Outside the Stonewall Inn, as a crowd was celebrating the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling, I met Don Russell, 84, and his 100-year-old partner, Charles Schaeffer.
These two men have been together for 62 YEARS.
When they started dating, Harry Truman was president. It was an entirely different world for gay men, to put it mildly.
"You couldn’t walk around like this," said Don, looking down. Their hands were clasped tightly together.
By Anders Zanichkowsky
June 26, 2013
Today is a hard day to rain on people’s marriage parades. I’m doing it anyway because my stomach is turning to lead and my heart wants to throw up and silence will make it worse. This issue is far from over and my silence, I feel, is the problem to begin with.
I’ll start with an introduction: I am — first and foremost — a queer activist for economic justice. I support a radical redistribution of wealth, and I stand against capitalism and what it does to people’s bodies. As for marriage equality, I am not just unenthusiastic or reserved about this as a goal for the LGBT rights movement — I actively boycott it, and would like to see it abolished as soon as possible.
In my work, I have three priorities for queer economic justice: Prison and the criminal justice system, physical safety (health care, freedom from violence), and poverty (housing/homelessness, income/wages, etc.). Perhaps it doesn’t go without saying that queer and trans people are disproportionately impacted by these issues, particularly trans people and/or people of color, and also that my work in these areas is not limited to the impact on queer and trans people. And it definitely doesn’t go without saying that I think marriage is a totally inappropriate way to deal with any of these issues.
With that, I have two main problems with the marriage equality movement: 1. That its operation takes a tremendous amount of money, energy, and attention away from far more pressing issues. (Sometimes this is clear and direct, such as California spending $43 million on Prop 8 while $85 million was being cut from HIV/AIDS services. Sometimes this is more subtle, the successes of which can be measured when every single straight person I know uses their approval for same-sex marriage to demonstrate their allyship to me.) 2. That its strategies actively work against movements for queer economic justice, by removing capitalism, meaningful immigration reform, and gender/sexual deviance from the discussion entirely.
Let’s strip away the sentimentality for a moment and consider that legal marriage is intended as a site for hoarding your wealth. In fact this is one of its primary historical purposes. This is why in modern times you get rewarded with tax breaks and shared benefits (or stand to lose them if you’re very poor) and, regardless of income, you are encouraged by our government (and society in general) to lock down into a nuclear family unit and not share any of your shit with people you don’t like. (No really, I mean it — stop thinking about love for a second and think about that.)
It’s true that the promises of marriage are very, very real — especially for people who are just barely hanging onto the next highest class rung. Of course it can help some of them keep their hold on it — it is designed to do that. I will never deny that marriage can provide concrete, material benefits to some poor, working class, and lower-middle class people, and I’m not passing judgment on individual choices about whether to take advantage of those benefits when your life would kind of suck otherwise. I am generally in favor of people having shit they need, and of short-term solutions for short-term problems.
The problem is that the marriage equality movement, which is the real subject here, is not about individuals and it is not interested in other solutions. The marriage equality movement, like the institution of marriage itself, is a major distraction from the fact that our government refuses to sustain social services and public benefits in the first place — a process the marriage equality movement is now mimicking by stealing all the money. This is where I find myself so frustrated with the majority of Democrats/liberals/progressives on this issue, who claim we are walking in the same direction with different steps. Just because some people will get more money from something does not mean that a national fight for that thing is an economic justice project. It’s a trap of linear logic that so many have fallen into, and following it is like building condos in the middle of a housing crisis — as it turns out, most things have more than one opposite, and the enemy of your enemy is not necessarily your friend.
