What’s on my mind: Pinkwashing

I’ve been pretty busy this past week working on my thesis proposal as well as choosing topics for the final papers of my classes. I actually finished classes last week which means that after I finish my thesis I’ll be done with my second MA!

While researching paper topics, I came across interesting info on “pinkwashing” which is basically the attempt by governments/groups/countries to divert attention away from a touchy political issue onto the topic of homosexuality/LGBTQ rights. Israel has been doing this recently:

Recently, Israel has launched a publicity campaign aimed at portraying the country as a safe haven for homosexuals in the Middle East.  Advertisements, public stunts and activities have been set up, all geared towards convincing the world that Israel is the only homophobia-free country in a very homophobic Middle East.  This campaign has been especially effective in portraying Palestine as a place that is dangerous for gays, lesbians, queers, and transgendered people.

This campaign is problematic on several levels.  First, Israel is not free of homophobia and portraying itself that way is simplistic and misleading.  Second, Palestine, as well as other Middle Eastern countries, have vibrant LGBTQ scenes which include organizations, events, campaigns, and media promotions.  Third, it appears that Israel is attempting to divert attention away from the occupation of Palestine and the various crimes it repeatedly commits there by re-branding itself as a gay-friendly country and thus endearing itself to western democracies and human rights organizations.  Finally, Israel is using and reproducing old Orientalist assumptions many in the west have about the Middle East, particularly in regard to homosexuality.


Recently, an article on CNN questioned whether “gay rights” or the lack thereof would dampen the revolutions across the Arab world. Jadaliyya (one of my all-time favourite sites) responded with an article called “Gays, Islamists and the Arab Spring: What Would a Revolutionary Do?”]

The “gay issue” is becoming an increasingly hot topic in Western media coverage of the Arab world. In fact, beginning with the spate of gay killings in US occupied Iraq, the status of non-normative sexualities has perhaps been enfolded within a discourse that highlights the plight of “women” in Arab/Muslim countries, and the ideological, material, and military mobilization that such a discourse licenses. The already mentioned CNN article is one of several devoted to the issue of what will happen to “the gays” after the revolutions, in addition to spates of comments on many other pieces analyzing what the revolutions may mean. A critical reader might ask what lies behind this interest in gays? Where did it come from and what kinds of discourses and practices is it contributing to? What assumptions does this conversation make as to international practices of sexuality and politics, and what silences about other forms of oppression is this anxiety over the status of gay Arabs in Arab democracies implicated in?

“A focus on the dangers that Islamists pose to minority and sexual rights discourages people from asking serious questions about the structural issues that will determine the outcome of these post-revolutionary societies.”

EXACTLY. Let’s focus on how those Arabs oppress gay people so we don’t have to talk about how WE have oppressed those Arabs. Classic pinkwashing.

Instead of questioning the role of the US-allied Egyptian military, the IMF’s renewed interest in Egypt, or the architecture of political oppression still in place in Egypt, we should be worried about the crazy Muslims.

This is something happening in the Netherlands as well, where homosexuality is often used against Muslim “immigrants” (if you’re not white you’re forever an immigrant), rather than focusing on what Dutch society and government could be doing to help “integration” (which often means assimilation). This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t talk about homophobia among Muslim/Arab communities, since that is certainly an issue. But we should always be critical of who is asking the questions, and why.

Gay Arabs cannot be cut out of the fabric of their societies; they are Arab, they are Muslim, Christian, conservative and progressive, soldiers and civilians, communists and capitalists, sexist and feminist, classist and revolutionary, and both oppressors and the oppressed. Islamist discourses are not ossified and stuck in the 16th century, as most Western commentators assume. They are plural, responsive, dynamic, and they represent the point of view of a large and diverse public.

While I don’t agree with everything in the article, I do believe that it is an important point to make. Orientalism has shown how the west often focuses on issues of sexuality to criticize and Otherize Arabs/Muslims (even though the west is still homophobic), and pinkwashing seems to be this process once again.


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