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This is the first draft of a piece I wrote that eventually became this piece on the New Statesman blog. They asked me to focus on one issue in more depth rather than the two separate but related issues of pinkwashing and queer assimilation (which I was happy to do). However, I think it’s also important to understand that the two processes reinforce one another, so I’m presenting the original piece here.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, something perfectly ordinary happened: a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, New York, was raided by the cops. At the time, gay bars were illegal, Mafia-run, and frequently the subject of police violence.

What made this particular night extraordinary was that the patrons fought back. First bottles and beer cans were thrown at the police, then bricks and cobblestones. Burning rubbish was thrown into the Inn and police responded by turning a firehose on the crowd. 13 people were arrested, 4 police officers were injured, and at least two patrons were severely beaten by the police.

Several days of sporadic and spontaneous protest erupted, including two more nights of rioting, with police struggling to regain control.

The first Pride marches, in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, took place on June 28, 1970, in commemoration of the riots.

Today, as queer Londoners take to the streets for the parade which forms the centrepiece of London’s WorldPride festival, Pride is an unrecognisably different affair: a 3-week consumer-fest replete with corporate sponsors (including, incongruously, the TUC side-by-side with viciously anti-union companies like Coca Cola). [http://www.pridelondon.org/]

It’s a spectacle indicative of an LGBT movement that is increasingly being assimilated into the mainstream, but at the cost of our radicalism and transformative potential.

We are becoming just another interest group, another demographic, another corporate social responsibility box-ticking excercise allowing big business to claim progressive credentials, pinkwashing the exploitation at the heart of their operation. But hey, at least we can be “Out @ Tesco” [http://home.outattesco.com/] while earning a pittance on workfare.

Worse still, we have lost our understanding of solidarity. While the Gay Liberation Front – who emerged from the Stonewall Rebellion as the movement of organised queer militancy – actively sought to build links with groups such as the Black Panthers, now we are allowing our struggles to be co-opted by racist agendas, with everyone from the English Defence League to apartheid Israel feigning concern for LGBT rights in order to portray Muslims as a pre-modern barbarian threat to the status of LGBT people in the enlightened West. [http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/23/opinion/pinkwashing-and-israels-use-of-gays-as-a-messaging-tool.html]

Perhaps most offensively, Pride London will host a £250-a-plate gala dinner, at which US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be presented with an award, while US troops continue to destroy lives in Afghanistan (including those of LGBT Afghans) and Bradley Manning (who is commonly described as gay, but is actually a trans woman who identifies as Breanna [http://globalcomment.com/2011/why-does-the-media-still-refer-to-%E2%80%9Cbradley%E2%80%9D-manning-the-curious-silence-around-a-transgender-hero/]) Chelsea Manning rots in prison for revealing details of US atrocities in Iraq.

At present, the LGBT movement is organised around a set of fairly narrow demands for equality, understood as assimilation within already-existing conservative institutions: marriage, the nuclear family, the military, the police, the boardroom.

But equality is not liberation. Take marriage, for example. Whether the definition of civil marriage is expanded to include same-sex couples or not, the State retains the power to define what constitutes a “normal” relationship, to write the relationship script for the vast majority of society, to bludgeon our sexualities into its preferred shape, while those who don’t or won’t fit the script are pushed to the margins.

However marriage is redefined, it will never be ours. However much it changes, we will always have to change more in order to assuage the fears of “family values” conservatives that we pose a threat to their vision of sexual morality. Within the community, there is political pressure, particularly on those who are the most visibly queer, to reshape our sexualities into forms that are more palatable to conservative moralists and legislators, or to ditch the concerns of trans* people altogether because they make us look bad.

Of course, we should fight for a society that’s inclusive of LGBT people, but genuine liberation means changing society so that it’s worth being included in. That won’t happen as long as we continue to dance the tune of capitalists, racists and conservatives in exchange for incremental changes.

Below are a selection of quotes from three prominent figures of the Atheist movement, and three prominent far-right figures. Try and guess which are which and maybe comment with your score (answers at the bottom).

