What with Outrage, the Gay & Lesbian Humanist Association and (even further to the right) Flame Out all dedicated to attacking Muslims' attitudes to LGBT rights, you might think that the market for gay Islamophobia was already a bit crowded. But the new year has brought us yet another organisation, the previously unheard-of Gay Action Media Watch.
GAMW launched itself on 5 January with a campaign against Adam Yosef, who writes for the Asian entertainment magazine Desi Xpress. In a statement posted on Indymedia and headed "Muslim journalist attacks Gays – please complain!", GAMW objected to an article Yosef had written for Desi Xpress containing the following passage: "Hmmm... gay weddings... Gay people and commitment? I don't think so... They'll be shagg*ng the neighbours before they even cut the cake. Bad idea I'm afraid. Great way of evading tax though..." GAMW called for letters of protest to be sent to local papers in Birmingham where Desi Xpress is based, and for formal complaints to be made to the Press Complaints Commission.
On the face of it (allowing for the fact that we are dependent on an edited extract from Yosef's article) this does look like a clear example of anti-gay stereotyping. However, it falls well short of "bigotry and hate against gay people eminating from the words of young Muslims", which was how GAMW characterised Yosef's remarks. Furthermore, as a contributor to Indymedia immediately pointed out, GAMW's portrayal of Adam Yosef as a hate-filled homophobic bigot was rather undermined by the fact that he had posted an article on Indymedia in June 2005, headed "Pride – The Real Rainbow", that offered a glowing review of Birmingham Pride. In the article, Yosef had written:
"I saw a lot of ordinary-looking people – that is, without elaborate costumes, gay and straight, people of all races and all ages – just relaxing, enjoying the weekend and having fun. I saw adults, children, families, couples and pets. I saw black and white and young and old alike. I saw a trustee of a major city mosque cheer with glee as the procession of dancers and drag queens paraded into the heart of Hurst Street. I saw Sikh men with beards and turbans browsing through the stalls and loving the atmosphere, I saw Muslim girls with hijabs shouting 'Gay, Muslim and Proud' as part of Asian lesbian project SAFRA, there were black and Asian youngsters, people of all backgrounds and origins, OAPs, students – heck, I even saw Darth Vader! ... In all my experience of attending cultural or diverse festivals, Pride is the only event where I have really seen such a diverse range of people from so many social and ethnic backgrounds. To have streets crammed with so many different people all enjoying themselves and accepting each other is, to me, what Pride represents."
As one commentator on the GAMW post observed: "If it wasn't for the pride article, maybe I would say Adam Yosef is a little homophobic but it's hard to once you read the article." Others were equally critical of GAMW's attack on Yosef. One commentator asked: "Of all the journo's and celebrities that have recently said dodgy stuff about gay marriage why have you selected Adam Yosef?" Another agreed: "Yes, why Adam Yosef? Would attacking a non-Muslim NOT have been in keeping with the current political climate? Are you more likely to get press coverage if you attack a Muslim?"
Balanced comments like this were not to the taste of hardline Islamophobes, who refused to allow mere factual evidence to interfere with their own bigoted stereotypes of homophobic Muslims. "How can you traitors call yourself gays?" one demanded. "Sir Iqbal Sacranie's message of homophobia must be seeping its way into the masses if even today's muslim youth are spewing the same old anti-gay sh*t. When will it stop and how far will it go? This assumption that the elder Muslims are old-fashioned and the younger Muslims will prevail as representatives of diversity and tolerance couldn't be more wrong! What's worse is the gay members on this forum who are actually SUPPORTING a clearly homophobic writer, Adam Yosef."
Brett Lock of Outrage weighed in with his own attack on Yosef. "Adam Yosef's 'desert island disc' must be 'I'll follow The Sun' – because he's clearly showing signs of wanting to be the new Richard Littlejohn or Gary Bushell," Lock wrote on his blog – though he failed to provide examples of Littlejohn or Bushell writing enthusiastic appreciations of Pride events for the tabloid press. What particularly attracted Lock's interest (and hostility) was that Yosef had been described in Socialist Worker as "a leading Respect supporter in Birmingham".
Endorsement of the GAMW campaign by Peter Tatchell's sidekick was followed by a statement of support from the man himself. On 11 January, GAMW posted another article on Indymedia, headed approvingly "Peter Tatchell attacks Muslim journalist!" Tatchell was quoted as describing the anti-Yosef campaign as "an excellent initiative to challenge homophobia". GAMW pointed out that Adam Yosef had "worked at the controversial Birmingham Central Mosque" and added that "Peter Tatchell has previously criticised the Respect Party of having links with homophobic representatives of fundamentalist Islamic organisations" – the implication being that Yosef and the Birmingham Central Mosque came into this category.
Explaining their own decision to witch-hunt Yosef, GAMW wrote: "What horrified Gay Action Media Watch the most was that such views would come from someone who also writes for the BBC." The obvious suggestion was that the BBC should not employ someone with Yosef's views. However, as GAMW must have been well aware, Yosef's article "Pride – The Real Rainbow" had in fact been published on the BBC Birmingham website.
You have to ask – if LGBT organisations refuse to see a young Muslim like Yosef as a potential ally, accuse him of "demonising" the gay community and even encourage the BBC to sack him, who do they see as allies within the Muslim communities? Evidently, any Muslim whose views on homosexuality fall short of, say, Irshad Manji's is to be denounced as a hate-filled bigot.
