Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 13th, 2013

Questions Palestinian Queers are tired of hearing: 8 of them

You might think that the main goal of a group of queer activists in Palestine like us in Al-Qaws (The Bow) should be the seemingly endless task of dismantling sexual and gender hierarchy in one’s own society.

It is. But you might think otherwise, judging from the repetitive questions we get during our lectures and events, or from inquiries we receive from media and other international organizations.

Ghaith Hilal posted in The Electronic Intifada this November 27,  2013

131127-ramallah-graffiti.jpg

Graffiti in Ramallah reads “Queers passed through here.” (Image courtesy of Al-Qaws)

We intend to end this once and for all. Educating people about their own privilege is not our burden.

But before we announce our formal retirement from this task, here are the eight most frequent questions we get, and their definitive answers.

1. Doesn’t Israel provide Palestinian queers with a safe haven?

Of course it does: the apartheid wall has sparkly pink doors lining it, ready to admit those who strike a fabulous pose. In fact, Israel built the wall to keep Palestinian homophobes out and to protect Palestinian queers who seek refuge in it.

But seriously: “Israel creates refugees; it does not shelter refugees. There has never been a case of a Palestinian — a descendant of a family or families who were forcibly displaced, sometimes massacred, often thrown in jail without charge — magically transcending the living legacy of this history to find him or herself granted asylum in “Israel” — the state that committed these atrocities.

If some people manage to cross the wall and end up in Tel Aviv, they are considered “illegal.” They end up working and living in horrible conditions, trying to avoid being arrested.

2. Aren’t all Palestinians homophobic?

Are all Americans homophobic? Of course not. Unfortunately, Western representations of Palestinians, particularly lesbian, gay, transgender or queer Palestinians, tend to ignore diversity in Palestinian society.

That being said, Palestinians are living under decades-long military occupation. The occupation amplifies the diverse forms of oppression that are experienced in every society.

However, homophobia is not the way we contextualize our struggle. This is a notion comes from specific type of activism in the global north.

How can we single out homophobia from a complex oppressive system (patriarchy) that oppresses women, and gender non-conforming people?

3. How do you deal with your main enemy, Islam?

Oh, we have a main enemy now? If we had to single out a main enemy that would be occupation, not religion — Islam or otherwise.

More fundamentalist forms of religion are presently enjoying a global resurgence, including in many Western societies.

We don’t view religion as our main exceptional challenge. Still, increased religious sentiment, regardless of which religion, almost always creates obstacles for those interested in promoting respect for gender and sexual diversity.

Palestinian nationalism has a long history of respect for secularism. This provides a set of cultural values useful in advocating for LGBTQ Palestinians.

Furthermore, religion is often an important part of Palestinian LGBTQ people’s identities. We respect all of our communities’ identities and make space for diversity.

4. Are there any out Palestinians?

I’m glad you asked that question. We have great Palestinian gay carpenters who build such amazing closets for queers with all the Western comforts you can dream of — we never want to leave.

Once again the notion of coming out — or the politics of visibility — is a strategy that has been adopted by some LGBT activists in the global north, due to specific circumstances. Imposing this strategy on the rest of the world, without understanding context, is a colonial project.

Ask us instead what social change strategies apply to our context, and whether the notion of coming out even makes sense.

5. Why are there no Israelis in al-Qaws?

Colonialism is not about bad people being mean to others (“bad” Israelis don’t steal queer Palestinians’ lunch money). Being super “good” doesn’t magically dissolve systems of oppression.

Our organization works within Palestinian society, across borders imposed by the occupation. The challenges that LGBTQ Israelis face are nothing like the ones faced by Palestinians.

We are talking about two different societies with different cultures and histories; the fact that they are currently occupying our land doesn’t make us one society.

Being queer does not eliminate the power dynamic between the colonized and colonizer despite the best of intentions.

We resist the “global, pink, happy, gay family” sentiment. Palestinian-only organizing is essential to decolonizing and improving Palestinian society.

6. I saw this film about gay Palestinians (Invisible Men/Bubble/Out In The Dark, etc.) and I feel I learned a lot about your struggle

You mean the films that were made by privileged Israeli or Jewish filmmakers portraying white Israelis as saviors and Palestinians as victims that needed saving?

These films strip the voice and agency of Palestinian queers, portraying them as victims that need saving from their own society.

These films rely on racist tropes of Arab men as volatile and dangerous.

These films are simply pinkwashing propaganda, funded by the Israeli government, with a poignant oppressed/oppressor love story the glitter on top.

If you want to learn about the reality of our community and our struggle, try listening to what queer Palestinians have to say, at the Al-Qaws or Palestinian Queers for BDS websites.

7. Isn’t fighting for gay rights a more pressing issue than pinkwashing?

Mainstream LGBT groups in the North would have us believe that queers live in a separate world, only connected to their societies as victims of homophobia.

But you cannot have queer liberation while apartheid, patriarchy, capitalism and other oppression exist. It’s important to target the connections of these oppressive forces.

Furthermore, pinkwashing is a strategy used by the Brand Israel campaign to garner the support of queers in other parts of the world. It is simply an attempt to make the Zionist project more appealing to queer people.

This is another iteration of a familiar and toxic colonial fantasy — that the colonizer can provide something important and necessary that the colonized cannot possibly provide for themselves.

Pinkwashing strips away our voices, history and agency, telling the world that Israel knows what is best for us.

By targeting pinkwashing we are reclaiming our agency, history, voices and bodies, telling the world what we want and how to support us.

