Left Behinds

The anti-andrewsullivan.com. Or, the Robin Hood (Maid Marian?) of bright pink Blogger blogs.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Doug Ireland vs. Iran and Yasmin Nair and Daniel Drennan and Joseph Massad

Over at the Queer Fist board, queer activists/writers Doug Ireland, Yasmin Nair, and Daniel Drennan have been in a war of words about protests commemorating the first anniversary of the public hanging in Iran of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, two teens who may or may not have been lovers but who were convicted of raping a boy. The inimitable Richard Kim wrote a good piece about it a while back in the Nation. For the record, the protest is Wednesday 7/19 at 5 pm, at the Iranian UN Mission, 622 3rd Ave (40th St, 4/5/6/7 to 42nd St-Grand Central) and is sponsored by the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Because the people involved happen to include some excellent thinkers and activists, I followed the debate closely and am going to excerpt it in detail (full text after the jump). I really think it's worth reading, and you have to be a member of QF to read the boards, so I can't just link to it.

First, an excerpt from Yasmin's letter, which I thought raised some very good points, especially about the death penalty.

What are they protesting, exactly?

It seems, from the scant sources on the web, that the biggest reason to protest these killings (and the death penalty, under any circumstance, is a killing) is that the two teens were lovers, not rapists. See OutRage's ridiculously melodramatic report below. What if they were in fact rapists, murderers, looters, whatever? Why is the gay community only concerned about the infliction of the death penalty when it punishes supposedly innocent lives? Why are we so hung up on the notion of innocence? Shouldn't the point be about the death penalty (and its insidious double, the increasingly popular punishment of life imprisonment), regardless of whether it's homophobic or not? Would any of the organisations linked to this -- OutRage, IGLHRC et al give a damn if these young men had been hanged for a crime that had nothing to do with sexuality? I've posted both Bill Andriette's and Richard Kim's articles on the hangings before, and I'm doing it again (see links below). I also recommend Joseph Massad's article in Public Culture about the Gay International. Kim's article is especially useful for the frightening revelation that HRC would have been "relieved" if the boys had been found guilty of any crime other than that of being lovers. So much for compassion.

I note that some European cities have signed on to these protests. How would these young Iranian *Muslim* men, when alive, have fared if they'd tried to migrate to any of the countries? Vienna has apparently signed on -- according to an immigration lawyer friend, Austria has some of the strictest race-based immigration laws around. Surely we ought to ponder these ironies.

In the context of a US-dominated push towards exporting our peculiar system of injustice, I find such campaigns profoundly disturbing. It seems we have collectively decided that particular kinds of identity (in this case, as out and proud gay lovers) matter more than others.
Embedded in all this language about homophobia and true gay love is a scary subtext -- justice is only available to those who can prove that they are impeccable and innocent subjects. Everybody else can just rot in jail. Much like the gay marriage movement, which seeks to ensure basic benefits only to those who will marry or couple up. (I could rant here about the stupidity of both sides with regard to the recent NY gay marriage decision -- but I shall restrain myself).

Bill Andriette, "Pictures of an Execution."

Richard Kim, "Witnesses to an Execution."

Joseph Massad's "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World." Public Culture - Volume 14, Number 2, Spring 2002, pp. 361-385

I have no doubt that many queers across the world are brutalised and/or killed on account of their sexuality, just as they are every day in the US. And I have no problem with work that establishes solidarity with queers elsewhere to ensure their safety and ours. But I'm sick and tired of having my queer politics interpellated into actions that do little more than affirm hierarchies among victims based on their potential innocence and often insist on increasing penalties on the basis of identity politics (as with the insidious concept of hate crimes legislation). And I'm really bloody sick and tired of US queers exporting their crappy it-only-matters-if-they're-gay-and-in-love politics elsewhere.



Now, for context, Doug Ireland has become a leader of the response to these hangings and similar incidents in Iran. He's written about it a lot in his blog and over at Gay City News (for the record, one of my former employers). He is a committed progressive who is sensitive about issues such as inadvertantly acting as a stooge for imperialist warmongering, and I think he is sincere in his attempts to write about Iran without prejudice.

Here's some of his response to Yasmin (again, the full text after the jump):

Yasmin Nair has been conducting a one-woman campaign of denigration of the global July 19 demonstrations against Iranian repression all over the Internet in a way that is mendacious in the extreme and filled with distortions, and she has now done so in another attack she has sent to the QF list. Let me respond to her latest lies and to her jejune analysis.

