David Frum

03.05.13

How to Say Terrible Things in an Academic Way

Protip: If you want to say something obnoxious, stupid, and immoral, first wrap it in gibberish.

Here's Joseph Massad, who teaches Arabic studies at Columbia, explaining that equal rights for gays is a western capitalist imposition on the Muslim world. Only, that's an awkward thing to say in Morningside Heights! So he says this instead:

As I argue in my forthcoming book Islam in Liberalism, as capitalism is the universalizing means of production and it has produced its own intimate forms and modes of framing capitalist relations, these forms and modes have not been institutionalized across national laws and economies, and in the quotidian and intimate practices of various peoples, in the same way. They have also not produced similar effects as they have in the United States and Western Europe.

This does not mean that the hetero/homo binary was fully successful in normalizing Euro-American societies either, but, rather, that it set itself as the hegemonic form of organizing identities and continues to normalize populations in the West who resist it (by claiming that they suffer from internalized homophobia, false consciousness, and the like). The inability of the hetero-homo binary and its commensurate socio-sexual identities to institute themselves in the same way everywhere is also not unlike many other categories and products that travel with imperial capital from the metropole to the unevenly developed periphery, and are not always used or consumed in the same metropolitan way.

The sexual order of the postcolonial context to which contemporary western sexual identities are introduced is already the effect of a colonial epistemology that has been translated and iterated earlier. As I chronicle inDesiring Arabs, the European shaming of non-Europeans on the basis of sexual desires and practices begins at the dawn of the colonial encounter, inciting a reactive discourse of assimilation into (and at time difference) from European norms. This means that the more recent imperial export of the homo-hetero binary—and specifically of gay and lesbian identities—takes place in a context that has already suffered a prior process of translation.

This process produced particular “peripheral” understandings of normative and natural desires, inflected with western medical and scientific arguments and taxonomies, but which mostly failed to institute a replica of the western regime of sexuality.

That's all gas. Here's what's real: