October 31, 2006
NEW ANTI-GAY CRACKDOWN IN PERU
I wrote the following article for Gay City News, in whose current issue it appears:
A massive and violent October 13 police raid on a lesbian bar in Lima, Peru, signaled a stepped-up campaign of repression of gays, lesbians, and the transgendered in advance of coming municipal elections in that nation's capital.
Dozens of officers from the National Police and from the Serenazgo-a local auxiliary police paid by the municipality of Lima-arrived in a half-dozen pick-up trucks and numerous police cars, cordoned off Calle Manuel Segura in the Lince district, five minutes from downtown Lima, and engaged in
a muscular raid on "Avenida 13," a bar frequented in large part by young lesbians. Anyone who did not have an identity card was arrested, and when many young lesbians-panicked by the violent police conduct-refused to leave the bar, they were dragged out and beaten.
After the detention en masse of the young women, police proceeded to the second floor of the building, where a gay bar, "68," frequented primarily by men, is located, raiding it as well in the same violent fashion.
The total number of arrests is not known with precision, but three huge police detention vans, each capable of holding 50 people, were parked near the raid site, and at least one of them was seen driving away crammed with prisoners.
Local gay activists attributed this latest police raid to Lima's approaching city elections, in which candidates are "looking for an opportunity create a law and order image for themselves to help their re-election," according to a statement by the LGBT group Raiz Diversidad Sexual (RDS, or Root of Sexual Diversity). The fact that reporters from more than one of Lima's TV stations accompanied the police raid in order to film it lends credence to the thesis of a baldly political motivation for the crackdown. The two bars that were raided are in a district represented by Cesar Gonzalez Arribasplata, a city council member who serves as the neighborhood's mayor and is part of the governing APRA Party of Peruvian President Alan Garcia (right.)
"Whenever City Hall wants to conduct a moral cleansing of the neighborhoods, there are raids on the gay bars and discotheques of Lima," Victor Cortez, a 26-year-old sociologist and RDS activist, told Gay City News from Lima. "But it's since the election in 2002 as mayor of Lima of Luis Castaneda Lossio (left), who belongs to the most conservative right-wing party, that things have gotten worse."
Lima's mayor is seeking re-election this fall.
Gay activist Cortez said, "Gays and lesbians can no longer walk freely in the center city and in its parks and squares. If a policeman suspects you of being homosexual by the way you walk or gesture, he'll intimidate you with force and the use of police dogs, and often beat you."
"The transgendered and the drag queens are targets of particularly aggressive and violent police abuse," he added. "In the richer neighborhoods, where these poor girls are obliged to work to support themselves, there have been cases where they've been killed-last year one of these girls was killed and burned. And when there are mass detentions, they are frequently taken to far-away outlying areas, beaten, and dumped there. Things are even worse if one is of indigenous ethnicity. And in the rest of the city, it's the same thing-the Serenazgo carry out mass detentions of gays and lesbians."
The Serenazgo are an auxiliary police under the direct control of the neighborhood mayors in each Lima district and, Cortez said, they are generally thugs recruited from private security services who receive no special police training.
"The Serenazgo are supposed to maintain public order, but in reality their function is to repress anything that differs from heterosexual normality-gays and lesbians, punks, left-wingers, etc.. There is no legal code governing their actions or prescribing their functions-in reality, they're out of control," Cortez explained.
"Over time the serenos, as we call them, have become dedicated to making sure there are no gatherings or discussion meetings in public places, especially in the center city, to prevent spontaneous demonstrations against the government or the neighborhood mayors," Cortez noted.
On January 28 of this year, Serenazgo officers broke up a political gathering in support of Lima trans activist Belissa Andia (left), who was running for a seat in the National Congress-and verbally and physically assaulted members of the crowd. Belissa Andia and her organization-Claveles Rojos-had been leading a campaign against Serenazgo brutality.
"In other Lima neighborhoods, the serenos have also been denounced for excessive violence against these targeted groups," Cortez said. "Although they don't have the right under the law to make arrests-in theory arrests are reserved for the National Police-it's habitual to see the serenos deploy trucks where they detain people they consider suspect," including LGBT people.
Although homosexuality is not specifically a crime under Peruvian law, laws designed to regulate "public morality" are almost exclusively deployed against gays, lesbians, and the transgendered.
"The dominant political discourse here emphasizes that law and order
demands the containment of the lacras socialies, the scum of society, and that includes everyone from transvestites who engage in prostitution to gays who are caught in raids on discotheques," said Cortez.
On July 14, Serenazgo officers broke into three discos patronized by lesbian, gay, and trans people. Officers blocked the exits and beat and insulted the disco owners, workers, and patrons. The raids were carried out without the participation of the National Police, required by law to be present at such a law enforcement action.
Cortez told Gay City News that there are small venues that specifically welcome gays and lesbians in most sizable Peruvian cities-bars, discos, saunas-but that "these places are generally clandestine, and operate with only precarious authorization. Frequently their owners have to go to court to prevent the closing and seizure of their properties."
Gay-bashing, said Cortez, is frequent throughout Peru, and he added that "the transgendered are the targets of bashing to a surprising degree."
"The press," he added, "speaks of us only to mock us, make fun of us, and make us seem ridiculous, as if we're only interested in creating scandalous behavior. When TV broadcasts speak of LGBT people, it's either when a crime or a theft is committed by someone gay, or once a year during the Gay Pride March."
The first Gay Pride March in Peru was held in Lima in 1997, "but with very few people," Cortez related, "while this year, it attracted some 500 people-gay activists, members of invited political parties, and sympathizers of the LGBT struggle."
The gay movement in Peru, he explained, is still small. Lima has two principal groups. Cortez described the MHOL as a group "founded in the 1980s by left activists, but which has become very assimilationist and neo-liberal in its politics over the years." It "only addresses the concerns of well-off gays, like the issue of gay marriage, and is very close to the governing APRA party." The MHOL, he said, has a core of six activist members, but more sympathizers who come to its weekly meetings for youth as well as its adult gatherings. It's Web site, http://mhol.pe.tripod.com/mhol/id8.html, has not been updated since 2002.
The RDS, to which Cortez belongs, "self-identifies as part of the critical left and as part of the anti-globalization movement." The group, whose Web site is http://www.raiz.org.pe:80/, has a dozen active members at its core and a larger circle of sympathizers.
Outside Lima, Cortez said, "there are not a multitude of gay organizations, and they tend to be ephemeral and have no staying power... The lack of a process of gay consciousness-raising in the rest of the country outside Lima means that a truly national gay movement in Peru is still only a hope and a dream."
October 25, 2006
HALF A LOAF: THE NEW JERSEY RULING ON GAY MARRIAGE
I wrote the following analysis for TomPaine.com, which will publish it tomorrow:
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision on same-sex marriage today, October 25, was a Solomon-like decision that cut the baby in half, so to speak—giving a partial victory to gay and lesbian couples and a potential victory to marriage equality opponents.