Nair claims in her post to QF that the July 19 protests are based solely on the fact that "the two teens were lovers, not rapists." False. And she asks, "Why is the gay community [as embodied in the July 19 protests] only concerned about the infliction of the death penalty when it punishes supposedly innocent lives?" That, too is false.
The July 19 actions, called An International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran, are meant to demonstrate global solidarity with gay and lesbian Iranians in the Islamic Republic of Iran who are the victims of a lethal reign of terror targeting them. And the Call to Action for July 19 -- which I helped to craft, and which has now been endorsed by dozens of gay organizations and publications in countries from Mexico and Egypt to Russia and Poland -- includes a 5-point program (which goes well beyond the commemoration of the barbaric public hanging of the gay teenagers Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni), to wit:
"1. End all executions in Iran, especially the execution of minors.

"2. Stop the arrest, torture and imprisonment of Iranian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and repeal the Iranian penal code's criminalization of same-sex relationships.

"3. Halt the deportation to Iran of LGBT asylum seekers and other victims of Tehran's persecution.

"4. Support Iranians struggling for democracy, social justice and human rights.

"5. Oppose foreign military intervention in Iran; regime change must come from within - by and for the Iranian people themselves."

Note that, quite contrary to Nair's assertions, the Call to Action is opposed to "ALL" executions in Iran, for whatever reason.

Nair says she finds the July 19 Day of Action "profoundly disturbing" in "the context of a US-dominated push towards exporting our peculiar system of injustice." But note, too, that Point 5 of the July 19 Day of Action explicitly "opposes military intervention in Iran," which rather strongly suggests to any impartial reader that the July 19 organizers are not indifferent to the Bush administration's "exporting of our peculiar system of injustice" to Iran, as Nair suggests.

Nair sneers at the European gay groups who have endorsed the Call to Action, and singles out the Austrian gay activists of HOSI (Homosexuelle Initiative) for having organized a July 19 demonstration in Vienna because 'Austria has some of the strictest race-based immigration laws around" and thus "these young Iranian *Muslim* men" would have been refused asylum if they'd tried to immigrate there. Here the childishness of Nair's logic is revealed -- what she is really saying in her bizarre attack on the Austrian gay activists is that, if one's own government has perfectly dreadful and reprehensible xenophobic policies, one has no right to be involved in protests against a reign of terror in another country that is driving the persecuted into exile!

What Nair overlooks is that in Austria, the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and many other countries, gay Iranians are, right now, facing deportation back into the fiery furnace that awaits them in Iran, back to become victims of the brutal homo-hating campaign of entrapment, arrests, torture, kidnappings, and executions being waged with increasing intensity in the Islamic Republic of Iran by that mad religious fanatic, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the ayatollahs who support him. In some cases, facing deportation orders, gay Iranians who managed with great difficulty to flee the Islamic Republic have committed suicide rather than be forced to return to Iran and face the horrors that would be inflicted on them there (2 such suicides in the U.K. alone in the last year and a half.)

Moreover, Point 4 of the July 19 Call to Action, which has been endorsed by the Austrian gay activists of HOSI, explicitly calls for a "Halt the deportation to Iran of LGBT asylum seekers and other victims of Tehran's persecution." So, when the Austrians demonstrate on July 19, they are not overlooking the xenophobic policies of their own government, they are, in fact, protesting them -- and so are those gay organizations in every country who've endorsed the Call to Action. One of the other organizations Nair singles out for attack, the U.K. militant gay group OutRage, which was one of the initiators of the July 19 Day of Action, has been particularly active in fighting the xenophobic immigration and deportation policies of the Tony Blair government. So too, to take another example, has the French gay group Solidarité Internationale LGBT, which endorsed July 19 and has been quite noisy in denouncing the conservative French government's anti-immigrant campaign led by ultra-right Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy.

Indeed, one of the key initiators of the July 19 Call to Action was the young French university professor Louis-George Tin, one of the most creative of a new generation of global gay leaders and the founder and president of IDAHO (the International Day Against Homophobia) -- but Tin, who was born in the French Antilles, is also a rising star of France's emergent black movement for equality. Tin founded the Representative Council of French Black Organizations during the French ghetto riots last fall to fight discrimination against, and exclusion of, people of color from the social, political, and economic rights and opportunities available to white French; and Tin and the Council have also have also been in the forefront of the struggle against the conservative government's harsh policies toward immigrants. Tin hardly fits Nair's hallucinations that the leaders of the July 19 movement are all white boys who care nothing about racism, xenophobia, and injustices to people of color (which is no doubt why she doesn't care to attack HIM!)

