Review: Out Of Place. Silencing Voices on Queerness/Raciality

This was posted 10/24/09 to the New York University Gender Studies mailing list and originally appeared on Monthly REview. Thanks to Eddy Laing for pointing it out.

Out Of Place. Silencing Voices on Queerness/Raciality

‘Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality’ (Raw Nerve Books) came out in July 2008. The book presents an unprecedented compilation of critical articles by scholars and activists, which address the manifold ways in which questions regarding ‘race’ and racism are silenced in queer politics and theory. ‘Out of Place’ was very well received. It found a wide readership and the first edition sold out in a bit over a year. Now for the bad news: The book is no longer available. Raw Nerve Books, a small independent feminist publisher, decided not to produce a second edition.

While the book has received a lot of positive interest, it is also controversial and challenging. Indeed many new ideas that challenge prevailing ways of thinking and enacting power relations are not welcomed by everyone when they are first voiced. One chapter in particular ignited controversy, leading to a public apology by the publisher, who in the same breath declared the volume out of print.

The chapter in question is an essay entitled 'Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the 'war on terror'' by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem. In this chapter, the authors present an analysis of how ideologies regarding gender oppression and homophobia can be mobilised to feed a self-image of western democracies as the harbingers of gender equality and sexual liberation by deploying anti-Muslim racist discourses identifying Islam as the cradle of sexism and homophobia. The claims that Islam condones the oppression of women and legitimises violence towards homosexuals have played a significant role in justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and more generally the ‘war on terror’ in all its political, legal and cultural manifestations. In their analysis, the authors criticise (among others) some publications and political actions by Peter Tatchell and the activist group OutRage! It appears to us that Peter Tatchell demanded a public 'apology and correction'. We can only speculate on why Raw Nerve chose to publish an unusually long and detailed statement to Tatchell on their web page, which labels the article libellous for containing ‘untrue’ and ‘defamatory’ claims. The ‘apology and correction’ voices Tatchell’s concerns and presents a one-sided interpretation of the text, illustrated by short fragments taken out of context and suggesting arguments that, in our view, the article does not make [http://www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/Peter_Tatchell.pdf].

We consider the article to be an important contribution to the volume and current debates about gender and sexual politics. We wish critics read the article first before coming to any judgemental conclusions. As authors of a chapter in this collection we are extremely concerned by the way Raw Nerve Books has handled this conflict, solely giving voice to one single interpretation and denying the second edition of this book. We as authors of a chapter in the book have not been consulted by Raw Nerve, nor has Raw Nerve opted for an approach in which it represents the wide range of opinions expressed in this book. As authors we feel we have been denied the academic freedom to present our critical analysis to the public and instead silenced.

Raw Nerve presents itself as an ‘independent, not-for-profit feminist press publishing controversial, under-represented and experimental work’. They set out with the important aim ‘to inspire new discussions’ by ‘asking questions that might indeed touch a 'raw nerve' with many readers.’ (http://www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/). The reaction to the article shows that the authors certainly touched on a raw nerve with their critique here. Yet what we as authors of a chapter in the collection envisage in the case of controversy is critical and open debate rather than foreclosing such debate by treating opposed views as libellous. When authors are confronted with the threat of a law suit, this forecloses open debate. If such debate cannot include disagreements and conflicts of opinion, it takes self censorship for granted.

Ironically, this conflict illustrates what the collection "Out of Place: Silencing Voices on Queerness/Raciality" addresses. While postcolonial and transnational interventions into feminist debates have found a wider audience, writing on queer sexualities and politics from an anti-racist perspective is still rare these days. The decision of the publishers not to publish a second edition results in a de-facto act of censorship, which further marginalises already precarious perspectives. Putting pressure on publishers, editors and authors to silence un-wanted opinions endangers critical debate based on freedom of expression. We are worried about an emerging culture in which libel threats may be habitually used to silence critical voices. We are disappointed with Raw Nerve Books’ decision to publish this one-sided statement and to not print a second edition of ‘Out of Place’.

 

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  • Guest - rowlandkeshena

    I haven't read the whole book, though I have read the chapter "Gay Imperialism." It is indeed a good piece, and an important contribution to the discussion on the ways in which Western Imperialism mobilizes sentiments about the way fundamentalist Islam treats women and queers in order to help justify its wars.

    The piece used to be available at several place online, including Google Scholar, but a quick search of the net seems to show that along with preventing a second edition being published, Peter Tatchell and OutRage! have also managed to have several of the "legal" reproductions of it on the net also taken down.

    With any luck maybe some radical queer bloggers out there have managed to keep it up.

  • find it, Rowland, and we will (of course) post it here.

    I thought the comments by Medea Benjamin (of Code Pink) opposing quick withdrawal from Afghanistan is an example of what you are mentioning -- where people perceive the (relative) liberalism of (some pockets within) imperialist society as preferable to raw semi-feudal traditional ways... and so think of the U.S. as having a positive role to play in the Third World. (And the inverse happens when, for example in Denmark, sections of the people portray themselves as defenders of women's rights when they demand the suppression of Islamic expression by immigrants in the schools.

    There have been (in Europe) the well-known controversies over head covering, but also more complicated controversies over arranged marriage, compulsory education of girls, poligamy, and even genital mutilation among some immigrant groups etc. And unraveling these matters goes to the heart of a number of ideological and political matters that face us -- questions of self-determination, cultural relativism (raised powerfully in sociological and anthropological circles), whether one society is more "advanced" than another (and how such things are measured and what such judgements mean), directionality in human progress, the economic and historical basis of European social democracy, the class content of "traditional" society in the modern era, the relatioship of traditional religion to national culture/identity (Tibet? Sudan? Afghanistan?), and more.

    Unraveling this is not simple -- it will require both real investigation, struggle and dialectics. Anyone aware of sharp and substantive discussion of these issues (from a revolutionary or progressive stand) please suggest it.

  • Guest - jp

    the pdf of the chapter in question is here, courtesy MRZine:
    http://www.mediafire.com/?sharekey=edf3d795b172f5376b21be4093fab7ace04e75f6e8ebb871

    MRzine has covered this well, and some of the british blogs have had extensive discussions (Socialist Unity, for one).

  • Guest - Cultural Animal

    I'm glad some silence is being broken about this. As a transgender person with an activist background I started chafing pretty quickly on de facto unexamined racism in the US transgender movement. Most of those folks got introduced to activism as such as a part and parcel of an excruciating coming out/transition process and have too many scars to get multidimensional about oppression per se.

  • Guest - red

    statements of support from allies, and the original article, are also reposted here

    http://www.grassrootsfeminism.net/cms/node/382