September 27, 2006
Letter from Rome: ITALY'S BYZANTINE TELECOM ITALIA SCANDAL SHAKES THE REPUBLIC (Updated)
The following Letter from Rome was written especially for DIRELAND by our Rome correspondent, JUDY HARRIS, a veteran ex-pat journalist who wrote for years from Italy for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazIne:
ROME -- The staggering reports of a new Italian scandal have made it the leading topic of political conversation here, for it is as grave as any since the good old days of coup plots (the Sixties and Seventies) and renegade Masonic lodges (the Eighties). This evolving Telecom Italia scandal -- which includes everything from plain, old-fashioned boodling and massive white-collar crime in the suites, to black-ops electronic spying on tens of thousands of Italians and mass blackmail -- is puzzling, and not only to this reporter, but here's the story as written for dummies:
1. As if by magic the privatized national telephone network Telecom Italia (logo above right) charges far more than most in Europe, but loses money and share value on the stock market, year after year. Its current debt stands at a whopping 40 Billion Euros ($48 billion).
2. This debt makes it hard to sell to anyone right in his head, but it turns out that some of its assets, especially its mobile phone sector TIM, actually make a lot of money. Therefore, to pay off the debt the president, Marco Tronchetti Proveravera (left), was secretly negotiating to strip the conglomerate of its money-earning assets to pay off the debt. The buyer was to be Rupert Murdoch (right).
3. Everybody knew about the secret sale negotiations -- except for the new prime minister, Romano Prodi (right), who has gotten mad about being out of the loop (he'd heard the sale was to Time-Warner or maybe General Electric). When Parliament found out that Prodi was mad, Parliament got mad and ordered Prodi to explain why he is mad. Then, since everyone was mad at him, Tronchetti Provera got mad and quit. Commentators then explained (to wit., Giuseppe Turani (left) that, no, former premier Silvio Berlusconi, perhaps the richest single man in Europe, was not going to buy Telecom Italia because Berlusconi does not like to acquire someone else's debts.
4. Okay so far? Good. So then we learn that not only TIM, but other parts of the company were actually earning money, but the alleged earnings somehow allegedly went into two outside companies allegedly controlled by Tronchetti Provera (or "TP" for short.) The Italian press has described these other companies as alleged "empty boxes." One box was Pirelli. TP, rightly or wrongly, is being accused in the press as having allegedly used the money to pay alleged Pirelli debts. To cling even closer to the safe side, let¹s quote Sunday's Italian financial daily Il Sole-24 Ore: "In a single day confusion reigned supreme, the shares oscillated violently on the stock exchange, declarations and communiques built up ever more of a smokescreen." Today's newspapers say there have already been 21 arrests in the Telecom Italia scandal for spying on citizens-- and prosecutors have linked secret bank accounts in Monte Carlo to both Tronchetti Provera and to Telecom Italia’s chief executive, Carlo Buora (right), according to La Repubblica.
5. The cherry topping on this bizarre Italian banana split is that for years the country's secret services had been illegally utilizing Telecom personnel, equipment, technology and time for espionage on perhaps 100,000 citizens, including on its own work force. Why? In some cases to accumulate information that could be used for blackmail.
So now, you may ask, how was this reporter neglected by the Telecom spies? Doesn¹t DIRELAND count? Well, I was not, and we do. Three weeks before Italian elections last spring all phones, including computer lines, in this home-cum-work space of mine went dead. The Telecom personnel informed us that they would have to come into the house to "fix" the phones. They did; I stood by appalled, fully aware of what they were "fixing."
The scandal roundup making the best reading is by Filippo Ceccarelli (right). In last Friday¹s La Repubblica, he listed the Italian ways of getting rid of incriminating evidence. In the current Telecom scandal a private investigator simply took the compromising papers and dropped them in a rubbish dump near the Malpensa airport in Milan.
Previous scandal protagonists have shown more flair: The first to go to jail in the Tangentopolis kickback scandal revealed by Judge Antonio di Pietro's "Mani Pulite" (clean hands) investigation, the Italian Socialist Party's Mario Chiesa (left), tried to flush $17,000 compromising dollars down a toilet in an old folks home. In his fabulous Tuscan villa, the ring-master of the sewer of corruption and coup-plotting that was the P2 (Propagande Due) Masonic lodge, Licio Gelli (right), a veteran of Mussolini's Salo Republic, kept around 150 gold ingots in terra cotta garden pots. (Gelli, by the way, is still enjoying a rather comfortable house arrest in Tuscany.) A Health Minister from that temple to spaghetti, Naples (where that pasta was invented), was caught hiding compromising papers in, appropriately, a gigantic spaghetti pot; he kept jewelry and such in a footstool in the parlor. And, again according to Ceccarelli¹s account, when the Parmalat scandal broke, its company officers were ordered to smash their computers with hammers. Compared to these rococo doings, simply tossing the damning Telecom Italia evidence into a garbage dump lacks style.
Prime Minister Prodi must soon answer questions in parliament about the scandal, so stay tuned. Without waiting for that, Silvio Berlusconi (left) and his dwindling number of conservative allies (whose defections I chronicled in my September 2 DIRELAND report) rushed into the fray to hint that the Telecom Italia scandal and the P.M.'s handling of it could cause the Prodi cabinet's fall.
Premature predictions, certainly -- but Prodi and his uncertain allies have a rough road ahead even without the Telecom Italia muddle. With a razor-thin majority, the center-left coalition is fragile, and -- amid fears Italy may be forced to leave the Euro zone unless it straightens out its finances --its various elements are at loggerheads over serious issues like taxation and balancing the budget, which may require cutting public services (health care, schools) or whittling away at a bloated, idling bureaucracy defended by trade unions.
In addition, Rifondazione Comunista's fractious leader Fausto Bertinotti (right), president of the Chamber of Deputies, has irritated some, including supporters of the Prodi alliance, by using his platform as head of parliament not to be a mediator, but to make politicized statements. And it should not be forgotten that it was the defection of Bertinotti and the Rifondazione that brought down the last Prodi-led government in 1998. The Italian winter may be a chillly one for the governing center-left coalition.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT UPDATE:
The Telecom scandal was the subject of a somber debate entitled "Telecom & Opaque Capitalism" aired Wednesday night on the independent TV channel La Sette. The guests of the popular moderator Gad Lerner included a trade unionist from Telecom, the Italian Communications Minister Paolo Gentiloni, and Ferruccio De Bortoli, editor of Italy's foremost financial daily, Il Sole-24 Ore. With the investigation in process, there can be few answers, but the seriousness of the issues is undiminished. because Telecom is privatized, but still a monopoly company with important national security responsibilities.
But even as the questions poured in, there were still few answers. For instance, the notion of electronic espionage on Telecom workers, who are going on strike in protest next week, seems confirmed, but the techniques used, the motivations and possible connections to politicians is not clear. Nor is it clear precisely why Tronchetti Provera resigned as Telecom president; was it to avoid further politico action? And is it possible that the re-nationalization of the firm is behind all this?
-- by Judy Harris (below left) in Rome
Read Judy Harris's previous LETTERS From ROME for DIRELAND: October 1, 2005, "Italy--The Church Re-Enters Politics." July 22, 2005-- Judges On Strike Against Berlusconi; June 13, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum a Fiasco; June 11, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum: It's Really About Abortion; March 6, 2006 -- Will Berlusconi Lose?; March 9, 2006: Italian Elections: What a Difference a Week Makes; March 12, 2006 -- Italy's Bizarre Election Campaign: Silvio's Spies and Cartoon Fairy Tale Videos; March 14, 2006 -- The Berlusconi-Prodi TV Debate; March 15, 2006-- After the Debate; April 11 -- Latest Election Returns Show Fragile and Uncertain Center-Left Majority; April 12, 2006 -- 4 Gays, 1 Bisexual in Parliament, & First Cracks in Prodi's Coalition. September 2, 2006: "Berlusconi: The Party's Over (plus, The Pope's New Theological Offensive & Italy's Summer of Anti-Gay Violence.)" September 16 -- "Oriana Fallaci, the Enjoyment of Hate."
September 26, 2006
An Urgent DIRELAND Alert: CLINTON, SCHUMER, OBAMA JOIN TO FREEZE AIDS TREATMENT AND CARE
Write your Senators today-- tell them this bill must be amended to meet the life-or-death needs of people with AIDS. And here are Talking Points, courtesy of Housing Works, the feisty AIDS service organization whose work I much admire:
For too long, people living with HIV/AIDS and frontline AIDS service providers have all made do with hopelessly inadequate funding. As of last week, nearly 200 people were on the wait list for drugs in South Carolina. Meanwhile, in New York, the over 125,000 people living with HIV/AIDS stand to loose $78 million in Title II funding over the next four years under the current Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act of 2006 (the bill to reauthorize Ryan White).
