Arab LGBT Movement: “We are not victims in need of a white male savior working in London…”

Arab queer activists have a voice and they will not water down their political voice to appease Western LGBT movements.  What I learned from the “Amina” hoax is that Western audiences will only embrace Arab gay movements if those movements attempt to mimic Western gay movements.  “Amina” was popular because her writing appealed to white audiences, she dabbled in erotica, she wanted to bring the Castro to Damascus and she was at best lukewarm on Israeli apartheid.  While that may be good for pieces of fiction, I prefer the real voices of real Arab queers–who are not on the radar of the mainstream media and who’s real issues will never focus prominently on NPR or anywhere else.

Thanks to Benjamin Doherty from Electronic Intifada for bringing to my attention a piece by Mideast Youth on GayMiddleEast.com (which Scott Long also critiqued in his recent piece in Mondoweiss). The statement below takes GayMiddleEast.com to task for their pinkwashing of Israeli apartheid, rejection of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and their refusal to take a stand on the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

Que(e)rying the Israel-linked GayMiddleEast.com: a statement by Arab queers

Part I – Delineating Differences

As queer Arab activists working on the ground in several countries in the Middle East, our initial disagreements with GayMiddleEast.com were political in nature. But rather than respond to them or engage in dialogue with us, GayMiddleEast.com resorted to playing the victim and shrugging off those concerns.

GayMiddleEast.com’s disingenuous response to what it sees as a “smear campaign” against it not only obfuscates the legitimate reasons many queer Arab activists take issue with its work, but also presents lies so blatant that a simple Google search is enough uncover the truth. It is duplicitous to claim that pointing out GayMiddleEast.com’s extensive ties to Israel is more dangerous than those ties themselves and its lack of transparency about them.

In its response, GayMiddleEast.com claims that the campaign against them began after they voiced skepticism over the disappearance of Amina Arraf, when in fact the tense history between GayMiddleEast.com and local activists existed long before that and centered around four issues:

Interventionism

LGBT organizations and activists in the Arab region have always approached requesting foreign intervention very carefully, and it has been the topic of much debate both within activist communities and between them and international organizations that have come to understand the complexities involved and possible backlash that such action would entail.

Meanwhile, GayMiddleEast.com seems to have an open door with the UK Foreign Office and do not think twice about asking them to intervene at any given opportunity. These issues were raised with GayMiddleEast.com by several people, but they refused to engage.

Co-option of queer Arab voices

While perhaps not as vile as Tom MacMaster, GayMiddleEast.com operates on the same principle: White men speaking on behalf of queer Arabs and white men as gatekeepers of queer Arab voices. We are not victims in need of a white male savior working in London, nor do we need a conduit for our poor brown oppressed voices to be heard in the West, which seems to be GayMiddleEast.com’s intended audience.

Over the past few years the region has seen an enormous upsurge of progressive queer activism, from North Africa to the Levant and the Arab Gulf. Much of this work is being done quietly on the ground, from lobbying parliamentarians to organizing support groups, establishing solidarity networks, working with local civil society organizations, and publishing in various forums both online and off.

MacMaster’s deception brought many issues to the fore, and the least interesting are the stories GayMiddleEast.com has been plugging about how, contrary to what MacMaster has portrayed, gays are actually really oppressed. Perhaps more relevant in this context is an honest discussion about how to do solidarity work in a way that is respectful of people’s lived realities. That includes knowing what the limits of solidarity are, especially when you are outside the community you claim to care about, and when you occupy a position of privilege.

Both MacMaster and Littauer have chosen the wrong path; they have both put themselves front and center, the former by actually deceptively adopting the persona of a queer Arab woman, and the latter by acting as a spokesperson and gatekeeper for queer Arab voices with a direct line to the Western media.

It is unnerving that GayMiddleEast.com has one white name, one white face, and a handful of nameless, faceless Arab queers behind it. One of the articles listed by GayMiddleEast.com as being part of a “smear campaign” is actually a discussion about the depoliticization and orientalist tropes evident in much western (and Israeli) gay activism, including GayMiddleEast.com’s. Disagreement and critique for GayMiddleEast.com are tantamount to smears, which in itself says a lot.