I could go on punching holes in Nair's fantasies about the July 19 Day of Action, but this reply is getting too long, so I will close by observing that,
[I]n none of Nair's multiple postings on this subject in various places has she ever uttered one word of criticism of the repression of gays, women, intellectuals, students, journalists, bloggers, workers trying to unionize, ethnic minorities and other victims of the insanely and primitively theocratic Iranian regime. Nor hs she ever criticized the systemic policy of frame-ups of Iranian gays for crimes they never committed, a policy which includes the use of torture to make gay people confess to non-existent "crimes" (instead, she denounces protests against state murder of what she terms the "supposedly innocent"-- note that qualifier "supposedly," the choice of which denotes her bias).

Instead, in all of her ravings she continually recommends an article by Joseph Massad, "The Gay International and the Arab World," an article which has been peddled about the Internet by sectarian apologists for the Islamic Republic of Iran for several years now. Massad's article from 2002 is one of the most homophobic pieces of tripe I've ever read (the very title gives it away) -- and its principle thesis is that Arabs and Muslims who seek a self-affirming gay identity are nothing more than exploited victims of cultural imperialism, for Massad would deny to them the choice of such a gay identity as the expression of the legitimacy of their natural sexual orientation, and as a path out of the miasma of homophobia and self-hate engendered by the anti-homosexual policies and propaganda campaigns of regimes and religious leaders in the Muslim world. I would simply note that the courageous Palestinian lesbians of the group ASWAT, formed just last year -- whose politics are resolutely anti-imperialist and in opposition to Israeli apartheid -- have chosen to call themselves, in their logo and on the masthead of their website, "gay Palestinian women." I would like to see Nair and her totem Massad tell these brave women to their face that they are nothing but tools of Arab-hating cultural imperialism. As between Massad, Nair -- who keeps micturating on the idea that Iran's homophobic persecutions deserve to be protested -- and those Palestinian women, my choice is clearly to stand with the latter. ----Doug Ireland

That definitely got personal, and Yasmin responded accordingly:

I'll make this brief. My post asked larger questions about how and why US gay-centered politics, or any “global gay” movement, should determine this new wave of so-called global politics. Ireland chooses to sidestep significant questions about gay politics and instead characterises anyone with opposing politics as homophobic. Readers will have noted that Massad’s article is in fact primarily titled “Re-Orienting Desire” ; it's hardly "homophobic tripe". He calls for a nuanced understanding of queer politics as opposed to one defined by folks like Ireland. I note that Ireland has nothing to say about the other two articles, by Kim and Andriette.

Ireland supports my point that this purported movement is obsessed with innocence in this case. Attacking or supporting gay movements is beside the point; Ireland’s implicit and bizarre accusations of gay treason on my part distract us from the politics of *this* particular campaign. He piles on details about other instances of gay politics but does not address my specific concerns about using the Iran hangings in this way. What are the costs of instituting “global gay leaders” and an “International Day of Homophobia"? Is it so unlikely that particular actions taken on our part might well draw upon conflicting impulses of solidarity and imperialism?

What are we supposed to do in the face of Ireland’s iteration of gay political fights elsewhere – bow before this wall of authenticity and back off from ever asking questions about the politics involved? How does critique and questioning amount to the same as physical brutality? It’s one thing to support those engaged in fights against repression, entirely another to sign on to campaigns that support faulty notions of innocence and authenticity. The problem we have is that the two frequently blur into a warped notion of global queer politics. Our efforts to comprehend gay politics in vastly different political and cultural regions will always be difficult – but it’s worth pursuing that difficulty rather than kowtow to the bullying tactics of people like Ireland who would tell us exactly how to think and respond, without question.

As for his maligning of people who disagree with him, there’s no difference between Ireland’s screeds and the tactics of the US right that dismisses any attempt at dissent as unpatriotic and treacherous. Ann Coulter, meet Doug Ireland.

For an analysis of how “global gay leaders” can produce strangely contradictory moments, see my article about OutRage’s campaign against Jamaican Reggae arists:



I include Doug Ireland's response after the jump, which includes excerpts from an interview he did with an Iranian gay activist. Here I will just note that Ireland and Nair talk past one another a bit, in that Ireland makes a very strong case that people who engage in same-sex relations are brutally persecuted in Iran, which Nair, I think, acknowledges. And he acknowledges her point about opposing the death penalty (and oppression) in toto. Their disagreement is over what to emphasize.
For the past year, as a journalist I have devoted a considerable amount of time and energy to helping Iran's gay voices to be heard -- and in the latest in a series of interviews with gay Iranians, which appears in this week's Gay City News, I interviewed an underground gay activist inside Iran named Mani.
Listen to his words:
As a mental health counselor, Mani has observed the psychological ravages of living in an officially homo-hating society. "Because the government and the ayatollahs suppress any accurate or positive information about homosexuality," he said, "many homosexuals don't accept themselves and instead assume they are sexual deviants, and seek to cure themselves by different means, including superstitious prayer, oblation, and supplication. Not that many Iranian gays have a healthy and accepting attitude toward their sexuality. Many of those who are cognizant of their homosexuality are daily sinking into despair."

