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December 21, 2006

BAH! HUMBUG! A Direland Xmas Special (via S.J. Perelman)

The following was written in 1935 by the noted humorist for The New Yorker, S.J. Sj_perelman_young Perelman (who, you may remember, also wrote scripts for the MarxNew_masses_gropper_cover  Brothers, like "Horse Feathers" and "Monkey Business"). In the '30s (photo left), Perelman was fairly radical, and even did a stint as a columnist for the New Masses (1926-1948), the cultural-political magazine close to the Communist Party (cover right, with a William Gropper drawing). However, during the domestic Cold War and McCarthyism -- photo lower right -- Perelman conveniently forgot his radical past and stayed away from political topics. In any case, I thought offering you this forgottenSj_perelman_mustache  gem of Perelman's -- a parody of Clifford Odets' play "Waiting for Lefty" -- an appropriate way for an atheist to mark the annual celebrations by the goyim of the birth of the foot-fetishist from Nazareth. And a hearty seasonal Bah! Humbug! to you all, with best wishes for the new year. -- D.I.

WAITING FOR SANTY

A CHRISTMAS PLAYLET
(With a Bow to Mr. Clifford Odets)

SCENE: The sweatshop of S. Claus, a manufacturer of children's toys, on North Pole Street. Time: The night before Christmas. At rise, seven gnomes, Rankin, Panken, Rivkin, Riskin, Ruskin, Briskin, and Praskin, are discovered working furiously to fill Christmas_cartoon_shitting_santa orders piling up at stage right. The whir of lathes, the hum of motors, and the hiss of drying lacquer are so deafening that at times the dialogue cannot be heard, which is very vexing if you vex easily. Note: the parts of Rankin, Panken, Rivkin, Riskin, Ruskin, Briskin,and Praskin are interchangeable, and may be secured directly from your dealer or the factory.

RISKIN (filing a Meccano girder, bitterly): A parasite, a leech, a blood-sucker--altogether a five-star nogoodnick! Starvation wages we get so he can ride around in  red team with reindeers!

RUSKIN (jeering): Hey, Karl Marx, whyn'tcha hire a hall?

RISKIN (sneering): Scab! Stool pIgeon! Company spy! (They tangle and rain blows on each other. While waiting for these to dry, each returns to his respective task.)

BRISKIN (sadly, to Panken): All day long I'm painting "Snow Queen" on these Flexible Flyers and my little Irving lays in a cold tenement with the gout.

PANKEN: You said before it was the mumps.

BRISKIN (with a fatalistic shrug): The mumps--the gout--go argue with City Hall.

PANKEN (kindly, passing him a bowl): Here, take a piece fruit.

BRISKIN (chewing): It ain't bad, for wax fruit.

PANKEN (with pride): I painted it myself.

BRISKIN (rejecting the fruit): Ptoo! Slave psychology!

RIVKIN (suddenly, half to himself, half to the Party): I got a belly full of stars, baby. You make me feel like I swallowed a Roman candle.

PRASKIN (curiously): What's with the kid?

RISKIN: What's wrong with all of us? The system! Two years he and Claus's daughter's been making googoo eyes behind the old man's back.

PRASKIN: So what?

RISKIN (scornfully): So what? Economic determinism! What do you think the kid's name is--J. Pierpont Rivkin? He ain't even got for a bottle Dr. Brown's Celery Tonic. I tell you, it's like gall in my mouth two young people shouldn't have a room where they could make great music.

RANKIN (warningly): Shhh! Here she comes now! (Stella Claus enters, carrying a portable phonograph. She and Rivkin embrace, place a record on the turntable, and begin a very slow waltz, unmindful that the phonograph is playing "Cohen on the Telephone.")

STELLA (dreamily): Love me, sugar?

RIVKIN: I can't sleep, I can't eat, that's how I love you. You're a double malted with two scoops of whipped cream; you're the moon rising over Mosholu Parkway; you're a two weeks' vacation at Camp Nitgedaiget! I'd pull down the Chrysler Building to make a bobbie pin for your hair!

STELLA: I've got a stomach full of aNguish. Oh, Rivvy, what'll we do?

PANKEN (sympathetically): Here, try a piece fruit.

RIVKIN (fiercely): Wax fruit--that's been my whole life! Imitations! Substitutes! Well, I'm through! Stella, tonight I'm telling your old man. He can't play mumblety-peg with two human beings! (The tinkle of sleigh bells is heard offstage, followed by a voice shouting "Whoa, Dasher! Whoa, Dancer!" A moment later S. Claus enters in a gust of
mock snow. He is a pompous bourgeois of sixty-five who affects a white beard and a false air of benevolence. But tonight the ruddy color is missing from his cheeks, his step falters, and he moves heavily. The gnomes hastily replace the marzipan they have been filching.)

STELLA (anxiously): Papa! What did the specialist say to you?

CLAUS (brokenly): The biggest professor in the country... the best cardiac man that money could buy... I tell you I was like a wild man.

STELLA: Pull yourself together, Sam!

CLAUS: It's no use. Adhesions, diabetes, sleeping sickness, decalcomania--oh, my God! I got to cut out climbing in chimneys, he says--me, Sanford Claus, the biggest toy concern in the world!

STELLA (soothingly): After all, it's only one man's opinion.

CLAUS: No, no, he cooked my goose. I'm like a broken uke after a Yosian picnic. Rivkin!

RIVKIN: Yes, Sam.

CLAUS: My boy, I've had my eye on you for a long time. You and Stella thought you were too foxy for an old man, didn't you? Well, let bygones be bygones. Stella, do you love this gnome?

