Monday, November 07, 2005
On Gay Liberation, Palestinians, and Cognitive Dissonance
As British columnist Julie Burchill once wrote:
"My favourite spectator sport is watching people who should know better searching for something (and often claiming to find it) where it never could be. Women claiming to find feminism in Islam is a good one."...to which we might add: people claiming to find tolerance for homosexuality in Islam.
The fun part is that, as some have recently noticed, such people do exist... and seem to be sincere about it. For example, have a look at this photo album from a recent San Francisco demonstration:
These people claim to be members of QUIT: Queers Undermining Israeli Terror. As the blogger with the abovementioned photo album points out:
In Israel, gays live openly and happily in a free and liberal society. There is a thriving gay scene, just as there is in the United States and many other Western democracies.
But in Palestine -- as in most Islamic countries -- being gay is not only frowned upon, it is a crime often punishable by death. Tales of what life is like for gays in Palestinian society are horrifying in the extreme. In fact, gay youth in Palestine frequently flee to Israel if they can get a chance.
So why in the world would gay activists in the most gay-friendly city on Earth protest against one of the other centers of gay liberation (Israel) and for one of the planet's most violently oppressive homophobic societies?
This is the essence of cognitive dissonance -- the condition of holding two differing beliefs that are so incompatible and contradictory that the only way to internally reconcile them is to, well, go insane (to use the layman's term). Because, try as I might, I can't comprehend any other justification for being a member of QUIT other than insanity.
(For the record, let me point out that there is no "Islamic country" of Palestine -- not yet, anyway.)
In re QUIT, though, the story gets even weirder. QUIT recently boycotted the 2005 World Pride Parade... because it was held in Jerusalem. (Any guesses as to when a World Pride event will be held in Ramallah, or Gaza? How about never? Does never work for you?)
But QUIT has a sister organization in Israel, called "kvisa shechora" (black laundry) -- they call themselves "a direct action group of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and others against the occupation and for social justice". (Israel is, as mentioned above, a free, pluralistic society, supporting every political viewpoint from far-right nationalist extremists to hard-left communists. It's not an exaggeration to say that, no matter how loony the cause, some Israeli somewhere will be willing to demonstrate for it.) In order to support the World Pride Parade in their own backyard, while still supporting QUIT et al, they had to issue a press release explaining why they were not boycotting themselves! (How's that for cognitive dissonance?)
QUIT, in an apparent effort to make sure people don't take them seriously, recently took over a Starbucks and proclaimed it their own territory. In a comment, left by an anonymous poster to the article linked above, we find this brilliant parody:
Gay Palestinians Attempt to Blow Away Stereotypes, Jews(I've omitted some of the racier passages in the original. Trust me, you aren't missing much.)
by Shariah for Queers Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2003 at 6:51 AM
WEST BANK -- Ahmed and Yusaf are all too familiar with the hatred and disgust that their relationship evokes in their Palestinian community. Lovers for the past six years, the two men have endured discrimination and hostility in many ugly forms, from verbal assaults to physical ones.
But none of that is what motivates them today. On this cool March morning, the men have but a single purpose: to prove to their countrymen that gay Muslims can still be effective soldiers in jihad.
"I'm sick of it," Yusaf explains while slipping into a linen dress and stuffing two grenades into his bra. "People think that because we are gay that we cannot be dedicated Muslims, that we are not willing to die for our beliefs."
Pulling a shirt over the duct-taped contraption on his chest and back, Ahmed concurs. He also recalls what it's like to have his faith doubted solely because his lifestyle. "People can be so intolerant and hateful," he says. "But we will send a message today by killing a bunch of stinking Jews."
The gay couple is no stranger to the war against the Israel. In 1999 they formed Gay Islamics Serving Muhammad (GISM), an organization dedicated to spreading awareness and understanding of the gay Muslim lifestyle while "defending the one true faith from the uncompromising Zionist pigs."
The recent escalation of tensions in the Middle East has made Ahmed and Yusaf even more determined to prove their worth as Muslims. When the suicide bombings started several years ago, it was mostly single, young men that chose to martyr themselves for the cause. However, recent weeks have seen several female suicide bombers, and this revelation has caused GISM to reassess its own status in the war against Israel. "It's about equality," Ahmed says. "Annihilating Jews isn't just for heterosexuals, it's for everyone."
Finally, their moment has come. Checking their weapons and explosives one last time, the men embrace [...]. On the street, the men are all smiles as they hold hands and walk amidst the Jewish settlement looking for a bus stop. Spotting one, they hurry towards it while spouting cheerful greetings. "Good morning, my Jewish brothers," hails Ahmed. "Shalom!" shouts Yusaf.
The settlers relax a little, and one even offers the barest trace of smile. "Look at the friendly Jewish occupiers, ah, settlers," says Yusaf. "I'd say there are what, between twenty-five to thirty of them?" Ahmed nods in agreement, his smile widening.
One girl is visibly shaken by their presence. Yusaf puts a reassuring arm around her and coos, "Come now young lady. We are but peaceful, gay Muslims. Don't go to pieces."
"Yes," beams Ahmed as the bus approaches. "Please give us chance. I think we will blow your minds."