Pinkwashing

Pinkwashing aims to sell Israeli racism, colonialism and apartheid as democratic and gay-friendly. This happens through bifurcation: On one hand, Israel, and especially Tel Aviv, are represented as cosmopolitan and LGBT, queer and trans-friendly places. At the same time, war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and racist discrimination against Palestinians living in Israel are being euphemized and “pinkwashed”.

The use of LGBT rights in particular is not a coincidence: separating “gayness” from other forms of oppression and hiding behind claims of being apolitical serves this function perfectly. Ideology almost always calls itself non-ideological. Issues of racism within LGBT organizing have long been a source of tension between activists in the Global North and South, particularly as activism becomes more and more transnational and networks of solidarity are built across borders.

The idea that LGBT rights take precedence over other rights need not be stated outright: by claiming that LGBT rights and activism are apolitical, and by refusing to address these issues head on and recognizing that they are interconnected, that principle is made apparent. GayMiddleEast.com’s particular pinkwashing was first addressed here. If GayMiddleEast.com is indeed against pinkwashing as they claim they are, then it would have paid attention when Arab and Palestinian queers took issue with their supposedly “neutral” manner of reporting. Instead, it chose to ignore the questions raised completely. And again, they were characterized as “smears”.

Violations of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Campaign against Israel

GayMiddleEast.com claims that it does not have a position on any particular solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Fair enough – no one has ever asked it to comment on the right of return, the settlements, Jerusalem, or two-states vs. one state, and no one has held it to task for that. What GayMiddleEast.com was criticized for was its rejection and violation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign to end the Israeli occupation.

As a “fair”, “honest”, and “apolitical” reporter on news in the Middle East, why did GayMiddleEast.com not even report on the very loud global call to boycott Jerusalem World Pride in 2006? If they are simply an apolitical news site, this would at the very least qualify as news. GayMiddleEast.com have failed to report all subsequent queer call to boycott or news related to it such as the disinvitation of the official Israeli delegation to the Madrid pride parade – one of the largest in Europe –  following Israel’s attack on the Gaza flotilla. They did however report on everything else surrounding Pride in Israel.

Far from being “neutral” and “apolitical”, GayMiddleEast.com have taken very clear political stands – ones that privilege gay rights over Palestinian rights. GayMiddleEast.com has also patted itself on the back for sponsoring “Arabs of neighboring countries to participate in the march” in Tel Aviv, a clear and blatant violation of BDS. What is even more upsetting about the political stands that GayMiddleEast.com has taken is its refusal to admit that it has taken them.

That is the background of the problematic relationship between GayMiddleEast.com and many queer Arab activists, which it is very aware of and chose to completely bypass in its response. Far from being “smears”, these are legitimate political issues taken up by many activists in the Global South.

However, ignoring these critiques is not even what is most disturbing about GayMiddleEast.com’s response: the very blatant and sloppy lies it has presented about its extensive ties to Israel is cause for much concern. Being Israeli itself is not a crime, yet GayMiddleEast.com have gone to great lengths to deny these ties precisely because it knows that what it is doing, and has been doing since its inception, is dangerous.

Continue reading here.

  1. You do a severe disservice by comparing MacMaster to Littauer.

    MacMaster, misguided though he may have been in his actions, _did_ highlight real issues and real concerns about pinkwashing, the right of return, the occupation of the Golan, and the denial of Arab humanity in the west. He misguidedly placed himself in the guise of an Arab woman but he did so from real compassion. He is (or was) a real ally (though considering how so-called progressives are calling for his blood I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s turning into a rightwinger). He is an individual with no budget, trying to bring attention to issues through writing.

    Littauer, though, is a propagandist and agent of a state that occupies, kills and maims. Littauer is on record championing dictatorship for the Arabs as they are too backwards for democracy. He is a racist and hater.

