THE MODERN DAY CIVILISING MISSION: WHERE ARE THE SAVAGES NOW?

AN ESSAY  

BY REBECCA E. ANDERSON

In 2008, The Drag Festival took place in Kreuzberg, (in)famous for being Berlin’s queerest neighbourhood. Unfortunately, a group of festival-goers were attacked while leaving the festival, allegedly by Turkish Muslim men. Several newspapers responded to the incident, including Jungle World – a German left-wing weekly newspaper, which dedicated its June 26th, 2008 edition to the attack. This short paper aims to interrogate the discourse that surrounded this attack in order to show how Fabian’s concept of “Political Time and Space” (Fabian, 1983) can be used not only in mainstream media, but more surprisingly by progressive publications to mask racialized intolerance. In doing this, the narrowness of the subject position or positionality that progressive discourse affords non-normative subjects is also exposed. In order to do this I will build upon Jin Haritaworn’s (2012) analysis of the cover of Jungle World from June 26th, 2008 and Fatima El-Tayeb’s connection between the racialisation of religion and political time/space. For the purposes of this paper, I will take inspiration from Fatima El-Tayeb’s definition of a queer subject, which is not necessarily connected to sexuality or gender fluidity but instead indicates deviating from hegemonic discourse’s prescriptive norms (2011). This is particularly useful because it helps us to take an intersectional approach to who is considered to be deviating from hegemonic norms. Similarly, subject is used to mean a person who is afforded agency by a certain discourse and is the opposite of abject which refers to a person who due to their positionality has no agency available to them.

 

Originally, Fabian developed this theory in order to show the constructs of time and space as “ideologically constructed instruments of power” (Fabian, 1983:144). We can see time and space being used in this way during the colonial period in order to shape a discourse, which reinforces the superiority of Western states. Colonial discourse created a binary opposition between states that were civilised, and therefore modern, and those, which were barbaric, and thus stuck in the past of modern states. This allowed the need for ‘modern’ states’ civilising mission to be reinforced (Anderson, 2015). In this example, this discourse is being reworked in order to cast Turkish migrants as intolerant and German people as more progressive. Anti-migrant racism is hidden by presenting the migrants as the intolerant group. Thus, allowing German society to carry on colonial Europe’s civilising mission. Political time/space can therefore be considered as the “evolutionary notion that human civilization had proceeded in a linear and unidirectional fashion from an initial state of nature through successive stages leading up to Western civilization” (Boatca, 2013:8).

 

The cover image (Jungle World, 2015) shows two groups engaged in battle with the backdrop of a non-descript urban landscape. As Haritaworn underlines, the sharp “contrast” between the two groups is highlighted by their differences in clothing. The ‘Queers’ are dressed in colourful drag whereas the ‘Turks’ are all dressed in uniform grey (2012:24). The ‘Queers’ are wielding sex toys as weapons and several of the ‘Turks’ are marked as such by caricatured features such as large noses. It is important to note that the festival-goers who were attacked described the event as a “drunken road rage incident” and highlighted they had been overwhelmingly harassed by German football fans (Haritaworn, 2012). Nonetheless, this event became the first of many termed as “migrant homophobia” by the press (Haritaworn, 2012:20), regardless of the discrepancies over whether any migrants were actually present. The event uses stereotypes of intolerant migrants to place them at the scene and then reinforces these stereotypes by framing the migrants as homophobic. Furthermore, in repeatedly labelling the event as homophobic (the lead article uses homophobia 22 times, whereas transphobia is absent from the title and used only once) the presence of trans-people are actually erased. This erasure points to the implicit transphobia that is present in this discourse as it refuses to recognise trans subjects.

 

The ‘Turks’ are portrayed as ‘primitive’ due to their low, swinging arms and fixed square bodies (Haritaworn, 2012: 24). Some of the Turkish group are identified as Grey Wolves[1] by markings on their clothes, and therefore, a suggestion is made that they are Muslim. They form a sharp contrast with the ‘Queers’ who are associated with modernity by their weapons, diverse appearance and association with movement, created by the “lively” strokes they were painted with (ibid). The ‘Turks’ are portrayed as neolithic cavemen while the sex-toy-wielding ‘Queers’ (on the surface) embody liberal, modern Western society. This firmly locates the ‘Queers’ in the future and the ‘Turks’ in the past. The ‘Queers’ are drawn as leaning towards the ‘Turks’ and advancing towards them. This not only presents “mobility as the prerogative of the West” (El-Tayeb, 2011 :99) but also represents the role of Western nations in bringing modernity to these ‘uncivilised’ nations. Modernity is depicted as both dominant and inevitable due to the urban backdrop which contrasts with the Turkish group and the fact that the ‘Queers’ are advancing. This is the essence of the political time concept, or in other words, “a linear model of progressive time” which locates non-Western societies in relation to the West (El-Tayeb, 2011:89). According to this model, “the Other lives not only in the past but in the West’s past” (ibid) and is therefore progressing towards the West, which is its destiny. The mobilisation of time and space in this way is becoming increasingly problematic in the modern context because, as this example shows, it is often masqueraded as progressive discourse that champions minority groups’ rights.

 

If we return to the image of the ‘Queers’ we can see another layer to this image. Sex toys and modified, metallic genitals do not usually make an appearance in the public sphere. While one could consequently argue that doing so is potentially revolutionary by normalising the “Queers” existence, we need to unpack this representation. In this example they are caricatured to the extreme and presented in the most vulgar and ridiculous way possible. Not only that but an association is also made between them and violence: the ‘Queers’ are implicitly framed as a threat. As Haritaworn points out, they are depicted here in this way to invoke disgust (2012:25). This isn’t meant simply to invoke modernity but modernity gone astray, modernity gone too far. On one hand, this illustration, alongside Jungle World‘s repetition of homophobia instead of transphobia, showcases the limits of its “progressive” discourse. Only a certain kind of queer subject is portrayed with dignity and respect, which in this case, following the erasure of trans-people and their ridiculous depiction, is denoted as homosexual. In this way, there are clear limits to how much a subject can deviate from hegemonic norms. What this really highlights is the consequences of deviating beyond these limits: because the trans-people breach hegemonic norms, they suffer trans-erasure in the article’s text and are depicted disrespectfully in the cover image.

 

On the other hand, Western societies are championing the cause of the “Queers” despite this disgust, they “tolerate them as an inevitable by-product of a free society” (Haritaworn, 2012:16). The “Turks” are portrayed as backward not for feeling disgust but for not tolerating a society that will protect ‘the disgusting’ and their lifestyle. In one move, the West is framed as superior and the transphobia (wrongly labelled as homophobia), which is inherent to the way in which the image is presented, is relegated to the ‘Turks’ and Muslims more generally. In this way a dichotomy of progressive and Muslim is formed.

 

Displacing the transphobia to the Turkish group distracts from the transphobia that exists within the progressive left, which is implicitly showcased here by the disrespectful depiction of the trans-subjects and the refusal to explicitly take a stand against transphobia by naming it. The idea of Western progressiveness, and therefore, superiority is thus allowed to stay intact. Consequently, this type of progressive discourse is not only intolerant toward trans people, but also toward immigrants. The protection ofsome queer subjects (those who identify as homosexual) acts as a red herring that distracts from the intolerance toward trans subjects and presents intolerance toward migrants as logical as they supposedly stand against the values of contemporary European society. What is actually revealed here however is that hegemonic discourse relies on examples like this one in order to moderate queer subjects. It reiterates the limits of acceptable deviation from hegemony by highlighting that queerness will only be accepted if it follows a recognisable heteronormative pattern.

 

Dominant European discourse mobilises political time/space in order to disguise anti-Muslim racism as progressive discourse and hide the narrow confines of liberal discourse. What this example demonstrates is that discourse can masquerade as progressive and tolerant as a way to abjectify subjects who do not conform to its limits. The binaries that ensue relegate people that defy its limits or refuse to adhere to its stereotypes to a kind of “twilight zone” (El-Tayeb,2011:89) in which they cannot exist. When we encounter any discourse we have to first ask whom it is making abject rather than whom it is privileging. In this example, this allows us to see the ways in which anti-immigrant racism and transphobia is masked by a liberal discourse. Instead of carrying postcolonial tropes forward we need to dismantle progressive state-sanctioned discourse. This is the only way to confront the fact that the “intolerant savages” could very well be hidden in our own mirrors.

 

[1] The Grey Wolves are a Muslim, Turkish nationalist organisation with radical right wing views. The group have been linked to fascism

 

This article is featured in HYSTERIA #6 ‘Eruption’. Support us producing this issue and receive a copy! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/829143091/hysteria-6-eruption

 

References:

Anderson, R. (2015). How are border violence and violence against women/girls/lesbians/transgender interconnected and rely on (post)colonial geopolitics?. SOAS University of London. London

Boatcă, Manuela (2013): “Multiple Europes and the Politics of Difference Within”. In: Worlds & Knowledges Otherwise (WKO). Uneasy Postcolonialisms. 3 (3), online: https://globalstudies.trinity.duke.edu/wp-content/themes/cgsh/materials/WKO/v3d3_Boatca2.pdf [20.01.2014].

Bozic, Homophobic Turkish Youth and The Fear of Racism Allegations, Jungle World, Jungle World, 28/08/2008

El-Tayeb, Fatima (2011): “Secular Submissions: Muslim Europeans, Female Bodies, and Performative Politics”. In: European Others. Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota. pp. 81-120.

El-Tayeb, Fatima (2011): “Introduction: Theorizing Urban Minority Communities in Postnational Europe”. In: European Others. Queering Ethnicity in Postnational Europe. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota. pp.xi-xlvi.

Fabian, Johannes. Time And The Other. New York: Columbia University Press, 1983. Print.

Haritaworn, Jin (2012): “Colorful Bodies in the Multikulti Metropolis: Vitality, Victimology and Transgressive Citizenship in Berlin”. In: Cotten, Trystan T. (Hrsg.) Transgender Migrations. The Bodies, Borders, and Politics of Transition. New York: Routledge S. 11–31.

Jungle World 2008 “Bissu schwul oder was? Homophobie unter Turken und anderen Deutschen.” No. 26 (June 26).
Link to the Jungle World Cover: Jungle World, Bissu Schwul Oder Was?(2015). Jungle World Cover 26/6/2008. [image] Available at: http://jungle-world.com/images/000/000/703/2008-26-cover-a.gif [Accessed 27 Apr. 2015].

Malise RosbechComment