GAMW's 11 January Indymedia post reiterated their demand for "a retraction and full apology" from Yosef and Desi Xpress – which rather ignored the fact that the previous day Yosef and Desi Xpress had provided just that. Yosef wrote that he had not intended his article to be homophobic but offered a retraction and "a full apology to all of our readers, members of the LGBT community and anyone else who may have been offended by it. As a further note, I would like to state that neither I, nor Desi Xpress as a publication, are in any way homophobic or prejudiced and we do not promote, propagate or share a hatred for any community, group or individual based on race, age, ethnicity, belief, sexual orientation, gender or ability. Desi Xpress has regularly featured events and stories of interest and related to the LGBT community including coverage of Birmingham Pride Weekend, LGBT club listings and LGBT personals listings. I hope this statement clears up any misunderstanding regarding the content of my column."
It is clear from this response that a reasoned letter drawing Yosef's attention to the fact that many members of the LGBT community found his comments objectionable would have been sufficient to prompt a retraction. Instead, GAMW had launched a public campaign against Yosef falsely depicting him as a homophobic bigot.
In a comment headed "Tatchell jumps on the Islamophobic bandwagon – again!", Richard Farnos underlined the point that Desi Xpress "has a proven positive track record on LGBT issues". He went on to ask: "In the context of rather more vicious attacks from more widely read journals, such as the Daily Express, why pick on Desi Xpress and Adam Yosef? The Express has run a story trying to present the word 'marriage' being dropped from registry offices as apparently so as to not 'offend homosexuals'. 'Marriage Suites' will now be called 'Ceremony Suites', apparently to stop lesbian and gay couples feeling neglected. Like Tatchell the Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe failed to check her facts and rather stupidly to claimed the change is 'political correctness gone mad'. However, the real reason why some offices have made the change is that these rooms are now to host not only marriages and civil partnerships, but citizenship ceremonies as well. Perhaps the reason why Tatchell and GAMW prioritise Adam Yosef above the Daily Express is that Adam is a) a Muslim and b) a member of Respect."
But the GAMW campaign against Yosef had now moved on to another issue. In a follow-up comment GAMW complained that "no apology has been issued regarding Adam Yosef's column in the current edition of Desi Xpress (Issue 45) which features human rights and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell alongside Nick Griffin of the BNP and Omar Bakri Mohammed of Al Muhajiroun, describing them all as 'vile' and as 'bigots'."
Not having had the opportunity to read Yosef's article, we hesitate to comment, except to say that it sounds like a fair reflection of the contempt in which Tatchell is held among Muslims. Despite their differing subjective intentions, the objective role of Tatchell, Griffin and Omar Bakri has been to whip up hostility against Muslim communities in Britain. For those on the receiving end of that hostility, the motives of the individuals responsible for inciting it are no doubt a secondary issue.
Yosef's attack on Tatchell has been taken up by David T at Harry's Place, who has also posted excerpts from the Outrage response, issued in the name of its "Muslim Affairs spokesperson". This repeats the call for Yosef to be sacked: "We hope the BBC will cease employing him. His encouragement of homophobia, violence and xenophobia is incompatible with the BBC's commitment to equality and diversity." On the same basis, it also calls on Respect and the Stop the War Coalition to expel Yosef from their organisations.
The reference to violence arises from Yosef's reported assertion that "Tatchell needs a good slap in the face", the xenophobia charge from his suggestion that Tatchell should go back to Australia. Regarding the latter comment, Outrage protests: "Telling Peter to get back to Australia echoes the racist, xenophobic language of the BNP. They are always telling Asian people to 'go back where you came from'." The idea that a white Australian is the victim of racism is of course laughable. And when the suggestion was recently made in a Pink News article that Iqbal Sacranie should leave Britain if he didn't like "our" liberal values – which did indeed carry echoes of the BNP's racist propaganda – we don't recall hearing any similar protests from Outrage's "Muslim Affairs spokesperson".
You can't but be struck by the self-righteousness and hypocrisy of Outrage's response. Evidently, Tatchell thinks it's quite acceptable for him to join in a campaign against Adam Yosef on the basis of false accusations that Yosef is a hate-filled bigot, but when Yosef reciprocates by accusing Tatchell (with much more reason) of bigotry, Tatchell and his friends throw a wobbler.
Concerning Tatchell, the Outrage statement announces piously: "There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that Peter is 'hate-filled' or a 'bigot'. On the contrary, his human rights work involves challenging hatred, prejudice, discrimination and violence against all communities. Peter has a long and proud record of defending the Asian and Muslim communities against prejudice and racism."
Muslims themselves have no doubt about the role Tatchell plays, and it has nothing to do with "defending the Asian and Muslim communities against prejudice and racism". Rather it consists in promoting anti-Muslim prejudice, often in a de facto alliance with the racist right, who regard Tatchell as something of a hero. Responding to Richard Farnos's expression of concern about "Peter Tatchell's jumping on the bandwagon to condemn Adam Yosef", Bilal Patel remarked on the Gay.com message board: "Peter Tatchell jumping on the bandwagon to attack Muslims? That's not a surprise. That's a well-known fact."
Postscript: The Outrage press release responding to Adam Yosef's Desi Xpress piece against Tatchell, and the article itself, have been posted on the Gay.com message board