February 26, 2007
Letter from Rome: PRODI'S CONTRADICTIONS
The following "Letter from Rome" was written specially for this blog by DIRELAND's Rome correspondent, Judy Harris, a veteran expat journalist in Italy, and a former staffer there for TIME magazine and the Wall Street Journal:
Rome - Anyone who has seen the Lars von Trier film "The Boss of It All" (DirektØren for det hele, 2006 - poster left), can recognize, in its protagonist, Italy's once and probable future prime minister Romano Prodi (right). In the grotesque Danish flick, a mysterious factory manager hires an unemployed actor to play the role of an absentee big boss. This boss has never been seen by the employees, but, as it turns out, has written endless notes that sow confusion, to the point that a secretary believes he loves her. Gradually, as factory life falls to pieces, the actor rebels, becoming the real boss.
A week ago Prodi unraveled his own patchwork government, which was elected only last April. His resignation was triggered when a handful of parliamentarians among his own far left allies balked over a motion supporting the government's deployment of 2,000 troops in Afghanistan and authorization of a large new U.S. fast response base in Vicenza, in addition to the U.S. air base that has been there for decades. The new base -- the deal for which was originally made by Prodi's predecessor, Silvio Berlusconi -- is seen by analysts as a key part of any U.S. attack on Iran, and some leftists simply couldn't swallow this bitter pill inherited from the previous right-wing government. In the Senate vote, where the governing coalition's majority is razor-thin, the Prodi government received two less than the 160 necessary for approval. (Above Left, a student demonstration in Vicenza against the new U.S. base -- the banner demands "a popular referendum now!")
Prodi's own fast response was to resign. In the past eleven months of frustration it must have been for him a next-to-last straw to watch Oliviero Diliberto (right), the leader of one of Prodi's allied parties -- the small Party of Italian Communists, a split-off from the Rifondazione Communista -- march at the head of an 80-thousand-strong demonstration against the government-approved Vicenza base, amid a sea of red hammer-and-sickle flags straight from the Italy of the 1970's and banners reading "Shame on you Prodi!" Diliberto's defection over the base was all-the-more stinging because, in 1996, Diliberto had resigned frojm the Rifondazione to protest its bringing down of a previous Prodi government, which ushered in the Berlusconi era.
Predictably, Prodi was tapped by the former Communist (yet most definitely pro-American) Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to succeed himself with a possibly reshuffled cabinet. So far so good: although some Italian crises have stewed along for as many as thirty days, this has been swift so far, and tomorrow at 5 pm Italian time Prodi, in his role as Premier-Designate, goes before the Parliament to lay out a twelve-point program and ask for a vote of confidence that will bring his turbulent, center-left coalition back into power for another round.
Anything is possible, but few save for Prodi's ever-loquacious rival on the right, Silvio Berlusconi -- the richest man in Italy and former premier -- expect a flop when the votes are counted late Wednesday. One reason: in a surprise gesture, the allies backing Prodi include, for the crucial Senate vote, a promised "yes" from none other than the much-indicted, elderly but still able and wily former Christian Democratic premier Giulio Andreotti (above left), the living symbol of Italian political corruption, who explained his support as a call for "continuity."
In other words, Prodi moved swiftly because he was tired of the political blackmail from a few of the far left, and because he was betting that he could terrify them into voting for him again, once they considered the alternative, a return to the Berlusconi years. It has worked: in recent days Rifondazione Comunista boss Fausto Bertinotti (right, now Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies) has tried to clamp down on his usual rebels. And indeed a smattering of hard-line leftists are also expected to vote for the government after some hasty rethinking.
But that is hardly the full story. The real question is whether, in the generally predicted round two of the Prodi center-left government, he will remain an actor, or will he actually become the big boss before Italy unravels? Can he start behaving like a premier?
The fact is that the same conflicts which exist theoretically between Berlusconi and Prodi continue to exist within Prodi's own supporters. In addition to the foreign policy problems that brought down the government, here are just three of the numerous issues of conflict within, not outside, the coalition:
--Non-marital civil unions: a supposed Prodi platform plank, but opposed by a suddenly aggressive Italian Church and by Prodi's Catholic coalition allies while supported by his allies on the left. Never since 1973, when Italy voted in favor of permitting divorce, has the Church so meddled in domestic political affairs, as countless experts on constitutional law have remarked. (Ignoring this, one Northern city has permitted two couples, one of them a gay couple, a formal partnership.) Prodi's climbdown on legal equality for same-sex couples was interpreted as a huge victory for the Pope.
--Environmental concerns: a high-speed train line, the TAV, has been approved by the government and will connect Lyons to Turin. Prodi officially approves it, but boisterous local and environmental groups oppose it.
--Pension reform: Prodi's financial advisors say it is essential for the country's welfare-and it is, in a country where so-called "baby pensioners" could begin collecting a lifetime pension at age 36 after just 18 years of work. But the unions balk.
Prodi's many supporters point out, however, that he is a stubborn long-distance runner, not a sprinter. Veteran commentator Giovanni Sartori (left), writing in the prestigious Milan daily Corriere della Sera (a centrist newspaper that opposed the war in Iraq and supported Prodi's election), said that, "The truth is that the center-left has always survived in the Senate with an uncertain and fragile majority--uncertain because the lifetime senators [Note: Andreotti is one of these] are independent and have the right to vote each time as they please; and fragile because in the extreme left there exist square heads that don't reason the way the round heads do, or perhaps do not reason at all."
The essential dilemma remains: without those whom Sartori disdainfully dismisses as "square heads" (others would call them utopian leftists who vote on pure principle rather than as political tacticians) plus a freebie vote such as Andreotti's, Prodi cannot head a government; but with them, with such unlikely bedfellows, he cannot govern. He remains an actor, never becoming the real big boss.
For those of us in the audience, this performance is unpleasant to watch. There is little joy in witnessing Italy's vibrant society fade, its brightest young people seek work abroad, its schools run short of computers, its hospitals kept in a dangerous state of filth, its judges' offices lacking in pens and paper. -- JUDY HARRIS in Rome
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PIER PAOLO Today is the anniversary of the birth of the great Pier Paolo Pasolini (right), the polymath Italian poet, novelist, essayist, critic, film-maker, and the towering figure in post-World War II Italian culture, whose tragic murder three decades ago has never been satisfactorily elucidated. For an in-depth look at Pasolini's life, work, and assassination, see my article for the L.A. Weekly, "Restoring Pasolini." And for a taste of what you're missing if you've never read any of his stunning poetry, you can read a first-ever English translation by poet Norman MacAfee of Pasolini's moving "Victory," a poem which DIRELAND was privileged to publish on this blog exclusively. Buon compleanno, caro Pier Paolo!
February 22, 2007
FRANCE: SEGOLENE ROYAL IN FREE-FALL
The verdict is quasi-universal on the French left: Segolene Royal -- the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, the first female candidate nominated by a major party, and the "French Hillary" as she is called -- is heading for a disaster.
Royal's stagnation in the opinion polls since the campaign officially opened two months ago has given way to a sharp decline: this week, multiple polls showed that the right-wing candidate, hard-line law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, has now opened up a substantial lead of 10 points over his Socialist adversary. In fact, the only good news for the Socialists recently is that the campaign of anti-globalization leader José Bové as the candidate of the "left of the left" has failed to take off in the polls, hardly climbing above 2%. Moreover, Bové (RIGHT) has only collected half of the 500 sponsoring signatures he needs from France's 35,000 mayors to be given a place on the April ballot (and with less than four weeks to go until they must be submitted, he may not get them.)
What explains the Socialist candidate's decline in the polls? Ten days ago, Segolene Royal (RIGHT) unveiled her new campaign platform designed to jump-start her sagging campaign: her "100 Propositions" (a notion borrowed from the late Socialist President Francois Mitterrand's "110 Propositions" in his winning 1981 campaign) which she proposed as a "Presidential Contract" with the French electorate. Segolene presented her "Contract" at rally of 8,000 Socialist Party activists bussed to a Paris suburb and carefully chosen to applaud every comma in her endless, two-hour speech. (She even chose the same man who had run the kick-off rally for Mitterrand's '81 campaign to stage-manage what was billed as her "comeback:")
Well, Segolene's speech (nationally televised on the French equivalent of C-SPAN may have drawn cheers from the hand-picked audience of "Royalists" in the meeting hall -- but with the electorate, it was a dud. Instead of boosting her standing in the polls, as it had been intended to do, post-speech opinion surveys showed it had actually prompted her further decline.