While the majority ruling held that the Garden State’s constitution requires that "committed same-sex couples must be afforded on equal terms the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples under the civil marriage statutes," it gave the state legislature 180 days to decide whether to call it a "statutory scheme" to achieve that equality "marriage," "civil unions," or something else. Three of the seven justices voted to end marriage discrimination immediately—leaving gay couples just one vote short of a complete victory. (To read the full text of the N.J. Supreme Court decision in a PDF file, click here).
In a February Zogby poll, a very large majority of New Jerseyans favored marriage for gay couples (by 56 percent to 39 percent). And even the most moderate national gay group, the Human Rights Campaign, dissented from what it called the "separate but equal" court decision, noting that "a federal law, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, denies same-sex couples over 1,000 protections, and puts these couples at risk that they will not be recognized as families when they cross state lines." That is something the Jersey ruling does nothing to get around.
Steve Goldstein, director of the state’s gay rights organization, Garden State Equality, got it right when he said after the decision that "half-steps short of marriage—like New Jersey's domestic-partnership law and also civil union laws—don't work in the real world. Hospitals and other employers have told domestic-partnered couples across New Jersey: ‘We don't care what the domestic partnership law says. You're not married.’ Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally understands and accepts."
Here’s why this issue is personal for me: My late partner of a dozen years, Hervé, was French, and when Bill Clinton signed his executive order banning entry by HIV-positive people into this country, my beloved partner after he was diagnosed with HIV could no longer come into the U.S. legally. Hervé and I never thought we needed the state to legitimize our love, but we would have married if we could as a self-defense measure—because the only exemption to Clinton’s ban on legal entry for the HIV-positive who weren’t citizens was if they had spouses or relatives who were. But because we couldn’t marry, I couldn’t be at Hervé’s side and take care of him during the last excruciating year of the illness that took his life, and he died, alone, in a Paris hospital.
The night following the Jersey court’s decision, Garden State Equality began running a TV ad featuring a plea from a dying policewoman, Lt. Laurel Hester, who was a lesbian. Gasping for breath, her hair gone from chemo, a gaunt Lt. Hester looks into the camera: "When you see this, I’ll have passed away from cancer," she whispers, "but the county refused to give death benefits to my partner. That’s why gay and lesbian couples are fighting for marriage equality."
But even though this is literally a life-and-death issue for some of us, the Christian right shock troops of the Republican voter turn-out machine have succeeded in placing anti-gay marriage referenda on the ballots of eight states this November. They hope to repeat their success of November 2004, when carbon-copy referenda hyped turnout among religious conservatives and helped turn key states like Ohio against the Democrats.
This year, in three battleground states — Wisconsin, where Democrats hope to pick up Congressional seats, and Tennessee and Virginia, where two U.S. Senate seats are in play—the GOP-Christian right’s vociferous campaigns against gay marriage as the unwanted product of "judicial activism" have just been given new ammunition by the New Jersey decision. The latest polls prior to the Jersey ruling already showed the gay marriage bans passing in every state.
In Tennessee and Virginia, this week’s polls show the difference the two parties’ Senate candidates to be within the margin of error. So, even though the Garden State court’s decision is a half-a-loaf victory for gays, if it helps motivate increased religious right turnout by even a couple of points, that could well be enough to propel long-time gay-baiting Republicans George Allen (above left) and Bob Corker (right) to Senate victories, helping the GOP keep control of the upper chamber.
In New Jersey, where Democratic incumbent Bob Menendez (left) has a slim lead in the polls over mud-slinging Republican Tom Kean (below right), I was told yesterday by Nick Accocella, savvy editor of the insider newsletter New Jersey Politifax, that he expects a low voter turnout—and if the court ruling spurs turnout among the large Catholic electorate, whose church has been preaching against gay marriage from the pulpit, that could help Kean, who favors the national constitutional amendment banning same-sex unions.
Moreover, the Jersey ruling comes right after the wall-to-wall, weeks-long media frenzy over the Mark Foley scandal, in which Democrats shot themselves in the foot by denouncing the Florida congressman as a "pedophile" (even though there’s no evidence to suggest it; the age of consent in the District of Columbia is 16, and the only ex-page to have said he had sex with Foley told the Los Angeles Times their tryst took place long after he’d left the page program.) The Christian right has used the Foley scandal to revive its favorite theme from Anita Bryant (left) and her 1970s "Save Our Children" crusade, arguing loudly that, well, what can one expect from homosexuals; they’re all child molesters. Over-the-top rhetoric from many Democrats helped fuel homo-hate.
These widely-broadcast canards from the religious conservatives, the incautious equation of Foley’s stupid predatory cruising with pedophilia in too much of the media, coupled with the New Jersey ruling, may well create an ugly anti-gay backlash among the electorate— just like the one after the U.S. Supreme Court’s striking down of the so-called "sodomy" laws and the legalization of gay marriage in Massachusetts, which laid the groundwork for the success of the 2004 anti-gay marriage referendums in hyping conservative voter turnout.
No one has specifically polled attitudes toward homosexuality since the Foley scandal broke. But if there is a new backlash, the New Jersey court decision, coming just 13 days before the midterm elections, may well unintentionally have helped deliver November victories to the most vigorous opponents of gay rights—without even having given gays a second state free of second-class citizenship for their loving couples. One step forward, two steps back?
P.S. One of the best arguments ever made in support of legalizing gay marriage was the remarkable speech made last July by Spain's Prime Minister, Jose Luis Zapatero (left), before its parliament, minutes before it voted to give marriage equality to same-sex couples. You can read that speech -- the most emphatic endorsement of the rights of those with same-sex hearts ever made by any head of government in any country -- by clicking here.
October 21, 2006
HUNTING GAYS IN IRAQ: How the Death Squads Work
Readers of this blog will be familiar with the "sexual cleansing" of homosexuals in Iraq -- I first broke the story in my article for Gay City News, "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays," on March 23. The following article, which I wrote for The Advocate -- the national magazine for lesbians and gays -- is based on fresh interviews with gay Iraqi victims of persecution:
“Every gay and lesbian here lives in fear, just pure fear, of being beaten or killed,” says Ahmad, a 34-year-old gay man, via telephone from his home in Baghdad. “Homosexuality is seen here as imported from the West and as the work of the devil.”
Ahmad is masculine and “straight-acting,” he says. “I can go out without being harassed or followed.” But that’s not the case for his more effeminate gay friends. “They just cannot go outside, period,” he says. “If they did, they would be killed.” To help them survive, Ahmad has been bringing food and other necessities to their homes. “The situation for us gay people here is beyond bad and dangerous,” he says.
Life for gay and lesbian citizens in war-torn Iraq has become grave and is getting worse every day. While President Bush hails a new, “democratic” society, thousands of civilians are dying in a low-level civil war—and gays are being targeted just for being gay. The Badr Corps—the military arm of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI for short), the country’s most powerful Shiite political group—has launched a campaign of “sexual cleansing,” marshaling death squads to exterminate homosexuality.
