Policing Pride

Stonewall riot, New York City, June 27, 1969

Stonewall riot, New York City, June 27, 1969

Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Stonewall riots began, the reason Pride happens at this season. I have a Dark Gay Secret: I’ve never enjoyed most Prides. Mostly it’s because of how I deal with crowds. Prides are peculiar marches, not about specific goals but about visibility itself as a general good; the exultant pointlessness, which is the point, disconcerts me slightly, and I feel like a guy who comes to a lazy cocktail party thinking it’s a fancy-dress ball. I swing into a different state of mind, perversely, if there’s a chance the police or a mob might attack. Then I’m poised to document, record, act, a good human rights gnome, as I’ve done at tiny embattled Prides from Budapest in 1992 to Zimbabwe in 2000 — or at probably hundreds of other demonstrations from Romania to Egypt. That I know how to do. But otherwise I stand around wondering what’s the value of my personally being visible — does anyone want to see me? — and why the hell I’m there.

This is by way of explaining that in sixteen or so years of living in New York, I only went to Pride once. It was 1998. A friend and I staked out sidewalk space on lower Fifth Avenue and watched the platoons go by. It was fun till we heard a roar of exuberant welcome, a surging surf of cheers, billow down from a few blocks before; as the thunder neared we saw a blue-uniformed brigade the crowd was wildly applauding, and someone told us it was the first-ever contingent of LGBT police officially allowed to march in the parade. This was nine months after Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant, had been raped by policemen in a Brooklyn jail. I turned away. I asked my friend: how could they go all jismic over an institution that, however many gays it hired, was historically their oppressor, still firmly in the business of oppression? (This was the warm noon of Giuliani time.) He frowned dourly. “They love power,” he said.

Today is Pride in London. (A few years ago it was renamed to avoid the whole annoying question of whose identities were included — L? G? B? T? Q? — and make it more a self-lauding celebration of the city’s own diversity, however unspecified.) A good if only slightly jargony article by Huw Lemmey asks questions similar to mine in more detail. He describes how the festivities welcome the Metropolitan Police, parading in full uniform.

Their bodies are used as symbols, building an image of the police as an inclusive and tolerant body reflecting the makeup and values of society as a whole. …It is wrong to say Pride is now a depoliticised event: it is more politicised than ever. It has been turned over to the service of the dominant ideology, and so is harder to distinguish from the cruelties and injustices of everyday life. We have lost Pride.

We'e here, we're queer, don't move, motherfucker: Metropolitan Police march in Pride in London, 2013

We’e here, we’re queer, we love you, really: Metropolitan Police march in Pride in London, 2013

As this shows, it is easy to see the privileged police participation as symbolic of things a lot of people dislike about Prides these days, though fewer and fewer find language to resist them: their mainstreaming, commodification and corporatization, symptoms of a movement demobilized. For “corporate and state institutions,” Pride’s an opportunity. The “’visibility’ of their employees on a public march associated with youth, diversity and openness became a positive boon.”

Police kettle Climate Camp protesters at the G20 summit, London, 2009

We’re here and fuck you: Police kettle Climate Camp protesters at the G20 summit, London, 2009

It’s equally sensible to see in the cops’ presence a more precise historical wound: an insult to those who preserve the memory of police violence, whether against an Abner Louima in New York or a Jean Charles de Menezes in London, or the many others whose unreported stories they represent; or a white- or pink-washing of the ways security forces deal with less anodyne demonstrations. Faced with gatherings more militantly “diverse” than Pride and more impelled by politics than pleasure, British police crack down hard. They routinely “kettle” or encircle any nonviolent protest, isolating it from public view, enabling brutality, dangerously crushing the participants. The Guardian calls this a method for “authoritarian governments” that “brook no opposition and contrive a compliant society.” Since I haven’t been to a demo in London since 1993, I’ve mainly seen the practice in open, diverse, democratic Egypt, where twice I was almost trampled to death in a protest constricted by a tightening security cordon. Meanwhile, the Mayor of London has bought three watercannon for his city this summer, to soak menacing subversives who cannot make it to the beach.

State Security (Amn el-Dawla) forces encircle a small anti-war demonstration, Sayyeda Zeinab, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 15, 2003: photograph by Scott Long

State Security (Amn el-Dawla) forces encircle a small anti-war demonstration, Sayyeda Zeinab, Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 15, 2003: photograph by Scott Long

Since in New York or London (like so many other patrolled and guarded cities) victims of state violence tend to be people of color or other marginalized minorities, critiques of the police presence also resurrect suppressed questions of identity and justice within queer communities themselves. When “law enforcement become[s] part of the corpus of Pride,” Lemmey writes,

other bodies are necessarily erased. …  how can we ask people materially, psychologically and physically oppressed by the police (or the financial services institutions, or the Army) to “come out” and be proud of a collective political project which so visibly and proudly features those institutions that oppress them? …. By excluding those bodies from Pride, we perpetuate a public image of LGBT people limited to those who have no conflict with the police in their daily lives, ensuring a vicious circle of erasure for the excluded.