It is not a coincidence that the rhetoric, imagery, and marketing of the marriage equality movement is so utterly assimilationist, and this is where my problems extend to issues of personal safety. This movement intentionally and maliciously erases and excludes so many queer people and cultures, particularly trans and gender non-conforming people, poor queer people, and queer people in non-traditional families. This movement whitewashes, breeder-izes, and cis-sexxifies the criteria for acceptance and civil rights, ignoring the most extreme threat to queer and trans people’s civil liberties: That if we cannot pass for straight and cissexual, we are deemed worthy of violence, detention, and death. In recent (and predictable) developments, conservatives who have joined the same-sex marriage bandwagon are using it as a wedge against single parents, immigrant families, and others. (Sometimes, the enemy of your new friend… is the person you should actually be friends with.)
So, to recap why I’m against it: Marriage promotes hoarding in a time of class war; marriage thinks non-married people are deviant and not truly deserving of civil rights; marriage doesn’t even know that 2.3 million Americans are incarcerated.
Last, I’d like to respond to the common statement that marriage is an important vehicle for raising awareness of all kinds of other LGBT issues, promoting acceptance of LGBT people, getting all LGBT people a pony and an espresso machine, etc.
For one thing, it’s really not. This movement targets a ton of queer and trans people for exclusion when it markets such narrow inclusion, and there is no inherent connection between “I think those two dudes who look like Anders should be able to get gay married” and “I think that chronically homeless trans woman should be given $2000 so she can come live next door to me.” In fact, I would argue that acceptance of the former strengthens rejection of the latter.
For another, the promise to “come back for” queer economic justice issues after marriage is squared away is pretty insulting to those of us already working in those movements, or to people in dire straits whom marriage cannot help. It’s also a pretty little lie, because it will absolutely never be convenient for people with class privilege to prioritize poverty issues. And, as it turns out, the powers of gentrification only grow stronger when your white picket fence is legally installed. If your excuse is that you’ve just got a few other things on your list right now, at the very least I would like you to acknowledge that we are not on the same page at all. Honestly. The most disappointing aspect of this divide for me, on days like today, is that marriage equality people don’t seem to see that there is one. This is far more troubling to me, and much harder to interrupt. It is more than a question of political projects, it is also a question of philosophy and analysis, without which political projects are irrelevant at best.
I’d say that I’m open to talking about this with people who support marriage equality, and of course in the end I will. But “open” is the wrong word today. I feel resigned to this conversation, and rather cheerless about its prospects. But I suppose, being the truth, it’s as good a beginning as any.
— Haneen Maikey, Director of alQaws for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, June 7, 2013
Par Janis Bing
14 avril 2013
S’il y’a une chose qui m’a toujours agacée, c’est bien le sentiment qu’on me confisque ma voix. Etant lesbienne, je subis la double peine d’être invisible en tant que femme dans la société, et dans la communauté “LGBT” (ou plus honnêtement, “GGGG”). Je dispose déjà de peu de temps de parole.
J’ai donc énormément de mal avec la récupération des luttes, notamment celles qui me concernent directement, à savoir les “Droits LGBT” et le féminisme. Cela peut prendre plusieurs formes, comme la promotion du mariage à des fins économiques, mais aussi impérialistes et colonialistes. J’appelle ca du pinkwashing - au sens large -, on peut aussi parler d’homonationalisme dans certains cas.
Qu’est ce que le pinkwashing? C’est ça:
A l’origine, il s’agit de l’instrumentalisation des “LGBT” (ou “GGGG”) sous la forme de la promotion de leurs droits et de la manière dont ils sont plutôt bien traités, accueillis en Israël, afin d’atténuer les critiques de l’occupation israélienne, du siège sur Gaza ou encore des violences envers les Palestiniens.
On peut donc lire dans le Jerusalem post que le Ministère des Affaires Etrangères “promeut l’Israël gay dans le cadre d’une de ses campagnes, visant par là à contrer les stéréotypes négatifs sur Israël chez les progressistes Américains et Européens”.
Un exemple clair de cette stratégie a été la vidéo de “Marc" tweetée par le Bureau de Presse Israélien, dans laquelle celui-là se plaignait d’avoir été écarté de la flottille pour Gaza en raison de son orientation sexuelle, accusant ainsi les activistes d’homophobie. "Marc" s’est plus tard avéré être un acteur et son récit, fallacieux.