When Iraq’s chief Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (right), removed a fatwa calling for death to gay men from his Web site earlier this year—it wasn’t removed for lesbians—some observers thought the antigay reign of terror might end. But the fatwa still remains in effect; indeed, persecution of gay Iraqis has only escalated.
“In the last two months the situation has gotten worse and worse,” says Ali Hili, a gay Iraqi living in London, who founded and coordinates the group Iraqi LGBT. “Just last month there were three raids by the Interior Ministry on two of the safe houses we maintain in Basra and Najaf. They were looking for specific names and people, and some of them were killed on the spot.” The Interior Ministry is heavily infiltrated by SCIRI operatives and troops who carry out the Sistani fatwa.
Hili’s group, some 30 gay Iraqi exiles who came together last fall in London in the wake of Sistani’s death-to-gays fatwa, has a network of informants and supporters throughout Iraq. With anguish in his voice, he recalls two of them, lesbians who ran a safe house in Najaf that harbored young kids who’d been trapped in the commercial sex trade. “They were accused of running a brothel,” he says. “They were slain in the safe house with their throats cut. This was only weeks ago.
“Every day we hear from our network inside Iraq of new horrors happening to our gay and lesbian people—it’s overwhelming, we just can’t cope,” Hili continues. “Look, we’re only a little volunteer organization, and nobody helps us—not the American occupier, not the U.N., not Amnesty
International, nobody. We’re desperate for help.”
Through a translator, several gay Iraqis spoke to me about the dire circumstances for gay people in their country. None wanted their last names printed for fear of reprisals, and all had horrific stories to tell.
Hussein, 32, is a gay man living with his married brother’s family in Baghdad. “I’ve been living in a state of fear for the last year since Ayatollah Sistani issued that fatwa, in which he even encouraged families to kill their sons and brothers if they do not change their gay behavior,” he says. “My brother, who has been under pressure and threats from Sistani’s followers about me, has threatened to harm me himself, or even kill me, if I show any signs of gayness.”
Hussein already lost his job in a photo lab because the shop owner did not want people to think that he was supporting a gay man. “Now I’m very self-conscious about my look and the way I dress—I try to play it safe,” says Hussein, who is slightly effeminate. “Several times I was followed in the street and beaten just because I had a nice, cool haircut that looked feminine to them. Now I just shave my head.”
Indeed, even the way one dresses is enough to get a gay Iraqi killed. “Just the fact of looking neat and clean, let alone looking elegant and well groomed, is very dangerous for a gay person,” Hussein says. “So now I don’t wear nice clothes, so that no one would even suspect that I’m gay. I now only leave home if I want to get food.”
One of Hussein’s best friends, Haydar, was recently found shot in the back of the head at a deserted ranch outside the city. “Some say he was shot by a family member in an act of honor killing; some say he was shot by those so-called death squads,” Hussein says. “Everyone says it’s easy these days to get away with killing gays, since there is no law and order here.”
All Hussein thinks about is getting out of Iraq. “Things were bad under Saddam for gays,” he says, “but not as bad as now. Then, no one feared for their lives. Now, you can be gotten rid of at any time.”
But even fleeing from Iraq to a democratic Western nation is no guarantee of safety. The case of Ibaa Al-alawi, a well-educated 28-year-old gay Iraqi who fled from Baghdad to London last fall and is facing deportation, is sadly typical. “I am a victim of this religious, homophobic ideology imported from Iran by SCIRI and the Badr Corps,” says Al-alawi, who was born in to a secular family and speaks perfect English, via telephone from London. “The Badr Corps is very well-organized—they control two floors of the Iraqi Interior Ministry [in London] and they wear police uniforms.”
Al-alawi worked for two years for the British embassy in Baghdad, running a technical scholarship program for students who wanted to study in the United Kingdom. “But my family began getting threats about me from the Badr Corps,” he says. “They threatened my brother, telling him, ‘If you can’t get your brother to change and stop his gay ways, we’ll kill him.’ They threw a stone, with a threatening letter fastened around it, into the garden of our house—it quoted passages from the Koran, and then it said, in very illiterate terms, ‘Your son is sinful, and if he doesn’t change from being gay, in three days he will be dead.’ ”
The incident frightened Al-alawi so much that he quit his job at the embassy and holed up at his Baghdad home for two months. “One day I ventured out to shop with my mother, and while we were out a pickup truck came to our house, carrying hooded men in uniforms who smashed down our front door and threw a hand grenade into our home,” he recalls. “If my mother and I had been there, we would have been killed. The neighbors who witnessed this attack told us it was the Badr Corps.”
The next day he bought a plane ticket for London, where he applied for asylum on arrival. But his request was refused by the Home Office, which handles immigration in the United Kingdom. “They told me, ‘We believe that you face discrimination in Iraq, but we don’t believe you are persecuted.’ I even showed them a photo of me next to Tony Blair from when I worked at their embassy, but it didn’t help.”
In the first week of August, Al-alawi’s administrative appeal against the Home Office’s deportation order was denied. At press time he was in court, seeking to stop the Blair government from sending him back to Iraq. “My life is in serious danger if I’m sent back to Iraq,” he says. “You know, I have a master’s degree in English literature—to think that a cheap bullet from the Badr Corps could end it all—what a waste of an education.”
Mohammed, a gay Iraqi in his 20s from Basra, fled to Jordan on July 17 after the Badr Corps assassinated his partner. “I don’t know how they found out about my partner, but they killed him by a bullet to the back of his head, so I knew that the danger was so close to me,” he says via e-mail. “I don’t know how I can live without this relationship.”
The death of his partner marked the culmination of years of persecution for Mohammed, starting with his own family. “I’ve been gay since childhood,” he says, but “my family are Shia and don’t permit this [homosexuality]. I think they would kill us before the Badr Corps could if they knew about us.”
The Badr Corps’ murderous campaign is not limited to street executions—it includes Internet entrapment and intimidation backed by violence. Networks of neighborhood informers—SCIRI militants and sympathizers—track suspected gays and report them for targeting by the terror campaign. “One day on the Internet I entered a site for gays in Iraq, and specifically in Basra,” Mohammed recalls. “While on this site I met a new guy who gave me his name and e-mail. But God’s mercy saved me from him—I saw abnormal movement in that site where I met this guy and got out of it rapidly. Later I discovered that he worked secretly with the Badr militia to find and kill gays.”
After discovering them online, SCIRI supporters will sometimes instigate beatings of suspected gays in the street, says Ahmad. People from the neighborhoods and even passersby will join in. “If you are gay, you can’t trust anyone you meet unless they are old friends from within your circle of acquaintances,” Ahmad says. “You can’t date or meet new people because you wouldn’t know what their motives are.”
Every new encounter is fraught with danger. “There have been cases where some gay guys meet some men they thought were gay too, but it turned out they just wanted to use them sexually and then blackmail them for money by threatening to inform on them” to the Badr Corps, Ahmad says. Or a new friend could turn out to be an undercover agent.
