More on Hillary and Barack

the marriage of true minds: any impediments?

A future torture victim sat next to me yesterday, on my flight from Paris to New York. She was in her twenties, and strung tight as piano wire, and professed to be half-German, half-Egyptian. She’d been subjected to a random search back at Charles de Gaulle. This put her in a state of steaming outrage, during which she emitted, to no one in particular, vocal and egregious threats: “I hope they bomb that airport. I hope everyone is killed. I feel like I am in Auschwitz.  How dare they serve Coca-Cola on this plane?”  Finally she wrote, in big black letters on a piece of paper, and pinned to the TV screen in front of her:

FUCK YOU
CHARLES DE GAULLE
HITLER’S AIRPORT AND
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
I hope you are blown to bits and
Everybody dies
Coke Kills

I huddled in the aisle seat, thinking in no special order: a) Given all the security, it’s impossible she has a bomb. b) Then why does she keep talking about it? c) Can the stewardesses see that note? d) I need more wine. e) If the stewardesses see this, she will be taken to Guantanamo. f) If we make an emergency landing so she can be taken to Guantanamo, my flight will be six hours late. g) Should I protest if she’s taken to Guantanamo? h) Do I want to go to Guantanamo? i) I need more wine.

Air France handled things surprisingly well, as it happens. Nobody was wrestled to the floor or cuffed. Instead, a senior, marmoreally-coiffed French woman shunted me from my seat and lectured the passenger for almost an hour. I heard snatches of the one-way conversation: “You can of course think zat. But you cannot say it on an airplane. And you cannot expose it zat way for others to zee.” There is nothing like a dressing-down from une française soignée to put even incipient psychosis in its place. The note vanished, the writer calmed down, the plane landed on time, and no one seemed to go Gitmoward. I desperately hope someone was waiting past customs with Valium, and not an orange jumpsuit.

I’d meant to spend the flight thinking about the Obama administration’s new LGBT human rights initiative; and instead I worried about whether seat 27b had a ticket to a Caribbean prison. Yet this made sense somehow. How progressive are the Obamaites in talking about human rights!  They meet with rights NGOs and flatter their fragile egos; they support the touchy issues, the women and the queers; they speechify. But Guantanamo is still there. The military tribunals still promise to happen in a slow parody of justice. Drones still descend from the sky, with a blue whine beyond appeal, to kill people we don’t like. It’s nice to be part of the class that merits concern, not cages; protection, not jet-fueled murder. This administration does demonstrate more real action on human rights than its bloody predecessor.  But the action is just selective enough to leave you wondering why you were singled out, when so many others still suffer the vast yet individuated violence. As Samuel Beckett wrote, musing on the two miscreants crucified on either side of Christ: “Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume: one of the thieves was damned.”

Reading some of the US responses to Clinton’s speech only reinforces this queasy feeling. Take gay activist-at-large Wayne Besen, who writes:

A historic address of this magnitude was desperately needed to counter the rising tide of backwards and barbaric nations that had recently been persecuting LGBT people to distract from their glaring problems. …

The list of countries that recently declared war on sexual minorities include Russia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Uganda, Iran, and Zimbabwe. For the contemptible despots who run these underachieving nations, fomenting homophobia makes political sense. .. [S]omething drastic needed to happen to turn back the tide of violence and discrimination that plagued these “loser nations.”

Or, as Besen intones elsewhere,

The LGBT community rarely thrives in backward places that promote ignorance over education and medieval views over modernity. As these intellectual swamps sink, sexual minorities make ideal targets… [P]laces that are leaders in passing anti-gay laws are losers in virtually every other category that defines successful, civilized societies.

I can’t imagine how you could even communicate to Besen that the gays in  “loser nations” like Nigeria or Uganda don’t really like having their countries called “backward and barbaric.”  Besen wouldn’t get it: he’d counter, But the gays are civilized!  It’s the other Cameroonians who live in trees! In other words, he understands why the gays in loser lands deserve to be singled out: they’re better than their compatriots, more successful, more unbarbaric, more like us.

Why would that be so? Well, possibly the foreign gays have a cultural leg up, and have gotten book-learned and Westernized by reading … oh, for instance, Wayne Besen, who’s available on the Internet even in darkest Russia. Or possibly it goes deeper, it’s in the chromosomes, and even in Cameroon the gays are genetically predisposed to be like “us,” park-cruising rather than tree-dwelling, forwards rather than backwards.

