Dear American liberals, Pakistani gays don’t want your help (or inaccuracies)
Share this on

Dear American liberals, Pakistani gays don’t want your help (or inaccuracies)

I will mark my return to blogging with the writing equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel.

So I read this post on Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, guest written by a man named Bruce Bawer. It is quite dumb. The basic premise of the post is that gays in Pakistan are horribly persecuted by both society and the legal system, and that the U.S. embassy’s recent event held in support of the LGBT community is to be heartily applauded.

The post has some pretty basic factual errors, such as

We are speaking, after all, of a country where gay people, when they fall into the hands of authorities, are routinely imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and, at worst, put to death in accordance with sharia law.  Many Pakistani gays never end up in the hands of the law: their families carry out the execution themselves.

Really? Is there any evidence for this at all? A link to a report authored by some human rights group? Anything at all? Or is Bawer just blindly asserting things and assuming that brown country=sharia=violence against gays? I literally have no idea where he got the notion that gays are imprisoned, beaten, tortured, and put to death. And this in a country, mind you, that does plenty of imprisoning, beating, torturing and extra-judicial killing.

Then there’s this:

And what makes all this worse is that the woods are full of people – including, shamefully, gay people – eager to dissemble about it, such as the self-identified “gay Muslim” reader who responded to a post by me yesterday with an e-mail full of brazen disinformation, including the outrageous lie that in Pakistan “homosexuals have not been executed with sanction of the law for over a century.”

I actually don’t know if any gay Pakistani gas been executed by the sanction of the law since independence (the hundred years bit makes no sense given that the country is 64 years old). But I do find it interesting that Bawer asserts, again without any evidence, that the suggestion that this hasn’t happened is an “outrageous lie”. Strong but empty words, given the lack of accompanying evidence. I can safely say that I have never once read about a court-sponsored execution of gay people in Pakistan, and I read four Pakistani newspapers a day, about four more than  Bawer. (I may have missed something, obviously, so by all means link to something in the comments that backs Bawer’s case).

My educated guess is that Bawer is conflating the things like honor killings in Pakistan (which do happen, and are documented quite extensively by journalists and rights groups) with the legally-sanctioned killing of gays in places like Iran, since all intolerant brown countries are basically the same.

Then there’s this nugget:

But the Embassy meeting was not exactly cheered by Pakistani leaders.  On the contrary, a group of influential Pakistani figures, including the head of the powerful Jamaat-e-Islami party, condemned the American venture as “cultural terrorism,” second in danger only to missile attacks.

Okay, that’s just a flat out lie. The Jamaat-e-Islami (sigh) is not the same thing as “Pakistani leaders” or “influential Pakistani figures”. Actual Pakistani influential figures didn’t make a huge fuss about this incident at all; I’ve yet to read a statement from leaders of the PPP, PML(N), MQM, or ANP — you know, parties with what we call “seats” in what we call “parliament” — say anything about this. Again, I’d be willing to amend my statement on this if anyone can provide evidence to the contrary.


Influential Pakistani leaders, seen here protesting. Photo: AFP.

Secondly, the Jamaat protest got all of 100 people in Karachi, a city of 18-20 million, which for them is quite sad. These are the same people, after all, that helped organize a turnout of 40,000 in the same city against any changes to the blasphemy law.

More offending than the factual inaccuracies, and the brazen way with which they are delivered, is the tone of self-love that permeates the post. As usual, we need heroic westerners to come riding in and teach us about human rights. Bawer is “proud to be an American” after learning of this event.

Give me a break. The marginal effect of a U.S. embassy event on the lives of the “average” Pakistani gay person is basically zero. I can’t think of a single conceivable way it would make the slightest bit of difference. If anything, you can make the argument that such efforts actually imperil the lives of Pakistani gays rather than making them better. Such events sponsored by an incredibly unpopular country risks sullying further the reputation of gay Pakistanis as overly western-influenced. Pakistani gays have enough going against them, and probably don’t need such “help”.

Obviously, none of this is to suggest that Pakistan is some progressive haven open to all sexual preference. It clearly is not. But this type of rubbish fact-free Orientalism is quite pointless. If nothing else, I hope Bawer corrects the many inaccuracies in his post.

Topics covered: