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The Far-Left Must Not Be Allowed to Politicise Identity

03/07/2015 11:59 BST | Updated 02/07/2016 10:59 BST

Following the Far-Left's controversial stance on the issue of Pride 2015 and Equal Marriage, the prominent Oxford-based group 'No HeterOx' - affiliated with a zine of the same name for Queer and Trans voices in Oxford - aimed at the LGBTQ* community, officially declared itself both anti-Conservative and anti-Zionist. Beyond the enforcement of ideology by of the group's leaders, this represents the latest attempt by the Far Left to appropriate diverse identities in pursuit of their political goals.

Perhaps the most controversial charge levelled at the group was its attitude towards Jews, and the opinions of Jewish members on the issue of a prominent member using the word "zio" to refer to Zionists. The term, when used in an Arab-Israeli context (Google "zio Jews" or "zio Israel"was coined by American neo-Nazi David Duke to refer not just to Zionists, but all Jews. When this was pointed out to said member, after the publishing of a piece attacking the anti-Semitic undertones of the comments, said member responded with a reply (pictured below) about omnipresent and malevolent Zionism which - at times - would not look out of place on a website for anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists. Moreover, the dismissal of the concerns of Jewish members who feel uncomfortable seems to go against one of the core tenets of Far Left thought in universities, namely the 'safe space' doctrine, which frequently holds that people have a right not to feel judged or uncomfortable in the space in question, a doctrine which was conveniently disavowed in the same statement declaring the group anti-Zionist.

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However, surely there is no reason why simply being LGBTQ* should automatically entail anti-Zionism, firstly since being LGBTQ* is no more a choice than one's race, so we should not be surprised that reasonable people will differ on this question. Secondly, and more problematically, is the suggestion from the leaders of the group that the cause of LGBTQ* liberation entails support for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, rather than Israel; if it is 'pinkwashing' to point out that Israel has by far the best LGBTQ* rights record in the Middle East, and Tel Aviv is considered one of the most gay-friendly cities n the world (which is by no means the end of the debate on Israel and human rights), then we must surely devise a word of far greater moral reproach to describe turning a blind eye to the calls for execution of the LGBTQ* by Hamas and the evasiveness of the PA's ambassador to the US on whether LGBTQ* people would even be tolerated under a Palestinian state. Then again, the turning by the group's leaders of such a blind eye to LGBTQ* rights abuses is perhaps less surprising when we consider that the latest issue of the group's affiliated zine (described as "a zine for Oxford's Queer and Trans voices") published (pages 33-35) a piece praising Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe and arguing that the expulsion and marginalisation of whites in Zimbabwe (necessary to 'decolonise' it) was a bigger priority than dealing with Zanu-PF's homophobia.

The issue of anti-Zionism as apparently a tenet of the LGBTQ* identity as understood by the group's leaders is, however, symptomatic of a much greater problem on the Far-Left today, namely its declaring oh as many identities as possible as presumptively Far-Left. There is frankly nothing to suggest that simply being LGBTQ* means that you must be anti-Capitalist, non-Conservative, or anti-Zionist; all it means is that you do not conform to society's heteronormative expectations of gender and sexuality. On the other side of the coin, we should surely expect that LGBTQ* people that do believe in the causes of the Far-Left have more intellectual robustness in their arguments than simply stating one or more facets of their identity.

However, this is the state of much of Far-Left politics in Oxford; whether operating from NoHeterOx, or the better-known Cuntry Living, we are told that certain facets of our identity should determine our politics, and those who disagree are somehow deficient in their views, or else they are somehow selling out to "the oppressor". This betrays a fundamental misunderstanding by the Far-Left of the groups they claim to speak for. In the case of equal marriage, many LGBTQ* people of all identities, and all races, have waited years (sometimes decades) for their relationships to be afforded equal status to heterosexual ones and celebrate equal marriage as a victory for equal dignity, and yet according to DarkMatter and their Far-Left allies, such people are merely buying into a colonialist idea and joining the circle of oppressors.

Moreover, the Far-Left's politicisation of identity (a far more apt label than 'identity politics') in such a way produces the very erasure which DarkMatter and their allies accuse the mainstream LGBTQ* rights movement of perpetuating. Shortly after my recent criticism of the stance taken by radical liberationism on equal marriage, and a piece published attacking the defence of the anti-Semitic term "zio", a purge was conducted within the group of all prominent Conservatives and Zionists, be they openly LGBTQ* or not. Ironically, the politicising of identity as exemplified by such a purge has the effect of erasing the diverse voices of the LGBTQ* community simply because they happen to wear their politics, rather than their identity over which they have no control, on their sleeves; the Far-Left attempt to cast the LGBTQ* liberation movement and LGBTQ* people in general as intrinsically wedded to their ideas in exactly the same manner as DarkMatter allege the mainstream LGBTQ* rights movement is wedded to the exclusive interests of the privileged.

Yet such politicisation of identity will only harm the Far-Left in the long run, as no movement for civil rights ever achieved its objectives through exclusivity on identity lines and rabid intolerance of disagreement even from within this identity; it was surely no small factor in Martin Luther King's success that he targeted the Civil Rights movement at all of society, including those who did not stand to directly benefit but sympathised with the cause. By contrast, the Far Left today openly weds itself to such an exclusion, while appearing to reserve the right to lay out a set of political principles (with which it conveniently agrees) that it casts as the presumptive politics of any good person of the relevant group, without stopping to consider that people of a certain identity are perfectly capable of reasonably disagreeing without somehow 'selling out' or 'oppressing themselves'.

Such behaviour will only serve to increase the frequency and intensity of objections to the Far-Left's traditional dominance over liberation issues and student politics, as the self-declared leaders of each 'community' become ever more remote and the 'acceptable' moral consensus grows ever narrower. Yet we should not simply wait for the Far-Left to marginalise themselves and tear themselves apart; so long as they continue to presumptively appropriate voices and claim to speak for others, we must continue to speak out and demonstrate that they do not.

With thanks to Anastasia Tropsha for her assistance