The "new" Ryan White cuts funding relied on by PLWAs, primarily in the original epicenters of AIDS. The "old" Ryan White shortchanges people newly infected, primarily living in rural areas and the Deep South. This geographic splitting is partisan politics at play. We will not sacrifice people living with HIV/AIDS anywhere in the country to bolster anyone's ratings at the polls this November.
The reauthorization bill could be on the floor of the Senate tonight. Congress must pass reauthorization before October, but the reauthorization must be just. These four clear fixes can and should be implemented as amendments:
1. EXPAND FUNDING BY $500M TO ENSURE ACCESS TO CARE NATIONWIDE
Stop playing regional politics and get the money we need to care for all Americans living with HIV/AIDS into this bill. We need a total of $500 million in additional funding to eliminate ADAP waiting lists, support areas with emerging epidemics, and protect access and quality in high-prevalence areas. This includes a $70 million increase for Title II base and an additional $197 million for ADAP - the amount identified by treatment experts as needed to allow all states to provide a minimum level of service to those in need.
2. EXTEND "HOLD HARMLESS" PROVISIONS TO FIVE YEARS
We must protect lifesaving HIV care systems from dramatic funding cuts that will put lives at risk - adequate new funding for emerging areas and assurance of continued support for high-prevalence epicenters will mean a reauthorization that everyone can support.
3. REVISE "CORE MEDICAL SERVICES" REQUIREMENT TO ALLOW SERVICES THAT SUPPORT TREATMENT ADHERENCE AND GOOD HEALTH
Housing, food, transportation and legal services are lifesavers - it's hard to stick to your meds if you're homeless, hungry, can't get to the doctor or are in danger of losing your home or kids. We must modify "core medical services" spending requirements to allow spending on supportive services that save lives.
4. KEEP THE FOCUS ON TREATMENT AND CARE - STRIP TESTING LANGUAGE OUT
We must reject attempts to use Ryan White to redirect CDC prevention funding and cement controversial HIV testing policies. Congress should eliminate the "Early Diagnosis Grant Program" section in current drafts of reauthorization legislation.
Housing Works calls on you to build support for a consensus reauthorization plan that will ensure lifesaving, quality HIV care to everyone in our nation living with HIV. Once we've passed the reauthorization, then we can all work towards a plan for universal access by 2010.
September 21, 2006
THAILAND: LETTER FROM A VELVET COUP
The following report was written for DIRELAND from Thailand and filed this morning by ALAN PLATT, a writer and former journalist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and The Guardian, and who has just completed a book of comic travel memoirs. Alan (photo right), an expat from the U.K., was a colleague of mine on the late, lamented Soho Weekly News (the avant-garde paper for which he covered New York's counter-cultural scene), and has been dividing his time between Thailand and New York for the last few years. For background to this week's Thai coup, see his April 3 report from Bangkok for DIRELAND, "People Power, Thai Style," about the mass movement in opposition to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Coup de Ville -- by Alan Platt
Bangkok, Thailand -- Talk about a velvet revolution. The overnight coup d'etat which ousted the appalling Thaksin Shinawatra (right) and replaced him with a military and police alliance, was orchestrated with such seamless panache, that it recalls Thai Airways famous slogan, "Smooth As Silk".
And as I now look out across the tranquil city of Bangkok the day after the-day-after, basking under glorious Wedgwood blue skies as rainy season starts to slide into South East Asia's legendarily balmy winter, I'm reminded of the old farmer in Maine who, upon being informed that the Nazis had marched into Poland, looked up at the sky and said, "Well, they've got a lovely day for it."
Oh, one hates to sound frivolous at such a time, of course, but the very fact that one can is testament to the sophistication with which the country has so painlessly purged itself of the heinous Thaksin, or "Toxin" as he's known around here.
I work here in Central Bangkok and so have not had the leisure to bike around on my little Honda - quintessential Asian accessory - to take in the sights. I have seen little more of the coup than any other working stiff has, watching CNN anywhere in the world, and therefore feel a bit of a fraud tearing off a dispatch, so to speak, being Direland's 'Man on the ground." There is no more a war-zone vibe here than there might be at an international cricket match. (Photo right: Thai soldiers guard a barricade decorated with flowers by supporters of the military coup. Photo by Ed Wray for AP)
I have seen no tanks, no troop trucks, barely any agent of force whatever. The Skytrain slides serenely by, twenty seven floors below my office, swooshing past the tranquil Wat Pathumwanaram (left), a lovely gold-gabled temple where little bells tinkle occasionally to indicate prayers being said, presumably for the continued wisdom of the beloved, saxophone-playing King Bhumibol (right), whose swift endorsement of the coup and its leaders has put the icing on the cake and quelled any possible misgiving or regional uprising.
This is the King's Jubilee year - 60 years on the throne – and next year will be his 80th birthday. In a country that loves a celebration as much as this one does, such a double whammy is almost too good to be true. The year-long bash planned for His Majesty's birthday will come on the heels of the current year-long wing-ding that's been going on since January to celebrate the Jubilee. Everything here has been plastered in the King's color, yellow, since the beginning of the year, yellow ribbons everywhere, yellow flags on every available flagpole, lamp-post and gate-post, and yellow shirts worn to work by everyone every Monday. This last detail brings up an interesting bit of Thai trivia. The King's color is yellow not because it's the color of royalty, but because it's the color of Monday. He was born on a Monday. Had he been born on a Saturday, like me, the country would be festooned in purple.
The King's nod is a massive relief to the population, containing as it does a tacit royal good-riddance to Thaksin, a man whose swaggering style he more than once publicly rebuked as being un-Buddhist and, well, just plain vulgar. The king is a very discreet man, retiring and modest in the extreme. So for him to publicly admonish his Prime
Minister for constantly congratulating himself on his 'successes' required great provocation, and Thaksin certainly provided it.
As Thaksin's power grew, thanks to massive graft and strong-arm skullduggery, all of which is now coming to light, the PM strode about the country handing out money and favor like a grandee, trumpeting his shiny new CEO management style as the way of the future, a beacon for the entire region and he the star turn of ASEAN and a template for any future leader of the New Asia. There was a time here a few years ago, honeymoon still in full swing after his landslide election victory, that even the skeptical Bangkok intelligentsia were proud to be led by such a charismatic firecracker.
The wise old King it was, however, who first pricked the bastard's balloon. He scolded him for his big-headedness, reminding him that he served the people, not led them, and that he represented them only for so long as it pleased them to let him do so. He told Thaksin that when he himself was a boy, his mother always cut him down to size when he got too big for his boots, and that he had learned his lesson well, a cocky Prince maturing into a modest King. The suggestion was that Thaksin had not been quite so well brought-up and should not get too high on his own bad self.
Later, as the wheels began to fall off the Thaksin bandwagon and the endless litany of misdeed and malfeasance began to surface like body after dead body, when the press was calling for his blood and the People's Alliance for Democracy was holding almost nightly mass rallies – thousands of ordinary Bangkok folks thronging the streets all dressed in yellow, the PAD's adopted color - and the Supreme Court was pressing His Majesty to throw the bum out by invoking a certain clause in the constitution, thereby assuming temporary royal power, it was the King again who, at just the right moment, and in just the right tone, defused the bomb. In doing so, he averted the civil war of which there was, at the time, a sporting chance.
In what is brilliantly described as The Royal Whisper, he gently chided the Supremes to remember who they were. With exquisite irony hesuggested that maybe it was they who should resign, not Thaksin, and that it was their job, not the King's, to run the country. In asuperbly subtle civics lesson, and speaking, as it were, over the shoulders of the Supreme Court to address the people directly, he reminded the Thais that their most precious gift, after their Buddhist faith, was their democracy, and that the most powerful echelon within that democracy was the legislature, the Supreme Court itself, and that if it had fallen to him, their constitutional monarch, to point this out to them, well there was a certain poetry in that, was there not?
And that was all it took. In a matter of hours, the planets realigned and the streets emptied. The newly emboldened Supreme Court moved on all fronts. They declared the flash election, which Thaksin had recently called to wangle himself a new and bogus mandate, illegal and void. The Electoral Commission, a supposedly disinterested body that Thaksin had, like everything else, simply bought, and which had run the election in a way that would have made Boss Tweed proud, were not
only dismissed, they were jailed.
