Sam Harris at the Huffington Post asked:
But, leaving aside the practical and political impossibility of doing so, could we even allow ourselves to contemplate liberating the women and children of traditional Islam?
I get asked to post (by emailers, listserves, others) about "international" queer issues. It's not something I'm particularly interested in doing. The only two countries I can write about without sounding like a blathering idiot are France and the US, so there isn't likely to be much from me about queers getting sentenced to death in Muslim countries.
In fact, Western condemnation of the way queers are treated in post-colonial nations reminds me of how the French during Napoleon's conquests condemned the way women were treated in the Middle East - taking the moral high-ground against an Other to mask old-fashioned resource-grabbing.
In response to Harris's question before-the-jump, tristero responds:
Long version: Leaving aside "practical and political" issues makes this ipso facto an empty, meaningless question. Dangerously so, as it implies both a simplistic idea of what a moral absolute is, and it also seeks to replace reasoned discourse by recourse to emotions, especially guilt and shame (for failing to act). No moral action exists in a practical and political vacuum. Ever. And truly moral actions cannot be anchored merely on an emotional response.
Shorter version: this is the fallacy behind Kanan Makiya's now infamous (and truly lunatic) call to topple Saddam by replacing experience with hope, a fallacy embraced with gusto by the liberal hawks
Even shorter version: This is rank imperialism dressed up as embarrassingly naive Cumbaya.
Shortest version: No.
This is pretty much the exact reason I don't post much about homophobia in other countries anymore - I have so little knowledge of the context of the situation and so little ability to effect change (so little = no) that it's a waste of bandwidth. The Bilerico Project is not 365gay, it's not The Advocate, it's not an LGBT news site - it's an LGBT internet hub for opinion, analysis, discussion, and community, all centered on creating action and positive change. Me talking about gay men arrested at a party in Cameroon advances none of those.
What gets me when people start talking about the way queers are treated horribly in other countries is how easily lost are the ways that a) American imperialisms treat both queers and non-queers in post-colonial countries and b) any solution to these problems is going to necessarily involve some form of colonialism. While Eastern European countries can be pushed along through self-critical agreements like entrance into the EU (which in 2002 found France in violation of its protections along the lines of sexual orientation), countries like Niger and Iran can't.
It's neat to talk about how politicians or leaders in the US can "pressure" other countries and "condemn" their practices, in reality simply saying that what they're doing is wrong doesn't change a thing. (Remember how many countries said Bush's plans for Iraq were wrong? What a world of good that did!) What it does do, though, is contribute to a progressivist narrative that these countries are backwards, their governments are hated by their people, and that we're more advanced and are needed to save them. And that narrative has been around a lot longer than any of us and has been used to oppress more people than me, you, and everyone we know put together.
The idea of liberating Iraqi women, the Kurds, and anyone else oppressed by Saddam's regime figured largely into justifications among liberal hawks for the war in Iraq, but it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention at the time that it wasn't the first thing on GWB's mind. He wanted oil, his friends wanted defense contracts, and the racists in his party (and some Democrats) wanted to kill some brown people. Human rights protections became a political football to toss around to make imperialism and resource-grabbing safe for prime time.
It won't take long before homosexuality is so accepted by the US that it starts to become a justification for imperialism as well. While we're hearing whispers along these lines in the community, as well as from a few prominent gay conservatives in mainstream outlets like Sullivan, Kirchick, and Bawer, American conservatives are mindful enough of how much they need homophobia to stay afloat that they aren't doing it right now. But give it a few decades and I'm sure we'll hear about how we need to invade Niger to protect the gays.
The most important reason, though, that I avoid analyzing homophobia in post-colonial nations here is that I just don't know enough about those cultures to have anything of importance to say on the subject. I don't post here without adding something to a story, and I have nothing to add there.
It starts by respecting other cultures as different enough from our own to deserve finding their own solutions to their own problems. A queer-friendly US of A (which doesn't currently exist) and a queer-friendly Iran (which doesn't currently exist) will not look the same. Homosexuality is interpreted along cultural lines, and homophobia is a product of such interpretations. Solutions that work here (individualism and rights discourse, for instance), won't work the world over.
Does this mean we have to accept the fact that queers in other countries are treated badly? Absolutely not. And we don't have to pretend that these abuses of human rights don't exist there. Like I said above, if TBP were a news site, I wouldn't see much of a problem with posting these stories.
Since it isn't, I'd rather us focus on solutions that we can enact here to ameliorate human rights situations abroad. We can make it easier for political refugees to immigrate to the US. We can work to force US companies doing business abroad to respect all basic human rights of their employees there.
But simply saying that they're backwards and that we can't believe gay teens are being hanged in 2008 doesn't do anything to help this situation.