Racism and the Censorship of Gay Imperialism

by Aren Aizura

I am reprinting the excellent response to the censorship of Out of Place, a book edited by Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake on the interconnections between queerness and raciality.  As you will read, the book contains an article, ‘Gay Imperialism’, which critiques what Jasbir Puar for example has termed ‘homonationalism’ and the participation by some gay rights and feminist activists in the perpetuation of Islamophobia through the ‘war on terror’ logic.

The book will not be republished due to an attack by the gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who has claimed that he is defamed by the article. The article and the book are an excellent critique of the ways in which discourses of liberation have been subverted in the service of power.

Please read this critique and spread it widely. An interesting comment on his piece and on Peter Tatchell’s stance by Sara Ahmed, author of much interesting work on racism, Islamophobia and ‘diversity’ can be read here.

Read on for Aizura’s article…

Over the last few years a number of timely publications have illuminated the connections between gender and sexuality, the War on Terror and racialisation. One of these is Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality, edited by Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake and published by Raw Nerve Books in 2008. An edited collection examining intersections between race and sexuality in the United Kingdom, Out of Place joins Jasbir Puar’s Terrorist Assemblages as a key contribution to this debate. Alongside other contributions in Out of Place, the
chapter “Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the War on Terror”, by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem pointed to the continuing deployment of queerness as a symbol of “freedom” to rationalise the continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and future wars in Iran and elsewhere, as well as to rationalise restrictive and racist immigration policies in “Western” or “liberal” nations. “Gay Imperialism” uses the work of activist Peter Tatchell, founder of Outrage!, as an example of how white gay activists can become complicit with this agenda by painting Islam as inherently homophobic and misogynist, and appointing themselves as the saviours of non-white queers.

On September 7th, Raw Nerve Books declared Out of Place to be out of print, removed it from circulation and sale, and issued an online apology to Peter Tatchell. Presumably this is the result of threats of legal action by Tatchell and Outrage!. The apology quotes its own publication to apologise for what it accepts as defamatory statements and misrepresentation of Tatchell and Outrage! by Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem. These include:
a) that Tatchell is “Islamaphobic” and “part of the Islamaphobia industry”
b) that Tatchell is “racist”
c) that Tatchell “sling[s] mud onto Muslim communities”

As one sees if one reads “Gay Imperialism”, these so-called accusations are all taken grossly out of context and reduce the complexity of Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem’s argument. The apology continues by obsequiously praising Tatchell and Outrage!’s “anti-racist” work, and making further accusations against a number of African LGBT activists, who had refused to work with Tatchell precisely because of his paternalistic attitude, and who are cited in “Gay Imperialism”.

It seems likely that Tatchell’s lawyers presented Raw Nerve with an already-written apology and asked them to sign and publish it. Tatchell is notoriously litigious. He is equally notorious for staging highly publicised, “one man” actions that appear to have just as much to do with his public image as a gay celebrity activist as any political work. However, Tatchell himself is not important here. What is important is
that this critique is evidently so threatening to Tatchell and to the book’s publishers that it must be removed from circulation, and the authors must be condemned as liars.

This incident proves something about how difficult it is to do anti-racist work. Pointing out racism, no matter how carefully we might phrase it and no matter which arguments we have about the use of the word ‘racism’, is often perceived as a personal and individual affront. Those so accused often appear to find it wounding or traumatic — psychically wounding, but more importantly, wounding to their public image. “How dare you accuse me of racism? I am not racist; I have lots of friends who are people of color!” goes the cliched defensive response we are all familiar with. This way, the person or organisation critiqued can escape engaging with the content of the critique and put the burden of proof back on the person who raised the issue. It is not coincidental that the person making a critique of racism is often non-white, deploying old colonial stereotypes that people of colour are untrustworthy ingrates who don’t know what’s good for them. This problem of white, “well-intentioned” activists ignoring or actively silencing the desires of the people they profess to help in order to maintain the myth of their own generous self-sacrifice is endemic to many struggles: feminist anti-”trafficking” activism; indigenous land and rights struggles; migration activism; the backlash against the wearing of hijab by Muslim women in France and elsewhere, and on and on. The only way it might ever stop is for its perpetrators to acknowledge their role.

Meanwhile a really amazing book is being censored. The authors of the chapter and the editors of Out of Place are unable to comment due to UK libel law. It’s unlikely that Raw Nerve will reissue the book, even if the editors wanted this. Meanwhile the authors’ reputations are themselves besmirched. There are several things you can do about this situation:

1. Circulate this and your own commentary among your friends, companeros, colleagues.
2. Circulate “Gay Imperialism” — a PDF is online here

Please pass this around, respond, send it to other listservs and read the other statements written about the censorship of Out of Place:

“Out of Place, Out of Print: On the Censorship of the First Queerness/Raciality Collection in Britain” by Johanna Rothe, Monthly Review,
“On the Censorship of ‘Gay Imperialism’ and Out of Place”, X:Talk website

Aren Aizura is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Gender Studies of Indiana University, Bloomington.

