Monday, June 05, 2006

dishonest attacks

Homosexuality is not natural (prediscursive), but discursive (social, cultural, constructed), since 1985 I say that again and again. I agree with Massad's basic premise, that there was "originally" a different conceptualization of things homosexual in "Arabia", but I doubt very much that Ramzi and Faisal are responsible for the emergence of Arab gays and their repression.
Since before the Tanzimat of the Ottoman Empire the West is encroaching on the Middle East, North Africa and India. There is a material transformation (steam boat, rail way, streets), European products are flooding the markets (textiles, cheap soap, for a time even tarabush, keffiye and mocca cup), Western schools spread Western ideas (cf. Edward Said's autobiography) (and alienate children from their parents), state bureaucracies reach to the villages, new methods and new machines are introduced in agriculture and industry, the population grows enormously, the Bedouins come under state control or pushed to the margins, cities expand, housing changes, tribal structures loose in importance, slaves (and eunuchs) disappear (later appear srilankan maids), the role of Christians (and Jews) changes, nationalism, liberalism, feminism, socialism gain adherents; thanks to oil revenue and (SU–US rivalry fuelled) aid the state sector expands, girls attend state schools and universities, salaried jobs for young men and women, the printing press, radio, cinema (Hollywood), (satellite) TV, McDonald and jeans, condoms and contraceptives change the relations between the sexes.

Compared with these forces ILGA and AI are weak. I guess, I am more of a materialist, and Joe more of an idealist – just like his guru Ed. Said.
Could this be the reason for Massad hiding his text from me during 30 months? Could it be the reason for attacking me?
Purportly his article is aimed at the Gay International and those who share their essentialists view of things sexual ("a certain ontology and epistemology are taken as axiomatic by all of them").
But neither Bruce Dunne nor myself are affiliated with the Gay International, nor do we share the ontology/epistemology of the GI. There is no good reason for Massad to attack us in an article on gay missionaries of the American way of being a visible/out/marriage rights demanding gay.
Massad writes:
Schmitt asserts that in the Muslim world "male-male sexuality plays an important role. But in these societies there are no 'homosexuals'–there is no word for homosexuality–the concept is completely unfamiliar. There are no heterosexuals either."
Very similar to Massad's description of Arabia before the machinations of the GI: lots of male-male sexual practise but no gay identity.
Schmitt makes the essentialist claim that the absence of these categories in the Muslim world is a phenomenon that remains constant over time ... Schmitt's ahistoricism
I never made such a claim for the Muslim world, I think I never used the term. I made the claim for Arab, Turk and Persian societies before WWI–claiming that the words we now have were coined under Western influence. My view is neither essentialist, nor ahistorical.
Schmitt, tend to extend whatever judgment ... to the whole of Arab Muslim history
Quite wrong. I say that between Aleander the Great and the arrival of the steam boat there is neither a basic change in the mode of production nor in the gender organization of society. But I stress that the societies do change now, that the old gender system is on the retreat, that it is still strong on the country side, but vanishing in the urban middle class.
Massad is ahistorical. He does not give dates for any of his asserations. He claims there must have been change in "Arabia" because there was change in Europe. Could one be more euro-centric?
The language-based errors and mistakes in Schmitt's books are too numerous to list here.
This is libelous – if they are that numerous give two grave ones in the text and an other five in the notes. But Massad gives none, and the journal did not ask for a list for them to see the well-foundedness of his claim.