Except that isn’t so. As far as a) the chromosomes go, there are plenty of theories about the genetic roots of gayness, but none of them argue it’s linked to a gene for intelligence or Western-ness. And if you tried to contend that, there’d be Wayne Besen to disprove it: clearly not the brainiest fish in the primal soup, and a permanent dilution in the gay gene pool. Moreover, as far as b) culture is involved, I can testify that the lesbians and gays in foreign countries really don’t read Besen ever, at all. Maybe this is evidence for a) after all — maybe their intelligence genetically disinclines them to study him; but then you have to deal with Besen disproving the theory again, because after all he’s gay and he reads himself. Or you’d think so.

By a fearful symmetry, though, the forward Besen and the “backward” lands he criticizes match each other. His rant exactly echoes how the offending parties he condemns rage against the initiative. There, too, people know why Clinton singles out the queers: they’re infiltrating agents of the West, objects of its special and invasive interest. The rhetoric is entirely predictable, because it’s been used so much before. “Africa new frontier for West’s gay rights crusade,” one African news source headlines. In Nigeria, now finalising a draconian bill to ban public expression around homosexuality, legislators rushed to assert their independence:

“Why would America want to dictate to a sovereign country which law to make and which one not to make? How can the depraved ways of a minority become the standard for law making in Nigeria?”

And so on.

Then there’s the question of just how the Obama administration will support LGBT rights elsewhere in the world. Clinton’s speech and the president’s memorandum are rather vague on the techniques. This leaves considerable white space to be filled in by the imagination. On the right, various voices already kvetch because Obama isn’t willing to send the army out to protect the gays. On the neoconservative Commentary site, Abe Greenwald complains:

At the end of this year, the United States will cease to be a military presence in Iraq. Here’s whose influence will grow in Iraq once the U.S. leaves: Al-Qaeda, whose new leader once shot a male teenage rape victim in the head for the “crime” of homosexuality. … Who else stays on in Iraq after the pro-LGBT president has pulled out American forces? Iran, world leader in the public hanging of gay teens.

And, in 2012, when Obama withdraws surge troops from Afghanistan against the advice of our military commanders, what exactly does he think Afghan homosexuals will face in the resurgent Taliban (the same Taliban Hillary Clinton is trying desperately to strike deals with)? The answer is known: they will face something called “death by falling walls.” …

Although George W. Bush is vilified by many in the gay community for talking about the sanctity of marriage, the freedom agenda he instituted did more for global human rights—gay or otherwise—than any speech or memo that might warm your heart.

Never mind that Bush’s own Texas has, statistically, almost certainly killed more teenage gay offenders in recent years than Iran. The point is: the best way to protect human rights is to invade and conquer countries. We’ve already got our hands on Texas. What about the others? By not listing an axis of homophobic evil — bauxite-rich Jamaica! oil-endowed Iran! — Obama failed to make the case for future action. He didn’t even use the homophobes to prolong the invasions we’ve already got going on.

If diplomacy for the neocons is merely a preamble to bombing, for many US and European gays it’s a synonym for money. And in this equation they’re aided by the brouhaha over David Cameron’s incredibly ill-handled statements on LGBT rights and foreign aid last month. This fiasco — threats that Cameron bandied about without even the pretense of a strategy, then tried to abandon after half of Africa reacted in fury — has imprinted itself on the imaginings of activists and reporters alike. If you have an agenda, why not enforce it with cash? Even the US and UK headlines on Clinton’s speech suggested an aid linkage. “U.S. to Use Foreign Aid to Promote Gay Rights Abroad,” the New York Times said.Gay rights must be criterion for US aid allocations, instructs Obama,” the Guardian reported. And of course the chronically inaccurate sporadically truthful blogger Paul Canning spun that spin: “Obama admin to ‘leverage’ foreign aid for LGBT Rights.”

As always, pursuing exactly what Canning says gives an insight into a whole mindset, of which he is the sum, the symbol, and the White Whale. He embraces multitudes, the way a blank piece of paper contains all the dumb things that could be written on it. Canning is very attached to the idea of “leverage,” so much so that when @iglhrc tweeted, “Significantly, neither the memo nor Clinton’s speech said LGBT rights would become a condition for foreign assistance,” his beak bit back:

“It says ‘leverage foreign assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination’. Sounds like conditionality to me!”

But it’s true; neither Clinton nor Obama said a syllable about conditionality. The word “leverage,” which Canning rolls lusciously on his tongue, comes not from the Clinton speech or the Obama memo, but from the fact sheet the White House press office put out to summarize things for reporters. It has no official weight.  The president’s directive instead ordered:

 Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.

