Over the last few years a number of timely publications have illuminated the connections between gender and sexuality, the War on Terror and racialisation. One of these is Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality, edited by Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake and published by Raw Nerve Books in 2008. An edited collection examining intersections between race and sexuality in the United Kingdom, Out of Place joins Jasbir Puar's Terrorist Assemblages as a key contribution to this debate. Alongside other contributions in Out of Place, the chapter "Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the War on Terror", by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem pointed to the continuing deployment of queerness as a symbol of "freedom" to rationalise the continuing wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and future wars in Iran and elsewhere, as well as to rationalise restrictive and racist immigration policies in "Western" or "liberal" nations. "Gay Imperialism" uses the work of activist Peter Tatchell, founder of Outrage!, as an example of how white gay activists can become complicit with this agenda by painting Islam as inherently homophobic and misogynist, and appointing themselves as the saviours of non-white queers.
On September 7th, Raw Nerve Books declared Out of Place to be out of print, removed it from circulation and sale, and issued an online apology to Peter Tatchell. Presumably this is the result of threats of legal action by Tatchell and Outrage!. The apology quotes its own publication to apologise for what it accepts as defamatory statements and misrepresentation of Tatchell and Outrage! by Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem. These include:
1. that Tatchell is "Islamaphobic" and "part of the Islamaphobia industry"
2. that Tatchell is "racist"
3. that Tatchell "sling[s] mud onto Muslim communities"
As one sees if one reads "Gay Imperialism", these so-called accusations are all taken grossly out of context and reduce the complexity of Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem's argument. The apology continues by obsequiously praising Tatchell and Outrage!'s "anti-racist" work, and making further accusations against a number of African LGBT activists, who had refused to work with Tatchell precisely because of his paternalistic attitude, and who are cited in "Gay Imperialism".
It seems likely that Tatchell's lawyers presented Raw Nerve with an already-written apology and asked them to sign and publish it. Tatchell is notoriously litigious. He is equally notorious for staging highly publicised, "one man" actions that appear to have just as much to do with his public image as a gay celebrity activist as any political work. However, Tatchell himself is not important here. What is important is that this critique is evidently so threatening to Tatchell and to the book's publishers that it must be removed from circulation, and the authors must be condemned as liars.
This incident proves something about how difficult it is to do anti-racist work. Pointing out racism, no matter how carefully we might phrase it and no matter which arguments we have about the use of the word 'racism', is often perceived as a personal and individual affront. Those so accused often appear to find it wounding or traumatic -- psychically wounding, but more importantly, wounding to their public image. "How dare you accuse me of racism? I am not racist; I have lots of friends who are people of color!" goes the cliched defensive response we are all familiar with. This way, the person or organisation critiqued can escape engaging with the content of the critique and put the burden of proof back on the person who raised the issue. It is not coincidental that the person making a critique of racism is often non-white, deploying old colonial stereotypes that people of colour are untrustworthy ingrates who don't know what's good for them. This problem of white, "well-intentioned" activists ignoring or actively silencing the desires of the people they profess to help in order to maintain the myth of their own generous self-sacrifice is endemic to many struggles: feminist anti-"trafficking" activism; indigenous land and rights struggles; migration activism; the backlash against the wearing of hijab by Muslim women in France and elsewhere, and on and on. The only way it might ever stop is for its perpetrators to acknowledge their role.
Meanwhile a really amazing book is being censored. The authors of the chapter and the editors of Out of Place are unable to comment due to UK libel law. It's unlikely that Raw Nerve will reissue the book, even if the editors wanted this. Meanwhile the authors' reputations are themselves besmirched. There are several things you can do about this situation:
1. Circulate this and your own commentary among your friends, companeros, colleagues.
2. Circulate "Gay Imperialism" -- a PDF is online here:
3. Write letters in support of Jin Haritaworn to:
The Gender Institute,
The London School of Economics and Political Science,
Houghton Street, London
WC2A 2AE, UK
Please pass this around, respond, send it to other listservs and read the other statements written about the censorship of Out of Place:
"Out of Place, Out of Print: On the Censorship of the First Queerness/Raciality Collection in Britain" by Johanna Rothe, Monthly Review, http://monthlyreview.org/mrzine/rothe151009.html
"On the Censorship of 'Gay Imperialism' and Out of Place", X:Talk website, http://www.xtalkproject.net/?p=415
Aren Aizura is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Gender Studies of Indiana University, Bloomington.
Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqui and Esra Erdem
There are many, many false things wriiten about me in the book Out of Place. There is not a shred of evidence to support its claims.
This issue has nothing to do with censorship. The issue is printing lies and fabricating quotes. That is what the book Out of Place did to me - and that is why I objected to it.
Fabricating quotes and smearing fellow comrades is shameful and has no place in progressive politics.
All my articles, speeches and news releases are archived on my website. You can view them here:
I invite anyone to find evidence of my Islamophobia, racism or support for imperialist wars or the “war on terror.” These claims in Out of Place are total fiction. I have campaigned against these or similar injustices for over 40 years.
I was focred to seek an apology and correction regarding one chapter in Out of Place because it printed outright lies and fabricated quotes about me.
The publishers (Raw Nerve Books) were horrified and deeply apologetic. Hence their full apology which you can read here:
I did not use the libel laws to suppress Out of Place. This is another lie being spread about me.
The book was already out of print when I drew its falsehoods to the attention of the publishers. It was not withdrawn because of me.
I have no objection to the other chapters in Out of Place being reprinted in a new edition, and I made this clear to Raw Nerve Books.
Free speech, which I defend, should not include the right to print lies designed to wage sectarian wars and to discredit political opponents, which is what the chapter in Out of Place does.
I would defend any of you if you were defamed with such untruths.
No one should be allowed to falsely claim that someone is a racist and that they collaborate with fascists, when they are not and do not. Out of Place should not be allowed to get away with such lies about me - or anyone.
I am sure you would accept that lies and libel are not legitimate free speech. You would not like to be falsely accused of attacking Muslim people and promoting an imperialist agenda, which is what this book did to me.
IslamaphobiaWatch is not a truthful, honest website. It is run by political sectarians to defame and discredit people they see as political enemies. It is full of outright lies against me and many others, including many progressive, left-wing Muslims, anti-racists and supporters, like me, of the anti-war movement.
London’s former Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has since apoloised for making false allegations of Islamophobia against me.
I count many leading Muslim and black activists amoing my friends and political comrades. They know my 40 year record of anti-racist, anti-war and anti-imperialist campaigning. They are aware that I have been a fierce defender of Muslim and black communities against state oppression, including trenchant opposition to the so-called “war on terror”. They would not support me if I had done the things that the book Out Of Place falsely claims.
I hope this reassures you. Best wishes.
Peter Tatchell, London