Before you read Massad's attack on Bruce Dunne's essay "Power and Sexuality in the Middle East" you might want to read it – it still on the net.
Bruce Dunne asserts that "sexual relations in Middle Eastern societies have historically articulated social hierarchies, that is, dominant and subordinate social positions: adult men on top; women, boys and slaves below". Presumably, in non-Middle Eastern societies such hierarchies did not "historically" exist except in the celebrated cases of "Greek and late Roman antiquity," but certainly not in the medieval, let alone the modern, "West." The "Middle Eastern" case is contrasted with the West; according to Dunne, the "distinction made by modern Western 'sexuality' between sexual and gender identity, that is, between kinds of sexual predilections and degrees of masculinity and femininity, has until recently, had little resonance in the Middle East".
Massad misreads again: Although Dunne sees differences between modern and pre-modern, Massad tries to paint him as an Oritentalist who contrasts an unchanging East with the West
This judgment is further illustrated by quotes from the two Egyptian native informants whom Dunne cites. The conclusion is inescapable: "Western notions of sexuality offer little insight into our contemporary young Egyptian's apparent understanding that sexual behavior conforms to a particular concept of gender". Dunne's approach is to demonstrate that in "Middle Eastern" society, unlike Western society, non-"egalitarian sexual relations" predominate and sexuality is seen as gender determined.
Massad chooses his words to denounce Dunne as an Orientalist, but Dunne does not only allow for recent changes in the Middle East (why in quotation marks?) but says that a certain form predominates, is hegemonic, but not pervasive.
Dunne's work 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, namely, nonegalitarian sexual relations, the oppressive rule of men, gender-based sexuality, patriarchy, and so forth. 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.
A grave attack, but it is unsubstantiated. The strange thing about it, is that Massad paints a picture of the idillic pre-GI East in which gays do not have to make do with gays (as in the West), but where "receptive parties in male-male sexual contacts ... have access to [their prefered] sex­ual object choice (i.e., exclusively active partners)" and where "the „active“ partners are [not] forced to limit their sexual aim to ... women or men ... [and can] see themselves as part of a societal norm."
Most I add that Massad did not give the URL where everyone could read Dunne's article and see whether his attacks were well founded or not?