En Novembre 2011 Sarah Schulman, une activiste américaine ouvertement lesbienne et membre de Jewish Voice For Peace, a publié dans le New York Times un article d’opinion présentant la stratégie israélienne de pinkwashing, l’une des premières grandes médiatisations de cette méthode. Elle y décrit celle-ci comme la “récupération des homos blancs par des forces politiques anti-immigrés et anti-Musulmans en Europe de l’Ouest et en Israël”.
En citation dans l’article, Aeyal Gross, professeur de droit à Tel-Aviv affirme que “les droits LGBT sont essentiellement devenus un outil de communication”.
Schulman a plus tard publié sur Mondoweiss une chronologie très détaillée de l’articulation du pinkwashing, officiellement apparu en 2005.
L’argument souvent avancé selon lequel les “LGBT” seraient donc non seulement mieux lotis en Israël qu’en Palestine (et partout ailleurs au Moyen Orient) mais fuiraient ces territoires pour y demander asile efface par ailleurs les voix des LGBT de pays arabes. Plusieurs associations se sont érigées afin de faire entendre leurs voix et leur dissidence par rapport à cette idée.
alQaws (association Palestinienne pour la diversité de genres et d’orientations) a été fondée dans le but de contribuer à construire une société Palestinienne ouverte et diverse. Sa présidente, Haneen Mailey, appelle à “cesser de parler en son nom”, en précisant “si vous voulez me faire une faveur, arrêtez de bombarder mes amis”, démontrant ainsi comment la parole queer, spécifiquement la parole de queers Palestiniens, a été confisquée et instrumentalisée au delà de toute considération pour leurs intérêts (“Quand je me fais arrêter à un checkpoint, la sexualité du soldat qui m’arrête a peu d’importance”, dit elle en faisant référence au droit des gays à rejoindre l’armée israélienne).
Une seconde association Palestinienne, “Palestinian Queers for BDS”, est directement axée sur l’appel au boycott d’Israël.
Si la notion de pinkwashing désignait à l’origine l’occupation israélienne, elle peut néanmoins s’étendre à d’autres pays, et d’autres causes. L’association libanaise Helem l’évoque par exemple au sujet des invasions de l’Irak et de l’Afghanistan dans cette interview (à mon sens une ressource précieuse sur le sujet).
"Une autre question qui a contribué à établir Helem a été le début de l’ingérence de groupes LGBT européens dans les droits des LGBT libanais, et leur tentative de parler à leur place. Une part importante de cette ingérence a été articulée politiquement autour des interventions des Etats-Unis et des Nations Unies — donnant l’impression que les droits de l’Homme, les droits des femmes et dans ce cas les droits LGBT au Liban et dans le monde arabe nécessitaient une intervention de l’ONU et des Etats Unis."
(…) “Un certain nombre d’Occidentaux se servaient des droits de l’Homme dans les mondes musulman et arabe comme d’une justification pour intervenir, comme ils l’ont fait en Afghanistan avec les droits des femmes.”
(…) “Des voix occidentales prétendent souvent parler au nom des LGBT libanais alors que notre oppression est en réalité utilisée pour justifier une intervention occidentale, sans grande considération pour nos vies.”
On a également pu constater ce phénomène en France avant l’invasion de l’Afghanistan, avec le mythe des petites afghanes aux mains coupées pour avoir porté du vernis à ongles.
Alain Gresh a parlé de cet intérêt orientaliste souvent feint et hypocrite pour les droits des femmes dans cet article:
Si la liberté des femmes en Afghanistan préoccupait tellement l’Occident, on se demande pourquoi celui-ci n’a pas soutenu le régime communiste de Kaboul entre 1978 et 1992. A aucune autre période de l’histoire de ce pays, les femmes n’ont disposé d’autant de droits…
Et l’émergence de ce prodigieux intérêt pour le droit des femmes ne s’arrête pas là, on a par exemple pu entendre des hommes politiques “prendre notre défense” contre le voile récemment, une prise de position aux motifs islamophobes à peine dissimulés.