There is a fourth issue, which also grows out of the troubled history of LGBT people with policing. As long as the police are around (and, as Raymond Chandler wrote, no one has figured out how to say goodbye to them yet), they’ll be called on to protect LGBT people against violence, as well as to eschew homophobic violence themselves. All the sensitivity trainings and diversity hires and appearances at Pride serve this end: opening the institution to the benefit of people it’s supposed to serve, but hasn’t. The ability to claim the state’s protection when you need it is a constituent part of citizenship. But protection against whom? When these establishments promptly move on to identify other enemies, other aliens, new outsiders, new victims, are these vaunted openings also making LGBT people the privileged clients of repression? And when does a client become an accomplice? “I must distance myself from this complicity with racism, including anti-Muslim racism,” Judith Butler, declining the “Civil Courage Prize” she was offered at Berlin’s Christopher Street Day in 2010, said: 

We all have noticed that gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans and queer people can be instrumentalized by those who want to wage wars, i.e. cultural wars against migrants by means of forced islamophobia and military wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. In these times and by these means, we are recruited for nationalism and militarism. Currently, many European governments claim that our gay, lesbian, queer rights must be protected and we are made to believe that the new hatred of immigrants is necessary to protect us. Therefore we must say no to such a deal. To be able to say no under these circumstances is what I call courage. But who says no?

That’s still a question.

Police raid a migrants' camp in Munich, Germany, 2013

Police raid a migrants’ camp in Munich, Germany, 2013

World Pride, a putatively global confab, has been going on in Toronto, Canada this week.  Although people can attend panels to hear about particular abuses by particular police forces in, say, Uganda or Russia, one subject that’s unlikely to come up is how security techniques, surveillance, and control have gone just as global as Pride has. Yet Toronto’s cops learn from Giuliani’s how to deal with the intrusive and unwanted, and a rich cross-fertilized discussion of how to round up people and neutralize or kill them goes on between those enlightened cities and Cairo or Sao Paulo. Mike Davis warned a decade ago that the defining question of the twenty-first century city will be how to police the poor. This is ever more evident. Queer Ontario has put out a “Statement of Concern Regarding the TAVIS Policing of the Downtown Eastside during the World Pride Event,” and I will reproduce it in full:

Queer Ontario is very concerned about the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) policing initiative of the downtown eastside scheduled to coincide with the World Pride (WP) event. As many visitors to Toronto are expected during this major tourism event, we are concerned that the police are stepping up their intervention and surveillance of marginalized and vulnerable downtown eastside residents. We are concerned that the police are using a global tourism event as a pretext to crackdown on the area’s poor residents, the homeless, street-based sex workers, drug users, and others essentially engaging in an “undesirables cleansing” of the area.

We are concerned that the rights of our most vulnerable citizens will be violated during the TAVIS policing effort as its policy of targeted ‘prevention’ of crime does little to address the social and economic marginality that the area’s residents face — a social and economic situation marked by poverty, racism, gender violence, homelessness and discrimination. Especially vulnerable are the area’s female and female-identified transsexual and transgendered street-based sex workers and the local drug-using population. Adding to the problem is the fact that the downtown eastside is where many of the social services that the residents rely on are located – forcibly displacing local residents would thereby compound their difficulties.

Anti-poverty activists demonstrate against TAVIS in advance of World Pride, June 2014.

Anti-poverty activists demonstrate against TAVIS in advance of World Pride, June 2014.

As the TAVIS policing effort is contemporaneous with the World Pride event, we are especially concerned that the World Pride Committee not remain silent on this issue facing our poor and disenfranchised residents of the downtown eastside, and area which is adjacent to the Church Street Village and which is home to many of the city’s LGBTQ population. We are asking the World Pride organizers not to remain silent on this issue and to remember the history of policing in our LGBTQ communities. Heavy-handed and discriminatory practices by the police are not unknown to LGBTQ folks, past and present. Everyone has a right to the city and to unhindered access to the services many need to survive; not a few of whom will be directly affected by the TAVIS effort will themselves be LGBTQ people, and are, by and large, unable to afford many of the events WP has to offer.

We at Queer Ontario urge you to take this issue seriously as there are many people in our communities and beyond who are expecting World Pride organizers to remember our queer history and to act accordingly, working with the police to temper their activities during this time. We hope WP does not choose to engage in a shameful silence when the cops do the work of violating the rights of some of the most vulnerable members of the public and our poor citizens. We urge you to consider your role, as leaders of global events attached to a Human Rights Conference to not become a force for denying the same rights that queers/trans folks have had to fight for decades to obtain.

This is a very important issue for how events are going to be organized in this city now and for years to come. We ask that WP organizers step up and make their voices heard for the more marginalized citizens in the downtown area. We request that they not let a major global event become a handmaiden of short-sighted policing efforts and the displacement of the poor and marginalized, which have often accompanied such global entertainment and sporting events worldwide.

Sitting pretty: TAVIS forces on patrol in Toronto

Sitting pretty: TAVIS forces on patrol in Toronto

TAVIS, a “police unit that swoops into violence-prone pockets of the city to gather intelligence and connect with regular people,”  has severely “strained relations with heavily policed communities,” the Toronto Star phlegmatically reports:

TAVIS officers stop, question and document citizens at the highest rate of any other police unit, as they are expected to do. They also have the highest degree of carding of blacks, which, to be sure, is partially a reflection of the demographics of where they are most often deployed. …

With 22,000 arrests to its name in five years, TAVIS scares a lot of people — although not the city’s white, rich, criminal, drug-smoking mayor. But the anxieties about World Pride also draw on events like the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, where police sweeps and harassment drove sex workers and other undesirables out of their neighborhoods, doing serious harm to their livelihoods and (by limiting their access to health services) lives.

From ‏@stonewalluk  , 2013: "London Met Police came to visit us at the Pride family area, St Anne's Churchyard and took a couple of our stickers!"

From ‏@stonewalluk , 2013: “London Met Police came to visit us at the Pride family area, St Anne’s Churchyard and took a couple of our stickers!”

Large urban Pride fests like New York’s or London’s are not just celebrations for LGBT communities, or for their host towns. They’re tourist events, chances for neoliberally refurbished cities to show off their vibe and neutered variety to a consuming world. Queer Toronto gets the broad point right: Prides are now in the same class as giant sports carnivals — which, as I’ve written before, always feed fears of alien identities tarnishing the urban image, and always lead to policing the unwanted into either prisons or invisibility, the latter sometimes temporary, sometimes lasting. Among folks expelled from view when Pride comes to town may well be many ostensibly fitting into the LGBT lineup, but in practice not: sex workers, migrants, people of color, the poor.

There’s a growing number of studies of how sports events provide pretexts for social cleansing, from the London Olympics to the Rio World Cup. So far as I know there have been no similar investigations of how Pride is policed: who benefits from “protection,” and who are its victims. Absent such knowledge generalizations are irresponsible, but it needs looking into. (As one starting point, note this statement from the North Star Fund in New York, highlighting the coalition work of three of its LGBTQ grantees — the Audre Lorde Project, FIERCE, and Streetwise & Safe — to combat discriminatory policing.) The police presence at Prides is hardly just the nice symbolic gesture of marching and carrying flags. The logic of security forces does not brook their being decorative. Police also intervene in the layout and life of the city, to mold them to the Pride image; their appearance among the marchers promotes a certain apathy toward what they may be up to at the margins. How much violence happens in the name of safety? Look at that picture of Stonewall at the top. Then, next time you’re at Pride, ask yourself: Which side of the barricade are you on now?

Security forces encircling an antiwar protest at the Cairo Book Fair, Egypt, January 31, 2003: Photograph by Scott Long

Security forces encircling an antiwar protest at the Cairo Book Fair, Egypt, January 31, 2003: Photograph by Scott Long

 

Bradley Manning, Bayard Rustin, and the perversion of Pride

Can I join?

Can I join?

That eminent critic and activist Edward Said was given, from time to time, to quoting Hugh of St. Victor, a twelfth-century mystic:

The person who finds his homeland sweet is a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is as a foreign place. The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong person has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.

Said was, of course, a terrorist, and that is just how terrorists think. “Mystic” is another word for “fundamentalist”; and praising foreigners and rootless people? You’re siding with disloyalists, Luftmenschen, cosmopolitans, Jews! (I mean Muslims, sorry.)  In these confusing days when any displaced or misplaced or misprinted person could be a mad bomber — Saudi nationals, Moroccan high school students, dead Brown University undergrads, or citizens of the Czech Republic — it is imperative to find a refuge from the roiling chaos of mistaken identities, to settle on the facts you know when you don’t know anything about the folks around you, and to REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE. Fortunately the gays are good at this. Decades of practicing identity politics have left them secure in their own labels. The heroism of role models like Michael Lucas and J. Edgar Hoover has taught gays to be grateful to anybody who gives them a promotion. Thank you, Barack, thank you, Hillary, for handing us our rights!  We love you forever!  This is our country, and no one can take it from us, and please bomb all those places that are foreign as much as you damn well like!

Michael Lucas, gay role model and former head of the FBI, prepares to waterboard a suspect

Michael Lucas, gay role model and former head of the FBI, prepares to waterboard a suspect

I was reminded of our queer community’s collective patriotism by fast-moving happenings last night in San Francisco. To summarize: SF Pride held a vote and Bradley Manning — the gay or trans (it’s not entirely clear how Manning identifies) soldier who disseminated the great Wikileaks trove of secret US documents — was elected a Grand Marshal of this year’s shindig, which will happen in late June. There are a bunch of Grand Marshals every year, and each one gets to ride in a car during the long parade, wave at the crowd, and accept adulation. In Manning’s case,the soldier was in no position to do the accepting. Manning is under lock and key at Fort Leavenworth, facing charges including “aiding the enemy,” which under the military code can carry the death penalty.  Daniel Ellsberg, the great whistleblowing opponent of the Vietnam War, agreed to join the festivities in Manning’s place.

J. Edgar Hoover, porn star and gay icon, gets ready for his cum shot: They hate us for his freedoms

J. Edgar Hoover, porn star and gay icon, gets ready for his cum shot: They hate us for his freedoms

No need; within hours the board of SF Pride stepped in and rescinded the honor. Lisa Williams, the board president, issued a statement. “I am against honoring Bradley Manning,” she said, “as he was a traitor to the good old United States of America. If we all had felt the way he did back in the Forties, Hitler would have ruled the world.”

Soldiering on: Lisa Williams, board president, SF Pride

Soldiering on: Lisa Williams, board president, SF Pride

Oh … I’m sorry again. It’s early in the AM where I am, and I haven’t had coffee, and I keep screwing up. What Lisa Williams actually said was just about the same, but with slightly different wording. From her statement: 

Bradley Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration. His nomination was a mistake and should never have been allowed to happen. … [E]ven the hint of support for actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform — and countless others, military and civilian alike — will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride. It is, and would be, an insult to every one, gay and straight, who has ever served in the military of this country.

I get confused, you see, because Lisa Williams — in addition to being “president and owner of One Source Consulting, a firm which does political consulting, ” and the former “Northern California deputy political director for the ‘No on 8′” gay-marriage campaign — is also the chair of the political action committee of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. That’s an estimable group that tries to promote black LGBT political participation in the Bay Area. And the quote above, the one about Hitler and the traitor — well, it was actually about Bayard Rustin; so you can see how I mixed them up. Rustin, if you remember, was one of the great figures of 20th-century America: a pacifist, a war resister, an icon of civil disobedience, and the key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. (Also a gay man). Rustin spent three years in Lewisburg Penitentiary as a conscientious objector during the Second World War.  The quote (slightly tweaked) came from a citizen of West Chester, PA, back in 2002, who objected to naming a school after Bayard Rustin. After all, the traitor broke US law, encouraged others to do likewise, and opposed the military and domestic policies of the United States.

Interesting, then, that Lisa Williams works for the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition. Because her story shows that you can honor somebody like Rustin– indeed, even serve an organization named after him! — without caring or sharing what he believed in. Since that’s true, there’s really no reason SF Pride shouldn’t honor Bradley Manning.

But Pride is not a protest march, Mr. Rustin. These days we have nothing to protest.

But Pride is not a protest march, Mr. Rustin. These days we have nothing to protest.

I don’t mean to imply that Bradley Manning is Bayard Rustin redivivus, or in any sense his spiritual or political heir. In fact, we know remarkably little about Manning, and a cloud of speculation, much of it absurd, still surrounds his motives. Even that pronoun “his” is questionable. (Speculation persists, supported by chats Manning apparently had with an inquisitive hacker, that she identifies as a trans woman and that advocates and attorneys are suppressing this fact: perhaps to preserve Manning’s “respectability” for the trial. In an attempt to respect the uncertainty, I alternate pronouns.)  The fact that Manning’s been held incommunicado allows everyone to project whatever politics, priorities, or fantasies they like on the mute figure. For homophobes, Manning is a disgruntled and untrustworthy gay man, a living argument for ask, tell, and expel queers from the armed forces. For military interventionists like Dan Choi and Peter Tatchell, he’s an emblem of the kind of inclusive army they’d like, one where all your government secrets will be safe if the officers just welcome the homos with open, loaded arms.

We do know that brutal treatment has been inflicted on Manning while in US military jails. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture — denied an unmonitored meeting with Manning to investigate his well-being — warned the government that “imposing seriously punitive conditions of detention on someone who has not been found guilty of any crime is a violation of his right to physical and psychological integrity as well as of his presumption of innocence.”  And the Rapporteur, Juan Mendez, a distinguished human rights activist from Argentina who was himself tortured under the US-supported miitary dictatorship, told the press:

I conclude that the 11 months under conditions of solitary confinement (regardless of the name given to his regime by the prison authorities) constitutes at a minimum cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of article 16 of the convention against torture. If the effects in regards to pain and suffering inflicted on Manning were more severe, they could constitute torture.

Of course, that’s the UN for you: a gang of Communists. Good American gays reject it and all its works and pomps. The UN, writes young neocon and would-be gay mercenary Jamie Kirchick in our favorite gay news source The Advocate, is “more often than not an actively pernicious force in world politics.” (Kirchick loyally tweets about Manning as “traitor Bradley Manning,” because, after all, who needs a trial?)

Advertisements for my elf: Young Kirchick promotes his twittery on treason

Advertisements for my elf: Young Kirchick promotes own published typing, misspells “Marshal”

Why exactly was this UN fellow Juan Mendez tortured? you well might ask. There’s no smoke without fire; you don’t pull out people’s fingernails unless there’s something under them you want; you don’t torture people unless they were asking for it. Surely he was a Communist, which explains why the UN hired him. Really, how can you appoint a torture victim to investigate torture? How can he be objective? And these UN bigots always defend those gays in foreign lands who don’t appreciate the United States; they never give the US credit for how well it treats gays here. How dare the sissies diss us!

