Alex Blaze

The International Queer

Filed By Alex Blaze | May 12, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: colonialism, European Union, France, homophobic behavior, Iran, LGBT, United Stated of America, US, USA

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.

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Alex, can't we also direct people towards trusted qualified orgs like Amnesty who push for an international standard of human rights but not in a pro-multinational-capitalism/colonial way? It seems like linking these stories to a global narrative about human rights is more effective and less likely to play into racist/imperialist tropes than framing it solely as a queer issue.

crescentdave crescentdave | May 12, 2008 8:28 PM

Ah yes, supping on a latte, keeping our feet out of the muddy waters of uncivilized institutions like religions which inculcate, encourage and sponsor activities ranging from expulsion to extinction of the LGBTQ communities. The perversity of thinking that condemnation will somehow make worse a stance which is not only advanced but CELEBRATED by those religions. They are PROUD to be able to kill a gay man, force an honor killing. Proud and religiously fulfilled in a righteous manner.

Generally, I enjoy Digby, but tristero really missed the mark on this one. First of all your link to the Harris article is wrong, let me correct it:

Secondly, it is important to read the ENTIRDE article to understand the point Harris is raising by using an attention-grabbing rhetorical question.

Harris' central point is the western world (and he most certainly is not characterizing its embodiment to be the U.S.) lacks the backbone to condemn the violent propaganda and actions practiced by groups advocating an Islamic jihad. His lead is NOT about some imperialist intervention- it's about the craven self-censorship of the Dutch. It goes on to include, specifically, the British, the EU, the UN and then the US publishing community and their myriad attempts to suppress criticism of Islamic sponsored terrorism, sexism, racism and homophobia.

Your point would have been much stronger if you'd simply noted that Harris should have included some of the institutions of the US which have hidden behind the mantle of patriotism in order to perpetrate some of the most egregious offenses against human rights in other countries.

Not one of these "institutions" is deserving the "respect of silence" which evidently ... is necessary if one wishes to adopt the viewpoint that certain institutions are antithetical to human rights.

I am glad that an incredibly small and brave number of people have spoken out against some of the horrible acts of brutality directed at human who just happen to be gay. Period. Harris' point actually is quite simple: rather than appeasing all these groups of believers who support and enact these barbaric acts, they should be held up to the light of critical reasoning and be roundly condemned. No amount of cultural relativism is going mean one f*cking whit to unfortunate human beings like Seyed Mehdi Kazemi, who face death if they are returned home. It is not comforting to know cultural relativists in Great Britain and the Netherlands actively have worked with Iran to force his return to an almost certain death.


Let me challenge your post in a different way. I agree. I don't think a blogger HAS to write about international LGBT issues if they are not up on the issues and don't know much about the background or context of what happens elsewhere.

BUT, while horrible things do go on in terms of LGBT rights worldwide (with current challenges in the Caribbean, Africa, Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and elsewhere), the international scene is complex and not all of it is dire. Even Cuba seems to be making some inroads that might actually eclipse the United States in recognising certain transgender and same-sex partnership rights (and I'm saying this as someone who criticizes Cuba's government from time to time).

Organizations such as Amnesty, IGLHRC and Human Rights Watch do valuable work in fighting persecution against LGBT communities worldwide but if you only focus on their alerts you will mostly get a limited view of the LGBT world outside the US.

Indeed, there are bloggers out there who - even if they might not have the resources of the above-mentioned organizations - do try to widen coverage of LGBT issues outside the United States. There is Chris Crain and his GayNewsWatch; Rex Wockner and his weekly International News column; Doug Ireland and his columns posted on his blog as well as on Gay City News. PinkNews from the UK is also a great resource on international LGBT issues. Global Voices Online also keeps tabs on bloggers worldwide and although it's not LGBT specific they do carry some stories from time to time. And even if my blogging has been spotty as of late, I try to bring up stuff that has not been reported elsewhere as it pertains to LGBT rights in Latin America at my blog Blabbeando.

I am sure I've missed others but there are alternatives out there.


Your point would have been much stronger if you'd simply noted that Harris should have included some of the institutions of the US which have hidden behind the mantle of patriotism in order to perpetrate some of the most egregious offenses against human rights in other countries.

That's just the thing - Harris didn't simply forget to include US institutions in his criticism. Mainly because it wasn't a criticism in defense of human rights or freedom of speech - the main point was to rally anti-Islamic sentiment.

I don't see where you're getting that the West "lacks the backbone to condemn the violent propaganda and actions practiced by groups advocating an Islamic jihad." I don't think I've ever met anyone who thought 9/11 was a great idea, etc., and honestly the European countries I've been in are much more direct in their response to such violence and in their response to the people they think are responsible for them.

These people are being condemned in the sense of "we disagree with them." And they're being condemned in the sense of "we'll fucking blow them up if we feel like it, whether they did anything to us or not (pre-emptive war, since they're so backwards and primitive and violent that we know they'll attack us anyway and won't respond to reason or discussion)."

Islam itself is also being condemned in the Harris column, instead of people who cynically use it to support violence. And how you reach the conclusion that his lead "is NOT about some imperialist intervention" when the dude supports torture and "liberating" the women of the middle east is, again, beyond me. We all know what "liberate" means.

You bring up Seyed Mehdi Kazemi, but no solution to that problem. The US opening up its immigration doors to him is the only reflexive, immediate solution that I can see to that problem (I haven't followed it that closely).

The other, I suppose, is to parade around his image in an attempt to paint Iran as beyond reason, barbaric, violent, and backwards (read: easy to conquer). It's not like no one has discussed that; both Hillary and John "Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran" McCain said they want to keep the door open to war with Iran. The latter's call for violence is not separate from cultural narratives about Iran and the East; people only get behind bombing countries when they think there isn't any other solution.

And, yes, I genuinely question some of these people's commitments to human rights in general after they turn around and call liberals soft on terror because they don't support torture or don't want to eliminate Islam, as Harris does on both counts.

Thanks for the link-check.

Andres - I'm not going to criticize anyone or anyone's work specifically here. What I am going to say is that me talking about the situation for queers in countries that I haven't lived in (let's pick a more moderate example, like Lebanon or Colombia), then criticizing their governments for not supporting gay marriage, etc., doesn't work for a lot of people. I see it all the time, the idea that there is one way to accept homosexuality based generally on Western individualism and stable gay/lesbian identity.

It's hard to make myself clear here without specific examples since I don't just want to randomly piss people off (at least not here). But your site's awesome. It's where I keep up with the Argentine gays!

Kev~ Definitely. Especially if these frameworks include Western powers and advocate against their human rights abuses as vigorously as they do others.

I know when I bug you about posting on international topics, I'm not specifically trying to get you to condemn this or that so much as "There was a cool article in the French newspaper the other day" or "on French TV there was a cool show" or "My friend and I were sitting around talking about gay rights in France" (more like the post you did on kissing in the pizza parlor). I don't think posting on "international issues" has to involve judgement calls on other civilizations.

If you've ever typed the list of names on the Transgender Day of Remembrance list, it's brought home quickly that violence against this community is world-wide, and it somehow needs to be addressed on a world-wide level. As I understand it, there is no organization that can address these issues. I wish there were, but there isn't.