Le blog “Frustrated Arab” a notamment dénoncé ce phénomène suite à un article de Mona Eltahawy dépeignant uniformément les hommes arabes comme les oppresseurs des femmes.
“Mona Eltahawy has penned both men and women into a non-negotiable situation, charging men with hatred and women with helplessness; and as a woman of colour, of Middle Eastern origin, I will not allow my voice to be co-opted. “
L’homonationalisme peut prendre une définition à mon avis encore plus large. Il englobe le croisement nationalisme avec la cause gay, mais sert aussi à redorer l’image de l’armée (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell en étant une parfaite manifestation) et des causes impérialistes (invasions violentes de pays au profit de l’industrie de l’armement, par exemple).
En bref, l’homonationalisme, c’est ça:
Bilerico a résumé la question dans un article, en remettant en question la lutte pour le droit des gays à servir dans l’armée.
Ce nouveau droit à servir ouvertement dans l’armée ne ressemble pas du tout à un “droit”. Les gays d’Amérique ont été détournés de l’antimilitarisme vers une cause que le gouvernement nous a présentée comme honorable. Le désir LGBT d’inclusion a remplacé ce qui devrait être le but principal de tous les mouvements militants: la Paix.
Je partage cet avis. Il m’est tout bonnement impensable de me battre de quelque manière que ce soit pour grossir les rangs d’une armée, ca va à l’encontre de tout ce que je défends: la paix, le respect de l’autodétermination, la lutte contre le lobbying de l’industrie de la défense. La lutte contre les carnages. Mon militantisme féministe, mon militantisme LGBT ne peut pas cautionner le million de morts en Irak, la moitié des bébés qui naissent encore avec des malformations à Fallujah et Bassora à cause des bombes.
Les campagnes homonationalistes omettent par ailleurs soigneusement de rappeler que l’homophobie est bien souvent un héritage de la colonisation; ainsi que le souligne Schulman dans son article du NYT, les lois criminalisant l’homosexualité en Jordanie (et Cisjordanie aujourd’hui) trouvaient leur origine dans le mandat britannique. De même, les lois homophobes au Liban sont l’héritage de la colonisation. (1) C’est vrai pour le continent Africain également. (2) (3) (4)
Pourquoi tout ceci me concerne-t-il? D’une part parce que j’ai un intérêt profond pour les droits de l’Homme, contre la guerre, contre l’impérialisme. Je considère au demeurant que “personne n’est libre tant que tout le monde n’est pas libre" (Emma Lazarus? L’internet n’est pas sûr mais la phrase me parle)
D’autre part, et plus directement, parce qu’on m’a impliquée dans cette histoire sans me consulter, en confisquant doublement ma parole (en tant que femme puis en tant que lesbienne) et en l’instrumentalisant.
My Facebook and G+ newsfeeds have been filled with pink and red lately, so it seemed important to point out to the queer and allied in my life that Human Rights Campaign actually has a track record of promoting some rights at the expense of others. Being a fairly rough-and-tumble sort of cisgender queer man, I waded in.
It’s frankly unconscionable; transgender rights are integral to queer liberation, and moreover transfolks are our sisters and brothers, have shed the same blood, sweat, and tears in horrifying numbers for the same goals. The fact that names like Virginia Prince and Sylvia Rae Rivera aren’t as prominent in our histories as Harvey Milk says, I think, all it needs to about the need for some pink and purple soul-searching. Go forth and introspect.
Visually, too, I think the HRC equality logo leaves a bit to be desired, but I made minimal changes. The colors are based on the transgender pride flag designed by Monica Helms in 1999, the most widely used of several designs and to my eye, the most pleasing.
