By YKA Staff:
Editor’s note: This open letter has been penned by activists from Bangladesh after the brutal murders of Xulhaz Mannan, the founder and editor of the country’s first LGBT+ magazine ‘Roopban’ and his friend, actor Tanay Majumder.
We’re writing to you from a rather desperate place in the hope that you will heed our plea. We are sure that this is reaching you because you have posted something or the other about the two murders of the gay activists in Bangladesh. We are all outraged, shaken and deeply saddened by their untimely brutal deaths. Having said that please read this carefully. Let us honor the dead but not forget the living. Please stop circulating any content containing the following, especially if you are from the North America, Europe:
1. Xulhaz Mannan as the face of the entire LGBT movement.
2. Roopbaan, or any other organization associated with the term “LGBT”.
3. Bangladesh as an Islamic fundamentalist country unsafe for secular bloggers, free thinkers or gender deviants.
4. “Freedom, diversity and tolerance are Bangladeshi values.”
You see, when you sit on powerful land and demand justice from a government, whether you are well-intentioned radical queers or people of colour or marginalized activists who want to demand justice alongside us, sharing these contents, or making this news viral will not help right now. Putting pressure on your local/national governments will not help either. However, what will happen is that this will create a false image of an “Islamic” fundamentalist country out to kill queers demanding that international well-wishers (read: Europe and USA) come and save them from the brown men. The deviants and queers are hiding but the international call for justice is making it difficult to avoid being visible. People will be writing many falsehoods, searching for quotes, searching for queers to justify, give opinions, come out and protest. But you see, when the most powerful leader (Mannan) in the country was unsafe, think about what will happen not to the other rich folk, or even the middle class folk, but the lower income folk, or those who are isolated and not networked, or are disabled or ill have always been most vulnerable but now even more so. This makes them the most easy targets for any violent backlash that may include the media/society’s call for justice around the world.
If at this point you are wondering why we are talking about visibility at all it must be noted that it is a tendency among activists and social justice folk to think awareness will take care of most problems. Awareness calls for visibility. However, visibility does not ensure safety or security. Forcing visibility in unsafe situations like this might benefit those who can seek asylum or humanitarian parole (super expensive!), or have top-notch security but it will only make those without these options totally disposable.
You might be doing it with all the good intentions, but it’s hella violent right now for us.
Already, there has been a plethora of articles shared from international news outlets on the killings and they all link back to the same rhetoric- “a rising intolerance is gripping the secular democracy of Bangladesh.” Think about those words for a second. In the past ten years about 84 killings have been claimed by religious extremist groups (some of them are dubious as they come from SITE, whose reliability with facts has very little credibility). In those ten years, how many murders and deaths have taken place in the country due to the political atmosphere, either by the ruling party or its militant youth wing Chhatro League (Youth/Students League)? The number count exceeds the thousands. Add to that the deaths of laborers in factories (i.e. Rana Plaza, Tazreen Garments fire etc) and deaths through cold-blooded murder and through forcibly removing people from their own lands for “development” (four have died in Banshkhali in Chittagong protesting the setting up of a coal-powered electric plant) and the picture we see is not of a secular democracy. Bangladesh is not a secular democracy, nor has it ever been so.
Ask yourselves what is at stake when the international media focuses on some deaths and not others? Why “free speech” and “sexual and gender diversity” and not power-grabbing, land-grabbing and coercion? Because while the West has hand-picked extremist Islam as its enemy (with the banner of ISIS) speaking out against the violence of labor practices and money-making in third world nations is not high on their agenda.
Who benefits from this global division of labor and hence the exploitation of the poor here? You got it: the rich in the West!
But if we were to look closely, the silence on some deaths and the outrage on others fits very neatly into the West’s agenda of domination- for here is yet another example of a third-world country whose ‘free speech’ needs saving from backward Islam. For one, it provides the West with key bargaining tools with which it can ramp up military outposts in the third world to fight its own battles (let us not forget that Al-Qaeda was funded by the US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan or that Saudi Arabia and the US have been bedfellows for years). And secondly, they can use these narratives to make third-world states bend to their will through aiding the investigations of only certain murders (such as Avijit Roy’s or Xulhaz Mannan’s).
Let us refocus our attention on the narrative of tolerance. What does it mean for a country to be tolerant or intolerant? As far as media portals in the West would have us believe it is related only to speaking out against religion or against the gay (sometimes lesbian) population. Note: gay people do not encompass all the other deviants who see gender in all the different combinations possible.
And even here, only certain bodies are marked for grief and outrage and others are not. Is it not religious extremism that millions of Hindus are unaccounted for in Bangladesh, that Hindu villages burn and Hindu bodies are killed on a regular basis? Is it not violence enough when Bangali settlers forcibly remove indigenous folk from their own land and then exploit their bodies for labor? Is it also not news-worthy when queers are murdered on the streets as they go about trying to make ends meet (in February Shejuti Hijra was shot and it only warranted a small news piece)? Think, too, of the countless murders that happen which are only afforded a small column outlining name, location and manner of killing- how many of these bodies were poor, were queer and died that way?
When we are told what we need is tolerance we are only told that for certain bodies – middle class, mostly, or somehow aligned, however coincidentally, with the US ideology against Islam. This tolerance does not and will never equate to justice because those other bodies will continue dying as we push for some sort of liberal, middle-class tolerance.
To all of our queer and radical queer allies abroad and to our mainstream and/or liberal and/or left-leaning allies at home- please take all of the above into consideration. In your eagerness to help and be accounted for, you might be pushing us into a direction that benefits the Empire/West while simultaneously making life dangerous for the most vulnerable among us- those queers who do not even have the safety and mobility of the ones who were killed, those who are vulnerable due to their employment as sex workers, those who are reading all the hype on The Guardian and Buzzfeed and BBC and wondering how on earth this helps them get out of their homes because now even more people are looking their way- their battles are not with tolerance but economic justice, justice for rapes, coercion and displacement.
You all are concerned about your friends in Bangladesh. You have lost friends in Bangladesh and there are others you cannot connect with. You are feeling angry, frustrated, helpless, energized to act. Recently we had requested that people stop reaching out to the media, or embassies, or governments or posting pictures of vigils etc that might increase visibility. We do need your help, energy and rage. We are tired but grateful that there are so many wellwishers around the world but we need you to help prevent more harm. If solidarity is your aim, then help us gather resources to aid those in need, those who have now been thrust under the microscope of visibility and aid them in relocations or even economically in order to survive. The queer fight is against Western hegemony, not by its side.
Note: We use the word queer loosely since this is written in English, a language not our own. So queer is a place-holder for a deviant existence that is punished.
অসভ্য মানুষজন (Reads as ‘Asabhya Manushjan’)