Juan Mendez, tortureworthy pro-treason opponent of enhanced interrogation methods working for the Communist International: not a gay role model

Juan Mendez, tortureworthy pro-treason opponent of enhanced interrogation methods working for the Communist International: Not a gay role model

Now, in some other, more sensitively disposed polities, evidence that a suspect was tortured would give occasion to drop the charges. Not so in the United States, which has acquired an admirably stoical attitude toward inhuman treatment!  In this, though, one detects what perhaps is the root of Manning’s own difference with his country’s policy. Manning didn’t like torture. Irrationally, he didn’t like it even before he was tortured. He didn’t like his country’s complicity in torture; he didn’t like the abuses and crimes that the US committed and encouraged in its occupation of Iraq. And he saw enough of that first hand.

It was from Iraq that Manning sent materials to WikiLeaks, and in Iraq she was arrested. Kevin Gosztola writes — and it’s worth quoting at length:

In 2010, while stationed at Forward Operating Base Hammer in Baghdad, Pfc. Bradley Manning decided to approach a superior officer in his chain of command to voice his concern about something he had stumbled upon in his capacity as an intelligence analyst. His unit had been helping Iraqi federal police identify suspects for detention and discovered that fifteen men had been arrested for producing “anti-Iraqi literature.” … Manning discovered that the writing was hardly criminal; it was a “scholarly critique” of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But his superior officer did not want to hear about it. Manning knew if he continued to assist the police in identifying political opponents, innocent people would be jailed, likely tortured, and “not seen again for a very long time, if ever,” as he told a military courtroom in Fort Meade, MD … Hoping to expose what was happening ahead of the Iraq parliamentary election, on March 7, 2010, Manning shared the information with WikiLeaks….

Since his arrest, the media has focused on Manning’s mental problems, his poor relationships with family members, his sexual orientation, and the fact that he considered becoming a woman. Such a caricature, of an unstable youth rather than of a soldier with a conscience, has enabled the government and other detractors to maintain that Manning had no clear and legitimate motives when disclosing the information.

Bradley Manning

Bradley Manning

But in fact Manning’s first statement in court offered a clear account of what led her to the leaks. She

included an explanation for why he released the video that would be titled “Collateral Murder” by WikiLeaks, and which revealed an aerial attack on media workers and Iraqi civilians, including children. Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me was the seemingly delightful bloodlust they appeared to have,” Manning said. “They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as quote ‘dead bastards’ unquote and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.” …

Of the cache of over 250,000 US State Embassy cables, Manning said: “The more I read, the more I was fascinated by the way that we dealt with other nations and organizations. I also began to think that the documented backdoor deals and seemingly criminal activity didn’t seem characteristic of the de facto leader of the free world.”

Here, at least, Manning distinctly does share something with Bayard Rustin.  For Rustin, at his best, fought US rights abuses at home and abroad. He was no less an internationalist than Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. John D’Emilio, his brilliant biographer, describes how his rejection of US warmongering led to repeated confrontations with the law:

At the height of the Cold War, when sirens blared, all Americans were supposed to duck for cover. Rustin and a few other comrades said, “This is insane,” and they sat instead in City Hall Park in New York. Indicted and found guilty, they did it again, and again, until many thousands of Americans followed their lead. Rustin organized protests against nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert, the south Pacific, and the Sahara. Soon, the nuclear powers abandoned atmospheric testing.

You may be right, Mr. Rustin. But we can teach democracy by invading other countries and killing people. Can't we?

You may be right, Mr. Rustin. But we can teach democracy by invading other countries and killing their population. Can’t we?

During the Vietnam War, Rustin protested in terms almost exactly applicable to the US’s current exercises in humanitarian killing. He called it

a useless, destructive, disgusting war …We must be on the side of revolutionary democracy. And, in addition to all the other arguments for a negotiated peace in Vietnam, there is this one: that it is immoral, impractical, un-political, and unrealistic for this nation to identify itself with a regime which does not have the confidence of its people … I say to the President: America cannot be the policeman of this globe!

Well, it can still try.

Rustin urged that those who rejected the US’s domestic and foreign criminality wield a variety of tools and strategies: “Non-violent strike, economic boycott, picketing, non-payment of taxes, mass emigration, noncooperation, and civil disobedience.” Whistleblowing wasn’t on the list, but there was no Internet and no WikiLeaks in his day.

And for all this, of course, Rustin was called a “traitor,” and still is, by the Jamie Kirchicks of his time, and ours. I have no idea how he’d feel about Bradley Manning. But I have a fair idea how, as a civil rights activist, a war resister, an anti-miliitarist, and a gay man, he’d feel  if he read the rants of Manning’s opponents. For instance, “Stephen Peters, president of American Military Partners Association,”a brand new non-profit of unknown provenance, declared: 

Manning’s blatant disregard for the safety of our service members and the security of our nation should not be praised … No community of such a strong and resilient people should be represented by the treacherous acts that define Bradley Manning.