Christmas_cartton_reindeer STELLA (simply): He's the whole stage show at the Music Hall, Papa; he's Toscanini conducting Beethoven's Fifth; he's--

CLAUS (curtly): Enough already. Take him. From now on he's a partner in the firm. (As all exclaim, Claus holds up his hand for silence.) And tonight he can take my route and make the deliveries. It's the least I could do for my own flesh and blood. (As the happy couple kiss, Claus wipes away a suspicious moisture and turns to the other gnomes.) Boys, do you know what day tomorrow is?

GNOMES (crowding around expectantly) Christmas!

CLAUS: Correct. When you look in your envelopes tonight, you'll find a little present from me--a forty per cent pay cut. And the first one who opens his trap--gets this. (As he holds up a tear-gas bomb and beams at them, the gnomes utter cries of joy, join hands, and dance around him shouting exultantly. All except Riskin and Briskin, that
is, who exchange a quick glance and go underground.)

CURTAIN

Posted by Direland at 06:23 PM | Permalink | Comments (14)

December 18, 2006

IRAN ELECTIONS A SETBACK FOR AHMADINEJAD

Please forgive certain typographical oddities in this post--my blogserver, Typepad, appears to be haviang a nervous breakdown this morning, and I could not fix them.

Iran_map_offcenter_1 In the latest report from Reuters filed 8 hours ago, it appears that Iran's municipal elections last Friday have been what the news agency calls "a setback" to the standing of authoritarian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repressive regime. The Reuters report goes on to note that "ReformistsAhmadinejad_arm_raise_1 said they had won at least six Tehran seats, and demanded election officials announce the results. They said the delay raised questions about the counting process. 'We have serious doubts about whether these problems are due to a lack of organisation at the Interior Ministry or whether there are some efforts to tamper with votes,' Mohammad Ali Najafi, a reformist candidate in Tehran, told Reuters" -- you can read the entire report on the elections by clicking here.

The election returns available so far tend to confirm a fascinating analysis of the importance of these elections, "The Donkey and the Date," by Behrooz GhamariBehrooz_ghamari  (right), a professor of history and sociology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and author of the forthcoming book "Islam and Dissent in Postrevolutionary Iran" (St. Martin's Press).

Written just before the elections, Ghamari's piece noted: "In order to defeat reformist candidates who have somehow survived the disqualification procedures and still appear on the ballot, the Judiciary, the ministries of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Information, and Domestic Affairs, the state-controlled radio and television, and the conservative newspapers have all been mobilized to ensure low participation of the electorate. The judiciary spokesperson has threatened the newspapers that run front-page news of the election with closure and censure." Despite this, according to the latest Reuters dispatch, turnout was around 60%, and reformist and what the news agency calls "moderate conservative" candidates made significant gains agaiinst Ahmadinejad's supporters. Read all of Prof. Ghamari's interesting piece by clicking here.

These municipal elections results inQantara_logo Iran in part suggest an urban backlash against Ahmadinejad's repressive "cultural revolution" -- and there's an eye-opening report on this intensified repression on the very useful German-based, English-language website Qantara.de --Dialogue with the Islamic World, which is co-sponsored by Deutsche Welle, the German Institute of Foreign Relations, and the BBC. This December 14 report by Bahman Nirumand notes:

"The government seems determined to use all means at its disposal to isolate and criminalize any deviation of Islamic ideology. Ahmadinejad recently called upon students to expel professors advocating liberal positions from their posts. Administrative staff at all universities and colleges has been replaced. The whole educational system has fallen under the control of militia organizations, namely, the Basij and the Revolutionary Guard, who observe the behavior of students via newly installed video cameras."

Mahmud_doulatabadi The Qantara report also says: "Mahmud Doulatabadi (left), Iran's most popular writer, declared during a reading in Tehran that he refuses to publish any more books out of protest against the severity of censorship. The censorship office has been sitting on his manuscripts for months now. He also spoke to a number of publishers, two of whom reported that forty of their books have still not received permission to be printed. 'Every day, the piles of books and manuscripts lying behind closed doors are growing higher and higher,' says the author."

Qantara also reports on the new wave of student protest against Ahmadinejad's "cultural revolution," including one that got virtually no coverage in the U.S. press: "On December 6, Iran's annual StudentsIran_dec_6_student_demo  Day-- thousands attended a protest demonstration (right) on the campus of Tehran University organized by Tahkim Vahdat, the country's largest student organization. Security forces at first tried to block entrances, but students eventually succeeded in breaking through the main gates....Armin Salmasi, member of the Council of Islamic Students, said, 'They have sent our professors into early retirement, prevented many students from continuing their studies, forbidden not only protest, but even the act of breathing freely, and transformed our universities into military garrisons. Don't think that our patience is unlimited. Someday, the pot will boil over,' he warned." Ahmadinejad is also trying to re-segregate the universities, separating women and men into different courses.You should read Qantara's report in its entirety by clicking here.

Nayereh_tohidi More evidence of the ferment against Ahmadinejad's repressive "cultural revolution" can be found in "Iran's Women's Rights Movement and the One Million Signatures Campaign" by another Iranian scholar, Prof. Nayereh Tohidi (left), Chair of the Women’s Studies Department at California State University, Northridge and Research Associate at the Center for Near Eastern Studies at UCLA. Tohidi analyzes the Iranian women's movement, and describes in detail the unusual, door-to-door “One Million Signatures campaign, which is designed to help reform discriminatory laws, resulted from and is a continuation of the women’s peaceful gatherings on the 12th of June in 2005 and 2006 that ended by violent attacks of the police and security forces. From both tactical and strategic points of view, this latest campaign is in line with an envisioned future where powers, opportunities and social goods are not divided based on gender differences or sexual orientation. Primarily initiated by the younger generation of women’s rights activists, this campaign seems to be turning into a point of convergence among many groups and individual activists in different parts of Iran.

