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Reactions to http://www.jadaliyya.

com/pages/index/10461/the-empire-of-sexuality_an-interview-with-joseph-m article
J. Neil C. Garcia
Demurring at the internationalization of lgbt politics sounds familiar--spivak does the same thing, more or less, in
regard to the question of international civil society's helplessly self-congratulatory missionary efforts at exporting
epistemically inappropriate pedagogies into places so obviously 'disjunct' or remote from their cultural
presuppositions. but she does not, unlike massad, reject these. she, instead, takes a more 'strategic' approach. she
recognizes, for example, that there is some inarguable good in the discourse of basic rights, for it eventuates in the
provision of classrooms and books, and in the passage of pertinent laws (that, in another unrelated context, once
upon a time banned widow sacrifice, for instance), in the history of neo/colonial india. what she does, in regard to the
question of relevant primary education is to qualify or localize the effects of these dispensations, and she basically
points out their inadequacy, and postulates that 'deep language learning' is what's necessary, in order to introduce
intuitions of democratic life to the heavily caste-governed minds of the very poor living in remote villages in her own
province in east india... in like manner, in my opinion, arguing that the incumbency of the homo/hetero logic, or even
the very notion of sexuality itself, in arab societies, needs to be empirically demonstrated, is a valid theoretical point,
but that even if these things indeed cannot be unproblematically assumed, massad still needs to piece together the
cultural construction of gender (for this is most certainly there) in arab contexts, and he needs to acknowledge how
'strategic' formations like feminism can be for arab women, etc. in other words, the analogy of the gender question
with the sexual question should give massad pause, for in the same way that he seriously cannot dismiss the
question of gender equality and the struggle of arab women to free themselves from the fetters of patriarchal
bondage, he may not so easily dismiss the salubrious performative effects of mobilizing the lgbt signifier in the
various arab contexts (for, yes, there isn't just one; there are many)... fundamentally, his objection rests on the notion
of lgbt identities, or perhaps even of lgbt consciousness itself, but I should also think it obvious that in cultures with
laws that mete out the absolute punishment of death to men who engage in acts of homosexual sex, the eagerness
of certain sectors (both arab and non-arab) to implicate and invoke the international lgbt movement (and through it
the discourse of human rights) in order to challenge this atrocity makes perfect sense... for, yes, my sense is that the
invoking of the gay issue, the internationalization of sexual question, is not exactly being exclusively imposed from
the outside in the case of contemporary arab cultures, but is rather also being urgently made, as a matter of life and
death, from within these same contexts, by a slew of arab activists (both local and translocal) themselves.... my own
take on the broad theoretical issue that massad raises--for it is, in fact, a crucially foundational one, even or precisely
in my work here in the philippines--is to qualify the fact that nativism (the performative opposite of universalism) has
'strong' and 'weak' forms, and that it's possible, if not desirable, to aspire to a moderate nativist position regarding the
question of lgbt theory and practice in the philippines, in which the homo/hetero logic remains incompletely
assimilated, in which pre-homosexual connotations continue to circulate around the notion of kabaklaan (the pan-
philippine word that very roughly/loosely translates to gayness), that itself has not been uniformly homo/sexualized to
begin with (but this doesn't really matter so much, since the oppression of the filipino gay man or bakla isn't only
sexual--isn't only by virtue of homophobia--but is rather also gendered, courtesy of a longer and more 'native' history
of trans- and effeminophobia in philippine cultures). massad may not wish to see the validity of the reality of arab gay
men, but if he looks at the masculinist bias of arab culture--that clearly violently abominates effeminacy, sissiness,
etc.--he, I feel, should have no trouble seeing the fact that not everything 'indigenously arab' (a fiction, to be sure,
similar to everything 'essentially filipino') is, by necessity, self-evident and unquestionably good...

Marc Michael Yale
Samir; if you pay attention, you'll find that the main point of this text is not to chastise vulnerable Arabs but rather to
question the terms under which international solidarity is a) imposed from above and abroad b) led by people who
believe they are more modern and more capable of leading the rest of the world into modernity. That such
racist/modernist assumptions can parade as solidarity is alarming in itself.
The text never talks about how Arabs are or should be. The text (and the book) is simply interested in deconstructing
a number of Western academic, journalistic, IGO/NGO assumptions, revealing an under-analyzed history of colonial
imposition of homophobia, and its reversal after the 1990s. It is really about how sexuality is used to give a certain
image and definition of Islam in imperial contexts, how one assumes that Islam can be understood by looking at
sexual practices that seems to bother Massad. But in order to analyze such Western discursive production, Western
concepts are needed. It seems counterintuitive to me to make sense of this body of Western scholarship/politics
outside of its own conceptual apparatus...Now, on the other hand, how people want to lead their lives--sexual or not--
does not require such concepts. With a bit of political imagination, it is possible to lead lives beyond the frameworks
that are sold to us as the only horizon of hope/redemption...
Finally, I think it would be fairer to characterize Massad's work as a fear of universal heterosexualization:
universalizing homosexuals is the other facet of universalizing heterosexuality, since these categories only make
sense as a binary. From this perspective, whether you impose harsh legal punishments against homos, or you
emancipate them, the imperial act is still the same: enforcing structures of control. That's what Foucault so craftily
pointed out in his "History of Sexuality", that the legal creation of the homosexual in the 19th century was a way of
defining, characterizing, normalizing and most importantly control forms of behavior that previously had no names
and no averages, and were thus much less subject to control.
I sometimes fear that debates around Massad's work have become a collection of glib cut-and-paste arguments
combined with a lot of ad hominem venom-spewing. If you don't like the guy, you're welcome to post as many
slanderous accusations on your private profile. If you want to have a public discussion about scholarly research,
please try and read the piece carefully.
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4 March 7, 2013 at 6:10pm