A series of official investigations was launched into every aspect of Thaksin's criminal rampage through Thai politics and commerce. The star among these probes was the one into his sale of Shin Corporation, the source of his immense wealth, the principal component of which is the communications satellite network which acts as the de facto
guardian of these Wedgwood blue Thai skies. He had the nerve to sell this ultra-sensitive national asset to the Darth Vader of Asian finance, the vast and secretive Temasek Corp of Singapore, after first having slipped a whole slew of questionable measures into law which collectively had ballooned the value of Shin Corp astronomically and, worse, ensured that Thaksin would owe zero tax on the umpteen billion dollars profit he subsequently realized on the sale. This nifty bit of venality was the source of his other droll monicker, "Tax Sin".
That was when even the sweet-natured Thais began to heckle him in public and pelt him with food, forming themselves into the PAD and taking to the streets in a singing, chanting carpet of bright yellow. It's been downhill for him ever since. His goose has been cooked for a long time now on all fronts as bodies continue to surface, and his
arrogant trip to New York to address the UN on behalf of a people he no longer represents, not even legally, let alone morally, is a measure of what little of a damn he gives for Thai opinion or any semblance ofethical decency.
And ironically, poetically, that was all the opportunity the boys in uniform needed. They surrounded the Royal Palace with tanks, theirguns pointed symbolically outwards in protection, not threat, a flash of semiotic genius lost on nobody, thus pledging their loyalty to the constitutional monarch, revered champion of the democracy they have
sworn to restore a.s.a.p., in a matter of a couple of weeks, they say. We'll see.
They also surrounded the main TV stations and cut broadcasts in the middle of that first night, only to restore them pronto the next day. Papers all continued to publish. Every edition on the first morning after that carried the headline "Coup D'Etat" or something similar, was sold out by mid-morning, everyone relishing a souvenir. I have my own copy.
There are military vehicles puttering around town. There are bored platoons strolling around casually, here and there, usually out of step. Cute young soldiers walk around the Erewan shrine (left) next door to my office building, where the statue of Brahma is covered in marigolds and the soldiers' assault rifles are all wrapped in yellow ribbons.
Stationed around the city are the tanks, but with no belligerence atall, their guns hung with fetching yellow streamers and the young soldiers posing, all smiles, with anyone who wants to take a snap on their mobile phone, in other words, with everyone and his wife and kids. (Photo right, Youngsters play in front of a tank on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in Bangkok yesterday.)
One tries not to be blasé. One paints a picture of toy soldiers and a national love-in of reconciliation, perhaps, but that's the mood here. It's a bit Woodstock right now, to be perfectly honest.
Bomber jet planes
Riding shotgun in the skies
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation
Sorry, Joni Mitchell. Couldn't resist the quote. Nobody wants a coup, of course, if only because it makes this well educated, aggressively modern and fairly functional country sound like some sort of Asian banana republic. But in a way, it's provided the perfect outcome. Thaksin, his extensive cohort and the impenetrable undergrowth of venality he sowed and nurtured, is suddenly gone. Just like that. In retrospect, it was exactly the right move for this particular budding democracy, weird as that sounds and strange as it felt to type thosewords. As the Bangkok Post titled this morning's leader "A Step back To Take A Step Forward." Let's hope so. But the coup leaders today broadcast a ban (which they claim is temporary) on all activity by political parties. Nobody appears to know just what that means, including the head of the largest opposition formation.
And one must remember that this marginally rose-tinted report is being written in Bangkok, epicenter of Thaksin hatred. There are few here who mourn his ejection, despite its martial flavor. Outside of Bangkok and the South, where he is roundly pilloried, the Shinola could very well hit the fan at any moment if his peeved loyalists organize, and they are still legion (including elements of the army.). The vast and heavily populated region of Isaan which borders Laos and Cambodia and is the voting equivalent of America's rural blue states, could erupt at any moment. Blood always
runs hot in Isaan. They are the ones who have something to lose by thedisgrace and banishment of old Moneybags. They were the beneficiaries of his largesse. It was in dirt-poor Isaan that he would stump around the villages handing out wads of cash to buy votes, quite openly and in insolent disregard of everything democratic. Unfortunately it was not his money that he was throwing around for his own benefit at the time. It was Thailand's. -- by Alan Platt in Bangkok
September 20, 2006
GHANA: MEDIA LEADS ANTI-GAY WITCH-HUNT
I wrote the following article for Gay City News, New York City's largest gay weekly, in whose new edition it will appear tomorrow:
Gays and lesbians in Ghana, where homosexuality is a crime, have been the target of a month-long campaign of homophobia in the media that continues—an attack abetted by homophobic declarations from the Ghanaian government. The climate of hate and fear is so great that the leader of Ghana’s only LGBT group has been forced to flee the country in fear of his life, after receiving a constant stream of threats of violence and death.
The anti-gay campaign began when Ghanaian media began reporting in late August that an "international conference" of gays and lesbians would be held in Ghana, creating a firestorm of protest from newspapers, radio talk show hosts, and religious leaders.
On September 1, the government announced a ban on any such conference, and said criminal sanctions would be imposed on anyone involved in organizing it. Information Minister Kwamena Bartels said that because homosexuality was illegal in Ghana the gathering was not permitted.
"Government does not condone any such activity which violently offends the culture, morality, and heritage of the entire people of Ghana," he said.
"Government would like to make it absolutely clear that it shall not permit the proposed conference anywhere in Ghana. Unnatural carnal knowledge is illegal under our criminal code. Homosexuality, lesbianism, and bestiality are therefore offences under the laws of Ghana," the information minister added, calling on the interior minister to investigate and punish anyone involved in organizing or permitting the conference. (Right, a Ghanaian newspaper headline reading, "Four homosexuals jailed 2 years each")
But the "conference" which had unleashed weeks of homophobic media comment and religious calls-to-arms turned out to be a hoax. The Gay and Lesbian Association Ghana (GALAG) issued a statement saying it "has never discussed, nor have we ever organised, an international Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) conference in Ghana… We have no hand in—nor the faintest clue about—any such conference to be organised by any group anywhere; neither do we know of—nor have we heard of—any such event. All we know is what is being peddled irresponsibly in the media, apparently oblivious to the journalistic ethical code which calls for confirming such a potentially controversial event with at least two or three reliable sources before putting it on air or in print media as truth."
The gathering was allegedly going to take place at Accra’s International Conference Centre, but the BBC’s correspondent in Accra reported, "Managers of the International Conference Centre have denied that such a conference was due to take place at the premises."
Prince Kweku MacDonald, the executive president of GALAG and an HIV-prevention educator, told me, "The truth of the matter is that our gay and lesbian association has not even thought of any conference in the coming months. We do not even have the money or the resources it takes to organize such a big conference as reported by the local media here in Ghana. The problem here is that, they are afraid there might be something of that magnitude coming on in future, and wanted to threaten or caution the LGBT community here in Ghana not to come out at all in future because the people of Ghana hate the association of gays and lesbians."
MacDonald told of the climate of fear created by the government’s declarations.
"For them to come out to condemn the false conference and go on to condemn the practice of homosexuality in Ghana made it very difficult for gay people to meet these days," he reported. "The LGBT community in Ghana does not really feel safe to hold meetings and organize parties."
MacDonald spoke to me from a neighboring African country, which I was asked not to name in order to protect his security.
"I left Ghana because I was receiving threatening phone calls and physical threats where I am living and from the religious group in Ghana, " MacDonald said. "Would you believe I woke up one day only to find on our office vehicle an inscription that read, 'burn it up?' People would walk behind my house and shout, ‘We will stop you; the conference will happen only over our dead bodies,’ or holler, "Now we know you are behind all this and will put you where you deserve to be in this society.’ I felt it would be safest for me to leave Ghana before they do something to me."
On September 5, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) issued a statement condemning the homophobic media campaign and the government’s ban on the non-existent "conference," which it called "a red herring, introduced by an unknown source to galvanize resentment against Ghana’s increasingly visible gay and lesbian community."
"Newspapers and radio call-in shows in the West African country have been obsessed with the topic of homosexuality and the sentiment has been strongly negative and in many cases violent. A number of LGBT leaders have received death threats and many are in fear of their lives," IGLHRC said, adding, "The focus on the international nature of the conference, which according to the government ‘would have brought gays and lesbians from all over the world to Ghana,’ seems designed to play into nationalist sentiments and reinforce notions of the ‘unAfricanness’ of same-sex desire and behavior." (Left, Ghanaian flag)
The anti-gay hate campaign has continued in the time since IGLHRC’s statement. A week after the BBC exposed the "conference" as a hoax, the Accra Daily Mail reported on September 7 that major religious leaders had called a large public demonstration against "gay and lesbian activities in Ghana," with Vice President Alhaji Airu Mahama having agreed to help lead it.