" This campaign seems to have surpassed ideological, sectarian and religious boundaries and limitations. Instead of seeking grand ideals and abstract solutions to women’s problems, it is struggling on to achieve defined and tangible goals through practical means and methods. This movement has distanced itself from the more prevalent masculine and elitist perceptions...and [its] aim and strategy rest on direct contact between the activists and ordinary women..." As a journalist who has reported extensively on Iran's lethal campaign of repression against gays and lesbians (see below), I'm particularly heartened by Tohidi's inclusion of "sexual orientation" in the list of Iranian feminists' concerns. (In this connection, for the most recent in my series of in-depth interviewes with gays who've been targeted by the Tehran regime, I did the only lengthy interview to appear in English with an Iranian lesbian torture victim, which I wrote for The Advocate -- Maryam's story, in her own words, is quite powerful, and if you missed it, you can read it by clicking here.) In any case, read Prof. Tohidi's entire piece by clicking here.

For a more in-depth look at the anti-Ahmadinejad ferment in Iran, I heartilyDanny_postel  recommend a just-published book by my friend Danny Postel (left), Reading "Legitimation Crisis" in Tehran. Postel is a Senior Editor at the always-interesting, London-based online magazine Open Democracy and a contributing editor of Dædalus (the journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences), and he maintains a first-rate private list-serv on Iran, from which I first learned of some of the above articles. In his new book, Postel examines the mis-conceptions of the left about Iran since the 1979 Khomeini-led revolution, looks at theReadinglegitimationcrisis significance Western philosophers like Habermas have taken on for Iranian intellectuals (hence the title of Postel's book -- a nod to both Habermas' world-renowned "Legitimation Crisis" and to Azar Nafisi's excellent "Reading Lolita in Tehran"), and argues strongly why any military attack on Iran by the U.S. would help Ahmadinejad destroy the embattled but courageous and clamorous opposition (an argument Postel and Nader Hashemi recently encapsuled in a first-rate Truthdig piece, "Pretzel Logic in Iran" Let me reiterate once again my view that opposition to any U.S. military adventure in Iran imposes itself on anyone who has seriously studied the country-- a view often expressed on this blog. See, for example, the statement I helped to write by the Campaign for Peace and Democracy on "Iran--Neither U..S. Aggression Nor Theocratic Repression"). The left-wing philosopher Slavoj Žižek has effusively praised Postel's small but important book, and rightly so -- if you're truly interested in Iran, you should read it, and can order it by clicking here.

A P.S. -- The Winter 2006 issue of Middle East Report, just out, has a detailed article on "Worker Protest in the Age of Ahmadinejad," by Mohammad Maljoo, which gives a first-rate account of Ahmadinejad's repressions aimed at trade unions and their collective actions. Maljoo writes, "The new draft [labor legislation] proposed by the Ministry of Labor under Ahmadinejad seems to be a lose-lose game for workers: Employers get the right of expedited dismissal, without workers gaining any right to form independent trade unions." At the same time, Maljoo gives a harowing account of the mass arrests and government strikebreaking used by Ahmadinejad's regime to crush an attempt to organize by busdrivers, and the intimidation that has caused a major effort by teachers to organize for collective bargaining to peter out Unfortunately, this particular article is not yet available online, but Middle East Report isn't too difficult to find at the better periodical shops and bookstores

For background on the new wave of anti-gay repression in Iran, see my previous articles: July 21, 2005 -- Iran Executes Two Gay Teenagers (Updated); August 11 -- Iran Sources Question Rape Charges in Teen Executions; August 12 -- Two New Gay Executions Scheduled in Iran, Says Iranian Exile Group; August 17 -- Iran's Deadly Anti-Gay Crackdown: With Two More Executions Scheduled, the Pace of Repression Steps Up.August 25 -- Iran's Anti-Gay Purge Grows: Reports of New Executions. September 8 -- Iran and the Death of Gay Activism. September 20 -- "They'll Kill Me" -- A Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks of His Ordeal ; September 29 -- Iranian Gays Urgently Appeal for Help ; October 5 --"Shocking New Photo of Hanging of Gay Iranian Teens"; October 6 -- Canada Introduces UN Resolution Condemning Iran's Human Rights Record; November 24, "Save Us"-- A Gay Iranian Who Married His Partner Begs for Help from the West ; January 12, 2006 -- "Kidnapped: Another Gay Iranian Torture Victim Speaks"; January 4, 2006 -- "Iran's Anti-Gay Pogrom"; January 27, 2006 -- "A Call to Solidarity: U.S. Gay Groups Must End Their Isolationism; February 8, 2006 -- "An Iranian Trans Torture Victim Speaks from Inside Iran."  February 9, 2006--Stop the Deportation of Saba Rawi; March 3, 2006-- "Dutch to End Freeze on Deportation of Gay Iranians"; March 4, 2006-- "Commotion in Dutch Parliament Over Deportation of Gay Iranians."; March 16, 2006-- "England: Another Gay Iranian Faces Deportation"; April 20, 2006-- "Dutch Deportations of Gay Iranians on Hold"; April 26, 2006-- "iran Hacks Websites to Bury Anti-Gay Pogrom"; May 31, 2006-- "Iran Exports Anti-Gay Pogrom to Iraq"; June 14, 2006-- "An Iranian Gay Activist's Moving Plea."  June 25, 2006 -- "Iran's Gay Refugees Find a Safe Haven in Canada." ; July 4, 2006 --"Global Protests July 19 To Commemorate Hanging of Two Iranian Gay Teens." July 5, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, An Underground Gay Activist Speaks: 'If I'm Found Out, No Physical Sign of Me Will Remain'" August 3, 2006 -- "Iran: Setting the Record Straight" ; August 6, 2006 -- "From Inside Iran, a Message from the Gay 'Zine MAHA";  August 19, 2006 -- "Iran: A Lesbian Torture Victim Speaks"; October 15, 2006 -- "An Iranian Gay Activist Who Has Fled the Police Needs Your Help";


Posted by Direland at 05:35 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 15, 2006

BUSH, THE DEMOCRATS, AND AIDS

I wrote the following article for TomPaine.com:

Thanks in part to George W. Bush and the Republicans, we are losing the fight againstAids_ribbon_blwh_hands_3  the AIDS pandemic. And it's time for the Democrats to repair some of the damage.