“We are desperate to end this state of fear and horror in which we have been living,” Ahmad says. “Many of us want to leave.”
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO HELP IRAQI GAYS, the immediate urgent priority is to donate money to LGBT activists in Iraq in order to assist their efforts to communicate information about the wave of homophobic murders in Iraq to the outside world. Funds raised will also help provide LGBTs under threat of "honor killing" with refuge in the safer parts of Iraq (including safe houses and food), and assist efforts to help them seek asylum abroad.
Iraqi LGBT UK -- there is no comparable group in the U.S. -- does not yet have a bank account. They are working closely with the LGBT human rights group OutRage! in London. Donations to help Iraqi LGBT UK and the group's vital work in Iraq should be made payable to "OutRage!", with a cover note marked "For Iraqi LGBT", and sent to: OutRage!, PO Box17816, London SW14 8WT, England,UK
And, you can visit the Iraqi LGBT UK website by clicking here.
October 19, 2006
POLAND'S ANTI-GAY PRIME MINISTER OUTED as the government continues to spew homo-hate
I wrote the following article for Gay City News, New York City's largest gay weekly, which published it today:
Poland’s homophobic Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski—the identical twin brother of Polish President Lech Kaczynski—was outed as a homosexual in major Polish media last week in the midst of a political crisis that threatened to cause his government’s downfall.
Poland’s second-most important newspaper, Rzeczpolita, published documents— some only recently declassified, and some that were leaked—from the files of the Polish Secret Service that discussed Prime Minister Kaczynski’s homosexuality. As part of an investigation, begun in 1992, of right-wing political parties that, the documents said, “could threaten democracy,” a Secret Service department then headed by Colonel Jan Lesiak reported, “It is advisable to establish if Jaroslaw Kaczynski remains in a long-term homosexual relationship and, if so, who his partner is.” (Photo above right: the Kaczynski Twins, Prime Minister Jaroslaw on the right)
Jaroslaw Kaczynski was appointed prime minister in July 2006 by his brother, the president. Both Kaczynski brothers, known as the “Terrible Twins,” are notorious for their public homophobia, and Jaroslaw has proposed banning gays from teaching in the schools.
“Now all Poland knows that the Polish Secret Service was looking for Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s boyfriend,” a noted gay activist, Lukasz Palucki, one of the organizers of this year’s successful Warsaw Gay Pride March, told Gay City News from Warsaw.
The Secret Service documents discussing the current prime minister’s homosexuality were later published by the country’s leading daily, Wyborcza Gazeta, as well. TVN24, a commercial TV network, also ran a report.
Then, also last week, former President Lech Walesa (left) repeated on Polish television a crack about the current prime minister’s homosexuality that he had made 13 years before—when, in an interview on the Polish public TV network TVP1, he had said that the Kaczynski twins had come to his birthday party, and that “Lech came with his wife and Jaroslaw came with his husband.”
On October 14, appearing on Polish commercial TV network TVN’s “Teraz My” program, Walesa—asked by the program’s anchors, Tomasz Sekielski and Andrzej Morozowski, about what he had said about Jaroslaw in the much earlier broadcast, reiterated his remark.
“Jaroslaw Kaczynski was also on the same TVN broadcast this time, but he was very quiet!” Palucki told me.
This double outing of Jaroslaw Kaczynski came just as the one-year-old Kaczynski government was in the middle of a political crisis that began last month, when the prime minister suddenly ousted the ultra-nationalist Samoobrona (Self Defense) Party—and its leader, Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Andrzej Lepper—from the three-party governing coalition led by the Kaczynskis’ PiS (Law and Justice) Party.
Without the Self Defense Party, the government no longer had the votes to defeat a no-confidence motion in Parliament, which, if it passed, would have meant new elections. However, after secret negotiations, this past Monday Lepper (right) was re-appointed to his previous posts and Self Defense rejoined the restored governing coalition, which is now only one vote short of a parliamentary majority. The hush-hush deal with Lepper’s Self-Defense appears to have forestalled snap elections that had been expected this coming November.
Following corruption scandals, however, the Kaczynski government’s popularity has fallen to an all-time low in the polls, and their ultra-conservative coalition is now trailing the main opposition party, Civic Platform, which is also conservative, though much less homophobic.
Following the revelations of the Secret Service documents, knowledge of the prime minister’s homosexuality was so widespread that politicians were joking about it in public. At a press conference during the political crisis, ousted Deputy Prime Minister Lepper told a press conference, “I wanted to see Mr. Kaczynski, but he had no time for me. Who am I? Some girl who would like to date him? If he dates any!” Lepper’s pregnant jab at the prime minister’s sexuality caused an outburst of laughter among the assembled journalists.
Up until last week, “Polish media haven’t been very open about Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s sexuality,” gay journalist Michal Rolecki, of the Web site Gay Poland.pl, told me from Warsaw. “I have heard it said there is a ‘conspiracy of indulgent silence.’ Some allusions have appeared now and then.”
For example, Rolecki related, “earlier this year, the well-known Polish journalist Mikolaj Kunica recorded an interview with Wojciech Jasinki, a government minister and long-time friend of Jaroslaw, for TVP-1’s Wiadomosc news program. Kunica was widely reported in the Polish press to have asked about their social life when they were younger. Jasinki said they liked to have a party—to dance and drink. Kunica then asked if they dated girls, to which Jasinki replied that he did, but ‘Jaroslaw—never.’”
This segment of the interview was never broadcast. Marzena Paczuska, editor of the Wiadomosc program, ordered the segment on girls to be cut, but Kunica refused and was supported by Robert Kozak, the head of news at TVP-1, who overruled the decision. The matter then went to Maciej Grzywaczewski, the head of TVP-1, who supported Paczuska’s original decision. He then suspended Kunica and subsequently fired him, saying the material was ‘aggressive, full of emotion and anti-governmental.’”
Still, Rolecki told me, Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s homosexuality “has been quite obvious to the general public ever since Walesa’s original televised comment. But you must bear in mind that sex still remains a considerable taboo in Catholic Poland. Some three-quarters of Poles say that that sexuality is a private thing not to be discussed in public. For example, we have never had a sex scandal related to government, even though everyone knows that the president and the home secretary regularly visit female brothels.”
Prime Minister Kaczynski, 56 (left), is a bachelor who still lives with his mother in a house filled with an extraordinarily large number of cats—and The Times of London reported after his brother appointed him prime minister that “the views of the new prime minister and the president are so similar that they often finish each other’s sentences. The only way to distinguish them is by a small mole to the left of Lech Kaczynski’s nose and the cat hairs on Jaroslav Kaczynski’s clothes.”
Jaroslaw is considered the craftier of the two brothers, and the dominant political strategist.