crusade to liberate gays

If it is true that I belong to a worldwide gay people (or a queer nation?), it makes sense that I work to free my oppressed brethern. Joe Massad writes about these gay missionaries and their "this assimilationist project":
Organizations dominated by white Western males (the Inter­national Lesbian and Gay Association [ILGA] and the Inter­national Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [IGLHRC]) sprang up to defend the rights of "gays and lesbians" all over the world and to advocate on their behalf. ...
The larger mission is to liberate Arab and Muslim "gays and lesbians" from the oppression under which they allegedly live by transforming them from practitioners of same-sex contact into subjects who identify as homo­sexual
Describing his adventures in Morocco and southern Spain, Bray states that "at least one guy expressed a longing to just be gay and not have to live within the prescribed sexual behaviors, and he said that there were others like him." Seemingly convinced by this one conversation, Bray declares: "I believe this longing is universal." ...
Although the advent of colonialism and Western capital in the Arab world has trans­formed most aspects of daily life, efforts to impose a European hetero­sexual regime on Arab men have succeeded among only the upper classes and the increas­ingly Western­ized middle classes. It is among members of these wealthier segments of society that the Gay Inter­­national has found native informants. Although members of these classes who engage in same-sex relations have more recently adopted a Western identity (as part of a more general, classwide adoption of every­thing Western), they remain a minuscule minority among those men who engage in same-sex relations and who do not identify as "gay" or express a need for gay politics.
It is this minority and its diaspora members who staff groups such as the U.S.-based Gay and Lesbian Arabic Society (GLAS), founded in 1989 by a Palestinian in Washington, D.C. Indeed, as members of the Gay International, this minority is one of the main poles of the campaign to incite discourse on homo­sexua­lity in the Arab world. GLAS defines itself as "a networking organization for Gays and Lesbians of Arab descent or those living in Arab countries. We aim to promote positive images of Gays and Lesbians in Arab communities worldwide. We also provide a support network for our members while fighting for our human rights wherever they are oppressed. We are part of the global Gay and Lesbian movement seeking an end to injustice and discrimination based on sexual orienta­tion." ...
The Gay International and this small minority of Arab same-sex prac­titioners who adopt its epistemology have embarked on a project that can best be described as incitement to discourse. As same-sex contact between men has not been a topic of government or journalistic discourse in the Arab world of the last two centuries, the Gay International's campaign since the early 1980s to universalize itself has incited such discourse. The fact that the incited discourse is characterized by negativity toward the mission of the Gay Inter­national is immaterial. By inciting discourse on homosexual and gay and lesbian rights and identities, the very ontology of gayness is instituted in a discourse that could have only two reactions to the claims of universal gayness: support them or oppose them without ever questioning their epistemo­logical underpinnings. Indeed it is exactly these reactions that anchor and strengthen and drive the Gay International's universal agenda. In a world where no one questions the identification of gayness, gay epistemology and ontology can institute themselves safely. The Gay Inter­national's fight is therefore not an epistemological one but rather a simple political struggle where the world is divided between the supporters and opponents of gay rights. ...
The Gay International has succeeded in inciting discourse by attracting antigay Islamist and nationalist reactions to its efforts. While the premodern West attacked the Muslim world's alleged sexual licentiousness, the modern West attacks its alleged repression of sexual freedoms. Representations of the Arab world in the discourse of the Gay International, which includes the popular publication Spartacus, an "International Gay Guide," range from the horrific to the splendid, the latter on account of the availability of Arab men willing to engage in insertive anal intercourse with Western (read white) gay men. In the context of an Arab anticolonial nationalism or the more recent Islamism seeking Western technological moderni­zation while preserving its version of cultural or religious authenticity, the Gay International is correctly perceived as part of Western encroachment on Arab and Muslim cultures. ...
Faisal Alam, the Pakistani American founder of the Al-Fatiha Foundation, a new U.S.-based organization for gay and lesbian Muslims, tells his Western audience that Islam is "200 years behind Christianity in terms of progress on gay issues." Alam, not surprisingly (like Robert Bray, who was quoted above), is a field associate with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. ...
Ramzi Zakharia, the founder of GLAS, wrote a letter to the editor [a prestigious London-based Arabic newspaper] in protest. Zakharia insisted that the term deviant "insults me as an Arab who desires people of the same sex as it insults millions like me." Zakharia explained how deviance does not describe people like himself since homo­sexuality is "genetic" and since his relationship to his sexual partner is not based only on sex but also on love. Zakharia declared that his group's goals in the Arab world are like those of the feminist movement, namely, to "remove the old and tribalist patriarchal system which has strangled and continues to strangle our people. . . . This system is based on the use of 'traditions,' and 'honor,' as weapons to repress pluralism in our societies in order to make democracy in them practically impossible, and to maintain the tribalist mentality whose effects are very clear in the contemporary Arab world."
Massad depicts these organizations as causing trouble:
Arab columnists began to rail against the "lobby of deviants" in America who want to impose their debauchery on the rest of the world.
More recently, the Egyptian authorities have begun to crack down on Cairo locations where Western­ized Egyptian gay-identified men and their European and American tourist cohorts congregate. On 11 May 2001, the police raided a discotheque housed in a boat on the Nile in the upper-class neighborhood of Zamalik and arrested fifty-five people. ... This crackdown followed an increasing visibility of Westernized, Cairo-based, upper- and middle-class Egyptian men who identify as gay and consort with European and American tourists, as well as the related increase in Internet activity among these men to arrange for meetings. It should be noted that the police were able to pursue these men mostly through monitoring their Internet correspondence. The most prominent of the Web sites,, is in English and features tips for European and American gay tourists coming to Egypt. Clearly most Egyptian men who practice same-sex contact neither know English nor have the where­withal to afford Internet access, much less know how to use it. This is important in that the police do not seek to, and cannot if they were so inclined, arrest men practicing same-sex contact but rather are pursuing those among them who identify as "gay" on a personal level and who seek to use this identity as a group identification through social and public activities. The campaign of the Gay International misses this important distinction. The point being that it is not same-sex sexual practices that are being repressed by the Egyptian police but rather the sociopolitical identification of these practices with the Western identity of gayness and the publicness that these gay-identified men seek.
The arrests prompted a torrent of media collusion with the government, condemning the practice of "deviance" as a new Western imposition–ironically, the hysteria that gripped the Gay International and their local agents only further ignited the rhetoric. IGLHRC was joined by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in condemning the arrests and in orchestrating a letter-writing campaign to Egyptian officials. ... Western diplomats and the Western press, who are usually silent about most human rights abuses in Egypt as well as the poverty that afflicts the country, flocked to the trial hearings in droves and registered their horror at the proceedings. The reaction of the Egyptian press and of the Egyptian government was swift: more vilification campaigns of deviant sex as an imperialist plot, as evidenced by the real alliances that the Gay International makes with imperialists–Al-Fatiha's activities were seen as particularly egregious. Indeed, the vilification campaign against these men intensified precisely as a result of the actions of the Gay International and the Western politicians whose support it solicited. During the hearings, the prosecution frequently referenced the Gay International's campaign, pledged to defend the "manhood" of Egypt against attempts to "violate" it, and wondered what would become of a nation who sits by idly as its "men become like its women" through "deviance." The press and conservative Islamists have begun to call for explicit laws criminalizing same-sex practice. The Gay International and its activities are largely responsible for the intensity of this repressive campaign. Despite the overwhelming evidence that gayness, as a choice, is proving to bring about more repression, not "liberation," and less sexual freedom rather than more for Arab men practicing same-sex contact, the Gay International is undeterred in its missionary campaign.
By inciting discourse about homosexuals where none existed before, the Gay International is in fact heterosexualizing a world that is being forced to be fixed by a Western binary. Because most non-Western civilizations, including Muslim Arab civilization, have not subscribed historically to these categories, their imposition is producing less than liberatory outcomes: men who are considered the passive or receptive parties in male-male sexual contacts are forced to have one object choice and identify as homosexual or gay, just as men who are the "active" partners are also forced to limit their sexual aim to one object choice, women or men. Most "active" partners see themselves as part of a societal norm, so heterosexuality becomes compulsory given that the alternative, as presented by the Gay International, means becoming marked outside the norm–with all the attendant risks and disadvantages of such a marking.
Also, most Arab and Muslim countries that do not have laws against sexual contact between men respond to the Gay International's incitement to discourse by professing antihomosexual stances on a nationalist basis. This is leading to harassment by police in some cases and could lead to antihomosexual legislation. Those countries that already have unenforced laws have begun to enforce them. Ironically, this is the very process through which "homosexuality" was invented in the West.
It is not the Gay International or its upper-class supporters in the Arab diaspora who will be persecuted but rather the poor and nonurban men who practice same-sex contact and who do not identify as homosexual or gay. The so-called passive homosexual whom the Gay International wants to defend against social denigration will find himself in a double bind: first, his sexual desires will be unfulfilled because he will no longer have access to his previously available sexual object choice (i.e., exclusively active partners, as in the interim they will have become heterosexual); and second, he will fall victim to legal and police persecution as well as heightened social denigration as his sexual practice becomes a topic of public discourse that transforms it from a practice into an identity.
When the Gay Internationalincites discourse on homosexuality in the non-Western world, it claims that the "liberation" of those it defends lies in the balance. In espousing this liberation project, the Gay Internationalis destroying social and sexual configurations of desire in the interest of reproducing a world in its own image, one wherein its sexual categories and desires are safe from being questioned. Because it has solicited and received some support from Arab and Muslim native informants who are mostly located in the United States and who accept its sexual categories and identities, the Gay International's imperialist epistemological task is proceeding apace with little opposition from the majority of the sexual beings it wants to "liberate" and whose social and sexual worlds it is destroying in the process. In undertaking this universalizing project, the Gay Internationalultimately makes itself feel better about a world it forces to share its identifications. Its missionary achievement, however, will be the creation not of a queer planet but rather a straight one.
As a social constructivist Massad concludes:
In contradistinction to the liberatory claims made by the Gay International in relation to what it posits as an always already homosexualized population, I argue that it is the discourse of the Gay International that both produces homosexuals, as well as gays and lesbians, where they do not exist, and represses same-sex desires and practices that refuse to be assimilated into its sexual epistemology. ... this discourse assumes prediscursively that homosexuals, gays, and lesbians are universal categories that exist everywhere in the world, and based on this prediscursive axiom, the Gay International sets itself the mission of defending them by demanding that their rights as "homosexuals" be granted where they are denied and be respected where they are violated. In doing so, however, the Gay International produces an effect that is less than liberatory.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Africans Asians Europeans – social constructs

