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On Positionality and Not Naming Names: A Rejoinder to the Response by Maikey and Schotten

[An Israeli soldier grabs a Palestinian boy, dressed as a Native American during a protest in Nablus. AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh] [An Israeli soldier grabs a Palestinian boy, dressed as a Native American during a protest in Nablus. AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh]

[This article was written as a rejoinder to Haneen Maikey and Heike Schotten's response to the authors' article on the intersections and impasses between US centered pinkwashing and pinkwatching activism.  Click here to read Maikey and Schotten's response, and click here to read the original article by Mikdashi and Puar.]

We thank Haneen Maikey and Heike Schotten for their thoughtful and detailed response to our article. We appreciate the time, effort, as well as political commitment and conviction it took to articulate their concerns about our article. We do not necessarily disagree with many of their points. We would like, however, to take the opportunity to clarify the methodological approach to our article, and acknowledge that some of this elaboration would have been helpfully included in the original essay. It is important to translate political disagreement into dialogue and we welcome this opportunity to continue this discussion.

On Not-Naming Names

There are several reasons why we did not provide “examples” or  “evidence.” First of all, our piece was informed by numerous conversations over the past several years (Puar has been writing on and speaking about queer organizing in relation to Israel-Palestine since 2005 and participating in such organizing since 2009; Mikdashi has been involved in activism and teaching on these topics since 2006). These conversations often indicated concerns that overlapped with our own; not directly about certain people, statements, or organizations, but more about public forums and the politicization of activists at these forums, discourses that emerged from various events, and responses to publications on social media. In synthesizing these conversations, we hoped to take part in forging a space for critical discussion among a diverse and growing activist movement.

Secondly, we understood first and foremost ourselves to be implicated in this critique.  As participants in this solidarity movement, as we noted, and as pinkwatchers ourselves, we constituted our own work, positionalities, and histories as a source of critique for the article. (For example, Puar produced an early public intervention detailing pinkwashing in the Guardian in 2010 that fell into many of the pitfalls we outline in our piece.)

We also understood several other political organizing benefits to not naming names:

1. Providing names/examples would have detracted from the overall systemic problem we are discussing by blaming certain individuals and events and lauding other individuals and events by not-naming them. We did not, and do not, see any singular activity, organization, person nor event as culpable for these dynamics. We are talking about a discursive field of power, collectively produced through multiple actors and elements that implicate all of us who struggle with the question of pinkwashing, which often undermines—unwittingly—the very kinds of interventions that are originally attempted.

2. We did not name any names—neither those whose work we might find to be problematic, nor those whose work we laud—precisely to avoid the kind of insider/outsider positioning that happens when one claims greater moral authority (in the name of activism, in the name of authenticity, in the name of representing a community with a global reach) to speak about an issue than another. This kind of “finger-pointing” would have been divisive, creating a binary politics of insiders/outsiders, authenticity/inauthenticity, resistant/complicit, good organizing/bad organizing that we believed to be deeply counterproductive. 

3. Related to the last point, we surmised that not-naming names is more beneficial to a long-term solidarity politics.  By this we mean that it potentially can initiate a fruitful self-reflective process. We trusted our readers to find themselves in the critique.  Had we named names, we would have restricted the freedom to relate to the critique on one’s own terms. If the critique resonated, perhaps uncomfortably so, then there might be something there to think about.

On Positionality

We were very clear that we were discussing pinkwatching activism in the United States only, so we are a bit confused as to why the response takes up the question of regional organizing in the Middle East. We are well aware, and say as much, that regional organizing needs to rely on its own strategies to be effective. Puar, in fact, has in her writing and lecturing highlighted the strategically intricate work of al-Qaws and PQBDS for several years now.

This misreading of our critique is hardly a minor semantic affair. 

Activism in Palestine emerges from a specific set of circumstances because Palestinians live under occupation and settlement and have been scattered throughout the world by practices of ethnic cleansing. Activism in the United States emerges from a different context and has a different set of ethical imperatives. One should question, for example, US-based activists who fight settler colonialism in Israel without acknowledging the ongoing settling of the United States. Similarly, Palestine and the United States do not occupy the same geopolitical space internationally. Palestine is an occupied territory, while the United States is the premiere superpower and imperial force in the world today. Thus, to read our piece as a critique of regional activism, in particular as a critique of on-the-ground Palestinian activism, is to miss our basic point: “American” pinkwatching activists (we are aware of the complexity and contingencies that such a category references) must work within the framework of US settler colonialism and empire in order to not risk being complicit in the further normalization of both. While many activists do work within these frameworks, in our experience this approach is far from pervasive among pinkwatching actions.

