The Current Crisis
While Israel is sending bombs and missiles over Lebanon and Gaza, the only thing the LGBT press can be concerned with is religious outrage over the presence of the queers at the upcoming World Pride parade. Some orthodox Jews have threatened violence against the parade and many Arab leaders are threatening protests.
There may be threatened violence against World Pride participants, but that is nothing compared to the real violence going on in Gaza and Lebanon. The ferocious attacks on Gaza and Lebanon are supposedly in response to the capture of one Israeli soldier in Gaza and two soldiers on the Israel-Lebanon border--making the Israeli operation (sarcastically titled Geshmi haqqeytz "Summer Rain") fly in the face of international law and just about every theologian's "just war" theory.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is clearly, and by his own admission, operating under a principle of collective punishment and has announced publicly that he wants the Palestinians to suffer. So, Israel is targeting a civilian population in retaliation for the kidnapping of soldiers--who are, by the way, clearly military targets.
So much for the bogus definition of "terrorism" being about targeting civilians. We see now what we have known all along: terrorism is anything that those in power don't like, and anything that those in power do is, by definition, not terrorism. Terrorism is not a tactic where civilians are targeted, but any act--legitimate or not--that is against the interests of the US and Israel.
All kinds of horrifying and illegal acts by Israel can be justified by asserting Israel's "right" to defend itself, and yet, few are willing to give Palestinians the same kind of moral leeway when they are asserting their right to resist an illegal occupation.
With all of the death and destruction going on in the Levant, one would think that Muslim leaders in Jerusalem would find something other than World Pride and the presence of queers to flood the streets in protest about. But, like black ministers in the US, they choose to preoccupy themselves and their community with issues like sexuality rather than look at the things that are really oppressing their people. Why don't Muslim leaders in Jerusalem flood the streets in response to Israel's agression against Lebanon and against the Palestinians?
Relevance for Queer People
Queers often side with Israel because Israel is more tolerant towards queer people than Palestinian society. Israel has gay clubs, particularly in Tel-Aviv, and Dana International, a very popular Israeli singer, is an MTF transsexual. In fact, she won the Eurovision competition in 1998 for her song "Diva." And it is absolutely true that sexism and homophobia are prevalent in Arab societies. In fact, many queer Palestinians move to Israel because of the persecution they face among their own people. All of this causes any queer person who stands with the Palestinians in their struggle for human rights to incur harsh criticism from the queer community.
But those who look at it from the simplistic Israel-tolerant/Palestinians-intolerant perspective miss the big picture. In the long run, militarism, imperialism and racism do not help the cause of queer people at all. The policies of the US and Israeli governments have a directly negative effect on the state of queer people in the Middle East.
First, a historical point. The current state of affairs in the Middle East, both in general and in relation to queer rights, is largely due to the legacy of colonialism. We Americans have incredibly short memories and we live in a fantasy world where we believe that things that happened fifty, sixty and a hundred years ago have little to no effect on what happens today. However, the border divisions, the families in charge, the ugly turn of events in Iran in 1979, the state of Iraq, the rise of Osama bin Laden, the relative power of Hamas, etc. all had their origins in short-sighted policies designed by those who wished to rule the region.
This is not to say that those in power now bear no responsibility. But the lion's share of responsibility lies with those who created the conditions for these people to come to power in the first place.
A good example of the deleterious effects of bad policy by major powers is Hamas itself (the fundamentalist party in charge of Palestine now). It is well known that the power of Hamas can at least be partially attributed to Israeli support for Hamas as a counterweight to the secular PLO. And this tactic is nothing new. Israel and the US, in their various adventures during the Cold War, regularly used radical Muslim sects to counteract the power of secular nationalist movements.
Obviously, the proliferation of radical Islamic sects has had a detrimental effect on the political development of resistance to imperialism in the Middle East, and consequently, also has negative repercussions for queer people in the Middle East.
Now, the only resistance to foreign domination of the region tends to take the form of radical, fundamentalist sects. But even Ghandi said that violent resistance was better than no resistance at all--and so, in the absence of a better option, Arabs go with the problematic resistance rather than no resistance at all. And let me be clear: the Palestinians do have an absolute right to resist occupation.
It is particularly galling to hear people talk about how Palestinian queers flee to Israel because of its "liberal" attitude towards queers. Israel is so liberal that 63 percent of even secular Jews oppose World Pride, and orthodox Jews are threatening violence against it!
These same self-professed champions of Palestinian queers leave out that, thanks to Israel's racist policy towards the Palestinians and the virtual lock-down of the West Bank, Palestinian queers are in a very precarious situation when they actually get to Israel.
This is so typical of Western hypocrisy. We will shriek and shout at the outrages to queer people that take place in other countries, and yet we will not re-evaluate or challenge our own countries' racist, discriminatory practices towards immigrants. It makes me think that this "concern" for queer people in other countries is really just racism and another way to portray people of color as barbaric, superstitious and backwards. Of course, these portrayals of Middle Eastern people as incorrigibly homophobic feed into the racism that justifies unscrupulous military action against these "backwards" peoples.
I would be lying if I did not admit that I was horrified by the anti-queer, sexist acts that take place in the Middle East. At the same time, I do not believe that the political state of the Middle East just happened by magic. There is a historical context to this situation, and that history has been dominated by the schemes of the world's great powers. These schemes, collectively known on the left as "imperialism," are the biggest enemy for queer people, for this creates the conditions for homophobia to flourish both in the Third World and in developed countries.
Queer people should look at the dynamics that created the contemporary state of affairs, and the dynamics which continue to perpetuate this state of affairs, instead of looking at superficialities such as whose society is more "tolerant."
Finally, I have been in enough pointless tit-for-tat soundbyte matches with Israel-apologists to last me a lifetime and I will not respond to any such comments here. They will say, "Well, the Palestinians said/did this or that" and I will come back with "Well, Israel said/did this or that." There will be a back and forth about what happened in 1948 so-on and so-forth. Usually the debate degenerates into me defending myself against baseless accusations of anti-Semitism. I have nothing but contempt for this kind of intellectual sloth, and I won't give it the time of day. There is plenty of information in the links provided below and throughout this column, so you can take it or leave it.
Article on Queer Muslims by Yakoub Islam (UK)
Good Primer on the Latest Crisis in Gaza and Lebanon by Phyllis Bennis (US)
Response to the "Palestinians-started-it" copout by Gideon Levy in Ha'aretz (Israel)
General information on the history of the conflict from a pro-Palestinian perspective by Al-Awda (US)