Tatchell and pink-veiled Islamophobia

Kevin Ovenden, author 'Malcolm X'


We have been asked to carry this response to Outrage!'s comments on the Respect conference, and as with all voices articles it should not be taken to imply that the Socialist Unity Network endorses the views expressed here.

 

Call me naοve, but I like to hope that Peter Tatchell might one day embrace an inclusive brand of politics which seeks the widest possible unity against homophobia. That would require him desisting from specious polemics against the left. But we're a long way from that felicitous day, judging by the latest outburst from Tatchell's OutRage organisation (unfortunately recycled over at Direland)
 
There was, according to Tatchell, a "grassroots revolt" over LGBT rights at the Respect conference last weekend. You can picture the scene: rank and file delegates queuing up to denounce their unprincipled leaders, heckling, cheers and high drama...

Except it never happened. Instead, the conference unanimously passed a motion which regretted that an explicit defence of LGBT rights (which, as the motion pointed out, is part of Respect's founding statement) was not included in the manifesto and ensured that the mistake would be rectified. No one spoke against this motion. There was no showdown. There was no revolt.
 
But from Tatchell — clearly keen not to let the facts get in the way of a good smear — this becomes a clear breach between "the grassroots membership" and "Respect's leaders" (who were part of the unanimous vote, it being unanimous and all). Very odd.

And it gets odder still when he tells us: "Respect regards LGBT rights as a marginal issue of no serious interest or concern." Presumably this must be a different Respect from the one whose "grassroots membership" he praises for standing up over the issue against their supposedly reluctant leaders.
 
The same delegates went on to pass an amendment to the resolution — again unanimously. It reads:

Conference notes that prejudice against gay men and lesbians exists throughout society. We note in particular recent violent attacks such as the homophobic murder of Jody Dobrowksi on Clapham Common.
 
Conference notes that a hotel in Devon recently refused a booking from a gay couple purely on the grounds of prejudice.
 
Conference notes that some LGBT campaigners, such as OutRage, disproportionately highlight homophobia among African Caribbeans and Muslims, and suggest it is one of the main sources of such attacks. This is despite LGBT organisations based in these communities strongly opposing such an approach.  
 
Conference condemns all homophobic attacks and acts of prejudice.
 
Conference recognises that homophobia is not mainly a problem among ethnic minorities but is a problem in society as a whole. The largest group perpetrating attacks are likely to be white men, as was the fascist David Copeland, who bombed Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho.

 
Now this starts to take us to how Tatchell can so spectacularly misreport a conference that he did not attend.
 
Tatchell is disturbingly fixated on men with dark skin. How else can you explain why, when invited to comment on the murder of Jody Dobrowski, he rapidly started telling his radio audience about the homophobia of a well known Muslim cleric? I doubt the two white men charged with the crime place much store by the words of Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
 
There are many other examples of the distortions this obsession leads to. Egregiously, there's Tatchell's article earlier this year in the Guardian trying to work up a case for Malcolm X being gay. Among the telltale signs, apparently, was Malcolm's upbringing. You see:
 
 

After the death of his father, when Malcolm was six, he lacked male role models and was dominated by strong women — in particular, his tyrannical mother. He feared women and his early sexual experiences with girls were mostly unsatisfactory. Far from macho, Malcolm hated fighting and got beaten by other men.


 
Absent father, tyrannical mother — I was waiting for some other bit of 1950s cod psychologising, something along the lines of "the homosexual disorder is an exaggerated form of attention seeking".
 
Now, if the only result of Tatchell's fixation was that such drivel tripped off his keyboard, then his drivel would be unremarkable.

But one consequence, intended or otherwise, is to provide a pink patina for Islamophobic stereotypes. It's fairly explicit when his outfit comes up with slogans denouncing "Muslim homophobia", as if the epithet were necessary or in some way aggravated the offence.
 
From there, it's not difficult for him to lose his bearings entirely. In Tatchell's response to the unanimous Respect conference vote, there's the following:
 
 

Respect has betrayed progressive Muslims, in favour of an alliance with Islamist conservatives and fundamentalists whose policies on gay and women's rights are even more reactionary than those of the despicable neo-Nazi BNP.


 
I'll come to the alleged betrayal of progressive Muslims, but note here the casual downplaying of the "neo-Nazi BNP" — not that despicable really, and nothing like as a big a threat as the "Islamist conservatives".
 
And where does indulging pink-veiled Islamophobia end up? Look no further than the autumn issue of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist magazine, which on page six gives us this noxious nugget: "What does a moderate Muslim do, other than excuse the real nutters by adhering to this barmy doctrine?”

In the same issue is an article referring to immigrants as "often poor, ill-educated and culturally estranged Third Worlders, many of whom are criminals of the worst kind" (see Islamophobia Watch for more details).
 
As the mover of the above resolution told delegates on Sunday: "This kind of Islamophobia can appear in what has historically been a progressive magazine only because a climate has been created in which it is respectable to single out Muslims as anti-gay."
 
As for the alleged betrayal of progressive Muslims by Respect. Well, among those resisting attempts to use LGBT rights as an outrider for anti-Muslim racism are all the major black and Asian LGBT groups, including the gay Muslim organisation Imaan.
 
The smear is also news to the gay, lesbian, bisexual members of Respect who are Muslim or who are from Muslim families. (Well, that's not entirely true — I'm not remotely surprised by the smear.)
 
It'll be news to reactionaries such al-Muhajiroun, who spent the election campaign in east London telling anyone who would listen that George Galloway and Respect supported equalising the age of consent, opposed Section 28 and were in favour of full equality for lesbians and gay men.
 
It wasn't only the Islamists, of course — I witnessed a number of Muslim Labour supporters doing the same in Tower Hamlets, and Muslim Respect members in Newham fielded a suspicious number of calls on election day from people supposedly outraged at Respect's stance, and spent time defending the policy.  
 
I don't know the party allegiance of the people who rang Galloway on a local Bengali radio phone-in during the campaign to ask if he was a "promoter of gay marriage". I do know he told them, as well as an 800-strong rally in the constituency and indeed anyone who asked him, that he was in favour of equality "and that means equal treatment for all, so it cannot be right to deny gay people the right to marry".  
 
I do know that Abdul Khaliq Mian, Respect's candidate in East Ham, received a call from a woman who said she did not want to vote for him because he is a Muslim and her gay son had been attacked by some Muslim boys. Abdul condemned the attack, went round to see her and said he would work with the family to bring catch those responsible and to prevent any further attack.
 
I remember sitting in the gay pub round the corner from my boyfriend's in Bethnal Green (taking a well earned rest from campaigning) when a couple of bricks were lobbed at it. Oliur Rahman, Respect councillor in the neighbouring ward, offered take up the issue, but the landlord didn’t think it necessary.
 
There are many, many more examples — but they won't be enough to satisfy the pink Islamophobes. So I've got a better idea.
 
I bought a badge on the first gay pride demonstration I attended (alright, it was 21 years ago). It read: "How dare you presume I'm heterosexual." I'm thinking of minting a new one for Muslims or those, such as me, who are taken to be Muslim in these fevered times: "How dare you presume I'm a homophobe."

 

This article is in response to Grassroots Respect members win  gay rights motion Outrage!