In calling the demonstration, the head of the Presbyterian Church in Ghana, Right Reverend Yaw Frempong Manso, denounced homosexuality as "detestable behavior… unnatural, abnormal, unBiblical and filthy;" while Reverend Dr. Lawrence Tetteh, head of the Protestant fundamentalist Worldwide Miracle Outreach sect, called gays and lesbians "sinful and shameful" and warned Ghanaians that "freedom for us in Ghana should not be a license to hell."
The demonstration was also supported by Ghana’s national chief imam, Sheik Nuru Sharabutu, and by the Ga Mantse, or paramount chief of the Ga people, the large tribe after whom the country is named. Ghana’s population is about 63 percent Christian and16 percent Muslim, while 21% believe in indigenous religions.
A column on homosexuality in the September 14 Accra Daily Mail cited the laws against homosexuality and declared, "The practice does not have any space within the Ghanaian cultural context." The Mail’s columnist went on to say, "Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of association and assembly, one should not be myopic to think and believe that such a right is absolute," adding, "Congregation in furtherance or perpetuation of an illegality [like homosexuality] is criminal."
On September 11, the daily Ghanaian Chronicle in Accra prominently featured a major statement by the national president of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), Augustine Sarkwah, who declared that " the news about a planned international gay conference that would be held in the country has equally affected the moral fabric of some of the youth since some of them would like to understand the evil practice and possibly indulge in it, which would have negative effect on their growth and development."
On September 14, the same newspaper editorialized, "Our society in Ghana is gradually mushrooming a gay and lesbian caucus, which would in the future raise serious and ethical questions.," adding that the government‘s decision that "Ghanaians would not allow their soil to be used for this conference" has "received a chorus of approval from all Ghanaians…"
There are many, many more examples of the Ghanaian media fanning the flames of anti-gay sentiment in these last weeks.
In the face of this ongoing hate campaign, GALAG’s MacDonald appealed to Western gays and lesbian activists "to support the LGBT community in Africa." He told me, "The struggle is not perfect if the rich is not taking care of the poor and the strong not taking care of the weak. We should remember we need each other to survive and win the struggle against homophobia in the world. Africans need information and documentation of the problems that we are facing here. We need the support from Western governments to tell our governments that the LGBT community taxes contribute to the loans they get in Africa from time to time and needs to be respected if the government really wants to continue receiving funding for their development. Woe unto Ghana if it decides to rule its people based on a religious book and not on a natural course."
MacDonald, who is 29, hopes to return to Ghana when the climate permits, and said, "I promise Ghanaians that we will remain strong and do more in terms of support for the LGBTI community with the needed information to live their lives as normal Ghanaians."
RELATED READING: Officially approved homophobia is impeding Ghana's fight to prevent the spread of AIDS. The Toronto Star had a superb report on this problem last month. For example, the Star notes that, "Based on media reports, as well as posters and billboards sponsored by the Ghana AIDS commission and UNAIDS, gay Ghanaian men and women got the impression that AIDS was confined mostly to prostitutes and cheating husbands and wives." To read this report on how AIDS prevention among gays has been forced underground in Ghana, click here.
September 16, 2006
INDIA'S BAN ON GAYS GETS POWERFUL CHALLENGE
"About 150 of India's most influential figures - from the novelist Vikram Seth (left) to the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen (right) have joined their voices in a protest letter demanding the repeal of 'cruel and discriminatory legislation banning gay sex,'" reports today's International Herald Tribune. There is also an account in the New York Times.
"The letter brings together senior names from India's traditionally conservative elite - business, civil service and judiciary - alongside the more expected representatives of human rights groups," the Trib notes.
"Some of India's most distinguished people have come together to say that this is a fundamental human rights issue which must be addressed," said Siddharth Dube, a writer and senior official of the UN AIDS program, or Unaids, according to the Trib. "The letter, whose signers include Soli Sorabjee (left), a former attorney general, and Nitin Desai (right), a former UN under secretary general, stresses that the law has been "used by homophobic officials to suppress the work of legitimate HIV- prevention groups, leaving gay and bisexual men in India even more defenseless against HIV infection." In May, UNAIDS, the joint UN programme on HIV/Aids, said there were an estimated 5.7 million Indians living with the disease at the end of 2005, more than any other country and ahead of South Africa's 5.5 million cases.
The letter's demand for repeal of the 145-year-old Section 337 of the Indian Penal Code -- a legacy of British colonial law, which equates homosexuality with bestiality and pedophilia and criminalizes it with severe prison penalties -- also notes that rhe law has been used to "systematically persecute, blackmail, arrest and terrorize sexual minorities." To read the Trib's entire report from India, click here. The Hindustan Times reported yesterday on the letter under the headline, "Time Ripe for Gay Rights", and noted that some Bollywood actors, singers, and journalists were also numbered among the signatories.
The Times of India reports online today, in discussing the letter, that a lawsuit on the issue is pending before the Delhi High Court in which the petitioner, the Naz Foundation, has challenged the constitutionality of Section 337." The Naz Foundation is a large AIDS service and advocacy organization that embraces the fight for gay rights as part of its mission.. According to a report from India last May from the San Francisco Chronicle's Foreign Service that gives the background to the lawsuit, "Naz says its efforts to encourage safe-sex practices in the gay community are often hindered by police officers and petty extortionists who use Section 377 to harass and blackmail both activists and the people they are trying to educate."
One of the major groups behind the letter described above is Voices Against 337, a coaliton of 15 Delhi-based gay, women's rights, children's rights, human rights, and progressive organizations, including the Indian branch of Amnesty. In 2004, Voices Against 337 issued a report entitled, ""Rights for All: Ending Discrimination against Queer Desire under Section 377," a compendium of human rights violations, and details on the problems the law poses for medicine, science, mental health care, and all affected social groups. Copies of this report are available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
DIRELAND reported last December on the Indian gay movement's efforts to repeal the law and on Ashok Row Kavi (left), India's most famous gay activist and chair of the Humsafar Trust, a leading Indian gay rights and AIDS organization (logo right). Now Kavi and his comrades in the mushrooming skein of Indian gay and AIDS organizations have been joined by an important brochette of mainstream Indians with the release of Saturday's open letter.
But, in a September 16 interview with Gay Today, openly gay former University of Delhi History Professor Saleem Kidwai (left), an Indian Muslim -- co-editor (with Ruth Vania) of "Same-Sex Love in India: Readings from Literatature and History" (published in the U.S. in 2000 by St. Martin's Press) -- says that, "The over-all change in any case, is going to be slow. Rural and small town India will stay unchanged for longer. Even among educated urbanites, the discourse [of gay acceptance] is going to reach a very small section."
Adds Kidwai, "My informed-gut feeling tells me that changes are around the corner. They will come through judicial action rather that legislative action which is for the best for the moment. There is no place for public debate in the current din and any legislative change would bring out the fundamentalists and give them a platform. And sex as a soap box has been proved very effective. Can you imagine all the guilty, sexually repressed crowds that would collect around them?...I am apprehensive of a backlash. The timing will be decided by the Right which has increasingly begun to set the political agenda in India...." To read the entire interview with Saleem Kidwai, click here.
However, younger activists around the Naz Foundation and Voices Against 337 are reported to have a more optimistic view and more openness to increased militancy.
Letter from Rome: ORIANA FALLACI--THE ENJOYMENT OF HATE
The following was written for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris, a veteran expat journalist and a former Italy staffer for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine:
ROME - Italy's feisty queen of journalism, Oriana Fallaci, died of cancer in her native Florence at age 77 on Friday morning, September 15. Corriere della Sera's obituary, which runs Sunday morning, is not unusual in its oozing ecstatic phrases about her, with not a sobering doubt expressed. Seen from here, this is somewhat curious, for she was hardly without serious flaws. For example, a 2003 article in the center-left newspaper La Repubblica called her “ignorantissima,” an “exhibitionist posing as the Joan of Arc of the West.”
The author of thirteen widely translated books, in recent years she lived in Manhattan. "Florence and New York are my two countries," she said. But the world was almost too small for this aggressive interviewer. She was pretty and with enough potent sex appeal when younger (left) to make her subjects--they included Henry Kissinger, U.S. astronauts, the Ayatollah Khomeini--relish the combat.
Born in Florence June 29, 1929, when she was ten years old her father, who liked to hunt, taught her to handle a gun. He was also an active anti-Fascist, later captured and tortured by Fascists, and encouraged his adolescent daughter to join the partisans' struggle in Tuscany against Nazi-Fascism during World War II. For this she received the gold medal of the Italian president in 2005. She something spoke in aphorisms, such as "Freedom is a duty before it is a right," and "Courage is made of fear." She occasionally deployed investigative talents -- for example, after the 1975 murder of Pier Paolo Pasolini (right), she wrote an influential and widely-reprinted exposé (it appeared in the U..S. in The New Republic) of the killing as a political assassination committed by multiple persons, and showed how the supposed teenage "murderer" (who got a light sentence because he was underage) had complex family ties to a violent fascist group (last year, the "murderer" of Pasolini recanted his 30-year-old "confession" and said the assassination was, in reality, the work of a band of three other men.)