“Ongoing efforts” doesn’t sound like a completely new policy — rather, like existing conversations more aggressively pursued. The US has a very spotty record on linking aid to any human rights issue; ask any Egyptian about America’s long support for the military, or any Palestinian about … well, anything. It would be a peculiar and skewed occurrence if the administration launched a first-ever policy of general aid conditionality in the specific and limited sphere of LGBT rights. And most likely, it won’t happen. The idea of “leverage,” and of supporting LGBT rights at the domestic level, will most likely involve private and particular conversations. Any public aspect is adequately embodied by Clinton’s proposal to launch a fund for LGBT rights advocacy.

Canning, however, wants broad aid conditionality; it gives him a sense of agency; it makes him feel that his emails to the UK Foreign and Colonial Office bear immediate fruit in action, in treasuries trembling and programs withering on the vine. Much as the neocons see diplomacy as war pursued by ineffective means, Canning sees it as money given or withheld under a convenient cover. In either case, the Obama statement becomes a field of dreams, a place where imaginings about Northern power get printed or palimpsested on the global South. It’s fun, it’s fertile, but it’s not quite real.

Trying to look realistically at what Clinton and Obama actually said, I still see occasion for optimism.  The contrast with Cameron’s recent blather is telling. Cameron came up with a quick-fix bit of rhetoric, not to benefit LGBT activists anywhere else in the world, but to silence the Peter Tatchells and Kaleidoscope Trusts, noisy Brits who wanted to see their country dominating the Commonwealth in the cause of justice and freedom. It meant nothing except short-term political gain, and when he got burned loudly enough by the stubborn ex-colonized, he flailed ineptly, trying to dog-paddle backwards and away.  There is, by contrast, little domestic political gain Obama and Clinton can extract from their move; the LGBT vote is largely on the administration’s side already. On Clinton’s part, and I suspect on Obama’s also, there’s a sincere commitment. Her speech was intelligent; it reflected an engagement not just with the issue itself but with the reflexive opposition it inspires. They’re trying to develop a strategy, not just a posture. The reaction from the usual suspects — such as Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania — whlle vocal, has actually been subdued by comparison with the Cameron affair, and this also, I think, displays a feeling that there is something substantive here that can’t simply be shouted out of existence.

The devil partly lies in the absence of detail, and in the scope this opens for disaster. Obama’s memo offers the agencies few patterns or directions for action. They’re supposed to come up with their own plans, and no one knows what that will add up to.  A dozen or so Southern LGBT activists were flown to Geneva to sit and applaud Clinton’s speech; the main measure of success will be whether they, and their innumerable colleagues elsewhere, continue to be consulted on what the US government should do in their countries. What if aid conditionality really does rear its head — what if an ill-conceived proposal for tying all funds to repeal of a sodomy law moves publicly out of the embassy in some unfortunate nation? What if a particular post decides on loud, press-release-based advocacy that backfires and stigmatizes local LGBT groups as servants of a foreign power?

In June 2011, the US Embassy in Islamabad took a pointer from Obama’s proclamation celebrating US Pride that May, where he’d perorated that “we rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of equal rights for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” The embassy hosted what it called “Islamabad’s first ever gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Pride Celebration,” to show

continued U.S. Embassy support for human rights, including LGBT rights, in Pakistan at a time when those rights are increasingly under attack from extremist elements throughout Pakistani society.  Over 75 people attended including Mission Officers, U.S. military representatives, foreign diplomats, and leaders of Pakistani LGBT advocacy groups. … Addressing the Pakistani LGBT activists, the Chargé, while acknowledging that the struggle for GLBT rights in Pakistan is still beginning, said “I want to be clear: the U.S. Embassy is here to support you and stand by your side every step of the way.”

That’s from the embassy’s press release. “Every step?” Well, except for steps outside the embassy walls.  It didn’t occur to them that announcing the country’s “first-ever” Pride from behind the turrets of a fortified compound, guarded against a public enraged by American assassinations and bombs, sent a not-very-indigenous message. A South Asian blogger remarked:

Within a few days, the streets of major urban cities of Pakistan … were hailed with the students and political workers of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party, chanting slogans at their highest pitches against homosexuals and America. For them it was a golden opportunity to kill both ‘the evils with a single stone’. Banners were displayed in major cities, especially in the federal capital, within a few days demanding persecution of gays and accusing Americans of propagating and imposing this ‘westernized’ idea. The lash back didn’t remain limited to the Jamaat-e-Islami only but sooner most of the political parties joined this bandwagon to form a coalition against the government for their menial political interests. …

Unthankfully, all the sensational and flowery claptrap peddled around this event turned out to be a disaster for the budding underground Pakistani LGBT movement as the US Embassy conveniently over[looked] the repercussions this event would have brought in an already critical country which is fighting against terrorism and radicalization while sacrificing its peace, its liberty, its sovereignty and countless lives of its law enforcement agencies and civilians alike.

protesting US Pride in Pakistan

The idiocy of all this seems obvious; but it wasn’t obvious to the diplomats involved. With an only-broadly sketched plan, there’s ample leeway for an embassy or two to try this catastrophic kind of thing again.