  1. I regard Islam as one of the great evils in the world, and I fear that we have a very difficult struggle there… There are people in the Islamic world who simply say, ‘Islam is right, and we are going to impose our will.’
  2. Western values, freedom of speech, democracy and rights for women are incompatible with Islam, which is a cancer eating away at our freedoms and our democracy and rights for our women.
  3. It’s almost impossible to say anything against Islam in this country, because you are accused of being racist or Islamophobic.
  4. I do feel visceral revulsion at the burka because for me it is a symbol of the oppression of women.
  5. The Koran is an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror.
  6. Islamo-fascists gave us no peace and we shouldn’t give them any. We can’t live on the same planet as them and I’m glad because I don’t want to. I don’t want to breathe the same air as these psychopaths and murderers and rapists and torturers and child abusers. It’s them or me. I’m very happy about this because I know it will be them. It’s a duty and a responsibility to defeat them. But it’s also a pleasure. I don’t regard it as a grim task at all.
  7. The dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants.
  8. Islam is not compatible with our Western way of life. Islam is a threat to our values. Respect for people who think otherwise, the equality of men and women, the equality of homosexuals and heterosexuals, respect for Christians, Jews, unbelievers and apostates, the separation of church and state, freedom of speech, they are all under pressure…
  9. Let us remind ourselves what Sharia means on freedom of speech, conscience, and protest. All we need do is look at a few examples from other countries.
    In Pakistan, the Criminal Code articles 295 and 298 have shut down any freedom of speech as regards Islam. The blaspheme laws are a rod to beat down and kill the non-Muslim population.
    In Saudi Arabia, in 2007 the religious police beat little school girls back into their burning building because they were not properly covered.
    In Egypt, converts from Islam have to either flee the country or go into hiding.
    In Iran, protesters are gunned down in the street for declaring their lack of confidence in and support for the recent presidential elections.
    And in this country we are apparently not allowed to have an opinion that can be in anyway construed as being negative about Islam.
  10. As a matter of doctrine, the Muslim conception of tolerance is one in which non-Muslims have been politically and economically subdued, converted, or put to sword.
  11. Sharia – the rule by a so-called Allah means the domination of non-Muslims. It is a central teaching of Islam and rooted in the Qur’an and the example of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.
  12. I think it is well arguable that Islam is the greatest man-made force for evil in the world today.
  13. This wicked, vicious faith has expanded from a handful of cranky lunatics about 1,300 years ago, to it’s now sweeping country after country before it, all over the world. And if you read the Koran, you’ll find that that’s what they want.

The point of this (to preempt some of the more predictable objections to this) is not that atheism inevitable leads towards fascism or racism (as some of the more ludicrous religious evangelists will argue) nor that the Atheist movement and the far-right share common ideologcal roots (they don’t). It is to illustrate that the kind of vulgar post-political reductionism embodied by the likes of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens converges with the far-right around a shared problematisation of Islam, and, more specifically, the presence of Muslim immigrants in the West, as well as shared anxieties around multiculturalism and political correctness. One can find much more explicit racist framings of Islam among the comments on the likes of Richard Dawkins website, while Dawkins and others are quoted enthusiastically by the EDL et al. This suggests (unsurprisingly, given that both inhabit the same political discourse) not just a point of convergence but an inter-relation of the two movements – a mutual feeding-into-one-another.

EDIT: Ok just to be clear, for the benefit of all the Redditors, I’m not asserting, nor do I believe, that the word ‘Muslim’ is interchangeable with ‘Arab’ or anything of the sort. But nor is it possible to draw a sharp distinction between race and religion as many commenters have. The word Muslim has a set of associated racial meanings. It is used in various ways to signify a multiplicity of minority races and cultures. This is simply a fact of our political discourse. This is why the political framing of Islam is a racial issue. What’s more: everyone knows this. The “I’m criticising their beliefs not their race” gambit is merely an attempt to deny the racial content of your statements in order to sidestep accusations of racism – a classic racist move.

Answers:

  1. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  2. Fascist Nick Griffin (source)
  3. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  4. Atheist Richard Dawkins (Ibid.)
  5. Fascist Geert Wilders (source)
  6. Atheist Christopher Hitchens (source)
  7. Atheist Sam Harris (source) (He goes on to say that “The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.”)
  8. Fascist Geert Wilders (source)
  9. Fascist Tommy Robinson (source)
  10. Atheist Sam Harris (source)
  11. Fascist Tommy Robinson (source)
  12. Atheist Richard Dawkins (source)
  13. Fascist Nick Griffin (source)