Fallaci also had a vivid imagination, which went beyond journalism to produce works like Oriana interviewing Oriana and a long letter to an unborn child. In 1979 she also wrote a novelistic tale, "A Man," of mega-devotion to her beloved Alexandros ("Alekos") Panagoulis (left).
The two met when she interviewed him as leader of the Greek resistance to the colonels. Panagoulis was already well known in European Socialist circles for his attempt to assassinate Greek dictator George Papadopoulos (right) in 1968. As Panagoulis told Fallaci in her interview (reprinted in 1976 as Interview with History), "I am not capable of killing a man--I wanted to kill a tyrant." Amazon.com states, "from that interview was born a great love and an immense tragedy."
True only to a point, for it was neither a particularly great love, nor was the tragedy hers, except in the telling. Like many lovers, they did not always get on. One day in Oriana's apartment in Rome Panagulis was taking a shower when Oriana rushed in, with new clothing she had just purchased for him. She took the items into the bathroom to show him. Furious--he did not like the hint of being kept by her--he literally pelted her with the expensive new underwear. Fact was, back home in Greece Panagulis had a fiancée whom he was expecting to marry when he was killed in a suspicious auto accident in Greece. When he died, she wrote "A Man," and he was hers forever.
In recent years, Fallaci moved sharply to the right, and became an obsessive, xenophobic racist, producing three short, incendiary post-9/11 books -- two of them, “The Rage and the Pride” and “The Force of Reason,” which she translated into idiosyncratic English by herself (in the past she'd had extremely mercurial relations with her translators) and a third, "The Apocalypse,” published in Europe, that also included a lengthy self-interview. The books have been best-sellers in Italy; and together sold four million copies (a reflection of the rise in fear and hatred of dark-skinned immigrants on the peninsula.) Her books were so rabidly racist that even Christopher Hitchens (who constantly harps on the dangers of "Islamofascism") wrote (in The Atlantic) that The Rage and the Pride was "a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam."
Part of her fantasy world was her vulgarly describing, post 9/11, the Islamic world as composed of men putting their butts into the air five times a day, and rabbity women tossing off babies endlessly ("Muslims breed like rats.". "I don't want to see a minaret every few yards in Giotto's Pisa.") Fallaci (right) also had little use for Mexican immigrants: "If you put a pistol against my head and ask which I think is worse, Muslims or Mexicans, I'd have to think a moment, then I'd say the Muslims because they've broken my balls." She snarled that the presence of Islamic butcher shops in Cavour has transformed the "exquisite city" into a "filthy kasbah." Her paranoid world-view led her to ask whether all Islamic immigrants to the West had their transport paid by "some Osama bin Laden for the mere purpose of establishing the Reverse Crusade's settlements and better organizing Islamic terrorism."
Not long ago, Fallaci had a private audience with Pope Benedict XVI -- and, considering Ratzinger's comments on Islam last week that created such world-wide furor, they obviously had much in common to talk about. Fallaci's conservatism also included opposition to abortion -- unless she “were raped and made pregnant by a bin Laden or a Zarqawi.”
A notorious homophobe who excoriated gay people as "devoured ... by the wrath of being half and half," she also opposed gay marriage by saying, "they'd like everybody to be like them." Sometimes she combined her homophobia and her Islamophobia (“In the same way that the Muslims would like us all to become Muslims, they [the 'gay lobby'] would like us all to become homosexuals”). In an interview with Robert Scheer for Playboy, she carried on about her distaste for gays: “I’m not crazy about them, the homosexuals. You see them here in New York, for instance, moving like this [makes a mincing gesture], exhibiting their homosexuality. It disturbs me. It’s… I don’t know… I just can’t stand them.” She then likens them to “the Mafia or the Communist Party.”
Fallaci was paranoid about Jews -- for example, she said, “I am angry at the Jews for many things… If you want to take the example of America, how they hold the power, the economical power in so many ways, and the press and the other kind of stuff… I never realized how it happened and they came to control the media to that point. Why?” That rant of Fallaci's reeks of classic anti-Semitism. Fallaci's racist disdain for anything in the Third World in her later years led her to characterize the United Nations as "a Mafia of cheaters and the underdevleoped."
Shortly after La Fallaci's outburst against the Muslim world following 9/11 (in a long newspaper essay for Corriere della Sera that would later be expanded into The Rage and the Pride), the late, remarkable Italian author/philosopher Tiziano Terzani (right) wrote her an open letter of reproach which included these words:
"And you, Oriana, putting yourself at the head of this crusade against all that are not like you or whom you don't like, do you believe you can offer us some salvation Salvation does not come from your hot rage, nor from you calculated military campaign, which, to make it more acceptable, you call 'enduring freedom.'..."To defend ourselves, Oriana, there is no need to offend (I'm thinking of your spitting and kicking). To protect ourselves there is no need to kill, even though in this there can be just exceptions."
She relished violence in her own language. And yet, as a former RAI TV network chief, Lucia Annunziata (left), said this morning, Oriana did not like being considered a rightist spokesperson, racist or xenophobic, which of course she was. Many Italians loved her, as per this paragraph posted on line today in Italy by a 20-year-old Florentine woman (see:http://OthankyouorianaO.giovani.it )
"This is placed on the web in memory of a Great Writer. This time I beg you only to respect our pain, and those of millions of readers who loved this woman. At least today do not wound us with bad, polemical and defamatory messages."
Sorry, but the Great Writer was also a Great Ego, whose enjoyment of hating everybody, or almost everybody, who was not her was immense.
-- by Judy Harris (left) in Rome
Read Judy Harris's previous LETTERS From ROME for DIRELAND: October 1, 2005, "Italy--The Church Re-Enters Politics." July 22, 2005-- Judges On Strike Against Berlusconi; June 13, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum a Fiasco; June 11, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum: It's Really About Abortion; March 6, 2006 -- Will Berlusconi Lose?; March 9, 2006: Italian Elections: What a Difference a Week Makes; March 12, 2006 -- Italy's Bizarre Election Campaign: Silvio's Spies and Cartoon Fairy Tale Videos; March 14, 2006 -- The Berlusconi-Prodi TV Debate; March 15, 2006-- After the Debate; April 11 -- Latest Election Returns Show Fragile and Uncertain Center-Left Majority; April 12, 2006 -- 4 Gays, 1 Bisexual in Parliament, & First Cracks in Prodi's Coalition. September 2, 2006: "Berlusconi: The Party's Over (plus, The Pope's New Theological Offensive & Italy's Summer of Anti-Gay Violence.)"
September 13, 2006
UGANDA'S ANTI-GAY WITCH HUNT ESCALATES
I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York City's largest gay weekly newspaper -- in whose new edition it appears tomorrow:
Police have begun a new crackdown in the ongoing anti-gay witch hunt in Uganda, which was kicked off in August with the public outing of 45 alleged homosexuals by a daily newspaper belonging to a government minister.
The police in Jinja, Uganda’s second largest city, have “launched an operation to repress the gays, who were on the verge of winning the heterosexual generation of the district,” announced the September 7 issue of the popular sex-and-scandal tabloid daily newspaper Red Pepper under the screaming headline, "JINJA COPS HUNT FOR GAYS.” (at right)
The newspaper called on the public to cooperate in tracking down “sodomites” to prevent them from “polluting” the general population, published the photo of a young gay man who was said to have intimate links to a man already imprisoned in for homosexuality -- which is punishable with life imprisonment in Uganda -- and urged its readers to help track down the young man.
The next day, September 8, under the headline “KAMPALA’S NOTORIOUS LESBIANS UNEARTHED,” (at left), Red Pepper published the names of 13 alleged lesbians, including two boutique owners, a basketball player, and the daughters of a former member of parliament and of a prominent sheikh. “To rid our motherland of the deadly vice [of lesbianism], we are committed to exposing all the lesbos in the city” of Kampala, the nation’s capital, the newspaper proclaimed, while telling its readers to “Send more names” with “the name and occupation of the lesbin [sic] in your neighborhood and we shall shame her,” and giving readers a special telephone number to call with tips on alleged same-sexers.
The latest anti-gay witch-hunt in Uganda was launched on August 8, when Red Pepper, under the banner headline “GAY SHOCK!” published the names of 45 allegedly gay and bi-sexual men. Those outed by the newspaper included lawyers, army officers, university lecturers, entertainers, bankers, students, and priests. Red Paper listed the profession, the city of origin, and in some cases information on the friends and/or partners of those accused of being gay, most of whom were from Kampala and its suburbs. It also listed venues popular with gays and lesbians.