Her "100 Propositions" turned out to be a mix of expensive promises to poll-chosen slices of the electorate (something for the young, something for the elderly, something for the teachers, and the like) which voters know quite well there is no money in the national treasury (groaning under a crushing national debt) to pay for. She reiterated some of her Right-Lite law-and-order proposals, like putting the military in charge of juvenile delinquents, and -- as an avowed admirer of Tony Blair -- enunciated a number of Blairite, Third Way, pro-capitalist themes, as when she declared that "We need to reconcile the French with business" (with tens of thousands of French workers being laid off or fired each month after plant-closings by rich French-based multinationals who move their factories to low-wage countries, that was a discordant note to strike with the left electorate.) And the rest of her speech was a lot of pretty but vague rhetoric cooked up by her ghost-writers and her ad-agency pals to con various constituencies.
For example, even though the ghetto riots that set cities across France afire in October-November 2005 (LEFT) underscored the exclusion of Franco-Arab and black youth from economy and society and created a national crisis, the word "banlieux" ("suburbs," where the ghettos are located, and which is the French code word for minority neighborhoods) was absent from her speech. And so was any real program to address the needs of the ghettos -- in which there was a major, and successful, voter registration drive in the wake of the riots.
I asked Louis-Georges Tin about Segolene's speech and her "100 Propositions" -- he's a black academic and author (originally from the French overseas territory of the Antilles) and a rising star of the emerging black movement for equality in France who, in the wake of the ghetto riots, founded the first national organization of French blacks, the CRAN (National Council of Black Associations, representing some 150 local and ethnic organizations). Tin's verdict was devastating: "In Segolene Royal's speech there were a few 'signs' designed to satisfy blacks and Franco-Arabs: she quoted Frantz Fanon (LEFT) and the mulatto woman Solitude [RIGHT, an early 19th century military commander of a slave revolt against French rule in Guadeloupe], both figures of resistance to colonialism, which was, well, nice. But, more than these 'signs,' we want commitments. One cannot make a policy with only 'signs,' allusions, and winks -- and we're still waiting for a concrete policy from Segolene."
Moreover, Tin (BELOW LEFT) told me, "we note that not a single candidate wants to openly and explicitly address the blacks and Franco-Arabs of the ghettos, and up until now there has been a lot of abstentionism by them on election day. But a poll we at CRAN had taken by the polling institute Sofres showed that there are 2 million blacks of voting age -- and in 2002, [the neo-fascist Jean-Marie] Le Pen beat the Socialist presidential candidate for a place in the run-off by only 200,000 votes. That ought to make Segolene and the other candidates think about us more seriously -- but so far it hasn't."
A few days after her "Presidential Contract" speech, Segolene's credibility received a body blow when the Socialist Party's national secretary for economic issues, Eric Besson, resigned that post. Besson was the man in charge of figuring out how much the expensive promises in Segolene's "100 Propositions" would cost, and how to pay for them.
Besson (LEFT), who was also a Socialist député, or member of parliament, had had what the Socialist Party's media machine claimed was a "personal dispute" with Segolene's domestic partner and the father of her children, the Socialist Party's First Secretary -- and thus its boss --- Francois Hollande (RIGHT). But Besson's resignation as the Socialist's chief economic expert was widely interpreted as a sign that he refused to say that Segolene's program would cost French taxpayers what her campaign wanted to claim it did (in other words, he wouldn't cook the books on her program to make it sound cheaper.)
Segolene and her campaign didn't take this latest in an unappetizing series of very public blunders very well, and (Besson later claimed) began spreading unfounded rumors about marital difficulties between Besson and his wife to explain his resignation. This incensed Besson -- who this week got his revenge when called a press conference to noisily announce that he was resigning from his Socialist Party membership, withdrawing from his re-election campaign as a député to return to the private sector, denounce the "incoherence of the themes, discourse, and propositions" of Segolene's "incompetent" campaign, underscore that the cost of the program put forward by Segolene -- like the programs of "all the candidates and parties" -- was "under-estimated," and (the final blow) made it clear he could well decide eventually to support a candidate other than Segolene. He even said nice things about Nicolas Sarkozy (RIGHT), the dangerously demagogic conservative presidential candidate and the man the left loves to hate. Ouch!
The campaign took another big hit today with an op-ed piece in the daily Libération, signed by 30 high-ranking civil servants, grouping themselves under the name "Spartacus" and describing themselves as "Socialists and French of the left," declaring bluntly that, "We believe that the incoherent and erratic candidate of the Socialist Party is leading the French left to an inexorable defeat" -- and declaring that "the only useful vote to block Nicolas Sarkozy" is a vote for the centrist candidate Francois Bayrou (LEFT), "who alone can beat the conservative candidate." Indeed, one of the reasons for Sarkozy's new big lead over Segolene in this week's polls is the continued rise of Bayrou, whose percentage of the April 22 vote in the opinion polls has just risen to 16% -- ten points more than he received in the 2002 presidential race. Nearly all of Bayrou's new support has come from disillusioned Socialists and the left electorate, which Bayrou has been aggressively courting -- earlier this week, he declared that, if elected president, he would probably appoint a prime minister from the left (in the occurrence, former Socialist Minister of the Economy Dominique Strauss-Kahn (RIGHT), who, as head of their party's right wing, unsuccessfully fought Segolene for the Socialists' presidential nomination.)
With all of this going on, even the tepidly-left Nouvel Observateur, France's largest- circulation newsweekly -- which had played a major role in boosting Segolene for the Socialist Party's nomination with a series of uncritical cover-story puff pieces (like the one at right) -- has been forced to concede that the "Royalists'" elitist campaign is slaloming downward. In an article that hit the newsstands today entitled "Sego's Blunders," the Nouvel Obs (as it is colloquially referred to) reported: "The panic that has taken hold of the Socialist Party's elected officials translates very well the climate that reigns in the party -- something between anger and dismay at the campaign's disorganization, its improvised air, its lack of transparency, its amateurism. For nearly a month the same criticisms have been pummeling the candidate and her entourage. For example, at the end of January, one of the pillars of her campaign told Segolene right to her face: 'There are three people I can never get on the phone: your chief-of-staff and your two campaign managers!'" Even the telephone number of her campaign headquarters is unlisted and supposed to be kept secret. And, the magazine declared, without a total overhaul of her campaign, "her failure is assured."
Meanwhile, "Sarko," her right-wing opponent, has been enrolling under his banner well-known figures of the traditional cultural left: in the last few weeks he's won the very public support of the Communist actor Roger Hanin (LEFT) -- former Socialist President Mitterrand's brother-in-law and intimate friend, and a cinema star in France since the 1950s who today is more popular than ever for his title role in the long-running TV cop series "Commissaire Novaro," now in its 16th year; of the equally popular Algerian-born pied noir singer Enrico Macias (RIGHT), with hit records since the 1960s, and a Jew who can sing of Algeria in Arabic (making him a favorite of the older Franco-Arab generations) -- Macias also for years has been a fixture of the anti-racist movement and left street demonstrations; and of the black hip-hop recording artist (and TV fixture) Doc Gyneco (LEFT, WITH SARKOZY). Being on the left and for Sarkozy is, with cover like these celebs, becoming more and more respectable. (At the same time, Sarko -- noted for his pro-Israel positions -- has garnered the endorsements of the even more ardently pro-Israeli "Nouveaux Philosophes" André Glucksman and Pascal Bruckner, while another of their number -- Alain Finkielkraut -- has incessantly banged away at Segolene.)
Segolene Royal is set to announce a campaign shakeup today, with enlarged roles for her former opponents for the Socialists' nomination, Strauss-Kahn and former Mitterrand Prime Minister Laurent Fabius (LEFT) -- but does anybody care about these "inside-baseball" maneuvers? Will they stop her free-fall in the polls? In a much-watched TV appearance on February 19, Segolene tried tacking a bit to her left. But with only eight weeks to go until the voting begins, may it not be too late? And, given her centrist political history, will anyone believe her mild-left face-lift? Stay tuned...
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see my previous reports on France's 2007 elections:
February 9, "France: Bad News for the Left";
February 1, "Jose Bove Complicates the Contest"
February 21, 2007
NIGERIA: WORLD'S WORST ANTI-GAY LAW MAY PASS SOON
The following article was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which publishes it tomorrow:
One of the most sweeping anti-gay bills ever introduced in any parliament in the world is in danger of rapid passage in Nigeria in the coming weeks. Although billed as a ban on same-sex marriage, the proposed law includes provisions that would make any expression of homosexuality — not only sexual conduct but any homosexual inclination or reference — in public or in private, a crime.
