Progressive activists tussle over Islam and homophobia

peter-t2.jpgEarlier today, Xeni spotted an item by gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, encouraging black people to embrace the LGBT status of some of its heroes. Tatchell's been in the news of late for another reason, too: another tussle with fellow progressive activists.

The subject is Tatchell's vocal opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, assailed in "Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the War on Terror," published by Raw Nerve Books. As a result, authors Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem have come under fire. Raw Nerve was even induced to confess a list of "untruths" aimed at Tatchell.

Here's an illustrative paragraph from the apology:

Mr Tatchell has never "claimed the role of liberator and expert about Muslim gays and lesbians." He is not Islamophobic and is not "part of the Islamophobia industry." ... Mr Tatchell has never described "Muslims as Nazis" and he has never made the equation "Muslim=Nazi" or "Muslim=Evil." He has never "collaborated with the extreme right" and never "participated with several racist and fascist groups."

On one hand, Tatchell's "celebrity activist" style irritates those who feel sidelined by his prominence and threatened by his "litigious" reputation. Despite a lifetime building anti-racist credentials, he's often criticized for conflating Islam in general and homophobic muslims.

On the other hand, the paper's attacks could hardly have gone unchallenged. The argument seems compelling, but is layered throughout with a catty academic animus that speaks for itself. Defenders claim that the paper's constructions ("he often describes Muslims as Nazis", "he willingly collaborates with the extreme right", "reducing a fad which they can cash in on") were taken out of context. That Tatchell hasn't sued them shows not a little restraint, the obviously-forced apology notwithstanding.

The best line in the paper: "Criticism of him is dangerous." Woops!



  1. I respect Tatchell for his willingness to call out Muslims for homophobia. To me it demonstrates he’s not motivated by blind political correctness.

    1. I must ask if you respect his support for right wing stupidity in the process?

      As an aside: Ah, the Brits and their libelfights. I understand no one has sued yet, but the fact that someone can makes me imagine all the people running newspapers in the UK are sensitive little children. The people running papers in the US may well be hamfisted clods sometimes, but at least they let everyone be a hamfisted clod if they want to be.

  2. I read this post 3 times and still don’t understand a word of it. Could someone translate this into English, please?

    1. I agree, this post is a really confusing mess.

      The version of this article cached in Google Reader is somewhat different than the version on the live BoingBoing site.

      Gone are references to pinkies being twisted off which, I guess, was a metaphor for an argument between academics.

      Unfortunately, given the subject matter, I read it as fingers literally being twisted off.

      When crossing the chasm between British and American English, its probably best to simply say what you mean.


  3. Translation:

    Fundamentalist Islamists hate capitalism and bourgeois Western culture! Therefore they’re good! But they also hate gays and lesbians! Therefore, they’re bad! DOES NOT COMPUTE! DOES NOT COMPUTE!

  4. I can’t help thinking about The Bonfire of the Vanities everytime I read something like this about protesters.

  5. In ME Islamic countries homosexuality is widely practiced but you don’t talk about it and you don’t flaunt it.

    David Bowie wrote a song about it: The Secret Life of Arabia.

  6. We don’t have an effective preview, so tend to edit live. Apologies for anything that was confusing.

  7. Mr. Beschizza is definitely capable of better than this. This really is a lazy sort of blogging, which is just attempting to summarize an argument among authors/bloggers/intellectuals.

    I’ve started to notice this category of blog post (and Boing Boing is far from the only transgressor). They’re always a mess. “C said X about A after A told B that Y was Z. And do you know what A said then about it? Z’! Totally pwned, can you believe it?”

    It’s far better to discuss the subject directly rather than focussing on the pissing match.

    1. Well then, Chroma, you had better damn well like the Glittergeddon post. (Or I’ll twist your pinky off.)

  8. So let’s see if I can’t summarize:

    Tatchell is a gay rights activist. BB blogged about an article of his in which he criticized culture in general for not recognizing gay black people. As might be assumed from the “gay activist” standpoint, he also is no fan of a lot of Islam as it is practiced in many Islamic countries, given that said practice has exhibited a lot of homophobia and outright persecution of gay folks (being gay in Iran and Saudia Arabia and Iraq and probably other places is very dangerous). However, this sometimes brings him into conflict with another group of activists: those who want to stop Western persecution of Muslims, who might otherwise align politically with him. Saying Muslims are intolerant of gays is fuel for the “Muslims are lesser human beings” fire. Those Muslim activists hurled a big glob of shit at Tatchell (link to under fire), who put up a fan and blew it right back in their faces (link to “untruths”).

    Lesson to be learned: Activists on the left are much more interested in exacerbating their differences to the point of sectarian bickering than in uniting their efforts to accomplish even one thing they can mostly agree on, which leads to the prominence of rightwing maniacs that no one agrees with but that at least present a unified front of crazy instead of 37 different flavors of it. They’re wasting their efforts on shit-sligning and not, I dunno, maybe working together in Iraq to advocate for gay Muslims where both need it the most.

    Helping People: YOUR DOING IT WRONG.

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