While I share 99,9% of my genes with all humans beings. Of the one permille only a tenth correlats with "race" and out of these genes only a handful relate to visible features that are used as markers of "race".
There may be a gene that affects blood pressure, that is quite common in West Africa and very rare in Europe. Statistically it may be true that a certain drug is more efficient among Afro-Americans than among Euro-Americans. But since there are some Swedish Americans with that "African gene", and many Afro-Americans without it, it makes no medical sense to treat humans according to "race".
Europe is clearly a social construct. Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Diogenes Apolloniates, Archelaus, and Thales lived and worked in Asia, but are considered Europeans. The Himalayas are much higher than the Urals, but India is called a subcontinent, Europe a continent. Finnish and Hungarian are Uraltic languages, Persian a European. But let's assume we know where Europe is (excluding Malta, Cyprus and the Canaries, but including Rhodes and Iceland) and who is European (including Basques, Sami and Afrikaner), let's assume we can agree on the borders of Africa (without the Sinai and Madagascar), where do we put the Arabs, where the Arian Iranians?
There are some people who consider themselves as "belonging to the African race," just as their are people who considern themselves "born gay."
Social constructivism is often misunderstood as claiming "free choice". But that people are not Black or Gay by birth, does not mean they can choose the color of their skin or their sexual preferences. In a society that classifies humans by height or body type (leptosomic, athletic, pyknic) or by leg form (knock knees or bow-leg) skin color plays no social function – just like some prefer blond or black hair, some might prefer hazelnut or pink skin. Observing long distance runners, wrestlers and swimmers from different countries and very different skin color, only a die-hard racist can deny that most top long distance runners look the same; so do most professional wrestlers (and weight lifters).

