John Rentoul and Oliver Kamm run a feature called ‘Great Historical Questions to Which the Answer is No’. This responds to articles called things like: ‘Are we living in a PC tyranny?’ ‘Was David Kelly killed by Mossad?’ ‘Did the Earl of Oxford write Shakespeare’s plays?’
Andy Newman has made a strong submission to the feature with his post ‘Did Peter Tatchell Use the Libel Laws to Delegitimise Criticism?’
The story is this. In March 2009 Scott Long of Human Rights Watch published an article criticising Tatchell along very familiar lines. Peter Tatchell is a longtime human rights activist who campaigns against all homophobic killings, including those carried out by theocratic states, and that puts him on a collision course with the pro-faith left which will always defend religion before sexuality.
Long’s article, and an earlier unrelated piece, played a simple tune. By protesting against the Islamic Republic’s killing of gays Tatchell is seeking to impose his vision of Western enlightenment imperialism upon the earthy and spiritual natives. (If you think I exaggerate the thesis, note that the earlier article is called ‘Gay Imperialism: Gender and Sexuality Discourse in the ‘War on Terror’‘.)
Tatchell complained against the ‘Gay Imperialism’ piece, probably because it accused him without evidence of working with racists and fascists, a point that even Newman concedes. His complaint against Long’s article is more complex.
On the basis of this article, it’s slightly worrying that Long occupies the prestigious position that he does. Scott Long writes paragraphs like this:
This eagerness to be recruited, too, seems an underside of ‘recognition’. The vision of claiming positive acknowledgement solely in the symbolic realm cheerfully subliminates the originary violence of the Hegelian version, which began with a combat to the edge of death. Pulsing under the talk of cultural confrontation is the memory of recognition wrested by an armed Other by force. And if pursuing recognition in the diffuse and sign-saturated public sphere of modern West has led gay and lesbian movements into a mirror-realm of becoming similar, this quest for visibility requires at heart a more visible opponent, against whom the self can be antagonistically defined. Islam serves that function for many activists in the USA and Europe. Indeed, identifying with the dominant culture increasingly requires becoming the hypertrophied ultra-opponents of its enemies.
Long attacks Tatchell because he campaigned against the execution of an Iranian, Makwan Moloudzadeh. According to Long, Tatchell portrayed Moloudzadeh as a gay man killed for his sexuality, when in fact he was convicted of rape (his accusers had redacted their accusations). There is still some confusion on this point.
Long criticises Tatchell for his aggressive style of campaigning. According to Long, if Tatchell had not attacked the Islamic Republic, the Islamic Republic would in its wisdom and compassion have let Moloudzadeh go. It is for you to judge what relationship this argument bears to reality.
The point is, Long has essentially said to Tatchell: You have blood on your hands.
In his position, you’d demand an apology. That appears to be what has happened, because Tatchell has got a full apology and retraction from Human Rights Watch and Long personally, which he has accepted with customary good grace.
For Newman there has to be more to it than that. It can’t be that a writer has changed his mind, or seen that s/he has said the wrong thing and tried to make amends. So Newman spends the entire thread arguing that Tatchell threatened legal action against Long and HRW, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. It is the curious incident of the lawyer that didn’t bark.
John Meredith, who comments at Shiraz sometimes, sums it up:
So, let me get this straight. No-one involved claims that lawyers have been brought into it, Peter Tatchell has denied it explicitly and stated that he will not, on principle, sue, the company that published the article have denied that they were approached by lawyers and issued a statement saying that they withdrew it simply because the lies it contained were brought to their attention. Long has gone on record admitting the falsehoods in the piece and HRW have issued n apology for being associated through Long with distortions and unfair allegations against Tatchell, and yet you STILL think the most likely explanation is that there is a secret legal proceeding taking place? It can’t possibly be, as Long has gone public to admit, that the article was simply defamatory? Have you ever heard of Occam? Google him.
At one point Newman describes the case as ‘being reminiscent of the Moscow Trials, obvioulsy without the tragic consequences’.
Andy Newman – the Alan Partridge of the far left.