11 Responses to “Racism and the Censorship of Gay Imperialism”

  • Steph says:

    Actually, there’s a lot of innaccuracies in your post here.

    A response and apology to Tatchell from Raw Nerve books is here:

    http://www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/Peter_Tatchell.pdf

    Also, it wasn’t Tatchell that took any action to suppress the printing of the book.

  • Alana Lentin says:

    I am quite aware of the apology published by Raw Nerve.

  • Mods42 says:

    Steph is right. There are an awful lot of inaccuracies here.

    Seeing as you couldn’t be bothered finding out the other side of the story before reprinting these smears, I’ll try to redress the balance.

    Mods42

    Peter Tatchell writes:

    Despite having secured an apology from Raw Nerve Books over a false and libellous chapter in the book Out Of Place, the lies and smears against me are continuing and escalating. For defending myself against untrue allegations, I am now accused of “censorship.”

    Out Of Place contains a chapter – Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’ – by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem. It was published by Raw Nerve Books in 2008.

    These authors make highly defamatory, libellous and untrue allegations against me. This goes beyond reasonable criticism. It involves outright lies and fabrications. Criticism is fine. Untruths are not.

    That is why the publishers made this apology to me:

    http://www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/Peter_Tatchell.pdf

    Dr Jin Haritaworn is based at the LSE’s Gender Institute; Tamsila Tauqir is from the lesbian Muslim Safra Project and was awarded an MBE last year; Esra Erdem is another acdemic, now in the US but formerly connected with Corpus Christi Oxford.

    The authors’ friends and supporters are spreading further smears. They accuse me of “censoring” Out Of Place.

    Among the academics making accusations of censorship are Dr Umut Erel, RCUK academic fellow at the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University, and Dr Christian Klesse, lecturer in Cultural Studies at the Sociology Department of the Manchester Metropolitan University:

    http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/ek241009.html

    The real censorship is by my critics. Some of them are posting entirely false allegations, often on closed lists that do not allow me to post my side of the story.

    Many of my detractors now claim that I forced the book to be withdrawn from sale and that I pressured the publishers to declare it “Out of Print.” Not so.

    I have not suppressed the book, Out of Place, or forced it out of print.
    The book was listed as “Out of Print” on the Raw Nerve Books website before I contacted the publishers and challenged the lies and falsehoods written about me.

    The book was not withdrawn on my account. It had already ceased to be available before I approached the publishers.

    I have no objection to Out Of Place being reprinted, providing it does not include the lies and fabrications about me. I made this clear to Raw Nerve Books in a letter dated 29 July 2009.

    I did not use the libel laws. This is another lie.

    When I presented the publishers with evidence that refuted the accusations against me in Out of Place, they very honourably agreed to publish an apology.

    Academics are supposed to adhere to the highest standards of facts, truth and of evidence-based assertions, with proper footnoting and sourcing for what they write. The authors of the chapter that defames me did not do this. They made claims that are untrue and for which there is no evidence. They provided no footnotes or sources for their outrageous false allegations. They are guilty of poor research, shoddy scholarship and desertion of academic standards.

    Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem suggest that I am anti-Muslim. This is pure fiction. I have campaigned against fundamentalist Muslims (in the same way that I have campaigned against fundamentalist Christians), not against Muslim people in general. I have always made this distinction very clear.

    The authors explicitly claim or implicitly insinuate the following:

    Tatchell has “claimed the role of liberator and expert about Muslim gays and lesbians.” Not true. I have never made such a claim or adopted such a role.

    Tatchell is Islamophobic and is “part of the Islamophobia industry.” Not true. I have defended many Muslim victims of injustice and condemned anti-Muslim prejudice. Indeed, in 1998 I drafted a law to protect Muslims (and others) against discrimination, harsssment and hate crimes. It was, sadly, rejected by the government.

    Tatchell is racist and has engaged in “racial” politics. Not true. I have a 40-year record of anti-racist and anti-apartheid campaigning.

    Tatchell has described “Muslims as Nazis” and made the equation “Muslim=Nazi” and “Muslim=Evil.” Not true. I have never attacked Muslims in general – only fundamentalists who oppose democracy, equality and human rights.

    Tatchell has “collaborated with the extreme right” and “participated with several racist and fascist groups.” Not true. I have fought the far-right for four decades and been a victim of violent attacks by neo-Nazis because of my defence of black, Muslim, Jewish and LGBT people.