This draconian, far-reaching piece of homophobic legislation provoked a full-throated outcry from the globe’s entire human rights community when it was introduced last year, and for a while it had been dormant. But now the bill has been fast-tracked for speedy passage in advance of Nigeria’s national elections in April, and the BBC’s correspondent in the country’s capital of Abuja reported last week that "it is likely to be passed by both chambers of the Nigerian National Assembly by the end of March." (Photo left, Nigerian National Assembly complex.)
Homosexual conduct among consenting persons in Nigeria is already a crime
punishable by 14 years in prison, a 19th century penal provision that is alegacy of British colonial rule. But the new legislation goes much, much further in terms of curbing fundamental rights of expression, association, and communication. Among the proposed new law’s many noxious provisions, it would, under penalty of a stiff prison term of five years:
— outlaw membership in a gay group, attending a gay meeting or protest, donating money to a gay organization; or even advocating gay equality in any way, shape, or form;
— outlaw hosting or even visiting a gay Web site;
— outlaw expressions of same-sex love in letters or e-mails;
— outlaw attending a same-sex marriage or blessing ceremony, screening or watching a gay movie, taking or possessing photos of a gay couple, and publishing, selling, or loaning a gay book or video.
Even mere socializing by two or more gay people, like having dinner together, is likely to be interpreted as illegal.
Gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would be targeted not only for specific acts but also for simply existing under this proposed law, and even heterosexual people who "promote" the lifestyle of homosexuals, for example by selling them a house, would be criminalized.
"It's critical that the Nigerian government understand that this is not an issue of liberalism or Western cultural encroachment, but that this new law violates the most basic of freedoms," Cary Alan Johnson (right), senior specialist for Africa of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) told me.
And, added Johnson, "Nigeria is battling for a place as a leader of the Global South and the world as a whole. Passing the bill into law would seriously jeopardize any claims to leadership by showing that basic human freedoms are still not available in Nigeria."
Islamic Sharia law, which makes homosexuality punishable by stoning, has been imposed in 12 of the 36 states in the Federal Republic of Nigeria — all of which have Muslim majorities and are located in the north of the country.
And now the nation’s term-limited authoritarian president for the last eight years, General Olusegun Obasanjo — having been denied a third term when the National Assembly, disgusted at his regime’s high-handed corruption, refused him a constitutional amendment allowing him to stay in office — has bypassed the primaries of his ruling People’s Democratic Party to hand-pick as his successor the governor of one of those Sharia states, Umaru Yar'Adua (right), known as a strict advocate of the Islamic legal code.
Obasanjo, a favorite of President George W. Bush, has been accused by opposition parties of trying to rig the April elections in favor of Yar’Adua, who is expected to be an enthusiastic enforcer of the proposed new anti-gay law if, as seems likely, he is elected. (Left, Obasanjo and pal Bush)
Last week, an MD who is Obasanjo’s assistant on health issues, argued that the new anti-gay law was needed to prevent HIV/AIDS — by keeping gays from infecting their wives and children — and he also bizarrely asserted it would help in preventing breast and womb cancer, to which he claimed lesbians are particularly vulnerable, and in preventing depression and suicide.
In fact, UNAIDS and other AIDS-fighting organizations have roundly condemned the proposed new law, saying it would encourage the spread of AIDS by driving at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men, underground and invisible to prevention workers. And depression and suicide among same-sexers would undoubtedly be increased by the psychological ravages of the repressive bill, not decreased.
The national bodies representing Christians and Muslims, however, are both strong supporters of the bill.
Representatives of a broad civil society coalition opposed to the proposed law — including LGBT advocates — were initially denied entry to a so-called "public" hearing on the bill last week on the grounds that it was "by invitation only." But after intervention by representatives of the European Union and foreign embassies, the bill’s opponents were able to pass through the National Assembly’s gates and get to the hearing, according to reports from Nigerian gay activists received by Human Rights Watch.
"There has been an absolutely amazing coalition of Nigerian LGBT and mainstream human rights activists who have come together under the banner of basic human freedoms" to oppose this bill, IGLHRC‘s Johnson told me, adding, "It is really a watershed moment in LGBT history in Africa."
The dangers of the proposed law for the fight against AIDS, and its crushing effects on already-beleaguered Nigerian gays, were underscored dramatically in a new report issued February 17 by IGLHRC, and entitled, "Voices from Nigeria: Gays Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders Speak Out Against the Same-Sex Bill."
For example, a 37-year-old gay man named Chuma told IGLHRC, "I have been targeted myself because I am gay. Two months ago I was arrested and detained by the police in Lagos. This happened when I was carrying out research for the study on the prevalence and risk factors of HIV/AIDS, STI infections, and social risk behavior among men that have sex with men in Nigeria. A team of policemen in Lagos came to my apartment and took me away to an unknown place for two days. I was beaten beyond recognition, and I am still receiving treatment for the head injury I received. I was dehumanized and paraded naked to the press. My money, ID card, and shoes were taken. Eventually I was released without being charged or tried. My only offense was that I am gay."
"On another occasion, " Chuma continued, "when I was at a gay bar, police came and arrested everyone there. Twenty-three people, including myself, were kept in detention for two days without a trial. I am concerned that the same-sex bill proposed by the Nigerian government will further force gays underground. Hate campaigns against GLBT people will increase and fundamental freedoms will be challenged. The laws will also affect Nigerians more broadly. HIV/AIDS will increase because visible support for GLBT organizations will vanish. Unemployment will increase. GLBT-friendly lawyers will refuse to defend gays for fear of persecution."
The entire, must-read "Voices from Nigeria" report is available online for you to read -- as you should -- by clicking here.
One report last week from a leader of the LGBT-civil society opposition to the bill suggested that the Nigerian National Assembly is divided on its passage at the moment, with one-third for, one-third against, and one-third undecided. And IGLHRC’s Johnson told Gay City News that "There is still time to prevent the passage of this bill."
Asked by this reporter what U.S. gays could do to help, Johnson said: "While Barney Frank (left) and Tammy Baldwin have both weighed in against the bill, Americans still need to put pressure on their representatives to condemn the bill. Your readers should call their members of Congress and the State Department and ask them to speak out against the Same-Sex Marriage Act. Full-scale activism is what is needed at this point."
BARBARA GITTINGS, 1932-2007 We note with sadness the passing of one of the U.S. gay movement's true heros -- the indefatigable Barbara Gittings (right). Barbara was a pioneer lesbian activist whose contributions and example were enormously important in helping to create a liberating consciousness in the dark days, not so long ago, when homosexuality was still the love that dared not speak its name -- both as a founder of the Daughters of Bilitis in the 1950s and as the editor then of the groundbreaking lesbian magazine The Ladder. (Left, Barbara picketing Philadelphia's Independence Hall for gay rights in 1965.) There was a very respectful obituary yesterday for Barbara in the Philadelphia Inquirer, her hometown newspaper -- and you can read it by clicking here. I well remember her key role in getting the American Psychiatric Association to declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.in 1973. Barbara, the Fighting Librarian -- we'll miss her!
JAMAICA: GAY LEADER ESCAPES ST. VALENTINE'S DAY LYNCH MOB
The following was written for Gay City News -- New York's largest gay weekly -- which will publish it tomorrow:
A St. Valentine’s Day homophobic lynch mob of more than 200 in the Kingston, Jamaica suburb of St. Andrew’s Parish chased and assaulted three men presumed to be gay and threatened to kill them -- and the leader of the gay rights organization J-FLAG (Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays) was repeatedly and viciously assaulted by police when he went to the aid of the three alleged homosexuals targeted by the angry mob.
The February 14 anti-gay mob violence was sparked when a homophobic women began screaming curses and anti-gay epithets at the three men, calling them “battymen” (Jamaican slang for “faggot”) and hollering that they should be killed. The trio, who were described in various reports in the homophobic Jamaican press as “effeminate” and with “bleached-out faces, and dressed in tight jeans pants and skimpy shirts,” took refuge in a pharmacy in the Tropical Plaza shopping center, into which they were followed by their screaming accuser. The store management escorted the woman, who was still hollering threats and anti-gay insults, from the store, and telephoned local police.
This woman rapidly attracted the attention of passersby and other shoppers in the shopping center, and in a matter of minutes the crowd grew to number some 200 people of all ages, and both men and women as well as teenagers and children joined in chanting threats and anti-gay epithets, shouting “kill them, kill the battymen,” and demanding the three targeted men “come out to face our justice.” (Photo left: one of the gay men, in red T-shirt, is hit by a stone in the St. Valentine's Day mob attack.)