    Littauer is an enemy of everyone working for justice in Israel/Palestine.

    MacMaster is not

    Littauer is FAR more vile

    • You can pink/white wash MacMaster all you want, but as far as I am concerned he is no friend of Arab queers or others within “the movement.” He doesn’t speak for Arabs gays or straights and before you jump to his defense you should familiarize yourself to just how repugnant he is:

      Max Blumenthal: Fraudmeister Tom MacMaster calls me a self-hating Jew
      link to maxblumenthal.com

      “Amina” Fraud Tom MacMaster Threatens To Sue Me (Updated)
      link to maxblumenthal.com

      He put real people at risk. Who’s picture did he use of the muhajiba “Rania”doing hajj? Is she in Syria? I certainly hope not.

      How does saying you want gay pride a la USA and writing soft porn do anything to advance the cause of queers in the region?

  2. FYI!!!!

    The person pretending to be Miriam Umm Ibni is actually Tom MacMaster pretending to be an Arab woman, again! WTF is wrong with that guy? Yaani, why doesn’t he know that everyone knows about his IP address by now?

    He posted it with this IP address: 188.74.64.53 which is the same one he used for his Amina hoax.

    I mean, I am speechless!

    • Seriously, MacMaster: STOP LYING. On the off chance you actually do believe you’re helping, YOU’RE NOT. You know it’s not just Arab LGBTs that are hurt by stupid publicity pranks like this (albeit they certainly bear the brunt, far and above, of the damage this shell game is causing).

      Gays don’t need straight people to pretend to be gay people. We’d really rather have our own voice. Thank you very much.

      • Again, if you are a gay Arab trying to fight for equality in Arab society you don’t do that by writing about making out with your partner in public places, peddling erotica on your blog or wanting a San Francisco carnival like display of pride week brought to the streets of Damascus. What he did was damaging to the serious work that gay activists are doing in the Middle East. For example, he was the first to post a disgusting response to this wonderful statement by Mideast Youth defending himself as another Arab woman. The comment struck me and others as odd and a quick search revealed that it was him! Now everyone is talking about him, again, and the voice of real Arab gays was silenced, again.

        If he cared about LGBT issues he would play a more prominent role in fighting for same sex marriage in the US. If he gave a crap about gay Arabs he would have shut the hell up after the outrage they expressed when it was discovered he wasn’t a Syrian lesbian after all. MacMaster only cares about himself, he reminds me of all those right wing Americans in the US that condemn the death penalty in Iran as barbaric and medieval yet applaud when minorities and mentally retarded people get executed at home.

        • But that’s what I mean. It isn’t just a parody of Middle Eastern homosexuals — what MacMaster wrote was a cruel parody of homosexuals in general. I’ve never made out in public, I keep my erotica under lock and key like any proper Catholic and I only attended my first pride fest this year, and in the Midwest they’re relatively low key where 90-odd percent of people are fully clothed and such.

          You’re very right that he’s deeply hypocritical. Homosexuals arguably have it easier in the US but not by much, exactly, and the vast majority of us don’t cavort around brandishing our “gayness” and expecting people to be shocked and cowed by it. I don’t know where people like MacMaster get off writing crappy fiction and passing it off as Progressive activism. Doesn’t he know he’s horning in on Witty’s action? (Yes, I did have to shoehorn at least one reference in there. I apologize for nothing.)

        • Tom MacMaster just sent the following email to me and Phil replying to the discussion above. I asked him if he would post it under his name, or if we could post it. He replied, “You can post; I’ve sworn off posting on the internet!”

          As you’ll see in the email below I used to work with MacMaster’s wife at the American Friends Service Committee and evidently MacMaster and I met when we were in college at Emory University in Atlanta, although I don’t remember it.