Homo-Naturalists a k a Essentialists

There are two schools of thought about "sexual orientation". The common view (in the late 20th century European middle class) is essentialist: both those who have sex predominantly with people of their own sex and those who have it most of the time with people of a different gender think that there ARE homosexuals irrespective of the attitudes of society on sex, gender, love, relationship, progeny and so on.
Homo-Naturalist believe that humans are born gay or straight, that society can inhibit or redirect the natural inclination of gay people but that they ARE homosexual, and that there ARE homosexuals in every society. Many think it likely that there is a gay/lesbian gene. They think that a preference for boys (over men), for blacks (for Asians), for anonymous sex (vs. long term relationships) might be aquired, but that the basic "sexual orientation" is given.
This goes often along with two related views: the claim that since "God made me that way", since "nature demands me to act that way", everybody must accept it. And: All Homosexuals of all times and regions form a common group, just like all people with an African ancestor belong to a group.
The opposite view, the culturalist or social constructivist view, holds that humans are (genetically) cable to all kinds of sexual acts. They think that it is socially constructed that most Americans categorize humans by the sex of their sexual object choice. The main divide could equally well be between parents and non-partents (irrelevant whether due to lack of sermens, disinterest in genital sex, chastity or exclusive interest in nonreproductive forms of sex), or between monosexist, polysexists, autosexists and nonsexists. For a social constructivist the dichotomy of gay and straight is just a possible view of the sexual world. To a culturalist it is mind-boggling that sexual orientation does not refer to a preference for leather/rubber/satin clad sex partners, for submission or domination, for anonymous sex or romantic love-sex, but only to the sex of the prefered object. Careful observers notice that even in a society where people are conditioned to become gay or straight many people have a different social, a different emontional and a different romantic "sex of choice". In other societies it is quite normal that you share your views and experiences with one person, that you fall in love with another (of the same or an other gender) and that you have children with a third. Love may be seen an afflication, an irritating passion, friendship as a life-long companionship and sex and a casual pastime.

