Out of Place: Interrogating Silences in Queerness/Raciality (Raw Nerve Books) came out in July 2008. The book presents an unprecedented compilation of critical articles by scholars and activists, which address the manifold ways in which questions regarding ‘race’ and racism are silenced in queer politics and theory. Out of Place was very well received. It found a wide readership and the first edition sold out in a bit over a year. Now for the bad news: The book is no longer available. Raw Nerve Books, a small independent feminist publisher, decided not to produce a second edition.
While the book has received a lot of positive interest, it is also controversial and challenging. Indeed many new ideas that challenge prevailing ways of thinking and enacting power relations are not welcomed by everyone when they are first voiced. One chapter in particular ignited controversy, leading to a public apology by the publisher, who in the same breath declared the volume out of print.
The chapter in question is an essay entitled ‘Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘war on terror” by Jin Haritaworn, Tamsila Tauqir and Esra Erdem. In this chapter, the authors present an analysis of how ideologies regarding gender oppression and homophobia can be mobilised to feed a self-image of western democracies as the harbingers of gender equality and sexual liberation by deploying anti-Muslim racist discourses identifying Islam as the cradle of sexism and homophobia. The claims that Islam condones the oppression of women and legitimises violence towards homosexuals have played a significant role in justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and more generally the ‘war on terror’ in all its political, legal and cultural manifestations. In their analysis, the authors criticise (among others) some publications and political actions by Peter Tatchell and the activist group OutRage! It appears to us that Peter Tatchell demanded a public ‘apology and correction’. We can only speculate on why Raw Nerve chose to publish an unusually long and detailed statement to Tatchell on their web page, which labels the article libellous for containing ‘untrue’ and ‘defamatory’ claims. The ‘apology and correction’ voices Tatchell’s concerns and presents a one-sided interpretation of the text, illustrated by short fragments taken out of context and suggesting arguments that, in our view, the article does not make (www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/Peter_Tatchell.pdf).
We consider the article to be an important contribution to the volume and current debates about gender and sexual politics. We wish critics read the article first before coming to any judgemental conclusions. As authors of a chapter in this collection we are extremely concerned by the way Raw Nerve Books has handled this conflict, solely giving voice to one single interpretation and denying the second edition of this book. We as authors of a chapter in the book have not been consulted by Raw Nerve, nor has Raw Nerve opted for an approach in which it represents the wide range of opinions expressed in this book. As authors we feel we have been denied the academic freedom to present our critical analysis to the public and instead silenced.
Raw Nerve presents itself as an ‘independent, not-for-profit feminist press publishing controversial, under-represented and experimental work’. They set out with the important aim ‘to inspire new discussions’ by ‘asking questions that might indeed touch a ‘raw nerve’ with many readers’ (www.rawnervebooks.co.uk/). The reaction to the article shows that the authors certainly touched on a raw nerve with their critique here. Yet what we as authors of a chapter in the collection envisage in the case of controversy is critical and open debate rather than foreclosing such debate by treating opposed views as libellous. When authors are confronted with the threat of a law suit, this forecloses open debate. If such debate cannot include disagreements and conflicts of opinion, it takes self censorship for granted.
Ironically, this conflict illustrates what the collection Out of Place: Silencing Voices on Queerness/Raciality addresses. While postcolonial and transnational interventions into feminist debates have found a wider audience, writing on queer sexualities and politics from an anti-racist perspective is still rare these days. The decision of the publishers not to publish a second edition results in a de-facto act of censorship, which further marginalises already precarious perspectives. Putting pressure on publishers, editors and authors to silence un-wanted opinions endangers critical debate based on freedom of expression. We are worried about an emerging culture in which libel threats may be habitually used to silence critical voices. We are disappointed with Raw Nerve Books’ decision to publish this one-sided statement and to not print a second edition of Out of Place.
Umut Erel is RCUK academic fellow at the Centre for Citizenship, Identities and Governance at the Open University, UK. Her research interests are in gender, migration, ethnicity, racism and citizenship. Christian Klesse is Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the Sociology Department of the Manchester Metropolitan University.