          Adam

          ———- Forwarded message ———-
          From: Tom MacMaster
          Date: Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 2:35 PM
          Subject: regarding comment alleged to be by me.
          To: mondoweiss@gmail.com, weissphilip@yahoo.com, adamh2@gmail.com

          Dear Phillip and Adam,
          A friend of mine who would really like to remain nameless recently posted a comment defending me on your site. She used a pseudonym as she is a committed activist on the Palestine cause as well as a fellow international student here at the University of Edinburgh. To post it, she used the same wireless connection I use. She was, after all, visiting my wife and I at the time.
          Like many of my friends, many of whom are committed pro-Palestinian, anti-war and anti-colonialist activists, she was outraged by some of the slanders made against me online. And, like many of my friends, she’s been urged by me to defend me. She did so. She’s that kind of person.
          So, imagine my dismay when she called me nearly in tears a short while ago about the response to her defense of me.
          Anyway, that’s why I am writing you. Now, she’s being slandered and the last thing she wants to do is to reenter the snakepit of your website.
          Like many of my friends, she has seen the following facebook message sent by Dan Littauer regarding Amina when it was presumed she was real:
          Dan Littauer May 7 at 4:55am Report
          Your friend Paula has promoted Anima, and now she is hailed as the “heroine” of the Syrian revolution. You should have a look on her facebook page who she is friend’s with. The crazy radical left, and people who call for the destruction of Israel. She is also a lier, and all this is promoted by Paula who has a jewish girlfriend? SHAME on Paula!
          Dan

          So seeing me placed lower than him really irritated her, just as it does anyone who knows me. (And incidentally, the author of the hit piece on your site “Seham”, really should not cast stones as she herself isn’t using a full identity)
          One of the things that has hurt me and those close to me has been the hateful rhetoric aimed at me. I’ve received death threats and calls for attacks on my person. Some people, I suppose, are angry at the uniqueness of their experience being called in to question when someone can successfully impersonate that voice. Others question the ‘right’ of a simple non-Arab goy to speak on these issues in any form. Still others have trouble understanding the concept of fiction.
          Certainly it is reasonable to call my integrity into question. However, unlike Littauer, my intentionality has always been on the side of social justice and democracy for all peoples, with astrong emphasis on the Middle East. If there’s any question of that, I believe that Adam may be able to testify to my good intentions; he knew me as an undergraduate and worked alongside my wife at the AFSC. We’re not the enemy and resent people we consider our allies, if not our friends, treating us as such.
          Finally, I have signed an agreement foreswearing all use of sockpuppets. So, don’t look for me doing so as you will not find me. You may find my friends doing so; I can’t blame them for speaking up on my behalf.

          Best,
          Tom MacMaster

        • I post here anonymously because I want to be able to travel back and forth to Palestine and visit the few remaining relatives I have left in peace without having a cavity search done each time I go from point A to point B. Most of what I do here is aggregate news and highlight crimes of the occupation against my people, I’m not creating narratives to sell any book or promote myself, Tom.

        • Also, despite what you think of yourself I really do want you to fall off the face of the planet and I didn’t invoke you in this post voluntarily. I added Mideast Youth’s statement to this site and was asked to incorporate the piece by Electronic Intifada and to tie your fiasco into it, so I did. Personally, I think you are getting too much undeserved attention that you clearly, clearly want.

        • A friend of mine who would really like to remain nameless recently posted a comment defending me on your site. She used a pseudonym….she was outraged by some of the slanders made against me…she called me nearly in tears a short while ago…that’s why I am writing you… she’s being slandered and the last thing she wants to do is to reenter the snakepit of your website.

          tom, you are a story teller. how good of you to come here (by way of adam since you don’t post on line anymore) because your ‘friend’ was slandered/not.

          you’re fair game, get over it. if you have something to say say it, quit speaking for others. i could care less if they are in tears.

          So seeing me placed lower than him really irritated her, just as it does anyone who knows me.

          always out protecting the other eh? what about you tom? don’t you mean it really offended you? do you really think you are going to come here and protect your ‘friends’? because you could protect them best by being honest.

          We’re not the enemy and resent people we consider our allies, if not our friends, treating us as such.

          there’s no ‘we’ here tom, if you resent people treating you like you don’t have integrity act with integrity, don’t tell me your intentions were good while you weren’t.

          apologize and they take the lumps you deserve for deceiving people. don’t take cheap shots at seham.