Joseph Andoni Massad

I heard the first time about him on 13.2.2000, when a gay Arab American wrote:
This afternoon ... Joseph Massad, a Palestinian from Jordan who is a professor in the Middle East and Asian Languages and Culture Department at Columbia University [gave a] paper "Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World." The premiser was that a "gay international" comprised of organizations like ILGA is imposing a universalist definition of a Western, white-identified gay/lesbian identity on the Arab and Muslim worlds with often devastating effects. Massad argues that organizations like GLAS and al-Fatiha are not only part of this gay international, but that they are Orientalist in nature and are helpful only for a tiny minority of Diaspora Arabs and Muslims as well as those privileged elites in the Arab and Muslim world who a) travel to the West and b) have access to the internet. He feels these organizations provide a forum for Arabs/Muslims to vent against Islam, Arab society, and what have you, and that the positions espoused by activists like Ramzi Zachariah and Faisal Alam ... mimic the efforts of Western missionaries in their proselytizing zeal (a "we will liberate/civilize the natives" sort of thing). ... Massad criticized Arab-Americans for often espousing the most virulent of anti-Arab attitudes, albeit camouflaged by an alleged insider knowledge, and condemned those upper class Arabs in the Middle East who willingly act as "native informants" for the gay international agenda. While acknowledging the sincerity and good intent of those of us who've been involved with these efforts, Massad insists that Western gay identity is completely irrelevant to Arab and Muslim experience and that it's introduction to the Arab/Muslim worlds will not result in liberation for gays, but in greater repression of homoeroticism and homosexual behavior.
He believes our efforts will have the counter effect of a) establishing heterosexuality as an identity b) compulsorizing heterosexuality and c) unleashing homophobia. Instead of creating a queer planet, we are in fact
creating a heterosexual planet, he maintains. Now obviously I find his positions to be problematic on many levels.
However, I am by no means writing this to trash Massad or his work. To the contrary, I found him to be a very impressive and eloquent speaker who raises some truly provocative and important issues. What I would like us as a community to explore is his supposition that we are doing more harm than good and the possibility that while we personally may be benefiting from our efforts, we are doing it at the expense of millions of others. Are we creating a situation that may in fact disrupt the lives of those for whom issues of sexual identity have
always been irrelevant or alien? Are we operating within a Western imperialist mindset? Are we claiming to represent or speak for all gay Arabs and Muslims without a mandate to do so? Are we inadvertently assuming
our own experiences and beliefs to be those of all gay Arabs and Muslims? Are we unwillingly becoming accomplices to greater anti-gay oppression in the Arab and Muslim worlds?
I wrote him at once, suggesting that "Hollywood" might have a stronger influence on the views and attitudes of people in the Middle East than ILGA. His answer (unedited):
Dear Mr. Schmitt,
The article will be published sometime in the next year in Public Culture.
More than three year later, Re-Orienting Desire: The Gay International and the Arab World appeared (the journal is about a year behind schedule).
When I read it, I was astonished to find out that it was not only about ILGA, GLAS, al-Fatiha and AI, but that Joe attacked some scholars as well, me among them. Now, I understood why he had refused to send me the script of his Chicago lecture: the articles was full of lies!