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Out of Place, Out of Print- first British collection on queerness/raciality censored


In Solidarity with “Out of Place”
(posted on behalf of ‘In solidarity with “Out of Place”, London’)

This statement is written by a group of white non-Muslim queer activists in solidarity and support for the writers of the article “Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’” (2008) by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauquir and Esra Erdem. This article problematises the role of the white queer activist Peter Tatchell, amongst others, in the construction of Muslim communities as homophobic, highlighting the racist and imperialist effect such constructions have in the context of the ‘War on Terror’. Haritaworn et al. point out that in many of Tatchell’s campaigns and political statements the discourse he uses reinforces the idea of Muslims as dangerous extremists, and constructs Muslims as “the other” of white gay people, and that in doing so he dismisses and marginalises the voices and experiences of queer Muslims, in particular those who object to having Tatchell as a spokesperson for their struggles.

Following the publication of this article in the book Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality (Raw Nerve Books, 2008) a debacle ensued whereby Tatchell has effectively censored this article, and in the process the entire collection. He has pressurised its publishers, Raw Nerve Books, to publish an apology:

He has implicitly threatened legal action if the book is reprinted, since he claims that the comments made by Haritaworn et al. are “highly defamatory, libellous and untrue allegations” against him.

In a statement on his website,

which acts as a counterattack to his supposedly being “smeared” by the authors of the article and those academics who have supported them, Tatchell polarises his position and that of those who critique him, using the emotive language of “honesty” “truth” and “lies” to galvanise support and to attempt to tarnish the academic credentials of the academics concerned. In doing so Tatchell seeks to assimilate into his own simplistic and propagandistic terms of reference a critique which represents the relationship between Islam, sexuality and gender as multidimensional and complex. White non-Muslims may well find this critique unpalatable, to the extent that it challenges them to move beyond their prejudicial and limited frames of reference. It is disappointing that Tatchell has chosen to respond in a typically defensive way to the critique that is being made against him. As the statement by X-talk has pointed out,

the critique of Tatchell was never a personal attack. No-one is disputing that Tatchell perceives his work to be anti-racist and non-Islamophobic. However his intentions fail to be coupled with a critical awareness of in its effects his work has reproduced oppressive power structures. A prominent example of this is that a worrying pattern of Tatchell appointing himself as mediator between his own white, Australian- British background and the “homophobic” or otherwise implicitly backward or morally inferior values of cultural contexts different from his own. In positioning himself as expert in this way, he makes himself, his values and his supposed benevolence the focus of this work. This is despite the fact that time and again activists of colour have pointed out to him that not only does his work suppress and negate their activist work, but not infrequently also exposes them to a greater risk of homophobic attacks from within their own communities, as was pointed out recently by African L.G.B.T.I. human rights defenders:

That Tatchell has taken this critique as a personal attack only confirms the central importance that he places on his own reputation in his activist work. Through constructing this critique as a personal attack he has managed to once again shift the spotlight onto himself and to divert attention from the important issue which this critique raises, namely the need for white, non-Muslim queer activists to critically examine their politics and communities for the ways in which they may be (whether intentionally or not) perpetuating racism and/or Islamophobia.

Through his failure to situate his work within the wider political context of an increased use of western discourses of gender and sexuality as the yardsticks for “progressive democracy”, which are then used to legitimate Islamophobic and racist practices such as repressive anti-terror measures, attacks on immigration rights and the erosion of civil liberties , Tatchell is aligning himself with and is reproducing oppressive power structures. This serves to increase his position of security and comfort while at the same time undermining the position of Muslim queer activists. Tatchell’s response also strengthen’s the argument of the original article, in which the authors point out that “In a typical reversal of actual power relations, Tatchell has attempted to discredit those who resist his patronage, by interpreting their resistance as an attack, and himself as their victim” .

What seems to be lacking in all this is an understanding that part of the work of being an ally to people of colour is to be able to recognise that the conversation is not about you. It is about the radical re-distribution of power, which means actively seeking to give that power and privilege up, not to use those campaigns as a vehicle for the reinforcement of your own personal and cultural agenda. It means following leadership from people of colour, Muslim people and those who you seek to support, not seeking to lead them. And it means being able to take criticism, to listen, and to readjust your behaviour and the way that you work accordingly- not using that critique as a further opportunity to argue the uprightness of your moral standing and to debase the reputations of those who would dare to disagree.