    It is utterly shameful for any authors, let alone academics, to abandon honesty, truth and integrity, in order to misrepresent and lie about other people in order to wage petty, sectarian political wars.

    We should fight the real oppressors and not pick fights with, and publish false allegations against, other progressive people.

    Sectarian attacks undermine the struggle for human rights, social justice, peace and anti-imperialism.

    For me, the sole issue is that this book printed lies. I have no objection to people criticising me, but making untrue allegations and smearing fellow comrades is shameful and has no place in progressive politics.

    All my articles, speeches and news releases are archived on my website. You can view them here:

    http://www.petertatchell.net

    I invite anyone to find evidence that I am Islamophobic, racist or a supporter of imperialist wars or the injustices of the “war on terror.” Take a look at the totality of my campaigns since 1967. Even if you disagree with a particular campaign or article, please judge me on my overall record.

    Free speech, which I defend, should not include the right to print lies that cause other people harm and which seek to pursue sectarian vendettas and to discredit political opponents. This is what the chapter in Out of Place did to me.

    No one should be allowed to falsely insinuate that someone is a racist and that they collaborate with fascists. These claims in Out of Place are fiction. I have campaigned against these, and / or similar, injustices for over 40 years.
    This book should not be allowed to get away with such lies about me – or anyone else.

    Lies and libel that cause other people damage (as Out of Place has caused to me) are not legitimate free speech.

    You would not like to be falsely accused of equating Muslim people with Nazis, consorting with fascists, colluding with the “war on terror” and promoting a racist and imperialist agenda – which is what this book accuses me of doing.

    IslamaphobiaWatch, which some of my critics cite, is not a truthful, honest website. It is run by political sectarians who defame and discredit people they see as political enemies. It is full of outright lies against me and many others, including progressive, left-wing Muslims, anti-racists and supporters, like me, of the anti-war movement.

    An attack on me by London’s former Mayor, Ken Livingstone, is also cited by some of my detractors. Ken has since apologised for making false allegations of Islamophobia against me.

    I count many leading Muslim and black activists among my friends and political comrades. They know my 42-year record of anti-racist, anti-war and anti-imperialist campaigning. They are aware that I have been a fierce defender of Muslim and black communities against state oppression, including trenchant opposition to the so-called “war on terror”. They would not support me and work with me if I had done the things that the book Out Of Place falsely claims.

    Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem suggest that I am anti-Muslim and implicated in colluding with the “war on terror.” This is not true.

    I have been prominent in the campaigns to defend Muslims unjustly accused of terrorism, including Hicham Yezza:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2009/feb/23/hicham-yezza

    and Hyrbyair Marri and Faiz Baluch:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/society/2008/09/pakistan-marri-british-london

    I stood bail and provided evidence for Mr Baluch during his terrorism trial, which helped result in his acquittal (and Mr Marri’s).

    I have also helped secure asylum for dozens of Muslim refugees and for Muslim victims of miscarriages of justice, such as Mohammed S:

    http://www.petertatchell.net/criminalinjustice/judgechallenge.htm

    For nearly four decades I have worked with the leading black, Muslim, anti-racist, anti-imperialist and left-wing campaigners in the UK. If I was the racist and Islamophobe that Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem suggest, why do these organisations and activists work with me?

    I was one of the original endorsers of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign UK in 1982 and a keynote speaker at its founding conference, and I have supported oppressed Muslims from Palestine, to Iraq, Chechnya and Kashmir.

    If, after reading this reply, you feel that I have been unfairly maligned, I hope you might consider posting this response or your own comments to any e-lists that you have access to. I would be most grateful.

    I hope this reassures you. Best wishes.

    Solidarity!

    Peter Tatchell, London

  • Alana Lentin says:

    I have published the above comments in response to Aren Aizura’s piece because they accuse me of not having read the other side of the story and of printing inaccuracies.

    However, I would like to make it clear that I have read Peter Tatchell’s statements and the apology printed by Raw Nerve Books. Hence I do not need them pointed out to me.

    I am willing to engage in intellectual debate about the value (or lack thereof) of the critique in ‘Gay Imperialism’, which goes well beyond the individual, Peter Tatchell, himself. It is not useful to turn this into a personal issue involving certain personalities. No one is denying the commendable nature of a lot of Tatchell’s work. This does not mean that aspects of it, and of those similar, cannot be critiqued.

    In the democratic society where the freedom of speech that liberal activists insist upon is permitted, such critique is vital and should be embraced rather than condemned.

  • Laura says:

    I’m going to put it out there that when whites are accused of racism, they should apologise quietly and discreetly and make themselves scarce.

    Peter, I suggest you read this guide: http://www.43things.com/things/view/2549/learn-how-to-effectively-respond-to-racism

  • GAY AND PROUD! LETS STICK TOGETHER!!

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