian society. Their first global campaign in 2011 forced the International Gay and Lesbian Youth Organisation to cancel a gathering planned for Tel Aviv.64 A serious base of support for US queer solidarity with the Palestinian struggle was built by a US tour of Palestinian LGBT leaders in 2011, beginning at the National LGBT Task Force Creating Change Conference. The tour was a breakthrough not only in making Palestinian LGBT people visible, but in making them the central spokespeople about their own lives and for their own struggle. These events culminated in 2011 when Palestinian BDS leader Omar Barghouti declared in an interview in New York that BDS was ‘about building a better society [which] by definition must be inclusive and must recognize people’s rights … and … identity, be it gender, sexual identity [or] any other form of identity’.65 Identity is not the core issue, however. The police for example rarely know whether the people they harass, arrest or torture identify as gay. The sequence of cause and effect is the reverse, as historians have shown: the common experience of repression can contribute to the development of transgender, gay, lesbian and queer identities. In the age of neoliberal globalisation, power relations between colonisers – witting or unwitting – and colonised cut across LGBT movements, anti-imperialist movements and for that matter the Marxist left. The fact remains that all the victims of oppression today badly need allies in the imperialist countries, who have access to far greater resources. Cultural sensitivity and respect for self-determination are essential. But neither should stand in the way of solidarity with the victims of repression by regimes whose vicious sexual puritanism often goes hand in hand with their subservience to an imperial agenda. Ultimately queer anti-capitalists in both imperial and dominated countries should join forces to resist empires, and along with them the mirror-image plagues of homonormative arrogance and homophobic repression that the division of the world fosters.
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