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Samir Taha Top Commenter Cairo University

One of the main points made in the book as well as in this text is not only to show that Arab self-identified
homosexuals are "Westernized" and their "adopted identities" to be a mere effect of Western cultural
imperialism/incitement to discourse, but also to render those Arabs "ontologically and epistemologically complicit"
with Imperialism, not because they support Imperialist wars or economic policies, but precisely because of their
"being" homosexual. Indeed, they may "oppose the imperial political, economic, and military presence of the United
States or European countries in the Arab world", but that still does not spare them from "complicity" in Massad's
stigmatizing and criminal logic. In effect, what such arguments might do will not stop at condemning sexually non-
normative Arabs to a perpetual state of fear and shame, since any effort to alter such state through a politics of
sexuality is already judged "Western" and counterproductive by Massad, but might also taint, along with the "complicit
homosexual Arabs", all other sexually non-normative Arabs who might not identify as "homosexual", as also
somehow entangled with the "West" and its Imperialism, a charge that is already all too common in Islamist and
Nationalist rhetoric. Finally, don't just repeat what Massad says without any attempt at critical analysis, then instruct
me to read him "carefully", and don't ever lecture me on how, what, or where I should speak about Massad, Mr. Yale!
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6 March 7, 2013 at 8:12pm

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Marc Michael Yale

You either believe identities to be acquired through socialization, or you adhere to the Lady Gaga hypothesis--i.e.
born this way. Considering the intellectual currency oft he latter, I feel bound to perceive social identities as a social
construct, and to ask where such an identity as gay comes from, and what political projects it inscribes itslef in. The
answer: a liberal heterosexist state, where sexual differences are enshrine in the law as natural and in need of
protection, thereby magnified endlessly. I've written about this for the "coptic question". But that is basically what
happened in the US and Europe with the gay rights movement. It is not the future or modernity. It just made certain
practices into the "homosexual question". Suicides happen a lot, bullying a lot more, hate crimes, and myriads of
ways of stigmatizing, etc. etc. This "question" will never be resolved in a liberal framework simply because identity
politics inverts cause and effect, and does not attend to the cause of what it labels homophobia, something that has
to do with male privilege. The whole gay activism industry distracts from issues of conceptions of manhood and male
privilege, particularly in men's relations to women.
Finally, ontological/epistemological complicity does not strike me as particularly normative. This term has been used
by many feminists to describe the ways in which women contribute to their own subordination socially. If Marxist
feminists have used it normatively (in the sense of "false consciousness"), Bourdieusian social scientists have coined
terms such as "symbolic domination" to minimize the normative content of such a claim. Foucauldians who describe
the ways in which individuals in populations are vectors of power, nodes in its web, are also very prone to using such
a notion with the least possible normative content.
I would highly appreciate it if you called be by my name, rather than that of a medieval monster by the way...
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1 March 8, 2013 at 1:34am

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Samir Taha Top Commenter Cairo University

You either agree with us or you're like lady Gaga and the bad liberals. It is exactly this kind of essentialist, self-
righteous and condescending labelings and imputations that characterize Massad's work and are replicated by his
faithful followers. I was not trying to dispute that identity is a social construct per se; I was trying to show how Massad
himself is deeply implicated in the (re)production and denunciation of identities, and how he does that through a kind
of an imperialist logic that reproduces the essentialist arrogance and the overarching binary of Orientalist thinking,
namely the "West" and "non-West" divide.
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9 March 8, 2013 at 8:10am

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Marc Michael Yale

I would never dare say that Lady Gaga is "bad". She's obviously beyond good and evil... But, yes, Euro-American
imperialism (West/non-West or core/periphery Global North/South divides) is a very dramatic and ongoing episode in
human history with endless consequences, and, yes, hybridity theory is a bit passe and reactionary. Investigating the
conditions of production of the category "West" has nothing to do with analyzing the workings of imperialist structures
of legal, financial, cultural, and political domination around the globe. Separate projects that are in no way mutually
exclusive.
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March 8, 2013 at 12:50pm

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Samir Taha Top Commenter Cairo University

Yes, but you are insinuating a sort of pop unscholarly naivety by invoking the "Lady Gaga hypothesis". I'm certainly
not disputing the modern core/periphery divide, and it is not the same as the culturalist Orientalist/Occidentialist
East/West divide that Massad seems to be reproducing when he talks about what he calls "non-Western civilizations"
on whose behalf he declares that "(they) have not historically subscribed to the Western sexual categories" in one
sweeping statement that renders both the "West" and "non-West" ahistorical and timeless entities, which have always
existed and whose differential truth as it relates to "sexuality/non-sexuality" can be revealed through him. In fact it is
only through this absolute cultural divide between the West and the non-West that Massad can impute
"Westernization", "upper-classness" and complicity on Arabs whose "identities" he does not like. Contrary to
Massad's claim, he does say something about a non-Western/Arab essence by denying certain things to it, which he
deems "Western." Anyhow, I'll leave the last word to you Mr. Knowing. Good luck