People need to know that the most visible LGBT “equality” organization out there continues to only fight for gay and lesbian equality at the expense of everyone else.
Trans allies, please repost. (And don’t give money to HRC.)
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that, though I didn’t think about this at the time, I probably started a blog because I need somewhere to vent my boundless rage that is not random people’s Facebook walls. I mean, one thing among the many thousands of things that are guaranteed to raise my blood pressure is when folks get all “the internet isn’t real, and it’s not a viable platform for communication,” but also like, Facebook fights are dumb, I’m supposed to be an adult now.
So here’s the thing that got me all het up this week: gay marriage.
Specifically, these goddamn things:
I guess I should start off by saying that I support gay marriage, insofar as I think people who want to get married should be able to, and I recognize that the ability to do so will make lots of folks happy and feel empowered, and that’s a good thing. I also think the phrase “marriage equality” is, at best, a gross misunderstanding of how marriage as a legal institution functions, in that it is not and has never been an institution that has anything to do with equality. It is about extending certain legal protections to a specific class of people and not to others. That that class might be federally expanded really, really is not the same thing as equality, and I wish people would recognize that*.
So I know that when I look at my facebook wall and I see fifteen little “equals” signs, I’m supposed to feel happy. I’m supposed to pat my liberal friend group collectively on the back and feel good about the progress that society is making. I’m supposed to be grateful that after all the years of hard work and all the billions of dollars spent on the gay marriage campaign, America is finally coming around.
But I actually feel sad and more than a little angry. Okay, a lot angry. Folks, the HRC is an organization run by rich white men. They have consistently chosen not to support trans rights. They have consistently silenced POC organizations and organizers. They have accepted donations from, and even honored, multi-billionaire corporations who have done more than their fair share to contribute to the unequal distribution of wealth and to systematic racialized and gendered oppression in the US. Their vision of “equality”—as obviously signaled by their logo—is not, and never has been, equality for all. It is equality for those who can afford it. It’s equality for those who can prove they are “just like everyone else,” who respect and embody gender normativity, middle class sensibility, and white supremacy. It’s equality for those who don’t care about coalitional politics, and who endorse both trickle down economics and trickle down civil rights.
So when I see a cascade of HRC logos as far as I can see, and then a ton of self-congratulatory back-patting on the internet, like way to go, internet America! You’ve seen the light! You’re finally making progress! I think about all the queer people of color, and the trans and genderqueer people, who are being told in no uncertain terms: your rights mean less than ours. Your alienation means less than our visibility. We’ll come back for you later. Wait your turn. Which, hmm, sounds like the same song that’s been sung ever since the HRC, and organizations like the HRC, essentially co-opted the possibility of a radical queer social movement and turned it into a mainstream machine for maintaining the status quo.
Think of it this way: much of the Civil Rights legislation, having to do with fair housing, fair employment, fair education, etc., have been subjected to massive roll-back since the 60s. Most of that legislation—legislation that offered hope for actual structural change—has been de-fanged, done away with or abolished. Still around: the aftermath of Loving v. Virginia, which abolished laws against interracial marriage. (In fact, that case is often used as a rallying cry for the HRC and marriage rights advocates, which, don’t even get me fucking started.) Sure, black/white couples can get married; in the meantime, the conditions that most Latino and Black people are living in today have only gotten worse. Exponentially worse, in fact. Maybe that should tell you something about the possibility for social change “marriage equality” actually offers.
In all my various Facebook fights with people this week, I never once asked anyone why they chose to use the HRC logo. And I was called out more than once for doing so: “But you didn’t even bother to ask me why I did this! How can you attack me when you don’t know my intentions?”