The officially endorsed "rigid religious reactions" to homosexuality, Mani said, "mean that homosexual individuals suffer severe emotional disorder, such as the loss of psychological and gender identity and split-personality, all of which combine to form a dejected, deflated, depressed, and unmotivated youth."

"Look," said Mani, "you must understand that, in Iran, if a homosexual falls in love, he has committed a grave crime. Here, homosexual love equals death, the gallows, and stoning. So, this is a major part of what I term the condemned's life. He is oppressed and sinks into despair and self-hate and, in too many cases, ultimately opts for suicide." How could it be otherwise, Mani argued, "when we've frequently observed that solely for the offense of same-sex love and sleeping together, people have been condemned to death by hanging or stoning. There have been many such executions of gays carried out by the malicious and criminal Iranian regime."

"The best way for gays to meet in Iran is either via the Internet or at parties. Unfortunately, recently the Ministry of Intelligence has multiplied its monitoring of both. Private parties are constantly raided, and we have witnessed the disappearance of many gay people after they established contact with strangers via the Internet. Afterwards, they're arrested when the strangers turn out to be sex police agents, and are falsely accused of such crimes as transporting drugs, robbery, rape, etc., and then are sentenced to death by a judge in a bogus court with false witnesses, without these executions being reported in any newspaper or in the news media in general. And as long as the ayatollahs' constitutional Guardian Council exists in Iran and has its thumb on everything the government does, the situation will remain the same."

""You who live serenely and comfortably on the other side of Iran's frontiers, be aware that those who think and feel and love like you do in Iran are executed for the crime of homosexuality, are assassinated, kidnapped, and barred from working in offices. You have festivals, and they prisons. You select Mr. Gay of the Year, but they don't even enjoy the right to have gravestones. Be fair and tell us what difference there is between us and you. Isn't it time that all homosexuals around the world rise up and come to our defense?"

In calling for support for the July 19 International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran, the largest gay Iranian group -- the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) -- said, through its human rights secretary Arsham Parsi:

""We urge cities all over the world to show solidarity with our freedom struggle. Your solidarity is tremendously important and effective.

"It is very distressing to witness the way some leading human rights groups
have been hood-winked by the homophobic culture both inside and outside
Iran. They have chosen to believe the propaganda waged against gay human
rights, rather than believe gay victims and gay groups like PGLO.

"We feel great pain when we see human rights advocates ignoring the evidence
and failing to speak out against the torture and execution of gay people in
our country.

"We know first-hand, from the violent abuse of our members and supporters,
that the jailing, flogging and hanging of gay people is official state law
and policy.

"Sources in Iran have confirmed that the two youths executed in Mashhad last
July were lovers, not child rapists. We are convinced they were hanged
because they were gay.

"We are very disappointed that some people prefer to believe the story of
Iranian officials about these two teens that is geared towards defaming the
character of the murdered boys."

In gay journalist Rex Wockner's international news report for this week, he has this quote: "Men and women suspected of homosexual conduct in Iran
face the threat of execution," affirmed Scott Long of Human Rights
Watch's gay-rights program. "We have documented brutal floggings imposed
by courts as punishment, and torture and ill-treatment, including sexual
abuse, in police custody."

Yasmin Nair, in her latest communication, reiterates her point that the July 19 action is "obsessed with innocence." That is true in the following sense: we believe that same-sex relations and same-sex love are not crimes, and that those regimes which persecute people for being same-sexers are the real criminals-- whether or not those persecuted consider themselves "gay." That principle -- that same-sex love is not a crime -- has been at the heart of every gay movment for liberation. So, yes, homosexual people are "innocent" of being criminals solely because of whom they love or how they make love.

Nair's sterile clouds of verbiage about "innocence" and "identity" have very little to do with the cruel reality of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran for homosexuals today. And, once again, she has failed to include a single word of criticism of the Tehran regime and its repression and persecution of its gay and homosexual citizens-- in this exchange, as in all her writings which I have seen on this subject, she reserves her ire solely for those who are responding to the repeated pleas of gay Iranians to protest the inhuman and barbaric treatment to which they are subjected. There is something seriously wrong with someone who refuses to condemn the perpetrators of injustice while only attacking those who are trying to arouse public opinion against that injustice.

