The awesome Andrea tweeted a link to this piece by Delwar Hussain on Comment Is Free, and as much as I think the author’s intentions are good, his attempts at making sense of the homophobic violence plaguing the multicultural Tower Hamlets borough result in several assumptions that just don’t sit right with me.
First of all, the piece basically implies that there are no gay people among the young Bangladeshi dudes living in Tower Hamlets, setting up a “rich white gays” vs. “poor brown straights” dichotomy. This is simplistic. Obviously, it would be pretty hard, if not downright impossible, for most of these guys to be “out” amongst their peers. However, these issues of violence and lack of acceptance affect minorities in all communities, and you can’t make them invisible for the sake of argument.
Second of all, Delwar assumes that the only reason that new people are moving to Tower Hamlets has to do with their shallow attempts to live in an “exotic” locale. But how about the fact that Tower Hamlets is a bit cheaper? You can’t just leave economics out of the equation entirely. Delwar does mention that there has been “brown flight” in the area, as some of the more affluent folks move out. So it would only be logical to assume that not everyone coming to Tower Hamlets is there because they have a dire need to drip “authentic” curry all over their “authentic” designer jeans.
Third of all, Delwar has this to say at the end of his piece:
“It is time for gay people to begin engaging with the Bangladeshi community in Tower Hamlets and not simply to see them as the colourful backdrop to their multicultural existence.”
Of course, he tempers his statement with this:
“Simultaneously, it is time for Bangladeshis in the area to stand up for their fellow neighbours as many others had previously done so for them.”
I get what he’s trying to say here, but I still have a major problem with calling on a group that must fear for its health, if not its life, to “engage” anyone terrorizing them, at this point. “Engaging” someone is such a vague concept to begin with. Am I “engaging” with a specific community because, say, one of my friends is a biker? Or a person with a visible disability? Do you “engage” with Ukrainian-Americans when you post comments on this blog?
Furthermore, should a woman, say, “engage” her rapist, because, um…he came from a background that’s objectively more disadvantaged than her own? Should an immigrant woman who has people spit on her hijab “engage” with members of the BNP?
The thing about hate crime is – it’s not like, you know, stealing someone’s iPod. It’s a big deal. The motivations there are scary and complex. I think Delwar does an admirable job in linking it to male bonding issues. But in trying to propose solutions, he veers into “blame the victim” territory.
Societal alienation is a real issue, I more than agree with Delwar on this. Religious fundamentalism, which can offer comfort when one already feels pretty alienated in one sense or another, is also a real issue. But I think that the real solutions to the problem of violence are education and, get this, the radical idea that violence is not OK, no matter what you believe.
Once again, I think that multiculturalism may not necessarily be about “loving” your neighbour, as much as it may be about leaving your neighbour the hell alone. Only then can people begin to “engage” one another, not as types, but as individuals, and then, in turn, move past their prejudice when they begin to see that their new friends are *gasp* human beings.
And the other thing is… I know plenty of Muslim dudes. They are perfectly capable of not beating up a gay dude, of any background, in the street. Could it be that Tower Hamlets has a pretty specific problem on its hands in regards to the way in which violence is both ignored and even tacitly approved of? Maybe that’s something to think about in all of this as well. Because right now, what I’m getting is – “they’re brown, they’re Muslim, they’re dudes, they’re hanging out… they’re going to engage in violence and harassment against women and gays!”
And that’s just letting off the perpetrators way too easily. The kids doing this aren’t savages, noble or ignoble.