Gareth Williams, the 29-year-old leader of J-FLAG, said in a statement that, “I was already in the pharmacy purchasing items. I recognized the three men and went over and spoke to them, asking them to calm down.”
“Because I had intervened to calm the situation, I was pointed at and referred to as a friend of the three guys,” Gareth related, adding: “People said that I must be gay too The crowd demanded that I come outside, so they could beat me. After hearing these threats, I decided to wait until the police arrived to escort the three guys out. I thought it would be safer for me to leave with them at the same time.”
While waiting for police to arrive on the scene Gareth managed to get a phone call through to the New York offices of Human Rights Watch (HRW) as the hostile crowd continued to menace the men in the pharmacy. According to Scott Long, HRW’s director of LGBT Rights, “Rebecca Schleifer of HRW’s HIV/AIDS division, Jessica Stern, and I spent about two hours on the phone yesterday evening during this horrific incident, talking to the victims while the mob threatened them, to Jamaican activists, and to several different offices of the Jamaican police….What followed was a very tense episode of international action, with people mobilizing in New York, Geneva, and Kingston, and phoning both the Jamaican Commissioner of Police and the local police station to press the authorities to intervene immediately and provide protection.”
When police finally arrived inside the pharmacy, “The three men were supported by the store staff but verbally abused by the police and by the store’s private security personnel,” said J-FLAG’s Gareth. “I was violently abused by four members of the police team. They slapped me in the face, hit me on the head, and the handle of an M-16 rifle was used to strike me in the lower abdomen.”
Gareth said that, “This assault happened because one of the police officers was being very aggressive and homophobic. I told him that he should not abuse us in that manner. The officers forcibly dragged me towards the door. When I told them not to treat me like that, they became even more hostile.”
“I was the only one injured inside the pharmacy,” Gareth noted, “but one of the three guys was hit on the head with an object when he went outside to get into the police car. The police refused to tell us how we were going to get safely outside amid the angry mob of approximately 200 people. This made us very anxious.”
Once the men were finally put into a police car and whisked away, the abuse continued. “While in the vehicle all the ways to the police station, the men were taunted by the police with anti-gay epithets,” J-FLAG reported in a separate statement. “The insults continued even when the men arrived at the Half-Way Tree police station, where other police joined in the name-calling The policemen at the station told them that they should be grateful and warned them never to return to Half-Way Tree.”
J-FLAG’s Gareth was later examined by a physician, and “my injuries are deemed serious by the doctor who examined me,” he said. Those injuries, he explained, included: “soft tissue injuries to the right of the face (peri-orbital), right panetal scalp with minor soft hematoma, and blunt abdominal trauma and muscular spasm.”
The St. Valentine’s Day lynch mob incident is hardly the first time the Jamaican gay leader has been singled out by Jamaican police for abuse. When this reporter interviewed Gareth at length for Gay City News last October, he related how “I’ve had police officers turning up at my house, calling me ‘battyman’ and saying that I’ll be murdered like Brian. In February, after a gay man was killed, there was a gang of police outside my house saying the same thing would happen to me.”
Gareth’s last name, Williams, is a pseudonym he must use for his safety. His predecessor at J-Flag’s helm, Brian Williamson, 59 (right) -- whom Gareth told me “was the only out gay person in Jamaica who had the courage to put his face on television” -- was brutally murdered in his home in 2004 by anti-gay thugs, who mutilated his body with multiple stab wounds. An HRW researcher witnessed a joyous crowd that gathered outside Williamson‘s house to celebrate the murder. A smiling man called out, “Batty man,” using the Jamaican patois for faggot, “he get killed!” Others joined the celebration; laughing and calling out, “let’s get them one at a time,” “that’s what you get for sin,” “let’s kill all of them.” Some sang “Boom bye bye,” a line from a Jamaican song about killing and burning gay men that was made a hit by reggae singer Buju Banton. (For my full-length interview with Gareth, see “Jamaica: Island of Hate,” Gay City News, October 5, 2006)
Metropolitan Community Church, a gay denomination which recently opened a branch in Jamaica, reported: “Since the Valentines Day attack, the tragedy and violence have continued to grow. Over the last few days, other gay people reportedly have been attacked in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay, and at least one gay person in Montego Bay has been murdered. And on Sunday, there was an unconfirmed report that one of the three men attacked on Valentines Day had attempted suicide in the aftermath of the attack.”
J-FLAG has issued a statement saying, “We applaud the actions of the staff at the store who showed a fundamental humanity and respect for their fellow Jamaicans, and who called for the assistance of the police. The response of the police, however, shows that citizens perceived to be gay remain vulnerable to attacks both from violent members of the public as well as from the security forces themselves sworn to defend against the violation of their rights. We call upon the Commissioner of Police, the Office of Professional Responsibility and the Public Defender to ensure that the policemen involved in this assault are brought to justice.”
J-FLAG (logo at left) has asked that protests about the St. Valentine’s Day incident and the abusive police behavior associated with it be addressed to Jamaican embassies world-wide. In the U.S., the Embassy of Jamaica is at 20 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20036; Telephone: (202) 452-0660; Fax: (202) 452-0081; E-mail: email@example.com In New York City, the Consulate General of Jamaica is at 767 Third Avenue, Second Floor, New York N.Y. 10017; Telephone: (212) 935-9000; Fax: (212) 935-7507
Gareth said that J-FLAG “is in desperate need of funds. As it is, most of what we want to do to benefit the community we can’t do because we don’t have the money. Our needs are great.” Another urgent need is for expert help in modernizing and expanding the group’s website at http://www.jflag.org/ , “and gay-friendly computer experts are pretty scarce in Jamaica,” he added. If you want to help J-FLAG, e-mail the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org
Financial contributions may be mailed to: J-FLAG, P.O. Box 1152, Kingston 8, Jamaica, West Indies.
February 19, 2007
DANNY'S BOAT-- UNDER-16 DUTCH GAY YOUTH WIN IMPORTANT VICTORY
The mayor, from the Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, or Dutch Labor Party), had initially refused permission for the youth boat, according to the national daily newspaper De Volkskrant, expressing doubts about involving "that vulnerable group" in the annual procession. But Cohen changed his mind after meeting with Frank van Dalen (LEFT), the chairman of COC The Netherlands, the world's oldest LGBT group, founded in 1946.
The special homojongerenboot, or homo youngsters boat, in the traditionally colorful and festive Canal Pride boat parade - to be held this year on August 4 during three days of Pride celebrations and events - will be reserved for youth between the ages of 12 and 16, according to the Dutch national news agency ANP, and the youngsters will be accompanied on the boat by their parents.
The initiative for the boat for underage youngsters came from 14-year-old Danny Hoekzema (RIGHT), a gay youth who campaigned for the idea on his personal Web site.
"My goal with this boat is to get more activities for gay and lesbian teens all over the county," he told Gay City News in an extensive interview conducted by e-mail.
Danny said he has received an avalanche of hundreds of e-mails supporting him.
"Dozens of teens my age send me mails saying they agree with me that there are not enough activities specifically for our age group, " he said, adding: "Some 30 of them have already enlisted to join me on the teen boat. Others write that they support my initiative, but they still don't dare to come out. They hope things will change because of the attention and the growing understanding for gay teens now. That will help them to come out. A mother of a gay teen of 12 wrote me her son has come out because of my initiative. Both will participate on the boat in August." (To read excerpts from these e-mails to Danny, click here.)
Danny told this reporter he has the complete support of his parents for what he is doing.
"I came out 21 months ago when I was 12 years old. I'm just 14 now. I told my parents by letter that I put on their pillow in the bedroom. The next morning they woke me at 8 o'clock. Then we had a really good talk about it. My mother works as a sales manager for a newspaper and my dad is a bookkeeper. They responded really well when I told them about my initiative for the teen boat at the Canal Parade. They support me and will be joining me on the boat. Isn't that great?"
Danny noted that, "All sorts of people who want to show their support send me mails. Like older gay men who remember the times when they were my age. They also knew they were gay at my age, but they were lonely and knew nobody like themselves. And straight people are mailing me as well. They think it's really a cool idea and want to encourage me to go forward with it. The need for activities for gay and lesbian teens is real. People are talking about it now - finally. I'm sure that makes a difference."
But the victory for Danny and his boat came only after a media feeding frenzy over allegations of pedophilia from a controversial figure in the Amsterdam gay community, charges that brought a series of death threats to an internationally known gay academic.
