June 02, 2010

To be gay and racist is no anomaly

It's no surprise that the English Defence League has gay and lesbian members – liberal inclusion has always been exclusive

Is the presence of gay and lesbian people and other minorities in the English Defence League, an "extremist rightwing" hate group that propagates anti-Muslim racism, as remarkable as the Guardian's investigation suggests? How should we understand their participation in the inflammatory street protests organised by the EDL?

I want to extend my argument about the ever-changing relations among nation, sexuality, and race – outlined in my book Terrorist Assemblages – to offer an alternative perspective on what the Guardian fears is a renewal of the kinds of popular organising not seen since the heyday of the National Front 30 years ago.

Today's British Sikhs and gay and lesbian people (of what race or ethnicity, it is unclear) who are bona fide members of the EDL should not be seen as anomalies, but rather as part of a larger and longer history of incorporation of "strange bedfellows" into rightwing political projects that claim such participation as a sign of populism rather than extremism. Their presence also demonstrates the incoherence of white supremacy understood as simply about white identification, or heteronormativity for that matter. Far from being disadvantaged members of such rightwing movements, racial minorities and gay and lesbian people are offered a way of reclaiming an otherwise withheld national belonging – to be British is to be anti-Muslim – while maintaining their exceptional minority status.

There certainly needs to be greater investigation into the viral rise of the EDL and its historical and contemporary links to other rightwing extremist and white supremacist activities. (Recall, on a more poetic register, the homosexual love affair between Johnny – Daniel Day-Lewis – a white working-class skinhead aligned with fascist politics, and Omar, played by Gordon Warnecke, a young "Paki" aspiring to join the ranks of the diasporic nouveau riche in the 1985 film of Hanif Kureishi's My Beautiful Laundrette.) But to suggest that their activities are exceptional – they are certainly easy targets to criticise – is to miss other forms of less visible, more insidious, and yet equally damaging anti-Muslim racism. What groups such as the EDL exploit are the longstanding tensions between groups jockeying for limited recognition within liberal multiculturalism – a weak opportunity at best, given the history of racial formation in Britain.

A recent controversy within progressive gay and lesbian activist circles highlights the contradictions of the multicultural politics of inclusion. Last summer, a dispute erupted between Peter Tatchell, a co-founder of Britain's premier queer human rights direct action group OutRage!, and the authors of "Gay Imperialism", an article critiquing the "Islamophobic" effects of OutRage!'s political campaigns. The article was published in Out of Place (eds Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake), a volume committed to opening up a discussion about racism within gay and lesbian communities. Raw Nerve Books, the publishers of Out of Place, printed an apology to Tatchell, deeming the research into Tatchell's local and global gay activism inaccurate. The authors, Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem, queer scholars of colour, were castigated for attempting to discuss the subtle racisms that liberal "gay rights" platforms can (often unwittingly) promote: not the violence of hate, but the violence of liberal inclusion based upon the continued subordination of those it proposes to not only assist, but even rescue.

What becomes clear from cases like the one above is that there is little consensus regarding the impact and import of the violence of liberalism, and even less room to debate it. That gay and lesbian rights discourses can risk slipping into Islamophobic and racist discourses that in many ways propagate or support racist agendas is not really news. Nor is it without historical precedent. Liberal feminism has long been accused of needing the oppression of the native woman in order to achieve its own libratory trajectory. "How well do you treat your women?" became a key measure of the ability of a colonised or developing country to self-govern. While "the Woman Question" has hardly disappeared, we can now find its amendment in "the Homosexual Question", or "How well do you treat your homosexuals?", as a current paradigm through which nations, populations and cultures are evaluated in terms of their ability to conform to a universalised notion of civilisation. Rescue fantasies and projections about endangered homosexuality "elsewhere" are aspects of liberal gay rights frames, functioning in order to support the predominance of gay and lesbian proper subjects "here".

