by Ferd Eggan
As of tonight, Nov. 12, 2001, it appears that Kabul has been captured by anti-Taliban forces. Although this might be taken for an end of war, I suspect we are in for what President Bush continues to call "the long haul." What are we in for, then?
The terrible events of Sept. 11 have forced nearly all of us to change our ways of thinking and acting as queers, as people living in the U.S., as people struggling for justice, as residents of the world. We are horrified by the death and destruction of so many lives in the U.S., but we are also repulsed by the ravages of globalization that have brought misery to so many people elsewhere. Now it seems that major battles may come and go, but we are faced with a situation that may require much more courage, and perhaps some resistance, to live with the uneasy new U.S. reality. I submit this essay in continuing hopes for liberation for queers of all kinds, and for the people of the world at large. But the events of the last months have taught me to avoid easy lesbian and gay "hooks" to organize around.
There is a particularity about the New War that queers have to think about. Some LGBT "leaders" suggested that this is a "Great Opportunity" for gay and lesbian military personnel. Don't ask! Not only is this a stupid risk of death for people we presumably care about; it is ugly opportunism at the expense of every other person in the world. We do not need this opportunity to be gay/lesbian oppressors of others. We do not have the freedoms that soldiers are said to be defending, and to fight for the U.S. government now will not bring equality or justice.
I think that Sept. 11 has pushed people into the postmodern world of globalism where easy words are not good enough to account for what is happening. President Bush's clumsy attempt to explain it all as "attacks on our freedoms" was shown to be a lie once the American Patriotism Act took away a lot of freedoms. If the phones of AIDS activists had been tapped, as they can be now under powers granted to the FBI, it would have made our demonstrations impossible. Inadequate also are cliches that we are in a war "for oil": how can material gain explain the powerful beliefs of suicide bombers?
It is also too simple for peace activists to call this a case of "chickens coming home to roost." It is certain that the West has brought capitalist destruction and almost unrelenting misery to millions. But the thought of Al-Quaeda and subsequent actions are not the actions of exploited masses of people; instead they enact a very ideologically informed vision of a world where their sheer will can overcome the actual limitations of 21st Century contradictions. These men appear to be wealthy, well educated in their own cultures, and highly competent in Western technology. Acting for the oppressed Muslims is a stance assumed by the hijackers and their possible networks to draw away militants into a particular political project. Sept. 11 was a calculated deviation of the resentment of the oppressed. One is not just the "context" for the other.
And the relationship between world capitalist necessity and the territory of Central Asia is anything but simple. Yes there is oil. Yet different capitalists seem to want very different things in Afghanistan and the region. The most obvious thing to want in Afghanistan right now is 85% of the world's opium. Capitalism depends as much on the illegal trade in opiates as it does on oil, since it has to run many more minds than machines. Maybe naming raw materials to be extracted is too simple an explanation of the needs of global capitalism. It is also possible that the women of the region are the most important tools to capture; their labor and creativity has continued undiminished despite or because of the absence of men at the front for 20 years. The global demand for women's labor may be in conflict with Afghan men's vision of productive society. That may be the reason the Taliban forces women into seclusion.
The masterminds of the U.S. government want to keep us on alert under the rubric of American People. The new Anti-Terrorism Bill calls for much more intrusive enforcement of uniformity of thought and action under conditions of war, much like WWI and WWII. Wire-tapping, more detention of suspects, more conspiracy trials will be the obvious form of this repression. More subtle will be media manipulations of any feelings we might have of place—of the central events and feelings that we live through and are physically situated in this country. The connections we share with other humans in this country will be twisted into patriotism by television, music and big doses of words that reduce the complexity of human emotions into motivations to support the national and international desires of a system we need more than ever to resist.
Even if the Northern Alliance or some coalition ends war in Afghanistan, other wars and famine will bring mass migrations, refugee camps, famine and disease. Those who are working in agriculture or mining or factories in Malaysia or Mexico or Malawi are often "better off" than their poorer, unemployed neighbors, dragged into global capitalism that is destroying the social fabric of their cultures. They are resisting the changes in their lives too, often by strengthening allegiance to "traditional" values ( which must be re-invented to fit the conditions of today ) . The refugee camps, the sweatshops, the fronts in local wars, serve as schools where oppressed people share and educate themselves as best they can. They also serve as recruiting grounds for those who have political projects that aspire to transform the world situation to one better suited to them.
The Taliban is only one group that emerged from the militants as a twisted, heretical version of Islam. Since it was created by men at the front, the Taliban considered women worthless except as possessions to be used and concealed from predators, and considered men to be valuable only as they conformed to the goals of local control, solidarity and small capitalism that is within the visible horizon of men fighting together at the front. The Taliban is an example of an organization that draws away militants from the mass resistance to global capitalism. Their vision is not Islamic fundamentalism, it is fascism. The fact that there are no visible women in the Intifada in Palestine now is some indication that something has twisted the popular movement. I wonder if Hamass is a similar force that draws young men from the mass resistance of the Intifada. It could be seen as a failure ( or destruction by Israel ) of the progressive organizations that used to lead Palestinians. This does not deny the legitimacy of Palestinian demands, it only points to how those demands are not the same as the armed organizations that claim to lead them sometimes.
There is an even uglier queer thing about the New War, and that is the representation of Osama Bin Laden and the terrorists, and the whole Muslim world that is thought to be their base, as queers! A hot dog stand in Chicago exhibits a badly xeroxed naked Bin Laden with the Empire State Building penetrating his butt. American flyboys proudly load a bomb which bears the chalked message "High jack this, faggots!" Prejudice about customs in the Middle East and Central Asia is here compounded with American homo-hatred in a way that—sadly—has not been opposed by our "gay rights" opportunists. If it is true that the fascist organizations of Al Queada, etc., are homo-social, all-male, anti-woman military formations, it might be easy to fall into this ugly way to characterize the enemies of the U.S. Tony Blair and some European allies are taking a higher tone, which seems to represent global capital in its more sophisticated aspect. The globalists are quite willing for there to be lesbian and gay military, and can accommodate lesbians and gays into the market economy with ease. They can act relaxed about possible Muslim traditions because they don't need to care.
Ironically, the demands of the world's women in the '70s and '80s have made global capitalism integrate women into the work force to the dismay of local right-wingers in many cultures. In the U.S., Jerry Falwell and his ilk; in Afghanistan Mullah Omar. In the U.S., local group cohesion has always demanded male supremacy. Maybe by supporting women's struggles here and abroad, queers can help resist further global oppression, while also opposing the organizing being spearheaded now by groups like Al-Queda overseas and the Armies of God here.
I hope not to confuse the situation. I know that every opponent of the U.S. is not a despicable terrorist. I know that every opponent of capitalism is not a freedom fighter. Every anti-Taliban combatant is not a savior. Every Great Opportunity for lesbians and gays is not a step for liberation. Liberation is when our bodies are not to be recruited for patriotism or religion or world economic order, but instead when our bodies join together to create community that can utilize our differences as creativity, as cooperation.
Ferd Eggan is a long-time Queer activist and a founder of ACT-UP Chicago. He has just retired after 10 years as AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles. He invites reader comment at firstname.lastname@example.org .