There have been reports of arrests of some of those outed which I was unable to independently confirm. The French gay magazine Tetu quoted a gay Ugandan exile living in France as saying that many of the others "have fled the country if they had the means to do so -- principally to Europe, since the only African country in which they would not be persecuted is South Africa."
Ugandan gay activists regard the outings by the newspaper as an open invitation to gay-bashers to violently attack lesbians and gay men.
According to the militant British gay rights group OutRage!, which has been working closely with Ugandan gay groups, the Red Pepper newspaper spearheading the homophobic outing campaign is owned by Salim Saleh (right), the half-brother of the notoriously homophobic President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Saleh is now Minister of State for Microfinance in the Ugandan government.
When it kicked off its outing campaign on August 8, Red Pepper proclaimed its homophobic editorial policy: "To a majority of us, straight thinking citizens, it (homosexuality) is an abominable sin, actually a mortal sin that goes against the nature of humanity,” the newspaper said.
"We are talking about men in this nation who are walking closely in the footsteps of Sir Elton Hercules John and the like by having engines that operate from the rear like the vintage Volkswagon cars.To show the nation how shocked we are and how fast the terrible vice known as sodomy is eating up our society, we have decided to unleash an exclusive list of men who enjoy taking on fellow men from the rear,” snarled Red Pepper when it outed the first batch of 45 gay men.
A spokesperson for the Makerere University Student's Lesbian Association (MUSLA) in Uganda told OutRage! that homosexuals have been subjected to torture in police custody. “Some of our friends in the past have been arrested and put in torture houses without us knowing their whereabouts. Others have been forced to flee the country. Others have been framed,” said the MUSLA activist.
According to this gay activist, "The police called some of the boys in the list [published by Red Pepper]. Our efforts to help out our friends who have been arrested were fruitless, since the police, under the influence of many different politicians, wanted the guys to be jailed. The gays were not allowed access to proper justice. Some of them were put in cells for more than 48 hours…yet none of them have had the opportunity to be in court. Those who have been released on bail, we don't know their whereabouts.”
The gay rights movement Sexual Minorities in Uganda (SMUG) -- a coalition of three LGBT organizations, Freedom and Roam Uganda, Spectrum Uganda and Integrity Uganda -- says on its website that, under the regime of President Museveni (right), “we have got more and more miserable as LGBT people in Uganda…The hate campaigns engaged in by political leaders have also devastated lives. Many constantly live in fear of arrest or rape.” SMUG added that officially sanctioned homophobia “has also led to increased deaths among the LGBT people from suicide.”
Last July, police raided the home of SMUG’s chairperson, lesbian activist Juliet Victor Mukasa (left), seizing documents and arresting another lesbian activist. Mukasa said those named in the new outing campaign are "living under unbelieveable fear of being arrested, ostracized by their families, or sacked from their jobs."
Another Ugandan lesbian activist told OutRage! that Red Pepper's outing of the lesbians means that "some women are definitely going to lose what they have -- jobs, homes, families, and friends."
Human Rights Watch last week denounced the new outing campaign. “For years, President Yoweri Museveni’s government routinely threatens and vilifies lesbians and gays, and subjects sexual-rights activists to harassment,” said Jessica Stern, researcher in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program of Human Rights Watch (HRW). “At a moment when sensational publicity has spread fear among a whole community, the authorities must exercise their responsibility to protect, not persecute.”
HRW noted that, “State-owned media have repeatedly called for stronger measures against homosexual conduct. On July 6, 2005, a writer in the government-owned New Vision newspaper urged authorities to crack down on homosexuality, saying, ‘The police should visit the holes mentioned in the press, spy on the perverts, arrest and prosecute them. Relevant government departments must outlaw or restrict websites, magazines, newspapers and television channels promoting immorality – including homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, etc.’”
In October 2004, the country’s information minister, James Nsaba Buturo, ordered police to investigate and “take appropriate action against” a gay association organized at Makerere University.
In March 2002, while accepting an award for his country's HIV/AIDS prevention programs, President Museveni said simply, “We don't have homosexuals in Uganda.” HRW noted in a report last year on the country’s HIV prevention efforts that Uganda’s AIDS programs “intrinsically discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. With a legal ban in place against gay or lesbian relationships, the programs promote only permanent abstinence and are uniformly silent about safer sexual practices.”
Moreover, on August 16, the Toronto daily Globe and Mail reported on the case of a 22- year-old Ugandan, Emmanuel Ndyanabo, who was "chased out of his native country this month for wanting to attend the International AIDS Conference in Toronto." The Canadian daily said that "Ndyanabo has applied for refugee status in Canada for fear of being persecuted if he returns to Uganda."
"Ndyanabo is gay, and being a homosexual in Uganda is a crime that comes with a life term in prison. He has already been arrested for running a counseling service for HIV-positive kuchus (homosexuals) in Kampala and his family blamed him for his father's death last year. 'Somehow, because I am gay, that killed my father, they say.' So when he was granted a bursary this month to attend the Toronto conference, he saw it as a long-awaited sign of hope to meet and speak with others like himself. But at the airport, a customs official told him they were on the lookout for people wanting to attend this summit.”
"'He [still] stamped my passport, looked at me and said, 'I wish you luck. But do not come back if they [security] let you through,' " Ndyanabo told the Globe and Mail.
September 11, 2006
KHATAMI AT HARVARD: STUDENTS DEMONSTRATE AS EX-IRAN PRES JUSTIFIES GAY EXECUTIONS
As Harvard students demonstrated against him, Mohammad Khatami (right), Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, spoke through a translator at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on September 10, 2006. His remarks on homosexuality in response to a question, which follow, were transcribed by journalist Duncan Osborne from C-SPAN's videotape of Khatami's presentation. The ellipses are where Khatami paused for translation.
Khatami on execution of gays in Iran:
“We’re at a university, the cradle of science, so we can speak of it scientifically...In all schools of thought and in all religions there is punishment and punishment is not a form of violence...Punishment is seen as a response to violence or deviance in society and if there is no punishment in a society a society cannot run effectively...In regards to the fact that is capital punishment a fair reaction to crime this is an issue that has been debated extensively in legal circles and even some states in the United States still maintain capital punishment and even some other countries in the world so the issue of capital punishment is still being largely debated...As an expert of Islamic sciences I tell you that capital punishment is accepted in Islam, but it has conditions that are so stringent that executions should almost never happen. If in fact they are happening in Islamic countries it is because, if it happens excessively in Islamic countries it is a problem of bringing those religious rulings into practice...In regards to the issue of gay people as well as the issue of adultery, the conditions that are required for capital punishment are so
strict that it is virtually impossible to meet...Of course this is my opinion and a lot of people don’t accept my opinion, but I was asked for my opinion so this is what I believe...In many Islamic countries homosexual relationships as well as non-consensual heterosexual relationships have been punishable...There are also others, there are others in the world that have similar views namely important sects of Christianity...So yes you are correct homosexual activity is a crime in Islam...And crimes are punishable...The fact that could crimes be punished by execution is debatable...And that we must differentiate between punishment and violence."
Khatami's answer, of course, begs the question of the many homosexual Iranians who have been framed for, or forced under torture to confess to, other crimes, like rape -- and then executed for them. And the Iranian gay group Homan has reported over 4,000 executions of homosexuals in Iran since Ayatollah Khomeini made homosexuality a capital crime upon taking power in 1979. So to say, as Khatami did, that, in Iran, executions of gays "almost never happen" is, not to make a pun, a bit of a stretch....Or, to be more precise, a clever bit of sophistry.
Khatami's Harvard appearance was marked by student-organized demonstrations (left) -- you can find a full multi-media report on those demos, with video recordings, and documentation on Khatami's record on human rights when he was Iran's president, on the website of the students' coalition which organized the Iran Freedom Concert, held this Spring, by clicking here
Khatami's reputation as a "reformer" is, of course, relative -- as can be seen when recalling one of his declarations when president on the rights of women: "One of the major mistakes in the West has been women's emancipation which has disintegrated the family... Staying in the home does not mean being pushed to the sidelines." -Mohammed Khatami, Salaam, May 11, 1997
September 08, 2006
DUBLIN: OUT, PROUD, AND YOUNG
I wrote the following article for the new issue of Gay City News -- New York City's largest gay weekly -- in which it appears today:
Ireland’s gay magazine, GCN, short for Gay Community News, last week celebrated publication of its 200th issue—with a new edition of the magazine entirely edited and written by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered teenagers (right, cover of the Irish mag's special teen issue)
These teens proclaimed they “want to use this month’s issue of GCN to claim a piece of rightful territory—our existence in schools all over the country,” in the words of 18-year-old Kevin Gaffney, who served as chief editor on the project.