In order to do genuine solidarity work rather than re-enforcing neo-imperialist/racist power structures, anyone from a privileged (read white) position needs to be constantly reviewing their anti-racist politics and closely examining how they benefit from white privilege. This absolutely requires one to take a step back and listen to criticisms from POC and/or Muslims rather than dig in on the defensive and use silencing measures. This is basic anti-racist behaviour.

Furthermore, it requires accountability for what you do. This is especially important to keep in mind when the intentions behind the work fail to be fulfilled, as the critique that has been presented in the paper by Haritaworn et al. makes clear. If we are to believe in the good intentions that underpin Tatchell's, and also our own political activism, we must make ourselves responsible to the effects and outcomes of our work, not only on ourselves but on all who are, or might be, affected. In this situation, an appeal to good intentions is not enough, it's the outcome that must be accounted for.

Tatchell is for many people an emblem of radical L.G.B.T. activism; in this influential position many people look to him to shape their ideas and practices. Unfortunately, this critique of Tatchell has therefore become the occasion for the repetition of his narrow-minded arguments and their racist and damaging effects, which has been reinforced as many of his supporters have come out to further attack the authors of the article and their supporters. (For example in this blog post

In writing this statement we seek to disrupt the continual reproduction of Tatchell as at the centre of this debate. Tatchell is not alone in producing this kind of racist discourse; that this hostile response to the authors of this article should come from such a high profile L.G.B.T.Q.I “activist” is symptomatic of a lack of anti-racist awareness amongst the wider white, non-Muslim L.G.B.T.Q.I community. We need to refocus the terms of the debate in order to make the white non-Muslim L.G.B.T.Q.I. community as a whole accountable for the reproduction of racist and islamophobic discourse. The “Gay Imperialism” article (along with many other chapters of the Out of Place collection which have effectively also been censored), challenges not just Peter Tatchell, but all of us who are privileged along the axis of race and religious orientation within the L.G.B.T.I.Q. communities to reassess our understanding of what it means to be an ally to those who do not have such privilege, and to develop new anti-oppressive practices which do not support racist and imperial agendas. We must not let Tatchell’s actions suppress this very important and urgent discussion.

‘In solidarity with “Out of Place”, London’
Contact: solidaritywithoutofplaceatriseup [dot] net


Out of Place, Out of Print: On the Censorship of the First Queerness/Raciality Collection in Britain
by Johanna Rothe (Monthly Review, 15.10.09)

In their article "Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the 'War on Terror'" (2008), Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem critique white gay discourses in Germany and Britain that trade in Islamophobic constructions of a gay-friendly, sexually liberated 'West' and a homophobic, sexually oppressive 'Islam' as the West's Other. They argue that these constructions are validated in the politics of the 'war on terror' and the erosion of migrant citizenship, and that racism is "the vehicle that transports white gays and feminists into the mainstream" (p. 72). Their work extends a tradition of antiracist feminisms that analyse the complicities of feminist and sexual politics in colonialism, war, and other forms of state violence. Writing collaboratively as trans of color, queer Muslim, and migrant feminist scholars and organizers, Haritaworn, Tauqir and Erdem call for a different kind of sexual politics.

This critique and call are now being suppressed.

On September 7 the publisher, Raw Nerve Books, issued a public apology to Peter Tatchell, a white gay leader in Britain, and his organization OutRage, who are criticized in "Gay Imperialism." Raw Nerve furthermore declared the collection in which the article appeared "out of print." The collection Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality, edited by Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake, has been censored. On the publisher's website, where one could formerly order the book, one is now asked to read the publisher's statement of "apology and correction" instead.

The "apology and correction" are a show of force. In an authoritative voice, the statement denounces that the article contains "untruths," and it proclaims Tatchell "not Islamophobic" and not racist. It quotes brief phrases from "Gay Imperialism" and intersperses them with averments that it is "not" so, or that Tatchell has "never" done this.

"Mr Tatchell has never 'employed tactics of intimidation and aggressive divide and rule', nor has he 'attempted to discredit those who resist his patronage.' He does not 'sling mud onto Muslim communities'."

Some of the phrases of "Gay Imperialism" quoted in the "correction" use obviously metaphoric language ("sling mud"). Their simple negation -- without examination of the context from which their meaning derives -- is a farce.