          I have signed an agreement foreswearing all use of sockpuppets.

          with whom?

          So, don’t look for me doing so as you will not find me. You may find my friends doing so; I can’t blame them for speaking up on my behalf.

          if your friends want to speak on your behalf they hardly have to use a sockpuppet to do it. this is not about your ‘friends’ tom, it’s about you wiping egg off your face so be a man and do it with integrity. if you even know how.

  3. I’m so glad this piece was published….And Seham, that’s so incredible. We’re lucky you’re so vigilant.

  4. Along those lines, twice in recent weeks i have had occasion to run into a “Fatima” who claims to be an Arab Lesbian, residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. She (?) contributes to this blog link to arablesbiansagainsthate.blogspot.com
    The blog, ironically, is filled with hateful posts against those critical of Israeli policies against Palestinians. Not a critical word of Israel, Israel is instead described as a oasis of justice.
    Perhaps this is the equality that they find so endearing… that Palestinian children in Gaza are denied proper nutrition by design of the Israeli regime without regard to gender. That Gaza fishermen will be shot if attempting to actually work without regard to their sexual preference. That Israel will not distinguish on the basis of sexual preference who it will shoot in cold blood while protesting its monstrous policies of dispossession of Palestinians of their homes and farms. Israel oppresses all Palestinians equally! Not exactly a progressive utopia as most of us understand it.

    If they really cared about queer justice, you’d think they might just say a bit about the fact that next month in DC, Rev Hagee CUFI event will be heavily supported by AIPAC executives like AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director Jonathan Kessler. The keynote speaker will be the epitome of organized hate against Gays, Muslims/Arabs, Labor (and even Jews) in the US, Glenn Beck, the Grand DragonKook himself.

    • They have a movement, don’t worry :)

      via @TheGayishState

      @HybridStates Gayish State will react in an appropriate & Gayish manner to homophobia. We selected F16s with pink triangles from catalogue.

      @HybridStates Only the Gayish People can defend our interests and guarantee our security.

      @HybridStates Heterosexuals have 203 nations. The Gayish People only want one.

      @lilithvf1998 Hasn’t it been a dream of the Gayish People to have a state of our own? Built with Gayish Labor? To make the desert fabulous?

      @CelestialBeard We require genetic testing to determine Gayish identity of returnees. We also have extensive archives of Our Gayish History.

      @ChrisRBarron We need a GAYISH STATE to protect the Gayish People from genocide at the hands of homophobes.

      Etc. Hilarious.

  5. Odd story. Not much to be found on Gay Middle East owner Assaf Shabi Getenio, besides two addresses one in Berlin and one in Munich. How did he manage to get a @gmail.com Email address in Germany. That doesn’t work over here, we can only get @googlemail.com, hmm? What am I missing? Only a Fax in Berlin, it seems, the Berlin telephone actually can’t exist. It would need a 30 at the beginning, or inside Germany 030.

    What I find strange that there is not much on the net about him, apart from diverse Whois entries, and one tiny interview on Jungle World, about our gay foreign minister Westerwelle (horrible guy) visiting the Arab world.

    I ask them, if there is something else in their print edition. Or what made them interview him.

  6. OT, NY passed marriage equality ! !!! awesome photo!.

    Governor Cuomo Announces Passage of Marriage Equality Act

    Albany, NY (June 24, 2011)

    Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced passage of the Marriage Equality Act, granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry under the law, as well as hundreds of rights, benefits, and protections that have been limited to married couples of the opposite sex.

    “New York has finally torn down the barrier that has prevented same-sex couples from exercising the freedom to marry and from receiving the fundamental protections that so many couples and families take for granted,” Governor Cuomo said. “With the world watching, the Legislature, by a bipartisan vote, has said that all New Yorkers are equal under the law. With this vote, marriage equality will become a reality in our state, delivering long overdue fairness and legal security to thousands of New Yorkers.”

    hallelujah!