Um, because I don’t fucking care about your intentions. Listen, either you know nothing about the HRC and you posted the photo without bothering to ask any questions about what actual cause you were supporting: disturbing. Or you actually do know about the HRC, and its policies, and you posted the photo anyway: more disturbing. Either way, the net effect is the same: the alignment between the HRC and the “gay rights” movement is solidified, attention and funding is directed towards the HRC and away from organizations that actually support coalitional politics, and yes, one more step is taken—away from the possibility of actual social change for those populations (undocumented immigrants, transgendered youth, the thousands of black and Latino men targeted daily by the prison industrial complex, for instance) that are actually in material need.
Some of my dearest friends have the HRC logo up right now (including many people of color, because we should all know by now, you don’t need to be white to support white supremacy). I don’t know what to say to them, so I’ve been picking my fights with marginal people in my life. I don’t always want to be that insane girl picking fights on Facebook. But I don’t know how to combat an attitude that is not only flabbergastingly widespread, but also bolstered by liberal, well-meaning attitudes. What to say to the many straight white people (or queer white people, or queer poc), who just want to lend a hand? Express their support? Be a visible ally?
I guess what I should say is that to be an irresponsible ally is not to be an ally at all. Blind, feel good liberal support of “do good” organizations without bothering to ask questions about what such organizations do has perpetuated the spread of white supremacy and exploitative capitalism around the globe (Kony 2012, anyone?). To change your profile photo to the HRC logo and then feel good about contributing to a tidal wave of social change is, as Jack Halberstam recently put it, to confuse social justice with the reaffirmation of social norms.
And I don’t feel good about it. I feel worse every day, and farther away from the possibility that the gay rights movement will ever amount to more than merely conferring even more privilege to those who already have it, and thus widening the gap between those with social power and those without. Which is exactly, by the way, how the folks running the HRC like it.
*Better writers than me have written better essays than this one on why marriage as an institution, in general, is not about equality, does more social harm than social good, is at its very foundations racist and misogynist, and sucks for everyone. Start here and here if this is a claim that confuses you. And then like, I don’t know, read the whole oeuvre of feminist and queer theory. And critical ethnic studies.
PS: HuffPo’s new article on the HRC is better sourced than mine on the various ills and wrongdoings of the organization.
One of the signature traits of LGBT subculture in the United States is its adoration of celebrity. If a well-known person voices the most milquetoast notion that gays are human beings, let alone deserving of legal equality, banner headlines in the gay press are guaranteed. If the celebrity comes out as gay, even more effusive coverage is given.
Any number of fading stars and starlets, and non-entities on the make, from Lady Gaga to Chaz Bono to Ricky Martin, have mined the LGBT community to support their careers. Our community’s eager rush to embrace just about any celebrity who deigns to notice our existence is emblematic of our lack of self-esteem, our internalized homophobia.
So why is it that all of the big gay nonprofits, from the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) — “Gay Inc.” — have failed to utter a word of support for Private Manning, let alone really campaign for him? B. Manning is queer, has moderately high name recognition, and unlike any number of airhead celebrities, B has actually done something to support social justice, rather than mined charitable causes for personal fame and fortune.
Manning’s contributions to human rights have been recounted frequently enough to require only a brief recitation here. They exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq    and Afghanistan. B. Manning exposure of the corruption of the oligarchy in Tunisia helped kick off the Arab Spring, toppling and imperiling U.S.-supported dictators around the region.
They exposed the Obama administration’s support for the 2009 military coup in Honduras , the first successful Latin American coup in a decade and half, that led to a wave of violence against LGBTs and others, making it the murder capital of the world.
The list goes on. No less an authority than Daniel Ellsberg, exposer of the Vietnam War era Pentagon Papers, has said Manning “is a hero in my heart. He did what he should have done.”
Besides the Honduran angle — 89 LGBTs murdered over three and a half years in a country of less than 8 million, including leading activists like Walter Trochez and Erick Martinez Avila — there are other LGBT angles that the NGLTF and HRC could have highlighted. The sexually humiliating torture that Manning received —stripped naked in a cell for days on end, ordered by no less than a two-star general — was tinged in homophobia, and yet where were the protests from the gay human rights groups? Not even a token press release.