The background to the firestorm over pedophilia is an ongoing fight for control of the Canal Pride event. From 1996 to 2005, Canal Pride and the other Pride celebrations were organized by Amsterdam's Gay Business Association (BGA), headed by Siep de Haan. But there was growing dissatisfaction with de Haan's leadership, and allegations of financial malfeasance. (LEFT, CANAL PRIDE 2006)
"This year, our Gay Pride will cost some 200,000 Euros [roughly $260,000], whereas de Haan, who had a lot fewer events, claimed his budget was three times higher - where did the extra money go?" van Dalen told me, adding, "A lot of bar owners paid him a lot of money, because he told them - If you want to have a street party, you have to pay me. We believe he put the money in his pocket."
De Haan did not reply to an e-mail from this reporter requesting his response to the charges.
These allegations caused City Hall to withdraw its permit for the Pride events from de Haan's group last year and give it to a new sponsoring organization, Pro Gay, in which COC is a participant.
Against this background, de Haan - on learning of the plans for the under-age youngsters' boat - several weeks ago began a campaign to undermine Pro Gay's and COC's sponsorship of the Pride events with charges of pedophilia, according to articles in the Dutch press and accounts given this reporter by local gay activists.
And he chose to do so by singling out Gert Hekma (LEFT), an internationally known gay academic who is a lecturer in Gay and Lesbian Studies at the University of Amsterdam. Since de Haan began his campaign, Hekma has become the target of multiple death threats.
Hekma, 55, the author, editor, or co-editor of 16 scholarly books on gay studies - a number of them available in English - has written extensively on pedophilia in articles for scholarly journals. The prize-winning British historian and Auden biographer Richard Davenport-Hines - reviewing "Gay Life and Culture: A World History," the monumental essay collection published last year and edited by Professor Robert Aldrich of the University of Sydney, to which Hekma was a contributor - wrote: "Gert Hekma bravely utters some unsayable truths - 'in general young people suffer no negative consequences from intergenerational sex unless it happens inside the family or unless violence is used against them' - and intelligently contextualizes the prevalent Western hysteria about the sexual abuse of children."
In explaining the origins of the controversy, Hekma me by telephone, "City Hall wanted to get rid of de Haan and broaden the Pride from drinking and dancing to include cultural, sporting, and academic events."
Hekma's name was one of those on the original application for the permit for Pride, and so his name appeared in early press accounts of the planned boat for under-age youth, even though he was not involved with it.
De Haan then sent a number of journalists quotes from a 2004 interview Hekma had given to Martijn, a pedophile magazine.
"In that interview," Hekma told me, "which was occasioned by the publication of my book 'Homosexuality in the Netherlands from 1730 to Modern Times,' I was untactical, as people would later reproach me, in my expressions. I said that the heteronormative culture opposes sex for the young with so much force, while at the same time we force the young to do other things that are good for them, like going to school, learning how to eat or to swim, etc. And, as I was writing an essay on [the Marquis de] Sade at the time, I invoked Sade and said that it might be a good idea to forcibly bring children to sex. I was being ironic, and perhaps a bit outrageous. What I meant, and should have said more clearly, was that instead of using force to prevent the sexual development of youth, it would be much better to do the opposite and spur them to become self-conscious sexual citizens."
Then, Hekma said, the more sensational and conservative elements of the Dutch press, and even some radio and TV stations, "began quoting me as saying 'we should force children to have sex' with no context, and referring to me as a 'defender of pedophiles.' When I was interviewed, I explained that it is normal for an academic to touch on all topics, in particular difficult themes like pedophilia - this I have done throughout my work."
In fact, Hekma's academic views are not dissimilar from those of Judith Levine's controversial book "Harmful to Minors: the Perils of Protecting Children from Sex" (University of Minnesota Press), which carried a forward from former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, and in which the author wrote: "The threat of pedophilia and molestation is exaggerated by adults, who want to deny young people the opportunity for positive sexual experiences."
"America's drive to protect kids from sex is protecting them from nothing ...Instead, often it is harming them," she also wrote.
As well, hitting on the theme that Davenport-Hines attributed to Hekma, Levine wrote, "The research shows us that in some minority of cases, young, even quite young, people can have a positive [sexual] experience with an adult."
In discussing de Haan's public efforts to sabotage the Pride celebration, Hekma told this reporter, "The main line in the commotion here was the idea that this boat had something to do with pedophiles, and I was supposedly the main transfer point from the boat to the pedophiles."
But, Hekma said, "I had nothing to do with the youngsters' boat, and the youngsters' boat had nothing to do with pedophilia. What pedophile would come to a boat that was surrounded by media and parents? And these youngsters would have absolutely no reason to be interested in such a man at that moment."
COC's van Dalen told me, "Nobody in the community wants to work anymore with Siep de Haan, who is always trying to create trouble and attract attention to himself. Siep de Haan was behind the [pedophuilia controversy], he's doing everything he can to fight us, including organizing a media riot involving Hekma. Plus, the teen boat isn't about having sex, it's about identity!"
The media storm over the homojongerenboot spread like wildfire on the Internet, and occasioned questions in the Dutch Parliament from the small SPG party, a right-wing Christian group.
Hekma and his university both began receiving a lot of hate mail and death threats.
"I opened my computer and there was the first death threat, reading, 'I am going to push your shit through your throat before kicking you to death,'" the academic recounted. "There were six more like that, all signed."
Hekma conferred with his dean about the death threats, and the university informed the police - "who are taking them seriously," Hekma said, invoking the recent political assassinations of openly-gay right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn (RIGHT) and anti-immigrant filmmaker Theo Van Gogh.
Hekma's right to speak and write freely was supported by his university, but he was publicly disowned by COC and Pro Gay, both of which issued statements criticizing his views.
"Hekma is for lowering the age of consent, but that's not on our agenda," van Dalen told this reporter. "And we resent the things he has said."
COC's statement criticizing Hekma argued: "Gay liberation focused on the discriminatory aspect of the age of consent, not on the principle of an age of consent as such. As soon as the age of consent for both straight and gay/lesbian sex was equalized [in 1972 in the Netherlands], the age of consent stopped being a matter of concern for the Dutch LGBT movement."
"I am a victim of the fight between de Haan, and COC and Pro Gay," Hekma responded. "They dropped me because they were afraid of being called defenders of pedophiles. I've been hurt by my being presented as a pedoprofessor and a pedophile, but I've resisted denying I'm a pedophile on principle so as not to contribute to anti-pedo hysteria. The difference betweeen me and van Dalen is that I'm an academic, open for speculation and some irony, and he as a politician has to think tactically and strategically."
Van Dalen said that "there's no place for irony when talking about force."
The age of consent in the Netherlands was raised to 16 in 2002. Until then, between the ages of 12 and 16, there was no such thing as the concept of statutory rape on the law books for that age group. As a COC brochure put it at that time, "between 12 and 16 sexual contacts are punishable only when a complaint is lodged.... [O]nly the child, his or her parents, or the Council for the Protection of Children may bring in charges." (RIGHT, COC LOGO)
COC's positions pre-2002 versus today suggest a shift in the group's posture. As its pamphlet put it then in defending the existing law, "nobody is allowed to interfere" with adult-child sexual contacts "as long as the situation is mutually agreeable, but should problems arise, then the sexual relation is certainly punishable."
Now, the organization's position reads: "COC maintains the need for an age of consent, 16 in the Netherlands. A sexual relation between an adult and a minor always warrants suspicion and the need for an investigation. That such a sexual relationship is punishable by law is justified, because it [is] a necessary warning for pedophiles not to seek such contacts with minors and therefore provides some protection for minors. But COC is in favor and supported the Dutch regulation that minors between the age of 12 and 16 are always heard by the public prosecution before a decision to prosecute the adult is taken."
During the media explosion, van Dalen said, the debate shifted from sexual behavior to any discussion at all of under-age homosexual youth.
"The tone was, 'How can a 14-year old know if they're gay or not - they're too young,'" he told me.
When this reporter asked the young inventor of the idea of the youngsters' boat how he'd answer such criticism, Danny replied: "Straight teens are never questioned about their sexuality. It's the same for gay and lesbian teens. Just read their e-mails to me and the mails of older gay men who remember their situation when they were our age. Coming out young, that's the only thing new."
Danny went on to say, "There are simply not enough activities and no specific places for youngsters of my age. Those activities have to be organized. Not by individuals, but by professional organizations. That's why I'm so pleased that COC Netherlands is supporting me. There are plenty of professional organizations working with straight teens. Nobody ever questions the need for that or the intentions of the people and organizations that provide those activities for them. It's just plain homophobia to question their intentions. Why should it be any different for gay and lesbian teens? That's how I see it."
Does Danny see himself as a gay activist in future?