The “strong and resilient people” are apparently Pride’s attendees, whose resilience has not been tested by torture, but nonetheless is surely there. Meanwhile, Sean Sala, an LGBT Military Activist, wrote (with free, Germanic use of capitalization):

Bradley Manning is currently in Military tribunal for handing over Secret United States information to Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. … San Francisco has spit in the face of LGBT Military by using a traitor to our country as a poster child. … Manning makes Gay military, the Armed Forces and cause of equality look like a sham. He deserves no recognition … This is a sensitive time for the LGBT Community, we have spent fifty years trying to garnish equality and Manning cannot and will not represent Gay Military patriots.

They said the same kinds of things about Bayard Rustin.

Kiss me, honey, those big guns turn me on

Kiss me, honey, those big guns turn me on

SF Pride’s decision, of course, shows what gays value in the course of “garnishing equality,” at this self-congratulatory, triumphant, but still above all “sensitive” time.  Equality doesn’t just mean the right to marry, or the right to wear a form-fitting and extremely attractive uniform. It’s not just symbolic. It’s both privilege and responsibility, and don’t you forget it. It means equal and uncomplaining participation in the full panoply of the United States’ domestic injustices and imperial extravagances. It means an equal right to repress, in redress and revenge for all that history of enduring repression.  It means you no longer have to lobby the government for anything; your only job is to lie back and endorse whatever it does. It means that you can rest in the serene knowledge that other people are being tortured, and you won’t object, because torture is a great equalizer, a silent democracy of abasement. It means that you finally get to be one of the killers, instead of the killed.

One weirdness of SF Pride’s swift retraction is that they claim to be defending some kind of superior democratic process, against a dictatorial “systemic failure” related to how we let actual people influence our nonprofits. Board president Williams declares that

what these events have revealed is a system whereby a less-than-handful of people may decide who represents the LGBT community’s highest aspirations as grand marshals for SF Pride. This is a systemic failure that now has become apparent and will be rectified. In point of fact, less than 15 people actually cast votes for Bradley Manning. These 15 people are part of what is called the SF Pride Electoral College, comprised of former SF Pride Grand Marshals. However, as an organization with a responsibility to serve the broader community, SF Pride repudiates this vote. The Board of Directors for SF Pride never voted to support this nomination.

Americans bringing democracy to Iraq

Americans bringing democracy to Baghdad

This is a very bizarre conception of democracy — not, in fact, unlike the one the US imported to Iraq. The system SF Pride has followed so far allows the general public to vote for a slate of Grand Marshal nominees, while an “electoral college” of previous Grand Marshals has the right to choose a few more. It seems that the electoral college chose Manning; but even if he got only 15 votes, that’s rather more than the Board of Directors could provide, since it has only 9 members in total. “Less than a handful” indeed! Moreover, the Board of Directors elects itself. It may feel a “responsibility to serve the broader community,” but it doesn’t let the community choose its members. Meanwhile, that “electoral college” mostly includes ex-Grand-Marshals who were picked in the public vote; it’s more democratic than the Board.  So SF Pride proposes to close itself down still more, retreat into its Green Zone, and become still more a model of corporate governance, insulated from the desires or decisions of the people it asserts it “serves.”  This is a rather perverted vision of community. On the other hand, Paul Bremer would probably feel happy on the Board.

I’m not in the US now; I’m sitting in Egypt, writing early in the morning. I feel I’ve become one of those imperfect people, not yet alien to all places, but alien to my ever-less-comprehensible native land. I certainly feel alien to whatever SF Pride represents these days: a sorting of people into the loyal and disloyal, the us (the US) and them, that stands at odds with the evanescent but putatively redemptive values of which queers and other rebels were once able to be proud. Plenty of immensely “strong and resilient people” in two hemispheres of alienation have memories of US overt or covert interventions:  Cubans and Nicaraguans, Dominicans and Haitians, Guatemalans and Iranians, Afghans and Iraqis. Apparently that resilience isn’t the sort that counts; or it’s eminently forgettable amid the fogs of San Francisco Bay. We remember our own kind, not the sufferings of others.

I’m afraid that the gay movement in my country, if it still moves at all, has aged into the matronly complacency that John Betjeman once described, as he imagined a respectable English lady offering a prayer in Westminster Abbey during the Second World War:

Gracious Lord, oh bomb the Germans,
Spare their women for Thy Sake,
And if that is not too easy
We will pardon Thy Mistake.
But, gracious Lord, whate’er shall be,
Don’t let anyone bomb me.