If a homophobe had so much as broken Chaz Bono’s fingernail, rest assured that GLAAD, NGLTF and HRC would have been on the case. But why the silence about Manning?
It’s political cowardice. A failure to take on “difficult” political subjects, particularly when doing so might bite the (Democratic Party) hands that feed them.
This same failure of political courage is why gay NGOs routinely fail to take on powerful anti-gay forces like the Mormon Church and Catholic Church leaderships, frequently allied with powerful local and national Democratic politicians, even when these religious leaders are pushing discriminatory referenda like Prop 8. Even when such failure spells defeat for gay rights (unlike back in the day when Harvey Milk, et al., took on Anita Bryant and the Briggs Amendment, and won).
It’s why they take a pass on opposing pink-washing of apartheid in Israel, when they’re not directly participating in it, while the Obama administration funds Israel to the tune of a record $3 billion a year. And while they may whine about budget cuts that hit AIDS funding and other social services, you won’t hear them denouncing the Obama administration’s military spending (equal to the rest of the world’s combined), let alone its wars from Yemen to North Africa to Afghanistan that drive it.
Manning’s great sin, in the view of the gay NGOs, was in exposing not just the depravity of the Bush administration’s foreign policy, but Barack Obama’s as well. The fact that it is Obama’s Justice Department that is prosecuting Manning makes it so much the worse. That his Justice Department has prosecuted more whistle-blowers than the combined total of every President who preceded him is a particular embarrassment.
Since the late 1970s, gay NGOs have effectively acted as an adjunct of the Democratic Party, which is why they were “shocked, shocked” when Bill Clinton gave us “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. One would never know from Gay Inc’s pronouncements that the two biggest legislative attacks on gay rights of the last century were undertaken and vigorously defended by Democrats.
At the end of the day, Gay Inc. sees its source of jobs in Democratic administrations, its executive directorships with six-figure salaries, its charity balls and other celebrity-driven hoopla as more important than gay rights. And when individual LGBTs like Manning through their own courage expose the human rights fakery of Democratic politicians, they can twist in the wind.
Just as much of the anti-war movement was “anti-war” only when a Republican president was leading the wars, much of the gay movement is pro-gay only when it’s non-Democrats who are anti-gay.
The Obama administration is leading the attack on the most important whistle-blower of our era, a queer person whose persecution was tinged with homophobia. The Honduran coup, which it supported and Manning helped expose, is murdering LGBTs and others at a horrific rate.
While Gay Inc. keeps quiet, while lapping up favors from its political allies, we must not.
March 11, 2013
Last week marked the launch of Free Arabs, a new journalistic venture which aims to provide “democracy, secularism & fun” while “advocat[ing] secularism as what it is: institutionalized freedom of choice.”
“Millions of Arabs have internalized the notion that secularism is tantamount to faithlessness, and is all about demonizing Islam and promoting a dissolute way of life,” the editorial guidelines read. “This is certainly not the working definition for Free Arabs.”
While I have a few issues with that particular definition of secularism, as it locates secularism within a statist perspective, while ignoring both the historical contexts in which secularism as a concept was born and the rich history of Arab secularisms, I was intrigued. A space for secular Arabs to gather and provide analysis, satire, and commentary on Arab issues from a secular progressive perspective sounded promising.
My first reaction was a mixture of hope and apprehension. While some of the listed contributors have a history of incisive, nuanced, and intelligent commentary, others associated with it do not. The title of the website bothered me as well: it seemed to imply that only secular Arabs were free.
Unfortunately, as I explored the website more thoroughly, my apprehensions solidified.
The website does not live up to its promise. In fact, I find much of its content damaging.