Finally, it's nice to know that there are other homosexual groups with a much clearer understanding of where their vested interests lie. Have a look at Queers Against Terror & Gender Apartheid, for example -- a blog that wastes no time in declaring, vis-a-vis Israel and the rest of the Middle East, who their friends are. A recent entry there was a reprint of an article from a Yale gay newspaper:
Chatting with a 21-year-old Palestinian man in a gay bar in Tel Aviv was the most interesting moment of my summer vacation. There isn't much social interaction between Arabs and Jews these days because of the ongoing terrorist war against Israel, but the gay scene is a little bit different.(emphasis in original)
Why do Arab and Jewish homosexuals mix in Tel Aviv? Because Israel is the only country in the Middle East where homosexuals can live in freedom.
It is not widely known that, along with its war against Israel, the Palestinian Authority is conducting a vicious campaign against its own homosexual population.
The New Republic, in its Aug. 19 issue, exposed hideous human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority, which employs special police squads to capture men who have sex with each other. The lucky ones are forced to stand in sewage water up to their necks or lie in dark cells infested with insects; others are simply starved to death. These horrific crimes have motivated hundreds of Palestinian homosexuals to flee to Israel.
Tell me, folks: is that the Palestinian nation you're so anxious to defend?
(Note: this post is dedicated to my wife, who found the links and suggested to me that a blog-entry would write itself. She was right.)
UPDATE: The gentle folk of QUIT have outdone themselves. (Thanks again to my wife for the link!)
Recently, the queer and mainstream press have reported on three Palestinian gay men who say that they were severely abused and humiliated by Palestinian police. One of the young men reportedly escaped the police, only to be threatened by his own family. They have been living underground in Israel for the last several years, and now Israel is deporting them back to Palestine, where they fear being killed as suspected collaborators.Perhaps I should stop there. Most of the rest of the diatribe, in which Palestinian abuse of gay Palestinians is blamed on Israel, is an exercise in self-parody. For example, a few paragraphs further along we find this gem:
However, the story about the three Palestinian men is being used by pro-Israeli gay organizations to suggest that the military occupation of Palestine is justified by anti-gay oppression within Palestinian society. We are outraged by this cynical response to the stories.
When Israeli soldiers stop young men at checkpoint after checkpoint, telling them no, they cannot travel outside of their villages, they do not ask them if they're gay and need to leave because they fear violence from their families.No, I imagine they don't. (The soldiers also don't ask the "young men" if they are fleeing from tax collectors, jealous husbands/wives, or angry camels, among other relative irrelevancies. The soldiers are there -- and the checkpoints are there -- to prevent terrorists from crossing into Israel. Period. Presumably QUIT would have Israeli soldiers let the gay terrorists through; see above.)
Did I say self-parody? Perhaps I should have said self-delusion, coupled with a level of chutzpah that's amazing even by Middle Eastern standards:
The presence of Israeli occupation forces in Palestine does nothing to help and much to hurt LGBT Palestinians.In your dreams, pal. Nobody accepts the Palestinian "right of return" other than the Palestinians themselves. Claiming that the UN supports this -- or that the UN has a leg to stand on in such matters in the first place -- is ludicrous.
International law, as repeatedly reaffirmed by the United Nations, recognizes the right of Palestinians to live in any city or town in historic Palestine, including the parts that are now called Israel. This is called the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees.
In the current situation, it is impossible for queers to have civil rights in the nation of Palestine, because that nation is denied itsright to exist.That statement is so wrong, it's hard to know where to begin to debunk it.
Was the "nation of Palestine" denied its right to exist by Jordan, which held the West Bank from 1948 through 1967? Or by Egypt, which held the Gaza Strip during the same period?
Israel has repeatedly affirmed her willingness to negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians, provided the terror ceases. When you've lived through years of exploding pizzerias and bombed-out buses, when ordinary people take their lives in their hands simply by going to school or standing in line to buy a sandwich, this doesn't seem like much to ask.
The Palestinians, by contrast, have long denied Israel's right to exist. Now that would be a good place to invoke the UN... because Israel is a member state of the United Nations (and has been since 1949), while "Palestine" is not.
The bottom line is this: QUIT, and organizations like them, seem determined to blame the firefighter and not the arsonist. Yes, Israeli treatment of gays is not as good as gays might want; yes, Israeli treatment of Palestinians is not as good as Palestinians might want. But in both cases, Israel has done as well or better than anyone in the world. (Go ahead, show me a nation at war that treats its gay population better than Israel does. And, as I've said before, nobody -- certainly no Arab nation -- has done half as much for the Palestinians as Israel has. Why this should count against Israel has never made sense to me.)
Furthermore, QUIT doesn't seem to understand that, when people are fighting for their lives, there are more important issues than freedom of sexual expression. When Palestinian children are being taught, in school and on television and everywhere else, that their only duty is to kill themselves, this is of grave concern to me... and I'd think it would be to QUIT as well! I'm far less concerned about the spectacle of gay Palestinians fleeing to Israel where they'll be safer than among their own families.
Try as I might, I cannot find it in my heart to take these people seriously.
UPDATE II: Matt of Saving The World (& Other Stories) adds his own comments vis-a-vis cognitive dissonance, and concludes:
Because that's what we oppressed do, isn't it? We support each other. We don't look at history and judge that while Palestinians do deserve rights the Israelis do too. Because that would muddy the waters of the cornerstone of vulgar left thinking (a killer mixed metaphor there btw): Victims of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your reasons for complaining!(emphasis mine)
Isn't British irony (and understatement) fun?