Gay Iranians are a powerless and persecuted minority -- their only weapon is publicity. That is why the date of July 19 was chosen: it was the publication last year of the gruesome photos of the public hanging of the two teenage gay boys on that date that ignited the global firestorm of concern and protest against Iran's homophobic persecutions. The hanging of the two lads is symbolic of the regime's conduct, which (according to the Iranian gay group Homan) has killed well over 4000 homosexuals since the Ayatollah Khomeini took power in 1979 and immediately changed Iranian law to make homosexuality punishable by death. Since last year, gay Iranian organizations, and underground gay Iranian publications inside Iran (like the magazine MAHA) have been using those unbearably moving photographs of those two lads --- weeping as they were taken to the scaffold, on the scaffold as the nooses are placed around their necks, and twisting in the wind at the end of a rope once they are dead -- to touch the hearts of people everywhere and arouse them to oppose the anti-gay reign of terror in Iran. Nair, for some strange reason, finds this suspicious and condemnable. I do not.

Finally, Nair again lies when she says that "Ireland has nothing to say about the other two articles, by Kim and Andriette." I wrote a lengthy reply to Kim's article when it appeared last year -- and Nair knows that I did because I recently sent it to her. As to Andriette's article, the u.r.l. which Nair provided for it does not work, and I cannot comment on an article I cannot read.

Finally, Daniel Drennan, a Lebanese queer writer and activist living in Beirut, takes umbrage at Ireland's initial post and defends Massad's article.

Joseph Massad's article speaks to the cultural realities of countries outside of the (for want of a better term) Western constructed world of "gay" identity. I handed it out at a panel discussion on the International Day Against Homophobia here in Beirut and spoke on the panel to the issues raised therein and can honestly say that 1) it raised discussion and also spoke to issues important locally and 2) was welcomed by the (mostly Lebanese) university students who felt it
answered many questions they have concerning this complex notion of identity for them.

None of them, not a single one, reacted to it with the vitriol and kneejerking witnessed below. I'd like to go on record as saying that (again, I apologize for the sweepingly general terms) the East doesn't need the West's "protection", especially when it is worded like a press release from the current American regime's State Dept., and even moreso when the West has enough problems in its own backyard
as concerns human rights, abuses thereof, etc. etc.

I've moved back to Beirut for many reasons but in part because of this creeping anti-Arab anti-Islam sentiment as evidenced here. Why make explicit reference to the "Islamic Republic of Iran?" To a "mad religious fanatic"? To the "insanely and primitively theocratic Iranian regime"? Has the writer of these words been to Iran? I didn't think so. I've said it before, but if I have to be judged by the likes of the writer of these words, or the residents of my (mostly Muslim) neighborhood in Beirut, I have no problem staying put whatsoever.

And why travel so far? The five points listed below ironically can be made about the United States. Go to Dearborn, Michigan and speak to families torn apart by deportations and false criminal accusations. Speak to families in the United States of minority victims of gay bashing which go unreported by the media. Then come talk to me about Iran.

To quote Massad:

"...[it] exemplifies a type of anthropology that fails to problematize its own mythical idealized self, that continues to view the other as all that the self does not contain or condone.... An anthropology that cannot abandon the mythological West as a reference point will continue to use it as the organizing principle for all of
its arguments."

It might do Mr. Ireland some good to consider why Mr. Massad's words ring truer to a local audience here than anything coming out of any Western-based gay and lesbian organization. It might do him some good to question his own constructs and consider that the rejection of those constructs might, in the long run, be to the betterment of the lives of those who identify as homosexual or who simply engage in homosexual behavior. Likewise, everyone who sees this part of the world as needing "saving" by the morally righteous outside of this part of the world, I can only say: Please give it a rest. We are very tired of the ongoing "interventions" on our behalf.

Daniel Drennan

I don't know where I stand on all this. I used to take the pragmatic position that whatever the merits of the arguments, we Americans are too removed from the complexities in Iran to effectively draw attention to injustices there. There are just too many parallels to Bush interventionism and too many chances of solidarity movements unintentionally backfiring. However, Ireland's efforts at exposing the injustices and creating a strong international solidarity movement make that argument a lot less persuasive.


  • At 4:49 PM, Blogger Solomon Grundy said…

    Btw, sorry that this post seems to have messed up the formatting for the rest of the blog... I don't think I coded anything incorrectly, but I used a lot of "span class" and "blockquote" tags...

  • At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Frank said…

    just a technical point: "membership" in queer fist is not required to read the boards. but you do have to subscribe to the e-mail list. sign-up is free and the list is private (i.e. nobody will know you're subscribed). check it out at: http://www.queerfist.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss

  • At 2:31 PM, Blogger MadProfessah said…

    Glad I found your blog...

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