The world has failed miserably to meet the goals for AIDS prevention education set in 2001 by the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV-AIDS. For example, the U.N. said then that, by 2005, 90 percent of young people were supposed to know how to prevent AIDS—yet, today, the latest U.N. figures show that only 20 percent of young women in the world, and only 30 percent of young men, know how to stop the spread of HIV.

That lethal situation is one direct result of Republican legislative earmarks and Bush policy restrictions that are shifting funds away from science-based sex education to "abstinence-only" sex-ed programs. A March 2006 Government Accountability Office report showed that restrictions on AIDS prevention funding in the original legislation for the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief—restrictions imposed by the Republicans at the demand of the anti-condom Christian Right—were undermining AIDS education and prevention.

Take the example of Uganda, where some 32 million quality-approved condoms remain impounded in government warehouses while the U.S. government ramps up financing for abstinence-only approaches to HIV prevention. Religious groups, to whom U.S. AIDS-fighting money has been ladled out as political patronage, are undermining confidence in condoms throughout the country and contributing to misinformation about their effectiveness. The Republican-imposed restrictions on awarding AIDS-fighting dollars are also affecting other countries hard-hit by the AIDS epidemic, such as Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia. The failed fantasy of abstinence-only sex-ed has helped make sub-Saharan Africa—where two-thirds of the world's AIDS cases occur—a killing field.

If the new Democratic majority in Congress has any spine or any compassion, it will Rep_barbara_lee begin to roll back these anti-science, religiously-inspired Republican restrictions by passing the bill proposed by Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee (left)--the PATHWAY Act (that stands for Protection Against Transmission of HIV for Women And Youth) when she reintroduces it in January. Lee's bill would strike the PEPFAR earmark requiring that 33 percent of all HIV prevention funding be spent on teaching abstinence-until-marriage as the sole sex education program. And her bill would ensure that all those who are sexually active are taught how to practice safe sex—and that includes using condoms.

Another critical problem: The G8 summit meeting in 2005 set a goal of universal access to treatment for AIDS by 2010. Yet the world is woefully far from achieving that goal—again, thanks to the Bush administration, which, behind closed doors, has been sabotaging the ability of the world's poorest countries to produce or buy cheap, generic AIDS medications.

Here's the background: In November 2001, after a long fight against the monopolization of AIDS-drug production by Big Pharma, officials at a World Trade Organization meeting in Doha, Qatar, agreed that poor countries should have the right to break the multinational drug companies' patent monopoly if they declared a national AIDS emergency. The U.S. was among the 142 countries signing this breakthrough agreement, under which poor countries could make their own AIDS medications cheaply or buy generic versions from a producing country (like India), thus bypassing Big Pharma.

This was a huge victory, won after years of struggle by AIDS and non-governmental public health advocacy organizations around the world. The Doha Declaration began to save thousands of lives, by getting cheap, life-prolonging meds into the hands of HIV-positive people in poorer nations. But the Bush administration has been morbidly blackmailing poor countries into forfeiting their production rights under that Doha treaty if they want so-called "free trade agreements" with the U.S. Either the poor countries refuse to knuckle under and scuttle these bilateral and regional trade deals—worth billions—with Washington, or they accept the deals and raise the price of AIDS medicines beyond the reach of the poor.

This unconscionable blackmail has made many countries, including six in Latin America, cede their rights to break the Big Pharma AIDS drug monopoly.

The Bush administration has been using its big stick to try to impose these pro-Big Pharma free trade agreements on a raft of poor countries hard hit by AIDS, from Thailand to five sub-Saharan African countries, including Botswana and South Africa. Any country that signs on to the Bush administration's arm-breaking trade deals that sabotage the Doha agreement is condemning millions who need the essential AIDS-fighting drugs, but cannot afford them, to death.

Bush and his cronies "began this trade blackmail in 2002, after a group of the largest pharmaceutical companies—headed by Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell—raised $30 million for the Republicans' congressional campaigns that year," says Jamie Love, director of the Consumer Project on Technology, the international point man in winning the patent-breaking Doha agreement and an unsung hero in the fight for cheap AIDS meds. The effect of these deals, Love says, is to force poor countries into enacting "superpatents" that prolong U.S. drugmakers' monopolies and sharply limit the conditions under which their AIDS patents can be broken.

Though millions of lives are at stake in these sordid and lethal trade deals, so far the Democrats have been silent about them, leaving the Bush administration free to negotiate these murderous agreements at economic gunpoint with little media notice.

If the new Democratic congressional majority wants to show it is really serious about the global AIDS fight, and really wants the U.S. to live up to the goals of universal treatment access Washington agreed to at the G8 summit, it should hold vocal public hearings come January on these odiferous free trade agreements and ban their lethal pro-Big Pharma restrictions. That would allow poor countries to make or buy their own life-extending AIDS drugs and get them into the hands of those who so desperately need them.