But the devil lies also in the way that Clinton’s initiative necessarily entangles LGBT movements around the world — mostly progressive, mostly loud in their opposition to unjust and oppressive domination, many resolutely radical — with the US, its rights record, its power, and its imperialism.  And the truth is, this may be terrible, but we are at a point where such imbrication could no longer be avoided. We’re stuck with being fully a part of the world we live in, and with trying to maintain our ideals and values despite, not through and with, our friends.

When I started lobbying the UN about fifteen years ago, queers had no power. Nobody offered them the slightest regard; nobody noticed their politics or positions; with the possible and partial exception of the Dutch, there wasn’t a single country willing to make even a rhetorical genuflection to the rights of LGBT people as a serious issue anywhere in its foreign policy.  This absence of clout was wonderful, inspiring. The lightness of being it brought was not only bearable, it was beautiful, an afflatus of innocence that bore one ecstatically aloft in places the merely practical could never reach. Trying to advocate in this atmosphere of glorious irrelevance, one was never corrupted by the blandishments of power; no one wanted your support, so there was not the least temptation to sell it. In powerlessness lies moral purity; the former is the latter’s fount and succor. One can easily be absolute for truth and right when nobody pays attention.

Now, of course, there are states that pay attention to us. And for better or for worse, we have to deal with their histories and practices, their virtues and their sins, because these affect us. If we don’t watch out, they will all become our own. When South Africa sponsors us at the UN Human Rights Council, we have to recognize that it is seen as an imperial power on much of the continent it underpins. When the US speaks out on our behalf, our future words thrum with the undertone of its assertions, like a basso ostinato. The echoes of its peculiar idealism and its failures, its invasions and its abuses, from Martin Luther King to Rumsfeld, from Guatemala to Abu Ghraib, are disharmonies that will resound in what we say and do. We have to decide when to speak with them and when to speak against them, and reserve and exercise the right to the latter as well as the former.

We can’t, as movements, reject all those who want to aid us. Maturity means negotiating, not denying, these obstacles. Politics means accepting the burden of having — however little — power. But we also have to be willing to stand up to our friends and risk their enmity in the name of what we see as truth, instead of clapping hands mechanically and taking handouts with uncritical gratitude. Indeed, nobody needs to be grateful for Hillary and Barack’s support. Never thank others for recognizing human rights, unless their case is such that they show real courage or risk some tangible  cost in the act. Otherwise, they’re doing nothing more than their duty, to you and to the world. And a duty demands no recompense. Acknowledge it, but feel no obligation. You owe nothing in return.

Instead, each movement in each country needs to figure out whether it will accept America’s new assistance, and if so, how to do so on its own terms. Hillary and Barack’s one-two performance carries opportunities. More largely, though, and in the ethical sphere, it offers a renewed challenge: to maintain values in the face of power.

Chronicles of “pinkwashing”: The hue and cry

roll with it

Probably most readers here by now have also read my colleague Sarah Schulman’s op-ed on “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing,'” which to its credit the New York Times published last week. If you haven’t, read it. Before I get to my point — which is the helpful additional documentation of Israel’s campaign that Schulman has since compiled — it may be useful to review some of the myriad incensed reactions the piece drew: to borrow Mary McCarthy’s description of the attacks on Hannah Arendt forty-five years ago, the hue and the cry.

Here goes:

1) The neo-conservative hair salon Harry’s Place argues that Schulman is wrong because, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood. Whatever you say about Israel there is, you know, the Muslim Brotherhood, and, you know, something. Obviously she is wrong, because of the Muslim Brotherhood. Really wrong. I told you so, and if. Just look. The Muslim Brotherhood.

