UPDATE, Tamsila Tauqir confirms that she did receive a legal threat from Peter Tatchell that if the authors of Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’ republished it elsewhere, he would sue for libel.
In the earlier version of this article I stated as fact that Peter Tatchell used threats of libel action. I still believe this is the only likely explanation for the subsequent statement by Scott Long and Human rights watch, but I suppose it is possible that other forms of pressure were brought to bear on them instead. Whatever pressure was used, it is clear that an attempt has been made to delegitimise Scott Long’s substantive political criticism of Peter Tatchell..
I was saddened to see that today the admirable Scott Long of Human Rights Watch been forced to issue an apology for his provocative but well-researched article in the journal Contempory Politics, which criticises Peter Tatchell’s approach, particularly relating to Peter’s misunderstandings about Iranian society, and the dangers of polarising identities of Muslim and LGBT as necessarily being opposed, and mutually exclusive.
Scott Long’s article is a very substantive contribution to the debate about how LGBT and Muslim communities can interact. Here, for example is one useful point from the article:
‘the incessant insistence that Muslim communities accede to the political agendas of LGBT identities actually forecloses politics altogether. It fences off the arena of shared interests and temporary junctures that a “redistributive” politics, attentive to specific gains rather than discursive generalities, might open. Absolute demands replace dialogues. And the demands neglect disparities of power.
‘Lesbians and gays in Britain have accumulated cultural capital and political influence. They confront—increasingly explicitly—British Muslim communities that, since 9/11 and 7/7, feel steadily more besieged, not only by daily prejudice but by anti-immigrant hysteria and a security state (Pierce, 2008). If white gay men in Britain should remember anything from the last forty years of their history, it is the fear of arrest or harassment because they look or dress differently. This should be the basis of a qualified common ground, in which LGBT activists can actually cooperate with embattled Muslims against police misconduct and policies of repression. After all, a dress code that can be used against a women in niqab can target a drag queen next. Failing to recognize such potential understanding is not only a lapse of imagination, it is a collapse of politics—a failure to be political, to think beyond identity into possibility. And curiously, the LGBT isolationism of groups like Outrage! could profit a great deal from advocates in the Middle East—in Egypt, say, where secularists, including the very few ‘gay’ activists, have cooperated with the Muslim Brotherhood on the shared ground of opposing the state’s control over the body, and a regime of torture.”
To take another example of the significant nature of Scott Long’s contribution to debate, based upon his extensive experience as LGBT affairs director for Human Rights Watch, he questions the established narrative of how gays are supposedly routinely executed in Iran. The way some of these campaigns have been conducted has more to do with the positioning of gay rights advocacy in the West, than actually helping the victims of oppression in Iran.
In particular he discusses the case of Makwan Moloudzadeh, convicted in 2007 for the rape of three boys seven years earlier. Makwan’s defence was that he had never done it. All three of his accusers had retracted their accusations, and the case had all the hallmarks of a small-town vendetta.
Makwan himself was not gay, and his brother who fled the country was categorical that neither he nor Makwan had ever had, nor sought, consensual sex with another man. Amnesty International were careful to describe the case as being of a child offender accused of rape, and facing the death penalty – which is of course outrage enough, and grounds for an international solidarity campaign in Makwan’ defence.
Sadly, some gay rights advocacy groups, could not resist the temptation to attribute a “gay identity” to Makwan, for example a US Gay News website’s headline “Death penalty immanent for Gay youth in Iran”, and the irresponsible Italian organisation, Gruppo Everyone organised a campaign of roses sent to Iranian officials, and letters, and e-mails to President Ahmadinijad saying that Makwan was a young homosexual who “was only ‘guilty’ of loving a peer when he was 13 years old, and having sexual intercourse with him”.
This was in defiance of makwan’s own legal defence, and the testimony of the original accusers that the incident had never taken place. Gay rights groups in the West were playing politics with Makwan’s life, endangering him, when there had otherwise been a reasonable chance that his appeals may have succeeded.
As Scott Long argues, “There is no way to tell how many e-mails (and roses) reached Iranian authorities proclaiming that Makwan had sex with another boy. Iran has the death penalty for homosexual conduct, consensual or non-consensual. But eager to weave a story about Makwan’s “gayness” Gruppo Everyone and others forgot truth and consequences and serenely sure of their own rightness they informed the Iranian authorities that Makwan was innocent of one capital crime, but guilty of another. Claims that there had been a consensual sex act also put his original accusers in danger.
In contrast, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International stuck to the facts, that there was no evidence of any sexual act. There was no evidence that Makwan was gay.
Gruppo Everyone, and some British activists were not so careful; and with no evidence at all to support their claim, they argued that the Iranian authorities routinely frame gay men for raping boys – perhaps to square the known facts of Makwan’s case with their own retelling of it.
This is not an isolated case, and Scott Long’s article is worth reading for a discussion of the politics of gay rights advocacy groups in the West, who transpose Westernised politics of identity onto other societies, without due regard for the political consequences and human cost.
Despite the fact that Scott Long was making a substantial contribution to an important political debate, he, and Human Rights Watch, have chosen to make a statement of apology and retraction, I presume in response to a libel threat from Peter Tatchell, although perhaps other forms of pressure were used. This of course may be the wisest course for them to avoid risky litigation or embarrasment, whatever the merits of Scott Long’s arguments.
The danger of course is the retraction and apology means that this very useful article, which Peter Tatchell describes as “highly libellous and defamatory” will not be read, and its significant political content will be dismissed. Surely it would have been far better for Peter Tatchell to write a reasoned response to the political criticisms.
The Press Release from Peter Tatchell claims that HRW “says sorry for a series of untrue and personal attacks on Mr Tatchell, made by the head of HRW’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) programme, Scott Long. ”
Peter Tatchell goes on to say:
“I defend the right of people to criticise me. But Mr Long’s attacks went beyond criticism. He made false allegations, which misrepresented my human rights campaigns. It is these untrue claims that are the focus of my objections.
“Mr Long’s falsehoods and personal attacks were many and varied. They included a highly libellous and defamatory essay written by him, which appeared in the March 2009 issue of the journal Contemporary Politics, published by Routledge, which is part of the Taylor and Francis publishing group.”
Yet Peter Tatchell’s claim that he welcomes criticism is belied by the groundhog day experience of each substantive work of political criticism of him being followed by retractions and apologies. I assume because they have been subject to threats of libel actions. We have been here before. For example with the article Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’ - by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem.
I made a substantive analysis of that article here, where I concede that the authors made a number of incautious statements attributing motives and actions to Peter Tatchell without sufficient nuance. Nevertheless their substantial political critique was a sound one. Unfortunately their publishers issued a statement of retraction, as HRW have just done with Scott Long.
Peter Tatchell’s supporters then used these retractions to close down debate raised by the original articles, thus seeking to delegitimise any political critique of Tatchell’s campaigning and beliefs. For examples here and here.
Peter Tatchell’s supporters often frame any attempts to discuss the limitations of Peter’s politics as “smearing”.
So we have a political problem of threats of legal action or other pressure being made against serious academics and human rights campaigners when they write substantive critiques of Peter Tatchell and his politics. Then when they or their publishers issue retractions, perhaps to avoid risky litigation, the wording of which may have been agreed with or even drafted by Peter Tatchell or his lawyers, then Peter issues a press release effectively rubbishing the entire substantive critique of him as being malicious and full of personal attacks and falsehoods.
This avoids any need for him to engage with the serious political criticisms that are being made.
This is an inappropriate attempt to close down legitimate academic and political debate.