The "correction" next disparages the power of judgment of the African LGBTI human rights defenders whose scathing criticism of Tatchell and OutRage is referenced in "Gay Imperialism." The judgment of Dorothy Aken'Ova of INCRESE in Nigeria and others who signed a public statement of warning against Tatchell and OutRage is deemed not significant because the signatories allegedly "did not know Mr Tatchell and OutRage." The statement of warning, which is signed by twenty individuals representing over a dozen organizations in ten African countries is denounced as the result of "untrue gossip spread by one person who was waging a sectarian political vendetta." (It is available online on the pages of the Monthly Review Zine at

The apology and correction finally conclude with a long list of Tatchell's anti-racist and anti-imperialist credentials. This follows a common pattern of silencing anti-racist critique by posing to respond to it while deflecting attention from its substance. As Jay Smooth famously says, it is difficult to confront politicians and celebrities with their racism: "It always starts out as a what-they-did conversation, but as soon as the celebrity and their defenders get on camera they start doing judo flips and switching it into a what-they-are conversation." (His video is called "How To Tell People They Sound Racist" and can be seen on his hip-hop video blog ill Doctrine.) The celebrities' defenders, I would add, also take it upon themselves to define what racism is and to act as if their definition were the only one. It strikes me as unprecedented that Raw Nerve Books so wholeheartedly assumes the role of Tatchell's defender. I can only speculate about the pressures that moved this small independent feminist publisher suddenly to claim that role.

What next? Smooth's analysis would make me predict that after all this "empty posturing" on the part of Tatchell's defenders, who perform their allegiance to the truth that Tatchell is not racist, the show will end and "we forget that the whole thing ever happened." This is not an unrealistic scenario. The "apology and correction" and the decision to censor the publication are a violent inducement to "forget" that Tatchell's rhetoric and politics ever motivated an anti-racist critique. If you read only the statement of apology and correction, you would not know that "Gay Imperialism" contains a critique. You are given the impression that the article is nothing but a series of baseless allegations, factual errors which "correction" has cleared away. The correction delegitimizes "Gay Imperialism" (comparably to how it delegitimizes the criticism by Aken'Ova and others) as something that cannot be taken seriously.

The censorship of Out of Place weighs perhaps even heavier than all these belittling statements, because it literally prevents many people from reading the critique and forming their own judgment. The violent suppression of "Gay Imperialism" and the book in which it appeared also works as a warning to the authors, editors, and other critics and potential critics of Tatchell to better keep their mouths shut.

We will not take this warning lightly. Whether we will obey it is a different question. People with few symbolic and material resources -- women of color and queer and trans people of color, people from the Global South, often people with precarious jobs -- have taken the lead in criticizing Islamophobia, racism and imperialism in white gay and queer politics. The censorship of "Gay Imperialism" has made the risks of such a critique manifest. It remains to be seen whether "we forget that the whole thing ever happened," or whether a different "we" is emerging that gathers its strength as it recollects what it would much more easily forget.


"African LGBTI Human Rights Defenders Warn Public against Participation in Campaigns Concerning LGBTI Issues in Africa Led by Peter Tatchell and Outrage!" (January 31, 2007), Monthly Review Zine. Available at (last accessed October 7, 2009).

Haritaworn, Jin, with Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem (2008) "Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the 'War on Terror'," in Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality, eds. Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake, Raw Nerve Books, York, pp. 71-95.

Raw Nerve Books "Peter Tatchell: Apology and Correction," August 2009. Available at (last accessed October 7, 2009).

Smooth, Jay "How To Tell People They Sound Racist" (video, 2008) on ill Doctrine (video blog). Available at and at (last accessed October 7, 2009).

Please read the following links/articles for more information, statements of support for the authors and editors, and suggested actions.

a. On the censorship of ‘Gay Imperialism’ and Out of Place by x:talk collective (XTalk Project, 17.10.09),
b. Racism and the Censorship of "Gay Imperialism" by Aren Aizura (Monthly Review, 23.10.09)
c. Out of Place: Silencing Voices on Queerness/Raciality by Umut Erel and Christian Klesse (Monthly Review, 24.10.09),
d. on defending raw nerve books or white racial solidarity building by thirdwavevegan (no time for metaphors blog, 27.10.09),
e. Problematic Proximities, Or why Critiques of “Gay Imperialism” Matter by Sara Ahmed (X-talk blog comment, 29.10.09), reposted by Alana Lentin (blog, 9.11.09),
f. Racism and the Censorship of "Gay Imperialism" by Alana Lentin (also repost of Aren Aizura's article) (blog, 2.11.09),

a. "Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the 'War on Terror'", by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem
b. "Introduction" to Out of Place, by Adi Kuntsman & Esperanza Miyake
c. "Problematic Proximities, Or why Critiques of “Gay Imperialism” Matter", by Sara Ahmed


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