Harry’s Place repeatedly republishes the writings of chronically inaccurate episodically accurate blogger Paul Canning, as well as inveterate liar speaker of power to truth Peter Tatchell, and some of their freewheeling ways with facts must be rubbing off, because Harry and his placemen blame me for Schulman too. I am, apparently, “one of the most active proponents of this strategy” (that is, enlisting the gays toward “ending Jewish self-determination in Israel”) even though I’ve only written about “pinkwashing” once, and nobody read it. It’s flattering to be admitted to the grand conspiracy. Minds as creative and sophisticated as Harry’s Place’s bloggers, back in the days when they found ready employment in the Okhrana, would have given me an honored role in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To think I missed my chance as a literary character by little more than a century! Still, there’s hope. Harry’s henchmen well know that I’m a paid apologist for Iran, and just this morning I did my first PR work for the Muslim Brotherhood. With a little boost from David Toube and Brett (the wee racist who loves the phrase “ni**er balls”) Lock, I can look forward to a stint as the villain on the next iteration of 24. Gitmo, here I come!

2) Dwarf reporter Jamie Kirchick fulminates intensely in a high-pitched voice. Schulman and her allies refuse to “acknowledge the suffering of Palestinian gays,” who suffer constantly from being forced to be Palestinian, and who, in addition to being the only Palestinians Jamie Kirchick likes, are the only Palestinians who suffer at all; the rest of Palestinians either rest happily in the knowledge that their lands are being well-tended by Jewish settlers, or agree with Kirchick that they never existed in the first place. Rightly indignant, Kirchick flails his tiny fists against the wall:

Schulman and her ilk are in fact using the issue of gay rights to forward an ulterior agenda. So consumed are they by hatred of Israel that they are willing to distort the truth about the horrible repression of homosexuals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. … Schulman ends up making excuses for people who kill homosexuals… [She] lays bare the delusion, paranoia, and cynicism of the Jewish state’s most earnest detractors.

Although Kirchick’s article has gone largely unnoticed in the United States, many dogs and hamsters in Australia, driven mad by the shrill, distant whine, threw themselves into the Tasman Sea.

3) Andrew Sullivan, who is still recovering from an interview Schulman subjected him to in 1999 (“I think you’re not a leader who has emerged from the community; I think you’ve been selected by the dominant group”) attempts his rhetorical revenge:

Schulman is a hardcore gay leftist, and her argument is as preposterous as Jamie notes. … What you see in Schulman’s ideology is actually a distrust of gay advancement if it isn’t simultaneously part of some grander leftist ideological agenda, and subordinate to it. Hence the gay left’s historic opposition to marriage equality and military service and their reluctance to accept that AIDS has gone from a plague to a disease in the mid-1990s for the affluent West.

These are all the things that Schulman grilled him on in 1999, and clearly if only she had agreed with him then that uxoriously married gay staff sergeants on expensive triple therapies represent the only hope for survival of the human race, she would not now be going off on these radical kicks. Queer Palestinians a) can’t marry; b) have no regular army; and c) mostly can’t afford triple therapies. Losers! Forget the bastards.

4) It’s a relief to move from these people to someone I’ve never heard of. Of course, if I were a more knowledgeable anti-Semite I would probably recognize that David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, and moreover that he describes himself (people always write their own online bios) as:

one of the Jewish people’s leading advocates and most eloquent spokesmen. The Executive Director of AJC since 1990, he travels the globe meeting with world leaders to advance the well-being of Israel, combat anti-Semitism, monitor the condition of Jewish communities, and promote intergroup and interreligious understanding.

I leave evaluating the full force of his eloquence (as against Moses Mendelssohn, Rahel Varnhagen, Heinrich Heine, Paul Celan?) to others. Here he is, though, dazzling us like Demosthenes, and wondering why

Amidst all the turmoil going on in the world today, the editors chose to publish a column entitled “Israel and ‘Pinkwashing.'”

Yes!  The turmoil in Israel (and “Palestine”) is trivial compared to all the turmoil elsewhere; unless, of course, someone actually criticizes Israel, in which case they’re worth at least a column in the Huffington Post. With practice pebbles filling his mouth, the orator goes on:

Were I a gay activist today, would my one shot at reaching the Times‘ global readership be devoted to Israel’s alleged misdeeds, even as I could live freely there and celebrate my lifestyle without hindrance?

We all get our fifteen minutes; we each get one op-ed in this easy-to-waste life; so use it wisely!  If you’re gay, do something for the gays. Celebrate your own lifestye. Don’t fritter those precious paragraphs away on other people.   When, after all, did any of “the Jewish people’s leading advocates and most eloquent spokesmen” ever worry about universal ethics, universal rights and liberties, or the general condition of the human race? From Spinoza to Levinas, the modern Jewish intellectual tradition has been one of a much-needed insularity and inwardness, as my fellow authors of the Protocols certainly knew. In any case, David Harris has done his bit this week to advance the well-being of Israel and combat anti-Semitism. He can probably miss a meeting, or even two, with world leaders, and take a long weekend. The gays can also thank him for taking a moment to celebrate their lifestyle. It’s generous of him to notice.

