Intimate Nation: Sexuality and Asylum in the Netherlands

Thursday, July 13, 2017
JWS - Room J7 (J361) (University of Glasgow)
Sarah French Brennan , International and Transcultural Studies, Columbia University, Teachers College
Facing the largest influx of refugees since WWII the Netherlands has seen a resurgence of xenophobic nationalism, with Dutch nationalists warning of a threat to “Dutch culture” and its mythic tradition of liberalism, in particular from Islam and Muslim migrants.  Journalistic and scholarly reports on the supposed exceptional homophobia of Muslim migrant communities have ignited a public discourse and moral panic over “tolerating intolerance.” In this context, I examine the processes of claiming asylum as a Muslim sexual minority, entering a system which demands the telling of a narrative credible to the asylum structure, using the ideological idioms of sexuality, experience, and culture that are intelligible and recognizable to Dutch officials. What is the role played by formalized social networks and small non-governmental organizations in producing and constituting communities of “LBGTI asylum seekers” and refugees? What are the contexts in which strategies, stories, and social lives are shared between asylum seekers from Muslim countries?

I argue that the “LGBT” asylum claimant has been intrinsically tied to a perpetrator: her/his culture. Social scientists have documented a troubling usage of the notion of culture in the “discursive world of human rights,” in which “culture” seems to govern lives in  “traditional” societies – those that are presumed stagnant, non-secular, and resistant to change. Western nations are able to “temporarily suspend” their own “heteronormative imagined community” in order to take the moral high-ground versus a “Global South” Other, caste as homophobic, misogynistic, and perversely eroticized.