Known as “the Lesiak files,” the Secret Service documents discussing the current prime minister’s homosexuality date from a time when the Polish Secret Service was the direct heir of the old Communist secret police, and its personnel in the early ‘90s still consisted largely of people who had worked in the agency prior to the fall of the Communist regime in 1989. Walesa, who served as president from 1990 to 1995, was in office during these investigations of political parties commanded by Colonel Lesiak (left)—which, Rolecki said, “took place when Walesa decided to get rid of the Kaczynski brothers, who had been his counselors, from the presidential palace because they uninterruptedly plotted and set his other advisers against one another.”
“What remains unclear,” Rolecki added, “is who ordered the investigation and infiltration of the right-wing political parties,” which the Lesiak files indicated “could be planning a coup d’etat.”
“Was it Walesa?” asked Rolecki, “who was well aware of how unstable the Polish right wing is and how authoritarian the Kaczynskis can be? Was it the government at the time, which was a centrist government? Or was it just a natural course of events as the Secret Service relied on ex-Communist personnel who naturally felt the urge to spy on the right wing? I’m afraid we’ll have to wait until all relevant documents are declassified for the full answer.”
Even as Prime Minister Kaczynski’s homosexuality was being outed in the press and on television, senior officials of his government continued to spew homo-hate.
On October 14, the vice minister of education, Miroslaw Orzechowski (right), was asked by an interviewer for the daily Wyborcza Gazeta about the firing of Miroslaw Sielatycki, director of the Polish National Teacher Training Center, dismissed in June for having distributed to schools a manual on how to teach tolerance, prepared by the Council of Europe (of which Poland is a member country). The manual included material on non-discrimination against homosexuals and the rights of same-sex couples.
“This is the most drastic form of lies—that two individuals of the same sex can have a relationship,” Orzechowski told the newspaper. “I mean, it does happen, but you cannot legalize it because it ruins our civilization.”
Asked by the interviewer, “Where is the space, then, for tolerance of difference?” the vice minister replied, “Oh, the world used to manage without tolerance and it will keep on going without it. We cannot have a couple of maniacs deciding the fate of our civilization.”
The manuals, which included teaching tolerance of homosexuality, he said, “have been locked up, and will not be distributed any further.”
In a separate interview four days earlier, the new head of the National Teacher Training Center, Teresa Lecka, had told Wyborcza Gazeta, “The school’s role is to teach the distinction between good and evil, between beauty and ugliness… The school must show the drama, the emptiness, and the degeneration that homosexual practices lead to… Active homosexuality is a practice that is contrary to human nature. Polish schools should prefer good patterns of behavior that lead to family relationships.” Teaching about homosexuality, she said, must show “the limits of freedom for young people.”
Both these senior Polish officials were appointed by the Kaczynzskis’ ultra-homophobic minister of education, Roman Giertych (left), head of the Catholic nationalist, gay-baiting, anti-Semitic League of Polish Families party, the third member of the Kaczynskis’ right-wing governing coalition.
U.K. Gay News reported today that the government has introduced a new inheritance tax law that discriminates against same-sex couples.
Despite the officially encouraged climate of homophobia in Poland, the country’s gays continue to assert their identity. For example, Poland’s first-ever Queer Film Festival, entitled “A Million Different Loves”—a weeklong event that includes a conference on “The Politics of Body and Desire in Audio-Visual Culture”—opens in the city of Lodz on October 25. Gay-themed films from Turkey, Belgium, France, Germany, Norway, the Philippines, Canada, Austria, Hungary, and the U.S. will be among those shown at the festival, which is being held in cooperation with gay groups in Leipzig, Germany. For information on Poland’s Queer Film Festival, c;lick here.
October 18, 2006
THE GLOBAL AIDS CRISIS: PLEASE TAKE 8 MINUTES TO WATCH THIS VIDEO
A lot of us are affected by AIDS fatigue--we're tired of hearing about the epidemic, we're tired of hearing the same tales of suffering over and over, we're tired of having to think about the friends and loved ones we've lost because it's painful, we're tired of do-nothing governments, we're tired of self-serving, supposedly philanthropic image-makeovers by political con artists like Bill Clinton who failed miserably the test of a science-based response to AIDS when he was president, we're tired of seeing pictures of AIDS babies, we're tired of promises unkept. We wish the AIDS problem would go away. Sometimes, we pretend it has.
If any of that resonates with you, I beg you to take eight minutes of your time to watch this video on YouTube. It is a movingly illustrated version of the speech at the International Toronto AIDS Conference by the brilliant and dedicated Stephen Lewis, the U.N. special AIDS envoy for Africa. In just eight minutes Lewis takes a tour of the challenge presented to all of us by the AIDS epidemic around the globe. It will only take eight minutes of your time. Watch this video by clicking here.
GAY IRANIANS IN THE NETHERLANDS WIN ASYLUM AS "SPECIAL GROUP" (plus, Senator Larry Craig Outed)
The Netherlands’ conservative Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk (right), who earlier this year set off a firestorm of protest in the Dutch parliament when she announced she intended to resume deportations of gay Iranians, has executed a 180-degree turnaround, and decided to make gay & lesbian asylum seekers from Iran a 'special group' who will get asylum on humanitarian grouds because their position in Iranian society marks them as specifically vulnerable. (For background see my earlier DIRELAND report, "Netherlands: "Commotion" in Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians." )
According to Rene van Soeren of COC -- the Dutch gay rights group that is the world’s oldest existing organization for homosexual equality -- the Minister took this decision “especially because even their family and other close relations [of gay Iranians] could put them in danger because of their homosexuality.”
Van Soeren told me late Tuesday from Amsterdam that, “Information about gay Iranians’ nationality, identity and sexuality is enough to get them asylum -- so they will no longer have to prove that they themselves run an immediate personal risk in Iran because of their homosexuality, as would be the case in any normal procedure under Dutch asylum law.”
Instead, Van Soeren said, “Their cases will be monitored to prevent misuse of this decision,” and any fraud will immediately lead to deportation back to Iran.
COC Netherlands says it “is very pleased with this news because it makes our country a safe haven for gay & lesbian Iranian asylum seekers. The decision of Minister Verdonk sets a worldwide example that needs to be followed -- for instance by Sweden that recently decided to deport Iranian gay asylum seekers back to their home country.“
COC said that Immigration Minister Verdonk based her decision in part on the new Iranian country report of the Dutch Foreign Office, and in part on the findings of Human Rights Watch - -most specifically the letter HRW sent on October 5 to the minister. In that letter, HRW referred to findings in a not-yet-published new HRW report on the LGBT situation in Iran. Verdonk said that she is convinced that the HRW conclusion on the precarious situation for gay and lesbians in Iran is convincing enough for her to base her decision on, according to COC.
“Iranian gay & lesbian asylum seekers now in our country awaiting a decision from our immigration services, and even those whose procedure had ended with the decision to be deported, will now all fall under this new policy and will get a permit of residence,” COC’s Van Soeren told me.