This is what democracy looks like

This is what democracy looks like

The rape of the jock: A-jad, manhood, and “Iran 180″

At Electronic Intifada, Benjamin Doherty excellently investigated the megaweird San Francisco Pride crèche of Ahmadinejad being sodomized by a nuclear warhead. To summarize what he’s found: something called Iran 180 sponsored the float. It’s a “movement of  people and organizations who have come together as a unified voice to demand a 180 by the Iranian government on their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the treatment of their citizens.” As you would expect from that, it’s not a movement at all: discouraged that anti-Iran rallies outside the UN “attract fewer attendees and even less press, the New York Jewish Community Relations Council decided to act and formed a new coalition called Iran 180.” They found the language of human rights instrumental to their cause:

A petition on basic human rights for women, minorities, unions, media, journalists, political opposition, juveniles, and more, helped generate interest from some non-traditional allies such as the NAACP and 100 Hispanic Women.

Not to mention the Korean American Community Empowerment Council and the United Haitian American Society.  Most of the groups undoubtedly signed on with no particular idea what they were endorsing, except that it all sounding like a Good Idea.  As Ben notes, it’s a fine case of “astroturfing” — “advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a ‘grassroots‘ movement” (merci Wikipedia). Two PR firms spearheaded the 2010 launch, one of them a division of Burson-Marsteller, notorious for refurbishing the images of evil dictators and other miscreants.

That scowing, hook-nosed Ahmadinejad puppet is the staple of Iran 180’s street theater. One of the lead groups writes, “The popularity and presence of this puppet made it a useful tool for Iran 180 … The press had a catchy photograph and Iran 180 had a hook” — the latter a Freudian slip, no doubt. Ben found additional photos of the SF Pride float. On the left, Mahmoud drops his pants to let the warhead in; on the right, he fellates it:

They’re obsessed with the Ahmedinejad-is-a-fag theme. Here’s a UN demo with A-jad in red heels (it’s Human Rights Day, December 10, which I never knew also celebrated the fashion-challenged):

And here they’re staging a gay wedding between A-jad and Bashar Assad, under a chuppa, with Qaddafi as witness:

What the hell is the point of all this iconography? Any residual irony is wasted in the case of Assad, who is known for many awful things but not especially for homophobia. Is this supposed to change the minds of gays somehow? I find it hard to imagine any homo stumbling on this touching scene and feeling the urge to blast away those Persian centrifuges, or rain destruction on Damascus.

Surely, instead, he’d think he’d wandered into the long-postponed wedding of Frankenberry and Count Chocula.

The whole bizarre display seems torn from the discredited writings of Raphael Patai, the Israeli-American Orientalist whose dissection of “The Arab Mind” (and, by extension, Middle Eastern masculinity in general) became an ur-text underpinning Abu Ghraib. As Seymour Hersh wrote:

The notion that Arabs are particularly vulnerable to sexual humiliation became a talking point among pro-war Washington conservatives in the months before the March, 2003, invasion of Iraq. … [Patai's] book includes a twenty-five-page chapter on Arabs and sex, depicting sex as a taboo vested with shame and repression. “The segregation of the sexes, the veiling of the women . . . and all the other minute rules that govern and restrict contact between men and women, have the effect of making sex a prime mental preoccupation in the Arab world,” Patai wrote. …  The Patai book, an academic told me, was “the bible of the neocons on Arab behavior.” In their discussions, he said, two themes emerged—“one, that Arabs only understand force and, two, that the biggest weakness of Arabs is shame and humiliation.”

Putative insults directed at the sexualities of US enemies in the region are legion. There was, and is, for instance, a longstanding rumor that Yasser Arafat was gay and died of AIDS, spread by neoconservatives with glee. Unlike most rumors, it’s possible to pinpoint this one’s source with some precision. Ion Pacepa, chief of foreign intelligence in Ceauşescu’s Romania, defected to the US in 1978, and later composed his memoir, Red Horizons, while under CIA protection. In it, he claimed that secret microphones caught Arafat making love to his male bodyguard while visiting Bucharest.  The book is full of wild stories, and this particular propaganda gem had a two-birds usefulness for the US: it impugned not only Arafat for screwing a man, but Ceauşescu (notoriously puritanical) for tolerating it. The CIA called his book “an important and unique contribution to the United States,” and it should be read as such, along with other important and unique fabrications such as the histories of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

As I’ve written here about “outing,” deploying anxieties about homosexuality to defame or shame people simply means manipulating — and endorsing — homophobia. This is true whether the object is Ahmadinejad, Assad, or Rick Perry.

On looking at this stuff, though, I have to note what bad propaganda it is. Is Burson- Marsteller (“the world’s biggest PR company,” apparently) any good at what it does? Ben quotes the Guardian on its mind-molding feats: the firm

was employed by the Nigerian government to discredit reports of genocide during the Biafran war, the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 civilians, and the Indonesian government after the massacres in East Timor. It also worked to improve the image of the late Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu and the Saudi royal family.