"This is just the start. I really want to make an impact for gay emancipation," he told me. "I would like to work for COC Netherlands. Make sure that people don't cast gays and lesbians out. Especially teens like me, because right now we are really left behind. But many more people still live in isolation feeling lonely. There's still a lot to be done and I want to help and do my bit to change that."
For more information, see Danny Hoekzema's Web site, http://www.dannysparade.nl/ , COC's Web site, http://www.coc.nl/dopage.pl?thema=any&pagina=home ;and Amsterdam Gay Pride '07 Web site, http://www.amsterdamgaypride.nl/ . Note: Though Danny speaks some English, his answers and their translation were prepared with the assistance of COC.
GOOD NEWS FOR MANI: Readers of this blog will recall that, last October, I made an urgent appeal for contributions to help Mani, an underground Iranian gay activist who had escaped Iran just one step ahead of the police who wanted to arrest and imprison him. I had previously interviewed Mani about his work inside Iran (see "From Inside Iran, An Underground Gay Activist Speaks," July 5, 2006). Mani had to spend so much money for a "passer" to get him across the border to Turkey that he wound up penniless and sleeping in an Istanbul bus station. Many of you responded with generosity and sent contributions to help Mani.
Well, now there's good news. I have just heard from Arsham Parsi, the young Secretary-General of the Iranian Queer Organization (the new name of the Persian Gay and Lesbian Organization) that "Mani has been officially recognized as a refugee by UNHCR (the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights) a few days ago. He interviewed again at the UNHCR for his 3rd country visa and he is waiting for last step of UNHCR's process." This means that Mani will be able to leave Turkey for a gay-friendly country soon. To all those who opened their checkbooks for Mani in his hour of need, a big Thank You!
February 15, 2007
RUMSFELD, THE DEFINITIVE PORTRAIT Roger Morris's must-read slice-and-dice
As the country is finally being treated to a long-delayed, full-scale Congressional debate about Iraq, it is more important than ever to understand how we got to where we are, how we became mired in a bloody quagmire in which we had no business engaging, and how the country and the Congress were drugged by lies and dragged into an illegal war.
No man bears greater responsibility for the tragedy of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq than Donald Rumsfeld (left)-- yet, though his face and voice are, unfortunately, all too familiar even to the most casual news consumer, most of us have only a rather sanitized conception of who Rumsfeld is, the crucial role he has played at key moments of American history for the last three decades, and what drives him.
Roger Morris (right) has now filled the voids in our understanding of Rumsfeld with a brilliant, lengthy essay that lifts the carpet to reveal Rumsfeld's rise and role, and how he led us into an iniquitous war. Roger is one of our finest chroniclers of contemporary history, a masterful dissector of American politics, and a skilled portraitist of the dark side of American power. As a young man with a Ph.D from Harvard, he was a Foreign Service officer and a member of the Senior Staff of the National Security Council under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
Roger Morris resigned from the NSC in protest against the secret invasion of Cambodia in 1970 -- an experience which radicalized him. Since then, he has turned out a series of important, probing books that have contributed mightily to our understanding of our times. His superb, monumental, 1000-page book on Richard Nixon, which won a National Book Award, gave us a fresh understanding of a diabolical president about whom we thought we already knew everything. Roger's razor-sharp books on Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig were equally revealing dissections. And his book on Bill and Hillary -- Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America -- is still the best single book ever written on the duo who led the Democratic Party's turn to the right (and if you want to understand who Hillary really is, if you haven't yet read this book, you owe it to yourself to do so.) Roger's newest book, Shadows of the Eagle, a history of U.S. covert interventions and policy in the Middle East and South Asia over the past half-century, will be published later this year by Knopf.
A couple of weeks ago, Roger sent me the manuscript of his Rumsfeld essay because he was having trouble placing such a long piece, and wanted to get it out to the public quickly in time to have some impact on the national debate about the Iraq war. The death of long-form journalism in this country is one of the great disasters which have befallen my profession, and has sharply reduced the number of outlets for a piece the length of Roger's Rumsfeld slice-and-dice, no matter how brilliant a read it is. But I knew one man who'd "get it" and who had the capacity to put it rapidly before a wide readership of serious people -- my old friend Tom Engelhardt (right), who runs the indispensable on-line TomDispatch, a project of The Nation Institute, which regularly publishes essay-length contributions from a distinguished roster of writers and journalists on the most nefarious aspects of the American imperium. As a longtime senior editor at Pantheon books (before that distinguished progressive publishing house was swallowed up and denatured by a conglomerate), Tom published some of the most important left books to appear over two decades. On TomDispatch he has displayed the same discernment in sussing out important but under-reported foreign and defense policy issues and finding writers who can sound the toxin on them with expertise and style. When I sent Roger's Rumsfeld essay to Tom, as soon as he read it he was so excited by it he couldn't wait to publish it, despite its length.
Roger Morris's brilliant Rumsfeld dissection -- with the telling title "The Undertaker's Tally" -- is being published by TomDispatch in two parts, the first of which has just appeared. With acerbic brio, in this first installment Morris traces in damning detail the ascension of Rumsfeld -- a young Michigan Congressman whose "rightist mentality, New Deal-phobic corporatist cant and Cold War chauvinism came dressed more in modish vigor than telltale substance" -- and who engineered the selection of Gerald Ford as House Republican leader, thus enabling Ford's later presidency; Rumsfeld's appointment by Nixon to head the LBJ-created Office of Economic Opportunity and "abort [its] unwanted embryonic empowerment of the poor; Rumsfeld's sponsorship of the rise of his protégé, a "young Wyoming reactionary named Dick Cheney," who became Rummy's partner in crime along with an equally reactionary future Secretary of Defense, Frank Carlucci; the Rumsfeld-Chency coup that dumped Kissinger from his National Security Council job and replaced him with Brent Scowcroft, who later helped cement the relationship between George W. Bush and Rumsfeld, as did another Rumsfeld crony, James Baker; Rumsfeld's first tenure as post-Vietnam Defense Secretary, where he perfected the high-handed, dissent-squelching, fact-manipulating practices that later he used to get us into Iraq; and a lot more.
You can -- and should -- read the first part of Roger Morris's dissection of Rumsfeld by clicking here. In publishing this essay, Tom Engelhardt emphasized that, "If you don't understand Rumsfeld, you can't fully grasp the unprecedented ruin which is American foreign policy today. It's not something I often say, but this is simply a must-read." Tom is ever so right, on both counts. And don't miss the next half of Morris's dismemberment of Rumsfeld, which will be published on TomDispatch tonight.
MORE RECOMMENDED READING: In his latest column for "InsideHigherEd.com," Scott McLemee has a long interview with Danny Postel (right) about why the left should take back the Iran issue from the neo-cons. Danny, author of the excellent, recently-published book Reading “Legitimation Crisis” in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism (University of Chicago Press), explains: "What is now blindingly clear to the naked eye, for anyone who cares to look, is that the neocon agenda vis-a-vis Iran has never been about democracy or human rights. What the neocons want in Tehran is a pro-U.S. and pro-Israeli regime; whether it’s a democratic one or not is an entirely secondary matter to them. And Iranian dissidents know this, which is why they want nothing to do with the neocons....This is not only a critique of the neocons, though; it’s also a challenge to those on the Left who have bought into the neocons’ Big Lie about being the bosom buddies of Iran’s dissidents. Due to intellectual laziness, a preference for moral simplicity, existential bad faith, or some combination thereof, lots of leftists have opted out of even expressing moral support, let alone standing in active solidarity with, Iranian dissidents, often on the specious grounds that the latter are on the CIA’s payroll or are cozy with the neocons. Utter and complete tripe. Perhaps, as I say, understandable in the past, when it wasn’t as transparent what empty hogwash the neocons’ posturing was. But now that the neocons’ real cards are on the table and their pretense of solidarity with Iranian dissidents has been shattered, the Left can no longer use the neocons as an avoidance mechanism...." You should read the rest of Danny Postel's analysis by clicking here......Also on Iran, in today's Los Angeles Times there's a good op-ed by Azar Nafisi (left), the distinguished author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran." She writes, "who would benefit from a military attack on Iran? Not the workers, students, minorities, women or the dissenters who have been trying to find nonviolent and democratic ways of resisting and changing the present system. Such an attack would provide an excuse for the most reactionary and violent elements within the ruling elite to stifle any voice of dissent not just from within the civil society, but from the divided and factional ruling elite. It would help rally factions within that elite behind Ahmadinejad...In other words, the main beneficiary of an attack on Iran would be the most militaristic and reactionary elements in the Iranian ruling hierarchy." You can read Nafisi's entire article by clicking here.