What is gaining acute force is the anti-Muslim form that such missionary politics are currently taking. From the liberation of burqa-wearing women as a partial rationale for invasion of the Middle East, to gay marriage as a barometer of civilisational aptitude, to Sex and the City 2's trading in banal, unsophisticated orientalist fantasies, propagating anti-Muslim attitudes is becoming the most expeditious passage to national belonging. This form of national empowerment can also work for (predominantly white, middle-class) gays and lesbians. We shouldn't miss an opportunity, then, to contextualise EDL's emergence not only within rightwing hate groups but also within progressive and liberal political and cultural organising, in the UK, the US, and Europe more broadly. The seeming exception of gay anti-Muslim hate violence allows a false benevolence to exist about liberal inclusion.

Jasbir Puar at Comment is free


Anonymous said...

There is loads of gay lads in the bnp Peter Stafford from Liverpool bnp being one.

Anonymous said...

Haider in Austria was gay.

ex-fascist said...

Ernst Roehm, Michael Kuhnen, Peter Marriner, Martin Webster plus at least twenty of his supporters in the 70s/80s NF...

barrykade said...

As a gay man, I want to mobilise against the EDL and combat Islamophobia. I think an injury to one is an injury to all. We will not win our struggle against homophobia by taking part in the persecution of other minorities through Islamophobia. Human rights are for all, and liberty is indivisible. I think that if the EDL succeed in persecuting Muslims, we or some other minority will be next. Its all about finding a scapegoat for the economic crisis - any group that can be turned into 'outsiders' can be targeted. I also think that 99% of the pissed up hooligans who attend EDL events would be just as happy going 'queerbashing' as 'pakibashing' - especially if the tabloid press chose to run a consistent homophobic brainwashing campaign in the way they have run an islamophobic brainwashing campaign on front page after front page.

We need a campaign within the Lesbian and Gay community against any support for the EDL. Outrage, Stonewall, Tatchell and others should be speaking out against this bogus EDL LGBT division. We should exclude EDL collaborators from our bars and meeting places. While a small amount of political Islamicists promote homophobia, most Muslims are not Islamicists, and are not inherently homophobic. The main threat to the LGBT peoples comes not from a relatively powerless and small ethnic minority in Britain. It comes from the right wing within the majority white society. Look at the Sun recently - it just ran a poll for its readers after the David Laws case - asking 'should gays be allowed in the cabinet?'!!! Tabloid homophobia still lives, and can be mainstreamed again, if the economic crisis demands more scapegoats. I will never forget or forgive their witchunting headline "10 ways to spot if your vicar is a pulpit poofta".

Let us also remember that the BNP remains a homophobic party. While there have always been a few homosexual fascists, this has never stopped the far right using homophobia as a weapon to divide the working people. I remember the BNP campaigning in elections against Blackpools gay bars.

The same goes for all other minority groups - Sikhs, Jews, Gays, Hindus ...Tonight the EDL are attempting to march with the Zionist Federation in support of the Israeli militaries murder of human rights activists. But the majority of British Jews will want no truck with the EDL and are sick of the Magen David being flown as a provocation by fascists on EDL demos.

We can and will build a rainbow alliance to isolate and destroy the Islamophobic racists of the EDL.

Anonymous said...

One thing this article fails to mention is that there's no hard evidence ANYONE in the EDL is actually gay (one EDL berk waving a pink triangle on demos doesn't prove anything, and the violent and right-wing hooligan culture that spawned the EDL is hardly known for its tolerant values).

As for "the viral rise of the EDL", I'm not saying the EDL aren't worrying, but I really don't think EDL numbers will ever expand much beyond their core fan-base of right-wing activists and football thugs (unfortunately however, that doesn't make the EDL any less dangerous). As for gay Fascists... Ernst Rohm, Yukio Mishima, Nicky Crane, Jorg Haider, Martin Webster, Edmund Heines, Russell Veh. Watch "The Conformist" by Bernardo Bertolucci

ex-fascist said...

@ Anonymous 10:50

In fairness to Nicky Crane, when he eventually came out he also renounced racism and the politics of hate.

That he did so raises the question of whether the gay fascist is driven by some form of self-loathing or a desire to compensate, in an irrational kind of way, for his being gay.