It is something of a milestone marking the explosion of Ireland’s out-of-the-closet gay community to have a group of out teens with enough self-confidence and maturity in their identities to take charge of an entire issue of an established publication.
Homosexuality was still illegal in Ireland when GCN, which today has a circulation of some 11,500 and an estimated readership of triple that figure, first began publishing in 1988. For those of us who grew up with the legendary sexual repression of Ireland’s traditional, extraordinarily austere and strict Catholic culture—the stuff of countless plays and novels—imprinted, as it were, on our inherited cultural DNA, and even transmitted across the Atlantic, the gay teen issue of the magazine is a stunning sign of progress.
“When it was first published, GCN was an underground freesheet that was delivered to gay bars in anonymous brown packaging for fear those bars would be identified as queer,” said the magazine’s regular editor-in-chief, Brian Finnegan. “One of our contributors to this issue is 15 and out as gay in his school. This issue is something that would have been unheard of when I was a teenager.”
Openly gay Irish Senator David Norris called the all-teen issue of the gay magazine “tremendously important and historic.” Speaking to Gay City News by telephone from Cyprus, where he was on vacation, Norris said, “It’s particularly relevant in view of the recent debate on lowering the age of consent in Ireland,” which is now set at 17.
Norris emphasized that coming out can still be a risky business in Ireland.
“There is a terrifying epidemic of anti-gay bullying in the schools, and nothing is being done” by the government, he said. “Ninety percent of all school bullying incidents have some foundation around homophobia, and 90 percent of those incidents go unpunished or acted upon by school authorities.”
Norris explained that “teachers are frightened to do anything about the anti-gay bullying and harassment because schools are controlled by the Catholic Church—which sought exemptions from Ireland’s equality legislation so they could be free to fire people on the basis of lifestyles. And homophobia in schools is behind the extraordinary rate of teen suicides” in Ireland.
The gay teen’s issue of GCN was produced by members of the Dublin-based gay youth group BeLonG To (logo left), which was launched in 2003 through the concerted efforts of a raft of Irish groups, including OUTHouse (the Dublin LGBT cultural center), OutYouth, Gay Men’s Health Project, HIV Strategies, Gay Switchboard Dublin, Parents’ Support, Union of Students of Ireland, and the National Lesbian and Gay Federation. The City of Dublin Youth Services Board also provided support.
A poll of BeLonG To’s members taken for the magazine underscored Norris’s comments—67 percent of the gay youth polled said that schools did nothing about homophobic bullying; 93 percent said schools failed to educate pupils “fairly and clearly” about homosexuality; 69 percent said they would not feel safe holding hands in the street with their partner; 69 percent said they’d been subjected to verbal harassment; 48 percent said that harassment took place in school; and 10 percent said they’d been subjected to physical violence.
A collective manifesto written by the gay teens for the magazine notes that, “In a report carried out by the Department of Education in Northern Ireland it was found that 86 percent of young people were aware of their sexual orientation while at school, with boys realizing they were gay at 12 and girls at 13.”
And, said the kids’ manifesto, despite the continuing problems, “By and large things have changed enormously for young gay people. At BeLonG To, the Dublin LGBT youth group, we get teenagers as young as 13 coming through the door and the numbers have increased so greatly, we have divided into two groups, one catering to the under-16s, with another for 17-24 year-olds. Many of the teenagers in BeLonG To feel a sense of self-empowerment that older people, even people in their late 20s comment on and are encouraged by.”
Gay youth are not coming out only in Dublin—the magazine interviewed teenage members of groups in other parts of the country, like Young Outcomers in Dundalk, SPHERE in Wexford, and UNITE and Rainbow Chicks in Cork.
Another sign of the changed atmosphere—the magazine carried a half-page recruiting ad from the Gardai, Ireland’s police force.
This progress would not have been possible without the years of struggle by the Irish gay movement—which made its first media appearance in 1973, when Radio Eireann broadcast the voices of two openly gay people, Hugo McManus and the late Margaret McWilliams, speaking about a meeting to be held by the Sexual Liberation Movement.
Senator Norris (left, speaking in the Irish Senate), whom many Irish gays consider the godfather of the Irish gay rights movement, embodies much of that struggle’s history. In 1974, Norris—then teaching literature at Dublin’s Trinity College (Oscar Wilde’s alma mater)—and a group of friends formed the Irish Gay Rights Movement (IGRM). The group rented a building that housed a disco in the evenings, while in upstairs offices the work of fighting for gay rights went on during the day. After a controversy-stirring appearance on Radio Eireann in 1976, Norris—who had courageously become IGRM’s spokesman, earning him the nickname of the “Trinity queer” as the only out-of-the-closet faculty member—erupted into the general public’s consciousness, and became the public face of Irish homosexuality for the next several decades. (Right, Trinity College, Dublin)
In 1976, the IGRM split into two groups—those who wanted merely to pursue social activities and run their disco, and those who were committed to the fight to make homosexuality legal. That year Norris, leader of the latter group, founded the Campaign for Homosexual Law Reform (CHLR), and enlisted the services of a friend, Trinity contemporary and barrister Mary Robinson, to initiate legal action to overturn criminal penalties for homosexuality. (Robinson -- photo right -- was elected president of Ireland in 1990, serving until 1997, when she became the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.)
With Robinson as its attorney, CHLR succeeded in bringing Norris v. The State before Ireland’s Supreme Court in 1983—but, in a 3-2 decision, the suit was rejected. The decision referred to the “Christian nature of the Irish State” and argued that criminalization of homosexuality served both public health and the institution of marriage.
Norris next took his case to the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Irish law was incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. In 1988, the court, in the case of Norris v. Ireland, ruled that the criminal penalties on homosexuality in the Irish Republic violated Article 8 of the Convention, which guarantees the right to privacy in personal affairs. But it was not until 1993 that Irish law was finally changed and homosexuality became legal.
Norris first ran for Ireland’s Senate, from a Dublin constituency that included Trinity College, in 1977—and received only 200 votes. But a decade later, after three more attempts, in 1987 Norris—by then an internationally recognized James Joyce scholar and a leader of the movement to preserve and restore Dublin’s historic architecture—finally won election. In the Senate, he led the successful parliamentary fight for decriminalization.
At Norris’ initiative, anti-gay discrimination was banned in the Employment Equality Act of 1998 and the Equal Status Act of 2000, which expanded the scope of the protections to include public accommodations, goods, and services. In his two decades in the Senate, Norris has also become noted for his voice on foreign affairs, most recently in his opposition to the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq.
Norris told Gay City News he is now active on the issue of the Iranian government’s escalating crackdown on gay life and expression, joining the recent international day of solidarity to draw attention to that tragic situation. “I’ve been involved with the case of the two hanged Iranian gay teenagers,” he said. “We had a terrific, large rally against this horrible example of state murder that was organized by BeLonG To in Dublin on July 19, at which I spoke, and I met with the Iranian ambassador.” (Left, Michael Barron, exec. dir. of BeLonG To, addressing July 19 Dublin rally in support of gay Iranians.)
Norris, now 62, believes he is on the eve of yet another triumph—passage of some form of civil partnership that will include gay couples. “[Prime Minister] Bertie Ahern’s government (right, photo of Ahern), with its typical dithering and long-fingering, will probably delay any action until after the next election, which will probably be held next spring,” Norris explained. “But within the next year or two, I have no doubt that we will pass a civil partnership bill. Whether it will be exactly my bill as proposed I don’t know—but it will happen.”
September 02, 2006
Letter from Rome: BERLUSCONI--THE PARTY'S OVER (plus, The Pope's New Theological Offensive & Italy's Summer of Anti-Gay Violence)
Here's the latest in a series of Letters from Rome on the politics of Italy from DIRELAND's correspondent in Italy, Judy Harris -- a veteran expat journalist and former Italy staffer for the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine:
ROME -- For women in particular, this has been Italy's summer of violence. First, a Muslim girl was brutally murdered by her father and brother because, as her mother put it, "she was not a good Muslim."
On August 18, some days after a Gay Pride event, an Italian Lesbian woman of 35 identified only as "Paola" was attacked and raped by two men at the Tuscan town of Torre del Lago. Meeting yesterday with journalists at the national gay and lesbian association ArciGay's headquarters in Florence, Paola, who was flanked by the national president of ArciLesbica, Titti de Simone (right), who is also a member of Parliament from Rifondazione Comunista, said she was convinced that the two men had noticed her at a Gay Pride event and planned a punitive assault.