If the Democrats make these two things happen, perhaps on World AIDS Day next year we'll have something to celebrate instead of millions more to mourn.

Posted by Direland at 02:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)

December 14, 2006

TURKEY: GAY EDITOR FACES PRISON

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which published it today:

Turkey_map_2 The editor of Turkey’s only magazine for LGBT people, who is also a leading gay activist, was indicted last week under a vague statute banning "obscene" material, and could face up to three years in prison.

The criminal case was brought against Umut Güner, 29, who is editor of Kaos GL—the magazine published by the Ankara-based LGBT association of the same name, of which he is also a vice-president—because it had [CHANGE: consecrated TO: dedicated] its issue published in July to a symposium discussion of the subject of pornography, with articles by various gay writers.

"I personally took out anything that could be deemed pornographic before the Kaos_mag_cover_2 magazine was printed," Güner told me, through a translator, from Ankara, adding, "We did this issue to figure out what role pornography plays in LGBT life, and how it shapes LGBT life. We especially focused on how heterosexual porn objectifies women and how straight men see lesbians as a fantasy. We asked LGBT writers to respond to questions like, ‘Where is pornography in our lives? Why do we watch porn? Are eroticism and pornography different?’"

The entire press run of Kaos GL’s issue 28, containing the symposium on pornography, was seized as "pornographic," before it could be distributed, on July 24 by order of Ankara’s Twelfth Court of Justice (a development covered by my article "Crackdown on Turkey’s Gays," in the August 10-16 issue of Gay City News). Kaos GL appealed the seizure to Turkey’s Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court’s order. Having exhausted all appeals within Turkey’s justice system, the magazine’s publisher is pursuing an appeal of the seizure at the European Court of Human Rights.

But now editor Güner—who for legal reasons is listed as the magazine’s "owner"—is the target of a criminal indictment under the Turkish penal code’s Article 226, Part 2, which reads: "A person who broadcasts or publishes obscene images, printed or audio material, or who acts as an intermediary for this purpose, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a term of six months to three years."

Last year, under pressure to conform to human rights norms of the European Union, which Turkey seeks to join, the nation’s Parliament undertook a revision of the penal code—and Kaos GL then lobbied, unsuccessfully, for a revision of the vague "obscenity" statute. But with its application to join the EU having stalled since early 2006—just last week an EU summit meeting froze negotiations as a result of the nation’s refusal to end is policy of denying port entry to ships registered in the Greek-controlled Republic of Cyprus—Turkey’s human rights reforms have also halted pADD: this year], according a recentl, lengthy report in Le Monde, the leading French daily newspaper.

Kaosgl_29 Kaos GL Magazine first appeared clandestinely in 1994 in samizdat form as a 16-page, photo-copied bulletin on LGBT issues in Turkey produced by a collective of budding gay activists in Ankara who, meeting in private homes, also founded the KAOS Gay and Lesbian Cultural Research and Solidarity Association, the full name of the LGBT group. Today, Kaos GL Magazine is a printed periodical with attractive and sophisticated graphics, that intelligently discusses gay cultural and political issues.

In July 2005, the Kaos GL Association was finally granted legal status as a non-governmental organization by Turkey’s Interior Ministry, and established its own offices. But in September last year, the Ankara’s governor—a member of the ruling Islamist party, the AKP (Justice and Development Party), which has governed the Republic of Turkey since 2002—tried to ban the gay association and filed a lawsuit to close it. Legal action to ban the group was rejected, however, by theKaos_gl_parade  courts the following month, a development hailed by Kaos GL as a major victory for the gay rights movement. (Left, Kaos GL members participate in the annual May Day labor parade)

In March 2006, another group, the Rainbow Solidarity and Cultural Association for Transgenders, Gays and Lesbians was established in the city of Bursa, and became the second legally registered LGBT organization in Turkey. A third group, Ankara-based Pink Life—an association serving Turkey’s large transgender community—has also recently been granted legal status.

Hhowever, another major gay group, the 12-year-old association Lambda Istanbul—which organized Turkey’s first Gay Pride March of 50 LGBT activists in Istanbul in 2003—has yet to be recognized as legal. Güner told Gay City News, "It seems unfair for Lambda Istanbul to still face the same legal obstacles we did, when there are three precedents in three different cases that accept the right of LGBT associations to establish their organizations."

Istanbul’s city government is also controlled by the Islamist AKP.

Güner touched on his own life as a gay man:

"I was born in 1977, and I think I began to realize I was gay when I was 11 or 12," he said. "When my family suspected that I was gay when I was 13, they took me to a psychiatrist—my parents were both teachers and well-educated. I was taken to a non-homophobic doctor, who told my mother not to create psychological problems for me, and after that my parents left me alone. I finally came out to my parents in 2001."

But, Güner told me, "When I was growing up, there were no resources for gays, and I had to try to figure out everything for myself just like the other gays and lesbians. I think this is still a continuing problem today, particularly outside the metropolitan cities of Turkey, where gays and lesbians still face their problems alone and still think there’s something wrong with them."

"When I came to Ankara for my university education, I had a very hard time acknowledging my sexual orientation," Güner recounted. "I finally figured out that being gay is not something that only happens in your bedroom, and I started volunteering for Kaos GL in 2001, and have been working for the organization ever since. I came out in public and in the media in 2003, when I appeared at the first public forum of Kaos GL on LGBT issues. And I’ve been the editor of Kaos GL Magazine since then."