ARAB BLOGGERS: Bitter Lemons International Org., the online Middle East roundtable, has an interesting symposium this week on "The Arab Blogosphere" by four Arab bloggers from Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain -- and you can read it by clicking here.
February 12, 2007
PUTIN'S CONTESTED WORDS ON GAYS An Interview with Russia's Leading Gay Activist
I wrote the following article for this week's issue of Gay City News, New York's largest gay weekly newspaper:
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) last Thursday spoke in public for the first time ever about gays - but interpretations diverge about the meaning of what he said.
At his annual, nationally televised winter press conference February 1, before an audience of hundreds - mostly Russian, but including foreign correspondents as well - Putin was asked by a correspondent from Agence France Presse for his opinion about Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov's condemnation of Gay Pride parades as "satanic."
"My approach towards gay parades and sexual minorities is very simple,' Putin replied, according to Reuters. "It is directly linked to my responsibilities. One of the key problems of our country is the demographic problem."
At that point, the Reuters report continued, "The auditorium exploded in laughter and applause. The Kremlin leader quickly added, 'I respect the freedom of people in all respects. What was the other question?'"
Mayor Luzhkov ( ) - whose police broke up the 2006 attempt to hold a Moscow Gay Pride demonstration - had said the previous Monday, "Last year, Moscow came under unprecedented pressure to sanction the gay parade, which can be described in no other way than as satanic. We did not let the parade take place then, and we are not going to allow it in the future."
On its English-language Web site, Russia's Novosti press agency - considered to be under the Putin regime's control - headlined its report on the president's remarks: "PUTIN SIGNALS SUPPORT FOR LUZHKOV'S GAY PARADE BAN," adding in the text of its report that Putin had "avoided a direct answer, but signaled his support for Yuri Luzhkov" - but without citing any specifics.
However, Nikolai Alekseev (right) - the principal organizer of Moscow Gay Pride 2006- chose to put a positive spin on Putin's remarks, issuing a press release hailing them as a "great breakthrough." Alekseev's communiqué added, "The president made it clear that he respects the rights of sexual minorities- and another ban of the Gay Pride will contradict what the president said."
Moreover, Alekseev's press release said, "The words of the president have cost us two years of hard, everyday work. We were expecting slightly more from him, but we accomplished the main thing - because of the mere idea of Gay Pride [the] Russian president started to talk about sexual minorities."
Most Western media put a neutral spin on Putin's remarks, avoiding both Novosti's interpretation that the president supports Luzhkov's ban on Gay Pride and Alekseev's claim that he had stated his respect for "the rights of sexual minorities."
And the Western press interpreted Putin's remark about "demographics" as a joke at Russian gays' expense - as did the audience at the president's press conference.
Alekseev is the courageous 29-year-old lawyer and gay activist who organized Moscow's Gay Pride demonstration last May 27. Luzhkov's police arrested dozens of gay men and lesbians that day, Alekseev included (right, police arrest Alekseev), and permitted gangs of fascist thugs to attack the gay crowd of some 200 with impunity. Among the many who were injured was Volker Beck (left), a gay member of Germany's parliament, the Bundestag. (See this reporter's article "Police, Fascists Crush Moscow Pride," Gay City News, June 1, 2006.)
Asked whether any Russian media had echoed his gay-positive interpretation of Putin's remarks, Alekseev, speaking in English from Moscow, told Gay City News: "The headlines in the electronic media varied from 'Putin linked gays to demography' and 'Gays responsible for low birth rate' to 'Putin respects gays,' 'Putin made gays happy,' 'Putin respects freedoms in all forms,' etc. You can see that the reaction was mixed, but at least it was not massively negative, most of the time it was neutral or even positive. Though we must admit that we did not understand what Putin thinks on Gay Prides. One politician said to the Kommersant newspaper: 'I did not understand whether Putin supports Gay Pride or not. I personally do not.'"
Alekseev went on to say that Putin's remarks on gays were "the first-ever statement of Putin or of any Russian leader in all the history of the country. He admitted on the state level that gays exist, which was not admitted before. I talked to many people after this press conference and many gays are very happy that Putin talked on gays for the first time."
"The statements of Putin put new challenges for us," Alekseev continued. "It is like a two-year period of fight is over, and we now begin a new era from a new starting point. I think the comments of the media and politicians on gays will be more balanced now. This is politics, and whatever Putin thinks on gays he did not express any hatred like the mayor of Moscow is always doing. I think we have to wait for May 27 this year to see if Putin really respects gay liberties, when there will be a chance to demonstrate it in practice."
The events this coming May 27 - chosen again because it is the anniversary of the 1993 decriminalization of homosexuality in Russia - will, Alekseev promised, include a festival, conference, and cultural events beginning May 25 and culminating in a Gay Pride Parade on Sunday, the 27th.
The theme of this year's Moscow Pride, Alekseev said, will be "LGBT Rights Are Human Rights." He told Gay City News, "We want mainstream human rights organizations to start to work on LGBT issues as well, which they have previously ignored. And we are starting to get a good response from these mainstream human rights organizations, who are ready to support us in May this year."
On January 29, having exhausted appeals in the Russian court system against Mayor Luzhkov's ban, Alekseev and Moscow Pride organizers filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, arguing that the Pride ban violated three separate human rights articles of the European Constitution, and asking that the Russian Federation be made to pay 20,000 Euros - some $26,000 - in compensation for its failure to protect the right of gays to demonstrate.
"Not a single European legal expert we have spoken with doubts the success of our application to the European Court," Alekseev said.
As a result of the huge publicity around last year's Moscow Pride and the violent repression of it, Alekseev explained, Russian media coverage of gays "is getting better. Two years ago we could not imagine media here talking so much about gays in Russia. And this is the most important. We got a lot of press for our court actions against the mayor, and for our protest at the Iranian Embassy last July. After that the wave went down, but since we launched the court application in Strasbourg, and since Luzhkov's and Putin's remarks, the coverage has started to increase again. I can already say that now at this point we have more than a year ago at the same time."
This has resulted in "More and more people in and around Moscow coming forward who want to help organize this year's Pride," Alekseev said, pointing to one happy result of the new attention to gay issues. And, he said, there have even been signs of change in parts of Russia far from Moscow.
"We had attempts by local activists to register their gay organizations in two regions-in Omsk and in Tumen," he said of two areas north of Kazakhstan, at the western end of Siberia. "All applications were denied on technical reasons and they are continuing to fight for that. It just proves that people in other cities are starting to wake up."
Yet life remains dire for gays outside Moscow. Two Russian gay men were granted asylum this week in France as sexual refugees because of police persecution, the French gay magazine TETU reported Tuesday in its daily e-bulletin. One, a 44-year-old man from Glazov - a city of 100,000 located on the Trans-Siberian Railway line in Russia's far east - was severely beaten by police there because he is gay.
The other, 25, from Kaliningrad, a seaport enclave on the Baltic between Poland and Lithuania, was arrested in a gay cruising area by police, who tortured him.
The two gay Russians were represented in their successful asylum claim by ARDHIS (Association pour la Reconnaissance des Droits des personnes Homosexuelles et transsexuelles à l'Immigration et au Séjour), an eight-year-old French organization that fights for political asylum for LGBT victims of persecution.
Alekseev, invited as an honored guest to Pride celebrations in London, Paris, Turin, Berlin, and other foreign cities after the violent repression of last year's Moscow Pride, underscored to Gay City News that "world solidarity in LGBT movements is vital. If we did not have this solidarity for Moscow Pride we would never have what we have now, with even the president beginning to speak about sexual minorities."
Alekseev explained he has traveled to 30 countries "trying to bring my knowledge and expertise to gays in other nations. Here, we joined solidarity actions on Iran which were very effective, and we are supporting similar actions in relation to other countries. Even in Russia we live in a much freer country and society than many others do, and we have to help progress LGBT equality in the world. Some people can only dream to have what we have here. But they are being prosecuted, executed, killed, harassed without any hope for the better life. It is our obligation to help them and to raise these issues all the time at all levels."
The Russian activist was critical of U.S. gay groups.
"I know very well that American organizations are not much involved in the international struggle," he told Gay City News. "This is really a shame. We got many promises from the U.S. organizations but it has never materialized in real help."
And, Alekseev added, "I will always be on the side of activists and people who try to change their situations radically, no matter where they live. Even here in Russia I am representing the radical wing of the LGBT movement. I am convinced that no one will bring us what we want, we have to take it ourselves."