Congratulations to Frank van Dalen and all the other folks at COC; to Scott Long and Jessica Stern at HRW's LGBT desk; to Mike Tidmus and all the other good people in Amsterdam who organized and participated in the vigil there for the July 19 International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran, which got press and helped keep the pressure on the conservative coalition government to reverse its deportation decision regarding gay Iranians. And a special thankyou to Theo Koele of the leading Dutch daily, De Volkskrant, who put the story of Verdonk's plan to deport gay Iranians on his newspaper's front page last Spring, which is what started the ruckus in parliament against the deportations, without which this wouldn't have happened.This life-saving reversal of the government's position is a great victory for all concerned.
SENATOR LARRY CRAIG OUTED: Washington, D.C.-based gay activist Mike Rogers on Tuesday outed conservative, gay-bashing Republican U.S. Senator Larry Craig as a hypocritical, closeted homosexual on Rogers' blogactive.com website. Rogers says he has talked to two men -- one in the "Pacific Northwest," one in Washington, D.C., who say they had sex with Sen. Craig (one of them said the sexual incidents with Craig [photo left] took place in a men's room.) The Senator is already denying Rogers' charges, which gives the story some legs....now the dailies have an excuse to write about the denial, whereas they might not have written about the outing otherwise, given their aversion to the practice.....For example, today's Los Angeles Times article on what it terms the "Pink Purge" in the GOP quotes Rogers -- but doesnt breathe a word of his outing of Craig. Let's see how far Rogers' efforts can take the story. Stay tuned...
By the way, rabid homophobe James Dobson -- the head of the richest Christer right organization, Focus on the Family -- was quoted on the Huffington Post yesterday as saying there are more outings to come. "Dobson said a congressman has told him that several other gay Republicans will be 'outed' in coming days. He said he doesn't know who they are, but, 'They say it is going to be worse than anything that has happened so far.'" Dobson must have been reading Mike Rogers....
INDONESIA: GAYS FIGHT SHARIA LAWS
I wrote the following for Gay City News, New York City's largest weekly gay newspaper:
Indonesia’s fledgling LGBT group, Arus Pelangi (Rainbow Flag), last Monday launched a national campaign against a welter of ultra-homophobic regional statutes based on Muslim Sharia law.
“Many LGBT people are arrested and detained, often without charges or clear reason, only to be released after a few days,” said Widodo “Dodo” Budi Darmo (in foreground, photo left), the 35-year-old director of campaigning for Arus Pelangi, which was formed in January this year as Indonesia’s first explicitly activist LGBT group on the legal and political fronts.
“In 2004, the region of Palembang introduced a regional law that proscribes homosexuality as an act of prostitution that ‘violates the norms of common decency, religion, and legal norms as they apply to societal rule,’” Dodo—a co-founder of Arus Pelangi—told Gay City News from Jakarta. “That law says that included under the term ‘act of prostitution’ are ‘homosexual sex, lesbians, sodomy, sexual harassment, and other pornographic acts.’”
Dodo said that “this regional law was part of a chain of similar laws across Sumatra and Java that base themselves on Sharia law from the Koran,” and that “52 regions have adopted or put forward such laws.” In the special capital district of Jakarta itself, he said, “all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and transsexual people are legally considered cacat, or mentally handicapped, and as such are not protected by law. This contradiction of LGBT people falling outside the law while still being subjected to it is one of the injustices that Arus Pelangi hopes to combat.”
Some 88 percent of Indonesia’s quarter of a billion people identify as Muslims, making it the world’s largest Islamic nation. Islamic beliefs take various forms in the country—there are the orthodox, Mecca-oriented santri, and also another Muslim current called kebatinan, or Javanism, which is an amalgam of Islamic (especially Sufi) beliefs colored by indigenous animist and Hindu-Buddhist influences, as well as ethnic traditions, in a country where 300 languages are spoken.
Three-fifths of the nation’s population lives on the island of Java and Islamic precepts continue to frame public debate. There is considerable political coherence among traditionalist and modernist Muslim currents—all of them doctrinally opposed to homosexuality.
“There are many Islamic fundamentalist groups in Indonesia that thrive on premanism, or thuggery, against anyone that goes against what they feel their religion dictates,” said Dodo. “These groups—in Jakarta they are most predominantly the FPI (the Front of Supporters of Islam) and the FBR (Betawi Council Forum)—will attack the offices, workplaces, and homes of people they consider to be of particular threat to the morals and values of Islam, and that includes LGBT people.”
The International Herald Tribune noted in an October 9 article on Indonesia, “President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (right) has been criticized by some for failing to speak out clearly against” the “persistent [Muslim-instigated] violence.”
Last Monday, Dodo recounted, “We had a forum with the Department of Justice and Human Rights, and met with the head of the office regarding regional laws in order to push the issue of discrimination against LGBT people evidenced in those laws, and as well to attempt to break through channels in order to meet with the only two people in Indonesian politics able to quash laws still in deliberation (the minister of Internal Affairs) or already made (President Yudhoyono.)” So far, Arus Pelangi has had no success in arranging those breakthrough meetings.
Arus Pelangi also has been lobbying hard against final passage of a sweeping “Law Against Pornography and Porno-Action” that is being pushed by Islamic-oriented political parties, and could be used to stifle any pro-gay agitation or writing. This draconian, homophobic law would prohibit any writing or audio-visual presentation—including songs, poetry, films, paintings, and photographs—that “exploit the notion of persons engaging in sexual relations” or “engaging in activities leading to sexual relations with persons of the same sex.” Even portrayals of “kissing on the lips” of any gender combinations would be forbidden under this proposed legislation. Violations of this law would be punishable not only by fines but by prison terms of up to seven years as well.
“There are a few supporters within the Indonesian Parliament who are willing to help us seek equal rights for LGBT people in Indonesia,” Dodo said, “and these are mainly from the PDI-P (Party for the Indonesian Democracy Struggle) and the PKB (National Awakening Party), and though their members are few, they have greatly supported Arus Pelangi’s cause and have enabled us to come further in political discussions and alliances as a result.”
Arus Pelangi is also striving, against great odds, to have sexual orientation included in a new Minority Rights law being considered by Parliament that was originally presented as a bill on ethnic and racial discrimination.
“There has been strong opposition from various [Islamic] fundamentalist and conservative parties who have threatened to block the Minority Rights bill should the LGBT issue be inserted,” Dodo said, “but we are currently working in coalition with several [non-governmental organizations] and a few members of Parliament to further this issue.”
Less than a year old, Arus Pelangi has some 400 members—about 40 percent are lesbians, 30 percent gay men, and 30 percent transsexuals. The large number of lesbians is in part due to the success of bi-weekly lesbian discussion groups the organization runs in Jakarta which, Dodo said, “have been successful in uniting groups with little to no ties with each other previously. They’ve become a popular forum for lesbians who are open about their sexuality as well as with those who have yet to come out,” and involve discussions of everyday problems, violations of their human rights, and consciousness-raising.