This is not the first incident this summer at Torre del Lago, the romantic lake-front Tuscan town where Puccini lived, and today a gay-friendly vacation spot near the Viareggio beach. Last month a young woman was attacked here but managed to escape, while in a restaurant with a gay clientele a fight broke out between customers and local neo-Fascists, who gave the restaurant chef a beating. Forza Nuova (New Force), the most extremist group in the Alternativa Sociale (Social Alternative) coalition of neo-fascist parties, passed out pamphlets inviting local citizens "to take action to be rid of the gay and lesbian tourist presence."
The incident is being brought before Parliament in a formal protest, signed by three deputies -- Vladimir Luxuria (left, the first transgendered MP anywhere in Europe), Franco Grillini (right, who was also the president of ArciGay for a decade) and De Simone -- against what they see as a dangerous escalation of homophobic violence. The goal is to make homophobic attacks a specific crime, as are crimes of ethnic violence. "The attack is aggravated by the fact that they wanted to harm a homosexual woman. We want a serious investigation. We have already complained that the extreme right is targeting the gay community. In general in Italy hate crimes are not given much importance." ArciLesbica, the national lesbian association, is using its Florence branch's website to track similar attacks.
Last week in Florence two young American women were assaulted in the space of three days. One, age 18, was raped at gunpoint; the second, age 29, escaped.the U.S. Consul there is warning American women to move about Florence by evening only "in a group." Florentine police are making the rounds of foreign university institutes to advise young women to be on the alert.
Let¹s face it, the end of summer was more amusing under Berlusconi (left) than under the grayer shade of Prodi pale. There would always be something to laugh about: Silvio's deep suntan setting off his whitened teeth, the pictures of him on his boat wearing his yachtsman's cap, his smacking an obviously appalled Cheri Blair on the back in Sardinia (right, Berlusconi and the Blairs), the bandanna covering his hair transplant, the face-lift surgery that didn¹t quite work, his TV flack Emilio Fede bursting into tears of joy at a Berlusconi victory...
But the party for Berlusconi (left) is really over, and however bland Prodi may appear, he has chalked up his first one hundred days with a rousing success in foreign policy and movement on the home front on the crucial issue of conflict of interest, an election promise which well-known blogger/comedian Beppe Grillo (right) doubted would ever be kept.
Following his coalition's narrow defeat in national general elections last spring and his loss of the presidency to Giorgio Napolitano, Berlusconi flailed about for a time, complaining that he had been cheated, but this came to nothing. Following this was a summer hiatus during which he saw his trio of allies in the Casa della Libertà (CDL, or House of Liberty) slip away from his control.
The charismatic and demagogic leader of the xenophobic Lega Nord (Northern League), Umberto Bossi (left), faded after a stroke and, although in better health, is momentarily weaker politically. The head of the fragmented "post-fascist" party Alleanza Nazionale, Gianfranco Fini (right), Berlusconi's able former vice premier -- Fini is a former fascist youth leader who built his party on the remains of the Mussolini-nostalgic Italian Social Movement, and who himself was still calling Mussolini a "great statesman" only a decade ago -- has similarly lost clout.
Above all, the activist Catholic Pier Ferdinando Casini (left), member of the Union of Christian and Center Democrats (UDC) party and former president of the Chamber of Deputies, has pulled back from Berlusconi to strike out on his own. Lacking their support, speculation was rife that Berlusconi would withdraw from politics altogether.
That seems unlikely, since he likes the limelight and, as the richest man in Italy, can afford to pay for it, but Berlusconi now faces another sobering reality check. On Sept. 15 the center-left government of Premier Roman Prodi will begin a debate in Parliament on a conflict of interest bill which, if passed, would curb Berlusconi¹s financial clout should he ever be returned to political leadership. The details of the bill are as yet not in the public domain, but Berlusconi's backers are already complaining that he is being persecuted. Without waiting to read it, Berlusconi¹s official spokesman Paolo Bonaiuti has called the proposed bill "an illiberal attempt to keep Berlusconi from leading the opposition at the moment and, more in general, from being in politics." Pro-government politicians immediately issued denials, while Piero Fassino, the lackluster secretary-general of the progressive Democrazia di Sinistra (DS, or Democratic Left) party, said bluntly that Berlusconi "still isn't used to the idea that he lost an election and that he has to find an opposition strategy that's not declamatory."
Secondly, the new Prodi center-left government is reorganizing the Italian national broadcasting company, RAI, and replacing the Berlusconi appointees with individuals considered less tainted. Since Berlusconi is nothing if not a media magnate, the content of the conflict of interest bill will of necessity regard control of the media. While premier for five years he directly or indirectly controlled 90% of Italian TV: the stations which he owned outright occupied 45% of the market, while another 45% was occupied by the government-controlled RAI. He made good use of that power over TV -- studies of news programming show that, of all sound bites, Berlusconi¹s were 40%. A corollary of this was that the opposition was reluctant to purchase advertising space as a waste of time. And at the same Berlusconi removed TV journalists who disagreed with him, including such outstanding as the elderly, authoritative commentator Enzo Biagi (left) and the genial anchorman Michele Santoro (right).
Under these circumstances, media specialists might give some future thought as to just how Berlusconi managed to lose the election. To mix a few metaphors, it is consoling to think that, at least sometimes when Big Brother is talking, people do listen to the beat of a different drummer.
As of this writing twenty Italian soldiers have actually set foot on Lebanese soil, and another 2,500 are on the way, having left Italy last Tuesday in a three-ship convoy. Premier Romano Prodi (right) can take legitimate pride in his foreign policy negotiations. With the skillful help of Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema (left), himself an ex-premier and former head of the Democratic Left party, it was Prodi who helped to bring the French back on board to share peace-keeping responsibilities in Lebanon; the Italians take over the command of UNIFIL, the United Nations forces there, in February. Indeed, Le Monde lauded Italian diplomacy, with a banner headline reading, "Vive l¹Italie, Monsieur!" Berlusconi's sour grapes reaction was that the Italian contingent was unnecessarily large because Italy constitutes only 7% of NATO.forces.
Simultaneously, Prodi relaunched a joint foreign policy initiative for a European Union still smarting from the defeat of its proposed Constitution in referenda in France and the Netherlands, in which voters killed it for, among other things, being too pro-corporate and mandating privatization of public utilities (a quarrel over adding to the text a tribute to the continent's Judeo-Christian heritage didn't help either.)
In a visit to Pope Benedict XVI (below left) last week at the papal summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo, an hour east of Rome, Germany's conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel (right) relaunched that religious debate by insisting that any proposed EuroConstitution should explicitly endorse "Christian values," which is likely to sink whatever feeble chances existed for a new draft Constituion while, at the same time, constituting a slap in the face of the Turkish candidacy for full EU membership (which Merkel has long opposed.)
The pontiff, meanwhile, preparing for his tour of his native Germany next week, is meeting this weekend in an end-of-summer thinkfest at Castel Gandolfo (left) with forty of his former theology students to debate nothing less than Darwinism and the creation, a meeting that presages a major shift in official Vatican doctrine and an embrace of the anti-evolution, "intelligent design" concept of the universe so dear to the U.S. Christian right. The pontiff is already on record as waving this troglodyte banner, so don¹t expect Darwin to come out ahead of the Creationists at the Pope's little gab session. Benedict is on record as saying, in unscripted remarks last November during an audience at the Vatican, that the universe was made as an "intelligent project" -- moreover, in the inaugural sermon of his pontificate, the former Cardinal Ratzinger proclaimed, "We are not the accidental product, without meaning, of evolution." With this weekend's Castel Gandolfo conference, the Church appears about to once again officially reject science's explanation of the origins of the world. Back to the future, one might say... -- JUDY HARRIS (right) in Rome
Read Judy Harris's previous LETTERS From ROME for DIRELAND: October 1, 2005, "Italy--The Church Re-Enters Politics." July 22, 2005-- Judges On Strike Against Berlusconi; June 13, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum a Fiasco; June 11, 2005 -- Italy's Referendum: It's Really About Abortion; March 6, 2006 -- Will Berlusconi Lose?; March 9, 2006: Italian Elections: What a Difference a Week Makes; March 12, 2006 -- Italy's Bizarre Election Campaign: Silvio's Spies and Cartoon Fairy Tale Videos; March 14, 2006 -- The Berlusconi-Prodi TV Debate; March 15, 2006-- After the Debate; April 11 -- Latest Election Returns Show Fragile and Uncertain Center-Left Majority; April 12, 2006 -- 4 Gays, 1 Bisexual in Parliament, & First Cracks in Prodi's Coalition.