All that said, you should take a look at Schulman’s chronicle of how Israel’s campaign to enlist international LGBT support has developed. The details are here. I disagree with a few particulars, but the overall point is clear: the campaign has been explicit and acknowledged by the Israeli government. It’s no secret. It’s not, from Netanyahu’s perspective, any shame. They know what they’re up to and they’re fairly open about it. We see again the peculiar disconnect between what can be said in Israel about Israel, and what can be said about Israel in the US: things that almost every Israeli knows are denied to the last breath and rendered unmentionable by its American defenders. It’s a weird dynamic. But it’s all the more reason that, for all their hue and cry, the minuscule Kirchicks and the huff-and-puffing Harry’s Placemats are not just duplicitous but self-deceiving, and can and should — safely and for the sake of one’s own sanity — be ignored.

P.S.: In the comments, Ben Doherty points out some resources on the subject of “pinkwashing”: http://www.pinkwatchingisrael.com/ and http://electronicintifada.net/tags/pinkwashing, and http://www.bdsmovement.net/ (search for pinkwashing).

One additional point is worth making. These writers don’t just attack Sarah Schulman’s position on Israel/Palestine. They delegitimate her (to use one of their favorite words) as an LGBT rights activist, because (and never mind the question of how issues intersect!) she has other concerns as well. Thus it’s not enough to say she’s wrong about Palestine. She cares about non-gays, and therefore she wants to kill homosexuals, which is more or less what Jamie Kirchick claims. I’ve been through this before with these people, on one of their favorite obsessions, Iran; they apparently believe that the very idea of the universality of human rights is somehow lethal to the gays, as they also believe —  more rationally — that it’s dangerous to the policies of the state of Israel. If there’s one thing that’s ridiculous, it’s having to defend Sarah Schulman as a queer activist. As somebody who lived and worked and fought and never gave up through the worst years of AIDS in the US, she knows considerably more about the lives and deaths of gays than Kirchick or David Toube ever will. I must acknowledge that when I started as an activist (I presume this places me firmly in my century) her novel People in Trouble was one of my inspirations. I bought a number of copies and left them in Romania, where I was working at the time. I hear they still give direction to some young activists there, in a country where people have also seen the darkness and the light, and know more about human rights than most of these dismissible scribblers in the US and the UK possibly can.

An apology to Paul Canning, II

we give support to refugees, and we give them something to seek refuge from

Back in February 2011, our readers will remember, the chronically inaccurate episodically accurate blogger Paul Canning — of the episodically biased chronically unopinionated website LGBT Asylum News — published the following false only intermittently true information:

Amongst the crowds protesting the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarek in Egypt are many lesbians and gay men. …  Yesterday, one of them, the well-known blogger and activist SandMonkey (the website was taken down by repeated attacks but is now back up) who is gay was arrested, beaten up and later freed.

Most of that is true! We apologize in advance for having to point out that some of it was not. Specifically, the phrase “who is gay” attached to Sandmonkey was not true. Sandmonkey, a dissident blogger known throughout the region, was and is not gay. It’s impossible to say what led the careless occasionally cautious Canning to think he was; but Sandmonkey took offense at those three words, coming as they did in the middle of a revolution where a brutal regime was looking for any reason to jail and discredit opponents. He wrote to the arrogant modest-on-alternate-days Canning:

Dear Paul/Editor of this sight,

You published an article claiming I am gay. While a supporter of gay rights, I am not gay. I have no idea where u got this info, and its totally unverified. Please retract and remove the article, since you must be very well aware what happens to people suspected of being gay in Egypt. You are putting my life in danger.

The editor of San Diego Gay and Lesbian News, which carries Paul’s ill-researched carefully spelled column, wrote back:

We have deleted @sandmonkey from the story without consulting with Mr. Canning, who is the author of the story. SDGLN did not originate this story, which came from LGBT Asylum News in the U.K.

