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.
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:
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 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”.
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.