Its corporate clients have included the Three Mile Island nuclear plant, which suffered a partial meltdown in 1979, Union Carbide after the Bhopal gas leak killed up to 15,000 people in India …

Hmm.  Nobody much doubts anymore that Nigeria’s, Argentina’s, and Indonesia’s dictators were guilty of murder; while if I remember my 1989 rightly, Ceauşescu and his brand went the way of the Edsel and New Coke.  Three Mile Island pretty much ended the nuclear industry in the US — and so on. If I were Ahmadinejad, I would take comfort from this record of ineptitude and sip my Coke Classic in peace of mind.

Nicolae on trial: I demand to speak to the Grand National Assembly and Burson-Marsteller right now

The Ahmadinejad puppet clearly derives from old anti-Semitic imagery. But the point of Nazi propaganda was to frighten people. (Jeffrey Herf’s study of wartime anti-semitic posters is a thoroughly disturbing guide.) The Jew appeared as monstrous threat, individuality always dissolving in collective, conspiratorial menace:

"The Jew: Inciter of the War, Prolonger of the War." 1943 Nazi poster, from Jeffrey Herf, "The Jewish Enemy"

“The Jew: Inciter of the War, Prolonger of the War.” 1943 Nazi poster, from Jeffrey Herf, “The Jewish Enemy”

It’s horrific, but it worked, a gross demonology that actually did incite and prolong the war. It wouldn’t have occurred to them to depict the Jew as schlemiel. This Ahmadinejad — sexually passive, his pants down, generally pathetic — has nothing threatening about him. There is no great propaganda value in portraying the dictator of Iran as Woody Allen. Even when he tries to scare, the effect is unconvincing:

Such is the dreaded Mad Bomber, the feared Hitler of the Gulf, and the worst he can do is wave one of Dorothy’s ruby slippers at you? Even in the unmanly corridors of the Arab Mind (how many times have we been told in the last decade that “Showing the sole of your shoe has long been an insult in Arab culture”?) this guy is considerably less alarming than Imelda Marcos.

This failure points, I think, to a larger and partly disabling ideological contradiction in our world of post-colonial wars. It’s a point often made that the Nazis brought back colonial methods  — of disenfranchisment, dispossession, and murder — to the European homeland. Yet in order to do so, in order to overcome the moral and material barriers to such a slaughter on nearby soil, they needed to conjure a threat more comprehensive and capable than the colonial Other, generally shown as impotent, backward, and helpless minus the mission civilisatrice. They needed the tropes of far-reaching conspiratorial power, the Enemy within, that came from anti-Semitic paranoia. Only that kind of fearsome, concocted foe could gin up a comfort-fattened populace to the hardships of total war — not to mention the horrors of mass murder.

That ’70s Paranoia: Big Mullah, Little White Man

In the interminable battles with brown people that constitute American foreign policy at the start of the millenium, though, these tropes aren’t functional. Brown people, after all, are born schlemiels and born bottoms; so intrinsic to the West is the contempt for their competence and capacities that it’s hard to impute the requisite menace to them.  The late 20th century saw various attempts to elevate the Arab or the Ayatollah to the power and dignity of World Enemy, based mainly on the conspiratorial connection with oil; these sinister plotters kept hatching destructive cabals in clandestine secret hideouts, like Tora Bora, OPEC, or the UN.   But those enemies, like Ahmadeinejad, kept lapsing back into their appointed role in the Western imagination, as buffoon.  The propaganda around the last Gulf War was illustrative of the contradiction. On the one hand, Colin Powell and Tony Blair and the rest assured us that Saddam Hussein was a universal monster who put everybody in jeopardy, with poised weapons forty minutes’ flight from Paddington. On the other, keeping up support for the war meant promising this would be an easy kill; the poor joker couldn’t possibly hold out in his bunker for more than a week, and we’d be welcomed with flowers while opponents withered like kudzu in the desert. Memorably, neither was true.

It’s quite telling that, although there’s a bomb on the Ahmadeinejad float, the droopy A-jad isn’t the one wielding it. Instead, he’s the one raped by it. Iran, in the imagery, is the party getting nuked.

How strange … or is it? Could this be a last Freudian slip in Iran 180’s unconscious repertory? After all: the one universally known but unspeakable secret in the current furor over Iran’s nuclear program is: there’s already one nuclear power in the region. Günter Grass presumed to mention this fact in a recent poem, and got hit by the intellectual equivalent of Desert Storm for his presumption (though the controversy did contribute to investigations of how Germany furnishes Israel with submarines to carry its nuclear arsenal).

After Ben published his piece, Iran 180 posted, miraculously, an apology on its Facebook page.

In June 2011, Iran180 participated in the San Francisco Pride Parade … The performance mocked the Iranian regime’s homophobia and was intended to raise awareness of the continued persecution of the LGBTQ community in Iran. As our followers know, drawing attention to the plight of Iran’s LGBTQ community is a priority for us. While the float was largely well received by onlookers, there were elements of the performance that unfortunately crossed the line and were clearly inappropriate. For that we sincerely apologize and have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen again.

But what line, exactly, did they cross? Is this an unlikely acknowledgement that rape and racism are bad? Or are they recognizing that, inadvertently, they gave too much away?