Arus Pelangi has already facilitated the establishment of three autonomous branches outside Jakarta. In Surabaya, the LGBT organization Us was formed with the support of Arus Pelangi staff, and participates in the activities generated by the Jakarta office. An Arus Pelangi chapter has started in Medan to target LGBT issues in Northern Sumatra. And in Purwokerto, a new LGBT organization has been formed as a result of Arus Pelangi’s activities in the region in response to the murder last year of Vera, a transsexual. (Right, Arus Pelangi members in Purwokerto)
“The case of Vera, a transsexual who was murdered last October 28 in Purwokerto, Central Java, has received little attention from the local police,” Dodo said. “Our staff traveled to the area, met with witnesses and the victim’s family, and received permission to take this case to court. We’ve developed a network of partners to insure the protection of witnesses, only four of whom have as yet been questioned by the police but with no concrete action as a result.” (Photo below left, Arus Pelangi members demonstrating for an end to discrimination against transsexuals in employment at the labor May Day Parade, 2006)
“We’ve begun investigations with the families of the victims who live in Jakarta, and have raised the issue with the National Human Rights Commission,” said Dodo, “but this case will require an extremely long process of data collection and campaigning with government authorities, as it involves charges being brought against the police. We’ve taken up cases like these, and are trying to build up our local communities and empower them to support themselves and each other, to decrease the fear experienced by LGBT people.”
In fact, it is difficult to quantify with any specificity the level of bias-related anti-gay violence in the country because, until the founding of Arus Pelangi, there was no gay group collecting such information in Indonesia. A group called Lambda Indonesia was founded in 1985, sponsored social gatherings, consciousness-raising, and issued a newsletter, but it petered out in the 1990s. Gaya Nusantara is a gay group focusing on health issues like AIDS, and operating mainly in Surabaya, East Java. Yayasan Srikandi Sejati, founded in 1998, focuses specifically on health issue of the transgendered, running a free health clinic that provides HIV/AIDS counseling and free condoms to transsexual sex workers.
“In general, the public here is not well-informed about HIV/AIDS,” Dodo said. “There is no sex education in the schools, except for that done by these other organizations with very limited means and despite hostility from school authorities. Because the other LGBT organizations before Arus Pelangi exclusively focused on health issues, they inadvertently perpetuated the notion of AIDS as a ‘gay disease’ and thus the stigmatization of the LGBT community concerning this issue. However, the stereotype of people with AIDS now leans more toward drug users and Papuans, the indigenous people living in the easternmost province of Indonesia.”
Legal and police abuse of gay people in Indonesia is hard to document, said Julie Van Dassen, Arus Pelangi’s Canadian-born international advocacy secretary, “because people often do not report cases due to their sexuality, and thus data is very hard to come by. Frequently, LGBT people are arrested for other reasons, or with no charges at all, which happens often enough in Indonesia, especially in certain regions (Aceh being the worst), and though it is obvious that they are scapegoated because of their sexual orientation, this is never formally issued as a charge, and thus hard to prove or not reported as a crime of discrimination at all.”
In addition to this, Van Dassen said, “often gays, once taken into jail, are submitted to sexual abuse far beyond that of other prisoners because of their sexual orientation. These cases are also very hard to prove, especially as many of the victims are very traumatized and remain silent out of fear of returning to jail and being subjected to abuse, rape, and beatings again.”
A good example of this police abuse, she said, is the case of Adang, a gay man who was one of many arrested in a protest against the opening of a an environmentally poisonous dump site in Bojong, Bogor, West Java.
“Adang was suffering from a mild form of tuberculosis at the time of his arrest,” Van Dassan explained. “He informed authorities of this, but received no medical attention. He was further criminalized in jail, forced to kiss, masturbate for, and perform fellatio on the guards at the prison and other inmates were encouraged to take advantage of him sexually because he was a gay man, ‘so he must love it.’ His condition worsened while in jail, he was beaten and still received no medical attention. Upon his release, after seven months in jail, he received medical attention but died three weeks later due to complications connected to his injuries and tuberculosis.”
Dodo dismisses the notion that a gay identity is a “Western” notion foreign to Asian or Islamic cultures.
“We have to make a separation between religion and sexual orientation,” he said, “because sexual orientation is natural, it’s a human right that needs to be respected and valued. My family was very open and pluralistic, so I was lucky to be raised in a family that was not too focused on religious rules or ethos. In Indonesia, religion is forced, you are not afforded the opportunity not to choose a religion—and as a result, many of the social norms, political policies, and laws are deeply rooted in Islamic ties and morals. I was not as affected by this as most others were.”
In fact, said Van Dassen, “Dodo is one of very few (three, at most) of our staff that has actually come out to his family and friends. Most of the staff, even though they are passionate enough about supporting LGBT rights to work full-time without wages for Arus Pelangi, are still afraid to come out to the people close to them.”
Van Dassen explained that “their reasons vary—some come from moderate or more conservative Muslim families and are afraid to come out and be alienated from their families; some are less afraid of the reaction of their families but more the reaction of their community and the shame it would bring upon their entire family, which could have mild to severe social and economic effects—their business would no longer be used, they would be ostracized in social circles. Still others, and this was the most shocking for me, is that some, not working in Arus Pelangi but connected to it, are ashamed to admit it to themselves. They were raised in Muslim families and feel that their natural sexual inclinations are a sin, and have no idea of what to do about it.”
Arus Pelangi can be contacted at Jl. Purwodadi No. 29, Menteng, Jakarta 10310, Indonesia; Telephone-Fax. 021-390-6258; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 15, 2006
AN IRANIAN GAY ACTIVIST WHO HAS FLED THE POLICE NEEDS YOUR HELP
Earlier today I received an urgent phone call from Arsham Parsi, the young General-Secretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO), in Toronto (Arsham was granted polical asylum in Canada as a sexual refugee five months ago). Homosexuality is a crime in Iran, punishable by death.
Arsham told me of the plight of Mani, a courageous Iranian gay activist who is 24 years old, and who has been serving as the Health Scretary of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization (PGLO) in Iran for the last two years, providing AIDS and mental health counseling to Iranian LGBT people. (You can read an interview Mani gave me in July while he was still in Iran, about his work there, and published in Gay City News, by clicking here.)
A little over three weeks ago, Mani's employer in the pharmaceutical firm in Iran where he worked found out he was gay, and reported him to the police. The police -- who thus were able to figure out that Mani was the person who had given recent interviews to the BBC and to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the persecution of gays and lesbians in Iran -- raided Mani's home several times looking for him. Fortunately, Mani was not at home when the police came to arrest him, and Mani took refuge temporarily at a friend's house.
Mani's father blocked Mani's bank account so that he could not withdraw monies he had saved, in order to try to prevent Mani from leaving the country. But, with the help of a little money from friends, Mani managed to escape Iran in fear of his life, before the police could arrest him.
Mani arrived a few days ago in Turkey -- but he had to spend most of the little money he had borrowed to bribe a "passer" to get him out of Iran and across the border. Mani is now in Istanbul, absolutely penniless, and has been sleeping in a bus station. He has no warm clothes to protect him against the very cold and rainy seasonal winter weather in Turkey. He has applied for international refugee status as a political asylum-seeker with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but the granting of such status is long and cumbersome, and at the moment Mani is entirely without resources to sustain his life.
