Is the presence of gay and lesbian people and other minorities in the English Defence League, an "extremist rightwing" hate group that propagates anti-Muslim racism, as remarkable as the Guardian's investigation suggests? How should we understand their participation in the inflammatory street protests organised by the EDL?
I want to extend my argument about the ever-changing relations among nation, sexuality, and race – outlined in my book Terrorist Assemblages – to offer an alternative perspective on what the Guardian fears is a renewal of the kinds of popular organising not seen since the heyday of the National Front 30 years ago.
Today's British Sikhs and gay and lesbian people (of what race or ethnicity, it is unclear) who are bona fide members of the EDL should not be seen as anomalies, but rather as part of a larger and longer history of incorporation of "strange bedfellows" into rightwing political projects that claim such participation as a sign of populism rather than extremism. Their presence also demonstrates the incoherence of white supremacy understood as simply about white identification, or heteronormativity for that matter. Far from being disadvantaged members of such rightwing movements, racial minorities and gay and lesbian people are offered a way of reclaiming an otherwise withheld national belonging – to be British is to be anti-Muslim – while maintaining their exceptional minority status.
There certainly needs to be greater investigation into the viral rise of the EDL and its historical and contemporary links to other rightwing extremist and white supremacist activities. (Recall, on a more poetic register, the homosexual love affair between Johnny – Daniel Day-Lewis – a white working-class skinhead aligned with fascist politics, and Omar, played by Gordon Warnecke, a young "Paki" aspiring to join the ranks of the diasporic nouveau riche in the 1985 film of Hanif Kureishi's My Beautiful Laundrette.) But to suggest that their activities are exceptional – they are certainly easy targets to criticise – is to miss other forms of less visible, more insidious, and yet equally damaging anti-Muslim racism. What groups such as the EDL exploit are the longstanding tensions between groups jockeying for limited recognition within liberal multiculturalism – a weak opportunity at best, given the history of racial formation in Britain.
A recent controversy within progressive gay and lesbian activist circles highlights the contradictions of the multicultural politics of inclusion. Last summer, a dispute erupted between Peter Tatchell, a co-founder of Britain's premier queer human rights direct action group OutRage!, and the authors of "Gay Imperialism", an article critiquing the "Islamophobic" effects of OutRage!'s political campaigns. The article was published in Out of Place (eds Adi Kuntsman and Esperanza Miyake), a volume committed to opening up a discussion about racism within gay and lesbian communities. Raw Nerve Books, the publishers of Out of Place, printed an apology to Tatchell, deeming the research into Tatchell's local and global gay activism inaccurate. The authors, Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem, queer scholars of colour, were castigated for attempting to discuss the subtle racisms that liberal "gay rights" platforms can (often unwittingly) promote: not the violence of hate, but the violence of liberal inclusion based upon the continued subordination of those it proposes to not only assist, but even rescue. ...