That must have infuriated the temperamental unevenly evenhanded Canning, who always likes to be consulted. It was particularly exasperating in that, even if one counts only the 43 words of the passage we cited (more if we hadn’t inserted that discriminatory ellipsis!) rather than the 800+ words of the whole piece, not more than three were in fact lies less true than they could have been. That means that the passage was, as an absolute maximum, only 6.9767% inaccurate. If you take the falsehoods near-misses at accuracy as a percentage of the whole column, the proportion falls to less than four-tenths of one percent, a completely nugatory figure.  It takes real cheek for Sandmonkey to write to the blinkered presbyscopically observant Canning that “You are putting my life in danger!”  At most only one part in thirteen of his life was danger, and more likely it was less than one-two hundredth. If Voldemort could live with large parts of his soul destroyed, why can’t an Egyptian blogger? The scope of mathematical ignorance is astounding. Obviously, few Egyptians can count. Sandmonkey should learn statistics, and the entire country should be handed back to Lord Cromer and the British to revamp its education system. (A tip to LGBT Asylum News: Evelyn Baring, Lord Cromer, Britain’s proconsul in Cairo from 1883 to 1907, is alive and well and, with his boyfriend Norman Tebbit, working as a cage dancer Saturdays at Heaven.  He’s available. If you start a campaign now to have the British occupation reinstated, NATO might be able to start bombing by Christmas.)

I take note of this because I learned on arriving in Egypt that Sandmonkey — under his real name, Mahmoud Salem — is running for the lower house of Parliament in today’s elections. His campaign blog and program (mostly in Arabic) are here. (And he’s still tweeting at @Sandmonkey.) He’s a secularist, an environmentalist, a progressive — just the kind of candidate Paul Canning ought to like; except I suspect Paul Canning doesn’t like him anymore.

There’s still a lot that LGBT Asylum news can do, though.  They could out the heterosexual alleged, although to date unproven, homosexual Mahmoud Salem again!  There are still at least twelve hours before the polls close, and people in Heliopolis, where’s he’s running, wake late. Canning’s little-noticed sporadically influential blog deserves the chance to intervene in a world-historical occasion. Alternatively, Canning can out other progressive Egyptians. Dissidents, feminists, and human rights activists here are regularly attacked for supposed sexual perversion; these aspersions sometimes fall flat, and evidence from abroad is needed; it seems unreasonable that the pleasures of outing should be alienated from the heroic activists like Peter Tatchell who originated the tactic, and handed over to Islamist riffraff and demoted Mubarakite bureaucrats who are all too hamhanded in their exposures. Let the task of invading privacy be given back to those who do it best!  Only those who had a closet can appreciate what it means to be torn forcibly out of one — particularly out of one that never existed at all.

An apology to Paul Canning

oops!

We do nothing but apologize lately.  Soon we will need to appear on Leno to explain the incident with that woman and the limousine,  or perhaps try a pilgrimage to Lourdes or Colorado Springs. In our latest occasion for penitence, Paul Canning, the humble and accommodating editor of the chronically inaccurate [see below] blog LGBT Asylum News, has turned his preoccupied attention on us! – and has offered some intelligently spelled remarks in the Comments section. These sentences clearly are the product not just of typing but of Thought, so I prefer to respond to them in the body here, rather than relegate them to a footnote of history.

Canning writes about our post on African activists  and aid conditionality:

“chronically inaccurate”

Hilarious when in the same line you describe the Mail as “anti-everything” which it is not. That is an INACCURATE description of the Daily Mail.

Also, simply reporting the origins of this (the Mail) apparently means “attempts to minimize the shift”.

Which is a little rich given that I very quickly and uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists who mostly – though not entirely – criticised what the Mail had apparently reported.

But you don’t mention that.

You write polemics, Scott, but do you have to be such a b*tch? Because that’s what it reads like.

We apologize for calling LGBT Asylum News “chronically inaccurate”!  We were misled by the following incidents, among others:

  • In the middle of the Egyptian revolution, after State Security arrested the well-known dissident blogger “Sandmonkey,” Canning announced on his blog – incorrectly — that Sandmonkey was gay. This move could easily have resulted in further persecution of the blogger, who tweeted later, “Just as a matter of public record, I am not gay. Making such a claim about me without verification is incredibly unethical.”
  • Canning’s story of a gay activist’s  murder in Western Kenya was later discredited by the investigations of a coalition of nine local LGBT organizations working there.
  • Canning has broadcast inaccurate stories of “gay executions” in Iran – and accused other bloggers, who had reprinted his accounts, of unethical behavior when, on finding the stories unsubstantiated , they retracted them.
  • Then there’s Canning’s reliance on, and diehard support of, the discredited website GayMiddleEast.com.   It isn’t just that Gay Middle East is inaccurate. It lied about its own staff and origins, and put activists across the region who worked with it in danger.

There are undoubtedly other errors we haven’t noticed. But wait! It’s also true that we may not have noticed the uncredited times that Canning’s blog has been accurate.