I hope this statement does not offend anybody here who is gay, that is not my intention. I'm just trying to understand a contradiction.

Anonymous said...

Pym Fortuyn

Anonymous said...

What we had with the accusation of "gay imperialism" against Peter Tatchell was a inaccurate and divisive attempt to smear an articulate, passionate, physically brave and hard-working activist, for the crime of taking an interest in black gay issues when he happens to white. This was one of the worst cases of sectarian opportunism I've come across, all the more cynical for being de-bunked as factually baseless, and all the more tragic because its authors bitterness blinded them to the fact that they really were doing their enemies' work for them. The wording implies that Peter Tatchell might have initiated this dispute - he didn't, and since Raw Nerve apologised for this bullshit the episode should have been confined to the dustbin, not dragged out and waved around by Jasbir Puar.

The authors of the attack did what any reasonably intelligent person can easily do to anyone they wish to sacrifice for their careers - which is to deliberately find fault in active preference to seeking common ground. It's an unfortunately fact of human nature that if (figuratively speaking) you get 100 supporters of any cause together, at least 1 of them will (for their own reasons) seek out justifications to present themselves as superior to people they could have just as easily chosen to see as valued allies. Even worse, Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem chose to spend hundreds of hours attacking a soft target like Peter Tatchell, in active preference to doing the real business of spending the same amount of time attacking violent homophobes and Fascists instead.

As for the need for "greater investigation into the viral rise of the EDL", call me cynical, but is this Jasbir Puar preparing the ground for a funding application? I've read Jasbir Puar's writing and in my opinion she'd do well to familiarise herself with Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's exposé and critique of postmodernist obscurantism - particularly Sokal and Bricmont's emphasis on how the pretentious verbosity of leading postmodernist writers has isolated left-wing intellectuals from the audiences they need to communicate with most. Their position is well summarised in an article by Richard Dawkins called "Postmodernism Disrobed" -

Academic culture prioritises professional competition, activist culture prioritises unity. What (in my view) we don't need are well-paid academics spending years producing erudite but functionally inarticulate theses on right-wing popular culture. What we do need is for articulate and well-informed commentators to directly confront the propaganda put out by right-wing groups, in the media that those groups use to attract supporters, and we need it NOW. Apologies to everyone who knows this already, but what that means in practice is that academics need to stop wasting their time on conferences, and start printing leaflets and shoving them through letter-boxes, and actively confronting Fascist ideas on popular media like Facebook and You Tube.


Stop Whining said...

What the fuck is this post doing on Lancaster Unity? "It's no surprise that the EDL has gay and lesbian members – liberal inclusion has always been exclusive"

Whatever you think of the issues raised by Jasbir Puar, I was under the impression LU existed to attack Fascism and promote.... well... UNITY, not that LU exists to provide a platform for writers who wish to discredit liberalism

No surprise that Jasbir Puar used the issue of the EDL to promote her own book ;)

Stroll on said...

This author conflates liberalism with imperialism with (in context of gay rights) "rescue fantasies", while the other fantasies referred to in her text are references to fictional works like My Beautiful Launderette and Sex and the City. Meanwhile, in the real world, Anti-Fascism is about ordinary people taking action to make sure their grievances aren't exploited by Fascists, not about minor authors using our problems to generate free adverts for their books.

If one group don't like being "rescued" by another, then the best use of their time is to come up with something better, not to waste time creating enemies out of fellow activists whose core values they almost certainly share

The main relevance of this author's book to the issue of the EDL is that her book doesn't talk about the EDL - at all - and my guess would be that anyone who talks about the "violence of liberal inclusion" probably hasn't had their face punched in by the violence of Fascist exclusion (y'know, by the actual people that Anti-Fascists actually campaign against)

Anonymous said...

Is Jasbir Puar an enemy of Liberalism or an enemy of Fascism? Did liberal anti-fascists project "rescue fantasies" or did critics of white liberalism project persecution complexes onto their perception/s of white liberals? Maybe Jabsir Puar would be happier with the "pure" blackness of Nick Griffin favourites like the Nation of Islam?!