Indeed, within hours of the site’s launch, listed contributors like Mona Kareem (who blogs here at Al-Akhbar) had withdrawn. Other contributors, while critical of the content, defended their choice to participate.
The first issue I have is with the choice to publish most of the material in English – without any translation into Arabic. If the website is attempting to reach Arabs in the Arab world then it would be rational to expect that content be presented in the language of the target audience.
By choosing not to publish in Arabic, the website appears more interested in reaching a western or westernized audience, thus alienating the majority of people who it ostensibly ought to reach.
While the editors promise a future Arabic version of the website, the point remains that choosing to publish in English first, rather than launch both at the same time, is troublesome.
The other issues relate to the content. The website promises to open up new spaces for discussing secularism in the Arab world without demonizing Islam and Muslims. Instead, the content on launch was almost exclusively devoted to Muslim bashing and rife with contempt for religious Arabs, mocking them in crude and unimaginative terms that rely on tired orientalist fantasies, as well as flagrant misogyny and body-shaming. The overriding tropes about Muslims and Arabs signal that, unless one is a free Arab (that rare breed of enlightened westernized Arab), one is part of a culture that is inherently impervious to modernity.
The space that the website occupies is not a new space. Arabs are homogenized, their experiences and histories collapsed within a commonly heard orientalist perspective. Thus, we have “The Homosexual” (one of the website’s four contributors dubbed “Satan’s personal envoys to the Ummah”) arguing that the experience of homosexual men is uniform within the Arab world.
There is no depth or nuance to his “argument.” It reproduces the imagery of Arabs as inherently homophobic and does not take into account the important work of LGBTQ rights activists throughout the Arab world.
Another of “Satan’s personal envoys to the Ummah” is “The Jew,” who is an Israeli of Arab Jewish descent. He argues in his first piece that Arab Jews are the freest Arabs because he can write expletives directed at Israeli leaders. Ironically, that piece was published the same week Israel introduced segregated bus lines in the West Bank.
Maybe Arab Jews are the freest in that they are free of sitting on the same buses as Palestinians.
It is also interesting to note that the first piece that Free Arabs published touching on Palestine is from an Israeli perspective and that it reinforces notions of Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East,” ignoring the oppressions of Palestinians, African immigrants, and Ethiopian Jews, to name a few. Palestine is arguably the most politicizing issue in the Arab world, and Arab secularism has a rich and continuing history within Palestinian resistance to Zionist settler colonialism.
However, that is completely ignored and instead Israel is represented as an island of tolerance and freedom within a sea of ignorance and bondage.
What Free Arabs promises to do and what it ends up doing are two very different things.
I attribute its failure to provide an intelligent and original perspective on secularism to the website’s editorial line, which is rooted within the ideology of liberalism rather than a progressive secular perspective. It is an ahistorical perspective that ignores the intersections of oppressions and problems faced by Arabs within the different contexts of their lives. It relies on taking the binary of religious/secular as pure and uncomplicated, and it sees this binary to be the central problem within the Arab world today.
An intelligent discussion of secularism in the Arab world that avoids orientalist tropes must begin by a thorough deconstruction of the concept of secularism in order to free it from its Eurocentric history.
Secularism as a concept was born within a particular set of European historical contexts. Arab secularism also has a long and complex history, which has not always been a positive one. Most Arab anti-colonial movements were secular. Islam and Christianity often informed that secularism, and those seculars saw no problem complicating the binary of religious/secular. The work of deconstructing and decolonizing the concept of secularism cannot be ignored.
Unless these serious issues, as well as many more that cannot be explored fully in this article, are addressed and rectified by the editors of Free Arabs, I cannot imagine this website providing anything positive.
The fact that most of the substantive criticism of the website comes from Arab seculars should tell the editors something about their failure to open a space where we feel comfortable residing.
Ali Hocine Dimerdji is an Algerian-Lebanese MA in Philosophy. He is interested in questions of secularism, feminism, and liberation politics, particularly in the Palestinian context.