Asked if he fears more prosecutions of gay activists, and further attempts to dissolve the Kaos GL Association or ban the magazine, he replied, "There is always the possibility to ban or shut down the magazine because homosexuality is still seen as a taboo. Most people don’t want to talk about it or think about it or discuss it. Kaos GL is an LGBT magazine that naturally discusses sexuality, and as long as we discuss sexuality and homosexuality we will face obstacles."

How has Turkey’s intellectual and cultural community reacted to Güner’s indictment?

"We are just beginning to start a campaign around this legal action, and we haven’t even issued a press statement yet, so most of the intellectuals and the cultural community in Turkey don’t know about it yet," Güner said. "I think the intellectuals are waiting for us to take the initiative first."

Güner added, however, that "the feminist and human rights organizations here that we’ve been in contact with have sent us support messages and indicated they wanted to be with us during this legal process."

Güner, who always displays a sunny optimism, said: "I went to the attorney general with my attorney, Yasemin Oz, and submitted a brief defending my actions. But the judge in my case has not yet reviewed it, and might not allow the case to proceed. YouKaosgl_eng_1  have to remember that the judicial system here is independent of the government. And the court may close the case at the first hearing, which is what it does in most of the other LGBT-related prosecutions of organizations."

For more information on the situation in Turkey, visit the Kaos GL Association’s Web  site—which has a substantial English-language section—at http://www.kaosgl.com/

. The site has a PDF file of a special English-language edition of Kaos GL Magazine (cover right) published earlier this year, which includes articles on Turkish gay history, culture, and socio-political problems.

Posted by Direland at 05:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

EL SALVADOR: NEW ATTACKS UNDERSCORE GAYS' DIRE SITUATION

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly:

El_salvador_map A vicious and violent police attack a week ago Monday on four transgendered youth in El Salvador, which hospitalized one of them with serious injuries, is only the latest in an unending wave of violent attacks that continues to inundate the Central American nation's LGBT community.

William_hernandez_1 "It is almost impossible to describe all the physical attacks on gay people here-both by police and by anti-gay vigilantes and homophobic thugs-because there are so many," said William Hernandez (right), the head of the country's national gay group, Entre Amigos (Among Friends). As the spokesman for Entre Amigos and the most visible gay person in El Salvador, Hernandez is himself the target of constant death threats.

"Every day brings not only abuse and harassment, but killings and beatings-this year alone four LGBT people have been killed, with the kind of excessive force that we have not seen since the civil war here," Hernandez told Gay City News.

El  Salvador's civil war lasted for 12 years, from 1980 until '92, and claimed the lives of approximately 75,000 people. In the last eight years, said Hernandez, "45 gay or bisexual men have been murdered especially transsexual and transgendered people and transvestites, who pay the price for the entire gay community because they are so visible."

"To make things even worse," added Hernandez, "it is almost impossible to report these attacks to the authorities-and even if one does report these anti-gay attacks, the police and the justice system refuse to write them down, so there is no record of the complaint and no investigation."In this week's incident in the nation's capital of San Salvador, Hernandez said, "three detectives of the PNC [the national police] insulted and brutally beat up four transgendered youths. The detectives called for reinforcements, and just to arrest one of the young men it took 10 police cars and 18 policemen, who joined in beating the youth so badly he wound up in a local hospital-a typical example of the excessive force police use when targeting gay people."

When the other three victims of the police assault decided to press charges with the help of Entre Amigos, Hernandez said, "they were made to stand in line for five hours at the police station-only to be met with a refusal to take down their complaint. We then went to the unit that is supposed to investigate police abuses to file our complaint-only to be told that the police were very offended by our decision to press charges, and that instead of taking the complaint against the police, we were told that charges would be filed against the victims of the police abuse. Finally, at two in the morning, we were obliged to go to the national prosecutor's office to file a complaint."

The headquarters of Entre Amigos in San Salvador has been the target of repeated break-ins and attacks, "some of which have involved members of the national police and other local government agents," Hernandez said. Nothing of material value is taken in these break-ins, he added, "only papers, reports, photograph albums, educational videos, and DVDs, and lists of people who participate in our urban outreach activities have been taken."

The attacks on Entre Amigos and on gay people are highly organized, Michael Heflin, director of OUTfront, the Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) program on LGBT human rights, told Gay City News, adding that "Hernandez had been threatened at gunpoint and, over the last five years, the organization's office has been raided seven times. In spite of the organization reporting these raids, investigations have been superficial and no one has been brought to justice."

The anti-gay attacks have considerably stepped up since this summer, when Entre Amigos began a campaign to oppose proposed bans on gay marriage and on adoption by gay people.

"The proposed laws were introduced by Roberto Parker, an ultra-homophobic congressman with the Christian Democratic Party, with the support of the ruling ARENA party and the National Conciliation party," said Hernandez. "We believe that Parker is one of the instigators of the increased harassment and bears large responsibility for it. In fact, one of the death threats I received said, 'Stop making problems for the General Assembly of Congress, because before you get married to another man, we are going to kill you all.'"

Hernandez also blames the heightened homophobic rhetoric of religious leaders for encouraging anti-gay violence.

"The bishop of El Salvador, Monsignor Saenz Lacalle-who is a member of Opus Dei [the ultra-conservative secret society within the Catholic Church]-constantly refers to gay people as 'sick' and 'perverted,''' according to Hernandez, "and the Catholic humanitarian agency Caritas, which in particular helps the homeless, has energetically said that the Church will not help anyone who is homosexual. The leader of a large Protestant fundamentalist denomination, Brother Tobi of the Friends of Israel Church, calls us 'dirt' and 'garbage,' and says that parents should throw their gay children out of the house because otherwise 'God will cause them misery.' Brother Tobi has also said that gay bashings should not be reported to the authorities, because he says that 'God is working against the gay person.' Sister Regina de Cardinal, director of the Anti-Abortion Club, is another leading homophobe."

