The politics of phobias
On 2 April, a group under the name East End Gay Pride (EEGP) planned to march through the Shoreditch and Whitechapel districts of Tower Hamlets borough in London. The march was promoted as ‘united against homophobia and all prejudice’ and was claimed to be in response to a homophobic sticker campaign in East London – a campaign which has questionable origins and has been condemned by both the East End Mosque and the Association of British Muslims.
The EEGP is part of a growing and mainstreaming of Islamophobia as Muslims are painted as the face of homophobia in Britain and Europe. Left-leaning liberal journalist Johann Hari, who is known for his international reporting on Palestine and Congo, recently published a piece ‘Can we talk about Muslim homophobia now?’, in which he claimed:
‘East London has seen the highest increase in homophobic attacks anywhere in Britain. Everybody knows why, and nobody wants to say it. It is because East London has the highest Muslim population in Britain, and we have allowed a fanatically intolerant attitude towards gay people to incubate there, in the name of “tolerance”.’
Hari’s assertions have been challenged by a number of Queer and non-Queer journalists and bloggers. For example, Patrick Lilly of UK Black Pride wrote an open letter response in which he pointed out that Hari’s figures are not consistent with those of the Metropolitan police:
‘There are however huge variations in totals of reported Homophobic Crimes: some Boroughs rise by 60%, others decline by the same amount. I don’t know what may affect reporting of homophobic crime, but on the basis of the information available from the Met, your claims that East London has the highest increase in homophobic crime is TOTALLY inaccurate (and inflammatory).’
(Since then, Hari added a correction to this article: ‘This article originally said Tower Hamlets had the single highest rise in homophobic violence in the UK, when in fact it merely had one of the highest rises over the past decade. Credit to Peter Lilley for emailing to point this out.’)
The blog Lenin’s Tomb goes further to expose scaremongering in the media, particularly when journalists like Johann Hari, who writes for the Independent, do not take the time to check their statistics and sources before publishing inflammatory remarks based on distortions of facts and anecdotal evidence.
‘A typical scaremongering poll appeared in The Sunday Times in 2008. It dealt with Muslim students, and it alleged a series of nasty attitudes on their part. Among other things, it said: “Homophobia was rife, with 25% saying they had little or no respect for gays.” What it meant to say, of course, was that acceptance of gays was rife, with 75% of Muslim students having some or much respect for gays. There was also a famously distorted study for the right-wing Policy Exchange in 2007, which claimed that only 30% of British Muslims disagreed with the claim that homosexuality is morally wrong and should be illegal.’
To return to the EEGP, there are several disturbing aspects of the organization and the now-cancelled march, namely that it had anti-Muslim and anti-Islam agendas.
Opponents of the EEGP have been concerned over the possible involvement of the far-right English Defense League (EDL). This has been confirmed when one of the EEGP’s organizers, Raymond Berry, turned out to be a founding member of the EDL. He is also involved with Stop the Islamification of Europe group, whose tagline is ‘Racism is the lowest form of stupidity! Islamophobia is the height of common sense!’ Since being exposed, Berry has resigned from the EEGP.
The EEGP site specifically states that anti-fascist groups are not welcome and if they do come, they will not be allowed to carry placards at the march which is being presented, ridiculously, as non-political.
Homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, fascism, the EDL, and Gay Pride – all of these are political.
The Queer Muslim organization the Safra Project made the following statement against the EEGP:
‘This not only disregards the history of embedded racism that our communities have suffered in the area and more generally but also, as Queer Muslims, we feel that there are more productive ways to address the concerns that the East End Gay Pride march organisers have raised. For example, by getting involved with the important cross-community projects that are ongoing in East London.
Therefore, we, as Queer Muslims who are most likely to suffer the fall out of this march, ask:
•The organisers to cancel this march on all of our communities, neighbours and families in East London.
•The local Queer people in the East End of London to engage with the wider local community in collaboration to better understand and work productively on all forms of prejudice.
•For everyone to voice their opposition to overt and covert racism and Islamophobia especially in the name of gay rights. All forms of prejudice must be understood in their overlapping ways and to ignore this lived reality, particularly that of Queer Muslims, is to avoid engaging with underlying issues of social, economic and political injustice and disadvantage.’
Safra’s statement differs greatly from the EEGP in that it both claims a Muslim Queer space and brings home the need to discuss the impact of queer gentrification on communities of colour and working class people.
Despite all the claims of being ‘apolitical’, there is no evidence of inclusiveness on their site where everything is white, English and homo-normative, including the repeated use of ‘gay’ which erases people who self-identify as lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, queer trans, transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming.
The call out to Johann Hari via Twitter is further evidence of the agenda of this event:
In another Tweet, EEGP linked to the Joel Kafetz show and his interview with Raymond Berry (the day before his EDL connections were exposed).
Since then, they have removed his photo from his site, but there was no statement on his fascist EDL connections.
Other groups which have stated their disgust with the growing Islamophobia and the casting of Muslims as the ‘face’ of homophobia and hate in Britain and across Europe are: Bent Bars, Imaan and Decolonizing Queer. Their statement reads:
‘Despite negotiations with the local council by a few determined individuals, the Pride march will likely go ahead. The far right have thus been given the pink light to an area which has already been deeply traumatized. Besides successive fascist and neo-fascist attempts to march through the East End, the area has long been a hub of police racism, and has one of the highest rates of stop and search. Then there is the staggering number of racist attacks, which according to police statistics are almost five times as high as the number of homophobic hate crimes.’
The cancellation of the East End Gay Pride was announced yesterday (Wednesday 16 March 2011) and is a clear victory for Queer Muslim individuals, organizations and their allies, who have borne the risk but who are not being sidelined by the same gay imperialists who paved the way for neo-fascists to organize this event in the first place.