Arsham Parsi told me, "We are a global gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered family, and we need to help our own who are in desperate need -- particularly courageous gay activists like Mani who have been persecuted for how they love and for defending the rights of our brothers and sisters. We at PGLO have scarcely any financial resources ourselves, since we do not ask dues from our membership, and while we have sent Mani a few paltry dollars, our treasury is bare."
The PGLO begs you to please consider making an urgent donation to help Mani survive in Turkey until he can be granted official refugee status by the U.N.H.C.R. and find asylum in a gay-friendly country. Even $10 or $20 would be enormously helpful. You can help Mani now by clicking on the "Donate" button on the homepage of the PGLO website at http://www.pglo.net/ and using your credit card via the secure PayPal system.
October 13, 2006
O, CANADA'S CONSERVATIVES -- AND HOW BUSH-ROVE STYLE POLITICS BROUGHT THEM TO POWER
Richard Fricker, an award-winning business journalist who is also a sometime contributor to the magazine In These Times (of which I'm a Contributing Editor) has a very sharp-eyed piece today on ConsortiumNews.com about "Canada's New Bush-Style Politics." The U.S. press doesn't pay much attention to politics in our neighbor to the North, but Fricker (whose wife is Canadian) has the goods on how Canada's new Prime Minister Stephen Harper led the right to power earlier this year, thanks not only to its shameless surfing on xenophobia and homophobia, but to "conservative strategists and right-wing media moguls who had studied the modern American model and were seeking to replicate it."
Fricker notes that Canada’s new Prime Minister Stephen Harper (right), the architect of the right's electoral victory, "even brought in Republican advisers, such as political consultant Frank Luntz, to give pointers on how the ruling Conservative Party could become as dominant in Canada as the GOP is in the United States. Canada had its version of Rupert Murdoch and Fox News in the Asper brothers and their CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the National Post, the Montreal Gazette and nine other Canadian newspapers, 25 television outlets and two radio stations." Fricker's portrait of the crafty, demagogic Harper, the architenct of the three-year-old merged Conservative Party's taking power earlier this year, is insightful, and is especially good on the role of the media in the right's victory. You can read all of Fricker's article by clicking here.
If I have one criticism of Fricker's piece, it's that he doesn't mention how the U.S. Christian right poured millions of dollars and sent some of its crack organizers into Canada to target for defeat Liberal and left-wing New Democratic Party legislators who supported Canada's successful legalization of gay marriage and help whip up homophobia around the gay marriage issue. The intervention of American Christian right groups like James Dobson's Focus on the Family (Dobson's dreadful, consistently gay-baiting radio show is heard on 130 Canadian radio stations) and of the conservative Catholics of the Knights of Columbus was so notorious that, during the election campaign last year, Canadians for Equal Marriage -- the national group fighting for legalized marriage for same-sex couples -- called on Harper and his Conservatives to disassociate themselves from the U.S. Christian right intervention.
Nor was Harper the first or the only major Canadian politician to deploy an aggressive, American-style "family values," religious-right politics -- Fricker doesn't mention it, but Harper's predecessor, the homophobic, immigrant-baiting Stockwell Day (left), a sometime Pentecostal preacher, in 2000 won the leadership of the Canadian Alliance -- then Canada's second-largest political party -- with a religious-right style campaign. Thanks to some corruption, campaign finance, and spying-on-opponents scandals in which Day was enmeshed, as well as the Alliance's defeat at the polls by the Liberals under Jean Chrétien, Harper was able to oust Day as leader of the Canadian Alliance in 2001, and subsequently merged the Alliance with the Progressive Conservative Party in 2003 to form the new Conservative Party that finally defeated the corruption-plagued Liberals under Prime Minister Paul Martin in January of this year.(The odious Day is now Prime Minister Harper's Minister of Public Safety -- meaning he controls the Royal Canadian Mounties, as well as the country's intelligence services and border police, meaning his new job is a perfect post in which Day can deploy his xenophobia). Still, Fricker's piece is a good place to start to learn about Canadian politics for most Americans who know so little about how the right in our Northern neighbor resembles, and has been inspired by, our own.
October 11, 2006
IRAQI DEATH TOLL EXCEEDS 600,000
Today's Wall Street Journal brings more horrendous news from the iniquitous Anglo-American invasion of Iraq, but unfortunately the Journal's article is only available online to subscribers: a new study by Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health says that roughly 600,000 Iraqis have died since the beginning of the Iraq war.(Left, "The Dance of Death," Hans Holbein the Younger, 1493)
Says the Journal: "President Bush in December said '30,000, more or less' had died in Iraq during the invasion and in the violence since.
"The Johns Hopkins team conducted its study using a methodology known as 'cluster sampling.' That involved randomly picking 47 clusters of households for a total 1,849 households, scattered across Iraq. Team members interviewed each household about any deaths in the family during the 40 months since the invasion, as well as in the year before the invasion. The team says it reviewed death certificates for 92% of all deaths reported. Based on those figures, it tabulated national mortality rates for various periods before and after the start of the war. The mortality rate last year was nearly four times the preinvasion rate, the study found.
"'Since March 2003, an additional 2.5% of Iraq's population has died above what would have occurred without conflict,' the report said. The country's population is roughly 24 million people. Human Rights Watch has estimated Saddam Hussein's regime killed 250,000 to 290,000 people over 20 years."
The Journal quotes Paul Bolton, a public-health researcher at Boston University who has reviewed the study, called the methodology "excellent" and said it was standard procedure in a wide range of studies he has worked on. "You can't be sure of the exact number, but you can be quite sure that you are in the right ballpark," he said.
The study, called "The Human Costs of War," was published in The Lancet, the distinguished British medical journal. You will recall the U.S. media's near-blackout on the last Lancet-published study by Johns Hopkins and Columbia University researchers which last year (see my DIRELAND post at that time, "Why U.S. Media Dismissed the Lancet Study of 100,000 Iraqi Civilian Dead." ) It will be interesting to see whether other major U.S. media will follow the Journal's lead this time, now that the tide of public opinion has turned against the Iraq war, and give this important study of the consequences of the U.S. invasion the prominent attention that it deserves. (Today's Washington Post buried their story on page 12.)
This new study is by the same team that produced last year's blacked-out estimates, and now puts civilian fatalities at 426,369 to 793,663 but gives a 95% certainty to the figure of 601,027 total dead, the Journal reports. And so the old question remains: do you think was it worth it? Readers of this blog know my answer.
Meanwhile, the U.S. will maintain at least its current level of troops in Iraq until 2010, said the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, General Peter Schoomaker, today. "I have to have enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they want us to shoot," the Associated Press quoted Gen. Schoomaker as saying when he made the announcement. Which means the number of Iraqi dead since this war began will continue to grow.