Another source of anti-gay violence and murders are gangs composed of English-speaking youths of Salvadoran origin, according to Daniel Soto of Indiana University, a gay Amnesty International activist who works closely with Central American LGBT groups.

"These gangs," Soto told Gay City News, "are composed of younger people who, as the children of immigrants, grew up in the United States, but have been expelled, because of criminal activity, back to their country of origin, not just El Salvador but also other Central American countries.

Speaking little or no Spanish, once back in El Salvador and the other countries, they have formed English-speaking gangs."

In order to be a recognized gang member, one must "make his bones," to borrow a Mafia expression, by killing someone, and, Soto said, "it's easier and safer to kill a gay person because these gang-bangers know that the police will not bother to investigate or prosecute killings of gays. That's why these English-speaking gangs target gay people."

There are a few gay-friendly politicians.

"We have the support of the first woman ever elected mayor of San Salvador, Dr. Violeta Mengibar, and of some members of the left-wing party, the Farabundo Martin para la Liberacion National (FMLN)," said Hernandez, but they are a distinct minority among the political classes."

Hernandez related, "I'm gay/bisexual, and I realized that when I was 24, after years of sexual abuse by a priest in the Catholic Church named Father Luis Recinos Lopez. I came out in public when I was giving an interview to the local TV station, it wasn't premeditated, I hardly realized what I was doing. My daughters and their mother have been accepting, and my parents are very supportive of my work and participate in the activities of Entre Amigos."

Hernandez said he became a gay activist "when I realized that my partner of 14 years was HIV-positive because there were so many lies around the disease, so I decided to educate to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and the phobia that goes with it."

AIDS "is a terrible situation in our country," Hernandez said, "and while official figures say that 17 percent of our population is infected with HIV, Entre Amigos [which works to stay on top of the HIV situation among gay men] has information suggesting that as much as 60 percent of our people have been infected."

Because of the threats to his life, Hernandez has been selected for recognition this year by Amnesty International as one of 25 people on the 2006 list for Amnesty's Greetings Cards Campaign, which encourages people to send messages of hope and solidarity to people around the world facing persecution, torture, and other human rights abuses.

"Sending a card is a simple yet effective way of offering a great sense of hope and solidarity to William and his colleagues, and it also sends a message to the authorities in El Salvador that people around the world care about the staff at this organization," Amnesty has said.

Asked what message he wanted to send to North Americans, Hernandez told Gay City News that Entre Amigos "needs financial help so we can do more research and denounce these anti-gay abuses, we need volunteers who speak both languages-English and Spanish-to come and work with us in documenting human rights violations, we need you and everyone to work together with us for a better El Salvador."

Anyone wishing to send a Christmas Card to Hernandez, as Amnesty suggests, or who wishes to help, can contact:

Asociacion Entre Amigos
Calle a San Antonio Abad
Lote 2, Casa 2562, Colonia las Rosas
San Salvador El Salvador, Centro America
Telephone: 503-2257-4930, 503-2257-493, or 503-2257-4932
Cell: 503-7702-8104
E-mail: [email protected].

Posted by Direland at 05:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)

December 06, 2006

IRAQI GAY ACTIVISTS ABDUCTED

My apologies to DIRELAND readers for the recent hiatus in postings -- I was severely under the weather with a bad case of the flu. I wrote the following article for GAY CITY NEWS, New York City's largest gay weekly, which publishes it tomorrow:

Iraq_map_5 Coming after a month in which as many as 10 gay activists in Baghdad were arrested by Shia death squads, President George Bush’s meeting this week with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (below right), president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq and founder of the Badr Corps came as a shock to Iraqi LGBTBushhakim  activists.

Five underground gay activists were abducted in a police raid on a secret gay planning meeting in Baghdad’s Al Shaab district on November 9, in a body blow to Iraqi LGBT, the London-based group with supporters throughout Iraq in which the five victims were all members.

Within days, five other gay men in Baghdad were also abducted—and with family, friends, and colleagues unable to secure any news of their whereabouts, it is feared that all 10 Iraqi gays have been murdered, victims of the ongoing "sexual cleansing" campaign by anti-gay religious death squads operating throughout the country. (See this reporter’s "Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays," in Gay City News, March 23-29, 2006.)

At the time of the raid on the activists’ meeting, they wereAli_hili_2   speaking via an Internet voice connection with Ali Hili (at left in photo with two other gay Iraqi exiles), the gay Iraqi Muslim who coordinates the Iraqi LGBT group from London.

"We were talking, and all of a sudden I heard the sounds of the door being kicked in and a lot of noise, and the connection went dead," Hili told Gay City News by telephone from London.

"It took me 24 hours to find out what happened, but I finally reached my friend Samir, another member of our Baghdad network, who told me, ‘The guys have all been arrested,’" Hili added. "People saw the raid being carried out—it was the work of Badr Corps members all dressed in Ministry of Interior uniforms."

Anti-gay death squads have been systematically targeting, intimidating, assaulting, and killing Iraqi gays ever since a Ayatollah_sistani_1 death-to-gays fatwa issued last October by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani (right), the supreme spiritual leader of all Iraqi Shia Muslims. The well-armed Badr Corps, which has carried out Sistani’s lethal fatwa, is the military arm of the Iranian-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the powerful group that is the largest political formation in Iraq’s Shia community, and was headquartered in exile in Tehran until Saddam Hussein’s fall. The SCIRI’s Badr Corps, whose salaries had been paid by Iran, has now been integrated into the government’s Ministry of the Interior, and its members wear police uniforms and have full police powers.

Hili told me by telephone from London that the five abducted activists were meeting to plan a January rendezvous in Amman, Jordan, to discuss the deadly plight of Iraqi gays with representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and from Amnesty International.

"This core group of activists had regular meetings every week or two weeks," Hili said. "We had set this particular meeting at a time when there was electricity—since in that neighborhood there is only two hours of electricity a day by generator—so that I could speak with them. We believe that either the phone line used to arrange the meeting, or the Internet connection on which we were speaking, was wiretapped."

The Badr Corps has copied Iranian methods of Internet entrapment of gays, and used them extensively to identify and target Iraqi gays for sexual cleansing.

Hili said that "these five had been doing important work on behalf of Iraqi LGBT documenting the execution of Iraqi queers so that we can tell these stories to the world. Three of them were new members who’d been active with us only a few months, and all were bright young enthusiasts: Amjad was 27—he’s a journalism student; Ali is 21, and also a college student; and Ayman is only 19, and just finished high school."

The other two abducted activists, Hili said, were original members of the Iraqi LGBT group’s Baghdad network: Rafid, 29, a coiffeur and make-up artist; and Hassan, 24, a taxi driver and garage mechanic.

"The disappearance of Hassan is particularly hard for me to bear," the 32-year-old Hili said. "For one thing, he was an important part of our network, because, as a Shia, he could travel to the south of Iraq, to places like Karbala, where he was collecting information on attacks on and killings of queers and trying to start a little gay movement in parts of the south."

"But more than that, we were very close. When he was 12, I’d helped him get out of a terrible family situation, where he was being sexually abused by family members—he was a very devastated child then. We became very good friends after that. It makes me so sad to think that he has probably now been murdered," Hili said with evident emotion.

Five other gay men were also arrested by Interior Ministry police within days of the abduction of the Baghdad activists. Police believed to be Badr Corps members arrested four employees at the Jar al-Qamar barbershop in the al-Karada district of Baghdad, an establishment very popular with gay men.

Then, in mid-November police arrested another Iraqi LGBT activist, 35-year-old Haidar.

"Haidar, who was from a rich family, owned a clothing store, and was well known as a supporter of our group, was kidnapped near his home in Sadr City," Hili said. "Haidar had received many death threats because it was frequently said that he was gay—in fact, he was a very generous guy who had been giving money to support a number of gay men who had gone into hiding after they’d received threats to their lives from the death squads. Eyewitnesses told our people in Baghdad that Haidar was kidnapped by Mahdi Army soldiers all dressed in black, their typical attire."

The Mahdi Army is the fierce, armed militia loyal to radical fundamentalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and has also carried out sexual cleansing targeting gays.

Hili said that his group had recently learned of two new anti-gay fatwas, "issued between August and October. One fatwa, proclaimed by a mullah who is a religious leader for Muqtada al-Sadr, was against our group, Iraqi LGBT. It said that ‘people who want to harbor and protect gays should be killed.’ The other anti-gay fatwa was issued against me personally by Ayatollah Sistani’s Council of Mullahs—we’re still trying to get the exact text. Communication inside Iraq among gay people is so difficult, you know, because everyone is afraid their phones are tapped—and they have reason to be afraid," as the abduction of the Iraqi LGBT group’s activists shows.

Hili said the fatwa targeting him "was in my real name"—Hili is a pseudonym he adopted for security reasons. As soon as he became visible as the Iraqi LGBT group’s spokesman, he began receiving many threats of violence and death in the U.K. from supporters of SCIRI and Ayatollah Sistani there. Hili believes that "they probably got my name from a July Badr Corps raid on a safe house our group maintained in Basra. They seized most of our information, our computer records, e-mail addresses, and documents—and my real name was in some of those documents."

Abdul_aziz_alhakim Hili spoke to me late Monday night, following President George W. Bush’s meeting with Abdul Aziz al-Hakim (left), president of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Al-Hakim heads the SCIRI-led United Iraqi Alliance, which has the largest number of parliamentary seats in the government alliance.

"This has been a terrible day, I cried so much," Hili said, asking, "How can the American president meet this murderer, Hakim? He is the founder of the Badr Corps, which is killing us! He brought the death squads to Iraq! For Iraqis, his hands are full of blood. Our people say he is worse than Saddam! All day I’ve been talking to people in Iraq and getting e-mails from Iraq—there’s a lot of anger in Iraq that Bush is meeting with Hakim, and a lot of despair among gay people. Because when the president of America meets with the man who is the leader of the death squads which are killing gay people, given what we see every day, it makes us lose hope."

With these words, Hili’s voice broke, and he wept.

After a moment, Hili resumed.

"Just this week, a lady called us and told us of her brother, Alan, a Christian who was 24, who lived in a Shia neighborhood, and who had been murdered for being gay," he said. "And every time these people say, ‘Please tell our message to the world.’ That’s why we keep on with our work."

Iraqi_lgbt_logo The Iraqi LGBT group desperately needs money to improve its communications inside Iraq , to buy computers to replace those seized by police, scanners, cell-phones, and other material so that it can document the lethal anti-gay campaign of sexual cleansing. The group does not have its own bank account for legal reasons, but checks for the Iraqi LGBT group should be made payable to the U.K. gay rights group OutRage!, with a cover note stating it is a donation for "Iraqi LGBT—UK" and mailed to: OutRage!, PO Box 7816, London SW14 8WT, England, U..K.

For background, see my previous articles on gays in Iraq:

March 13, 2006: Shia Death Squads Target Iraqi Gays;

October 6, 2006: Hunting Gays in Iraq--How the Death Squads Work April 6, 2006: UN Agency Confirms Gay Iraqis Targeted for Murder

Posted by Direland at 06:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)