8. Why do you use terms from “the West” like LGBT or queer to describe your struggle? How do you answer that critique?

Though we have occasionally been branded as tokenized, complicit with Israel, naïve and Westernized (by those based in the West), our activists bring decades of experience and on-the-ground analysis of cultural imperialism and Orientalism.

This has provided the raw material for many an itinerant academic. However, the work of those in the Ivory Tower is rarely, if ever, accountable to those working in the field nor does it acknowledge its power (derived from the same colonial economy) on activists.

We are accountable to our local communities and the values developed over years of organizing.

Language is a strategy, but it does not eclipse the totality of who we are and what we do.

The words that have gained global currency — LGBTQ — are used with great caution in our grassroots movements. Simply because such words emerged from a particular context and political moment does not mean they carry that same political content when deployed in our context.

The language that we use is always revisited and expanded through our work.

Language catalyzes discussions and pushes us to think more critically, but no word whether in English or Arabic can do the work. Only a movement can.

Ghaith Hilal is a queer Palestinian activist from the West Bank who has been part of Al-Qaws leadership since 2007.

The silenced voices of the Syrian non-violent opposition

Hadi al-Abdallah is a young Syrian activist who has been fortunate enough to escape death, and more than once.

With more than 200,000 Twitter followers and over 300,000 on Facebook, he has become the voice of resistance in Homs and its suburbs over the last two years, including during the Battle of Qusayr (a big tow, 10 km from Lebanon borders, close to 32rsal where the Islamist terrorists launched their attacks and bombed cars into Lebanon), which heralded the official involvement of Hezbollah in Syria.

Is Hadi al-Abdallah an example of sensational Arab media of the Syrian revolution?

Carol Malouf  posted this Nov. 30, 2013:

Forgotten Syrian Voices

Syrian activist Hadi al-Abdallah

I invited Abdallah to come to Beirut and participate in a panel on social media and the Arab world. I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want to leave the devastation of war-torn Homs for the glamor of Beirut, at least for a couple of days. Instead, I found myself staring at my screen in awe when he replied, “Thank you Carol. I am honored, but I cannot leave the people of Homs. I promised to stay here till the end.”

For the first time, in a long while, I was listening to the true forgotten voice of the Syrian people.

I have covered the Syrian revolution since the beginning. I met pretentious self-proclaimed opposition leaders – the ones who appear on television screens from the comforts of air-conditioned studios around the world – to bicker and argue over their best interests.

A year ago in Doha, I watched an Islamist-elected member of the Syrian National Council (SNC) give up his seat to its leader George Sabra, after the latter was betrayed by his own block and lost his seat on the SNC Executive Committee. Once seen as the most likely core of an interim Syrian government, the SNC lost favor both in the West and with rebels fighting inside the country.

A few days later, I witnessed the unnatural birth of the Syrian National Coalition, a US-backed initiative to form a united Syrian opposition supposedly more representative than the SNC. Christians, Alawites, Sunnis, salafis, seculars, and former communists all got together to form the coalition.

Though representative of Syria’s diverse social fabric, the opposition-in-exile is perceived by most Syrians as a group of incompetent men and women who “wine and dine” in five-star hotels around the world, so far having achieved absolutely no political results that could solve the Syrian crisis.

The coalition failed to speak for the people inside Syria,” Abdallah told me.

Today, the brutal Syrian regime wants the world to believe there are only two forces on the ground; a secular regime fighting against jihadi extremists.

It’s not true.

Speaking to Hadi al-Abdallah not only touched me, but also put things into perspective. He said that the real Syrian opposition has been silenced and vilified. He is right. Today we talk about beheading and heart-eating fighters. We only talk about mass killings and chemical weapons.

Intelligence chiefs from the West, the Arab world, and Turkey meet to find a solution to the security situation in Syria. But how do they plan to stop the regime’s aggression against its own people, and how do they plan to stop ISIS from taking over?

Moreover, the West and its allies also fail to understand that the Syrian crisis today is a humanitarian issue and not a mere security concern.

The Syrian revolution gave ordinary people like Abdallah the chance to turn the idea of liberty into a reality. But two and a half years into the conflict, the dream of liberty is becoming increasingly elusive for most Syrians.

A life without censorship that preserves the freedoms of speech, expression, and religious practice remains out of reach, even if the Syrian revolution initially inspired hope in Abdallah and many like him.

There are thousands in Syria who, like Hadi al-Abdullah, refuse to leave their homes. Young men who make up the heart of the resistance, who by their mere presence in Homs today, and by the very fact that they are still alive and breathing, remain the only embodiment of the resistance.

They are neither tempted by imaginary positions in detached Syrian councils in exile, nor by money offered from foreign entities. They have taken an oath to liberate their country from oppression.

Peaceful demonstrators who were forced to carry guns to defend themselves, their homes, and their families from the regime’s death squads are fighting for their lives today. They are besieged and their only option is to fight until the end.

Amid daily aerial bombardments and artillery shelling, the Syrian resistance continues to fight not just the regime, but also religious extremists they are often mistaken for.

“We are left alone to fight the world. We are fighting the corrupt war lords, the regime, Hezbollah, Iranians, Iraqi Shiite militias, the Russians, and extremists.”

“We will stay and fight till the end,” Abdallah says. (Till the end of what? The end of the flow of Saudi money?)

Carol Malouf is a Political Communication Consultant and a Freelance Journalist based in Beirut. She tweets at @carolmalouf 


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