We acknowledge that the field of US organizing is diverse, transnational, multiracial, multiethnic, and involves many different groups. This diversity accounts for both sets of positive and critical responses that our piece was met with. Indigenous studies scholars and those activists working on indigenous issues in the United States, for example, very enthusiastically agreed about our assessment of the need to highlight with greater force the settler colonial status—not historical, but current —of the United States. The absence of this recognition naturalizes settler colonialism as a situation of the past rather than the very lived everyday. Their response indicates at least one audience that feels that US settler colonialism of the present day is not being more radically integrated into pinkwatching efforts.

We could continue to list the positive ways our article has been received by both activists and academics and activist-scholars. But to insist that we had the moral authority produced by consensus would only repeat the violence of producing a bounded political movement where only some people are allowed to voice a critique. It seems more fruitful, rather than to say “everyone agrees with us” (as Maikey and Schotten insinuate), to simply acknowledge that there are intense political disagreements about how this work should be done. Claiming a consensus is dangerous and flattening to the potential productivity of those disagreements.

Further, we would point out that another insider/outsider politics recurs through continually invoking an uncomplicated and purported transparent academic/activist binary. To rely on such a reductive binary is to miss the multiple ways in which many of us who labor for social and political justice do so from and across multiple, and complex, rather than discrete, positions and histories. Furthermore, while any activist/academic tensions must be carefully contextualized and elaborated, academics in the U.S. who have spoken out against Israeli state policy have been subjected to a great deal of institutional censorship and harassment. Thus academic freedom is not protected in regards to this issue and we would question the assumption that academia is a safe, outsider position free from recrimination and professional blowback.  

On Homonationalism as a Framework 

A quick word on homonationalism, in regards to what Maikey and Schotten refer to as the overemphasis of homonationalism in relation to pinkwashing and Palestine. Homonationalism and pinkwashing are not parallel phenomenon, rather pinkwashing is one manifestation and practice that is made possible within and because of homonationalism. As theorized by Puar in her formative work on the concept, homonationalism is not another identity politics, not another way of distinguishing good queers from bad queers, not an accusation, and not a position. It is rather a facet of modernity and a historical shift marked by the entrance of (some) homosexual bodies as those now worthy of protection by nation-states. Unlike pinkwashing, homonationalism is not a state practice per se. It is instead the historical convergence of state practices, transnational circuits of queer commodity culture and human rights paradigms, and broader global phenomenon such as the increasing entrenchment of Islamophobia.  These are just some of the circumstances through which nation-states are now vested with the status of “gay-friendly” versus “homophobic.” More importantly, homonationalism is an analytic category deployed to understand and historicize how and why such a status (“gay-friendly”) has become desirable in the first place.  Like modernity, homonationalism can be resisted and re-signified, but not opted out of: we are all conditioned by it and through it. Arguing that some pinkwatching rhetorics reproduce the queer exceptionalism of homonationalism is simply to note that we are subjects formed through apparati of state, consumer, and legal recognition that are engendered by the historical advent of what we can now identify as homonationalism. 

So a more accurate read of our argument, rather than accusing us of somehow negating the specificity of Palestine, is that we were mapping out the relations between pinkwashing and homonationalism, or more precisely, the global conditions of homonationalism that make a practice such as Israeli pinkwashing possible and legible in the first place. In connecting Israeli pinkwashing to a broader global system of power networks, we were not minimizing Palestine, rather demonstrating the myriad of actors that converge to enable such a practice. Of course it is important that concepts mutate and merge freely as they find their usefulness in various contexts. We therefore reiterate Puar’s original framing not as a corrective but simply to clarify how our usages of the terminology operated.

Ultimately our piece was generated from a profound and deep commitment to the liberation of Palestine from Israeli Occupation and from a genuine desire to dialogue about what we now see as some hegemonic forms of pinkwatching activism. That there is not agreement on the presence, scale, magnitude, or impact of these forms should be expected and even productively welcomed in a global solidarity movement. We hope to continue these conversations with our allies in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.  

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