This is an unfair aspect of our highly technical world, where one error on a matter of concern only to a small number of specialists – like a patient’s blood type, the location of a bomb target, or the existence of “global warming” – can outweigh all the other things one got right, like Derek Jeter’s batting average or the number of jellybeans in that jar. We are all correct far more often than we think.  I am surely on the mark when I assume that Earth’s atmosphere will not suddenly turn to laughing gas tomorrow, but do I ever get credit for the prediction? No. Surprisingly, even the Daily Mail  [see below] is probably accurate when it reports, e.g., that the sun rose at 6:24 today. (I stress probably: there could always be some hidden slant; possibly some faceless bureaucrats in Brussels forced the sun to rise at 6:23 instead, and by reporting 6:24 the Daily Mail is striking a coded blow for free markets and for British independence.)

So we apologize to Canning for underestimating the occasions when he reflects the truth. Let’s say no longer that LGBT Asylum News is “chronically inaccurate.”  Let us praise it as “episodically accurate” instead.

I apologize to the Daily Mail

This brings us to the Daily Mail. Canning is quite correct when he calls me out for saying it is “anti-everything.”  I was INACCURATE to give the impression that the newspaper campaigned against gravity, or condemned the habit of breathing. No one is against everything.  Even the Russian nihilists had the odd thing or two they supported, such as better bomb technology. Moreover, on reflecting, one realizes that almost every anti comes with its own pro.  For instance, we could note that the Mail opposed sanctions against South Africa during the apartheid regime; but rather than saying it was anti-sanctions, wouldn’t it be simpler to say that it was pro-apartheid?  We could observe that the Mail stood bravely against the welter of colors that the 1930s fashion industry offered to confused consumers. But rather than saying it was anti blue, or pink, or green shirts, wouldn’t be better to say that it was pro Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts?  (Though I have the feeling the Mail might prefer the first formulations, or maybe would like to forget the whole thing.)   Even a cursory glance at the Daily Mail shows it supports women’s cosmetics; a strong native plumbing industry independent of Polish expertise; and the prosperity of Pakistan through the return of its diaspora to the motherland.  In calling the paper “anti-everything,” I was succumbing to the wicked practice of “irony.” This is an addictive vice among homosexuals, sex workers, and editorial cartoonists; it mainly serves to infuriate the upright people who do not engage in it.

Finally: Canning says that he “uniquely gave a platform to a range of global south activists” on aid conditionality. Here I differ with him somewhat. In the one article he published, he quoted 13 people; 5 were in the global South, the rest in Europe. Three of those five expressed serious reservations about the British policy. Nonetheless, Canning headlined his piece,  “Cautious welcome, concern as UK ties foreign aid to LGBT human rights.”

More importantly, in the weeks since then 53 organizations and 86 individual activists across Africa signed a statement  laying out their reasons for opposing the policy; groups in other countries weighed in with their disparate responses; and a massive backlash  caused by Cameron’s move led to mounting anti-gay rhetoric in Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, and other countries.  Canning didn’t consider any of this news; he covered none of it. It’s hard not to suspect the reason: he supports aid conditionality, and doesn’t want to give much space to its grim consequences, or to the global South voices that collectively offer a sophisticated critique.

Paul Canning is perhaps right that I’m a “polemicist,” not to mention a butch, or botch. But then, I lay my opinions out on the line. I don’t pretend to be reporting “news,” and meanwhile suppress facts that don’t suit my presuppositions.

Nonetheless: I apologize!  In keeping with the spirit of utmost clarity, let me set forth my apology in transparent terms:

Such a vain endeavor! Let’s go back to agreeing compulsorily. To interrogate veracity is simply muddled. Facts remain overly messy. Truth hurts! Everyone should express expectable gregarious opinions. I swear that I can. Being unaware makes better life expectancy realistic – soon!

I hope no one will attempt to find some other meaning in that unequivocal statement.

Peter Tatchell apologizes to the Crusades for not enlisting

Meanwhile, we are changing our policy with regard to polemics. In future, we will offer apologies proactively before saying anything, indeed before thinking it. In fact, when addressing other people’s errors, we will apologize not only before pointing them out, but before they have actually erred. We believe that this will save our detractors psychological pain, as well as the considerable legal fees and effort required to extract apologies under English law. Moreover, it encourages our critics to err regularly and rhythmically rather than erratically and sporadically, creating a feeling of predictability and confidence among their readers. We therefore announce that we are apologizing to Paul Canning weekly for the next five years, and to Peter Tatchell daily for the next ten. And we have programmed our pacemaker to emit an apology to Doug Ireland seventy-eight times a minute, audible only to bats and whales. Now we would like to ask Peter kindly to remove that bailiff from our lawn, as he is walking on the crocuses it took us weeks to plant.