Panel Paper: Specter of the Fraud: Muslim Sexual Minorities and Asylum in the Netherlands

Monday, April 10, 2017 : 10:45 AM
HUB 355 (University of California, Riverside)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Sarah French Brennan, 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 how the processes of claiming asylum as a Muslim sexual minority produce rather than simply represent a specific type of subject. To avail one’s self of this protection involves the telling of a narrative credible to the asylum system, using the ideological idioms of sexuality, experience, and culture that are intelligible and recognizable to Dutch officials. How do formalized social networks and small non-governmental organizations help to produce and constitute communities of “LBGTI asylum seekers” and refugees, as well as advocate for policy change? What are the contexts in which strategies, stories, and social lives are shared between asylum seekers?

The asylum procedures require specific elements to narratives. Asylum seekers are asked to chronicle in excruciating detail their moments of greatest fear and pain-- to an asylum officer, complete stranger in a strange land. In addition to life histories, and various dates and places, as an LGBT asylum seeker, you are asked to describe your first crush, your first beating, the last thing your father said, the threats that inspired the most terror, the last place you went before leaving for the Netherlands, and to produce as much documented evidence as possible to corroborate it all. What does it do when identities are constantly re-enforced as centering around an experience of violence?

Because the asylum process requires that a judge in the Netherlands determine if an asylum seeker is credible in her/his assertion that she/he is, 1) eligibly LGBT, and 2) justifiably fearful of persecution in her/his home country, there is an embedded assumption not only of the universality of the sexual categories and experience of persecution, but that both items may be immediately recognizable and understandable universally, or more specifically, by this single judge. As Michel Foucault (1978) explains, the concepts of “homosexual” but also “heterosexual” are relatively recent ways of understanding personhood, coming out of late nineteenth century Western medical and judicial discourses. In the past century, anthropologists have detailed and catalogued various practices, social functions, and ways of talking about and understandings of sex, sexuality, and gender across the globe that rarely conformed to the stable identities reified in the “modern” period.

As impervious to politics as the agencies that deal with asylum aim to be, there is political pressure at both local and national levels regarding anxieties around “demographic change”, resource allocation, and national security. Refugees are often met with suspicion, negligence, and even violence. By improving asylum procedures and policies, proclaimed commitments to the universality of human rights can be finally matched with what is practiced on local, national, and international levels.