Asked about his evolution as a gay activist, Alekseev said, "My coming out was relatively gradual and I can't give an exact date. It was around the time of my scientific research on the rights of sexual minorities at Lomonosov Moscow State University, for which I was expelled. I started to be interested in the rights of sexual minorities professionally at the university because I was studying law. This sphere was not developed in Russia at all and I started to be very interested to work on it. Then I published two books on this, but I gradually started to realize that I would not change the situation in Russia in such a way. So, I started to think about launching an LGBT human rights organization, which we did in 2005."
Moscow Gay Pride is still struggling to pay off a massive debt of some $30,000 from last year's events - and, said Alekseev, "We are still not sure how we will finance this year's Pride because we have only promises but no money to do it."
For more information, or to find out how to help, visit the English-language Web site run by Alekseev and his comrades, http://www.gayrussia.ru/en/
February 09, 2007
FRANCE: BAD NEWS FOR THE LEFT (Updated)
A new poll has very bad news for the French left: a huge chunk of left voters are being seduced by Nicolas Sarkozy (right), the hard-line, demagogic, law-and-order ultra-free market right-winger who is the ruling conservative UMP party's candidate for president in the elections which begin with a first round of voting on April 22.
On Monday, Sarkozy -- a telegenic media manipulator --- appeared on the top-rated TV network TF1's prime-time political show "J''ai une question a vous poser" ("I have a question to ask you"), in which 100 French selected by a pollster to be demographically and politically representative of the French electorate were invited to ask the candidate questions. And a poll commissioned by the daily Le Figaro and LCI radio from the firm Opinion Way, and released on Friday, showed that a whopping 60% of voters who identified themselves as "left" and who saw the broadcast found Sarkozy "convincing." (Above Left, Sarkozy's puppet character, which portrays him as the late Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, on the popular Canal+ satirical TV show "Les Guignols de l'Info." The balloon has him saying, "Too much liberty kills liberty".)
On the broadcast, which drew an all-time audience record for a TV political show of 8.2 million, Sarkozy -- supposedly the most hated man for the left -- was even found "sympathetic" by 35% of left voters, despite sharp clashes between Sarkozy and audience members over gays ("Sarko," as he is called, re-iterated his opposition to gay marriage and adoptions by gay couples, policies with which there's a lot of discomfort among the working classes) and immigration (Sarko, as Interior Minister, has stepped up deportations of immigrants -- including of children attending French schools, speaking French perfectly, and doing well scholastically -- and is campaigning on a nationalist slogan stolen from neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen: "La France, on l'aime ou on la quitte" ("France -- Love it or Leave It.")
Worse, 40% of left voters polled agreed with Sarko on gay marriage (even though most polls show a majority of the French favor it), and 35% of left voters agreed with him on immigrants and his "France -- Love It or Leave It" slogan. That last number undoubtedly reflects the residual electoral effects of the country-wide French ghetto riots of October-November 2005, which dramatically heightened the mood of anti-immigrant domestic security hysteria that has gripped France for years and motored the racist rise of Le Pen -- a hysteria which Sarkozy is so skilled at inflaming and exploiting (in part by borrowing Le Pen's ideas.)
More bad news for Segolene Royal, the Socialist Party's programatically vapid nominee, whose unfocused campaign of bland generalities has been in decline for weeks: a separate poll taken for the Paris daily Metro (a very successful free newspaper geared to younger readers) showed that Segolene has lost 10 points of support among younger voters since January -- and, in fact, also shows Sarkozy beating her among younger voters by six points. If the establishment left's candidate is losing the youth to the right, and a chunk of her left base is slipping away, what hope does she have?
And the latest poll for the France 2 public TV network also shows Sarkozy beating Segolene in the run-off second round of presidential voting by 6 points.
For those left voters looking for a solidly left-wing alternative to the centrist, Tony Blair-loving Socialist Party candidate Segolene, there was also bad news: a French court last week sentenced Jose Bové-- the anti-globalization and environmental leader who announced his presidential candidacy last week as the representative of the "left of the left" -- was sentenced to four months in jail for another one of his highly-publicized (and popular) acts of civil disobedience, in the occurence the destruction of a genetically-modified crop. (See my post from February 1, "Jose Bové Complicates the Contest," for an analysis of the presidential race thus far and Bové's impact on it.) This means that Bové (above left, in handcuffs) will be unable to campaign in person across France, and will have to content himself with issuing occasional written statements from his jail cell instead of declaiming before the TV cameras, which has been the source of his widespread popularity up until now. At present it's hard to see how this "left of the left" campaign, which was only just getting off the ground, can have much impact in the first round of voting deprived of its media-savvy candidate on the stump.
If you want an intelligent perspective on the campaign, the best-selling libertarian philosopher Michel Onfray (right) -- who's been the most important intellectual figure ardently advocating a "left of the left" alternative to Segolene -- has been invited to write a "presidential blog" for France's largest weekly newsmagazine, the tepidly-left Nouvel Observateur. Onfray's blog debuted day before yesterday with a declaration of principles -- and he followed it up today with a definition of the "Deleuzian politics" that have led him to back Bové, the candidate who is "a reader of Ellul, of Illich, of Thoreau, and of Bakunin." Unfortunately for Onfray, his candidate will now have a lot of unexpected reading time while he's off the campaign trail and behind bars.
And a specter is haunting France -- the specter of Sarkozy...Stay tuned.
UPDATE, FEBRUARY 10 -- The Paris daily Le Figaro reports today on a new poll taken by IFOP, one of the more reliable French polling institutes, showing that the working-class vote is split right down the middle: hard-right Nicolas Sarkozy gets 31% of the laborious electorat, the same as the Socialists' Segolene Royal. Moreover, says the polls deputy director, "a third of the workers who voted for Le Pen in 2002 say they'll vote for Sarkozy this time," which suggests that Sarko's blatant borrowing from neo-fascist Le Pen's arsenal of demagogy has paid off. And the latest BVA-Orange poll (whose accuracy I sometimes find debateable), echoing other polls this time, has Sarko beating Segolene in a run-off 52 to 48% (and its a sign of her weakness that, in the unlikely event the run-off would feature Segolene against the centrist UDF party's candidate, Francois Bayrou (right), he too would come out on top, by the same margin.
In the hunt for the 500 signatures from France's 35,000 mayors needed for presidential candidates to achieve a place on the April ballot, the Trotskyist LCR's young postman, Olivier Besancenot (left), is still short, with only 428 mayors signing on to let voters cast their ballots for him (Besancenot, who got 4.5% of the presidential vote in 2002, hasn't progressed much in signature-gathering the last ten days.) And Jose Bové has a long way to go, with just 200 signatures. By contrast, the ultra-sectarian Trotskyist Lutte Ouvriere's perennial candidate, Arlette Laguiller (right, who attracted a lot of protest votes from the Socialists' disaffected electorate in 2002 to get 5.2% of the presidential vote) has already qualified for a place on the ballot, with 510 signatures. The austere Laguiller --France's first female presidential candidate back in 1974 -- has been around so long that, despite the secretive style and indigestible authoritarian accents of her ultra-Leninist party's politics, she attracts affectionate indulgence from some surprising quarters: last time out she could boast the support of Genevieve de Fontenay (left), a TV fixture on the chat-show circuit who is the elegantly-costumed head of the Miss France pageant! And Laguiller's presence on the ballot will give working-class leftists sick of Socialist Segolene's centrist economics a place to cast a protest vote. In the last week, Segolene Royal -- no doubt in response to the polls showing her slipping among the working classes -- has exchanged her trademark, elegantly-tailored white suit for a more proletarian black leather jacket. But it will take more than a costume change to convince the cynical toiling part of the left electorate that she represents a solid, pro-labor alternative to the right (particularly with Sarkozy seizing every chance for a photo op in a factory in dialogue with workers -- which, together with his thinly-veiled anti-immigrant racism, helps explain his progression in the polls among them.)
February 03, 2007
ISLAMIC CREATIONISM INVADES FRANCE (Updated)
An article in yesterday's edition of Le Figaro, the conservative French daily, brings news that a new book written from an Islamic Creationist perspective, ""L'Atlas de la Création" (cover, right) is making waves in France. According to the newspaper, dozens of thousands of free copies of this diatribe against Darwinism were sent from Turkey and Germany to nearly all French schools and universities. The article does not say who paid for this expensive, lavishly-illustrated, 770-page anti-intellectual propaganda tome to be so massively distributed (although it asks the question.). Nor how whomever sent it was able to get a list of the "dozens of thousands" in educational establishments to whom it was individually addressed.
The French Education Ministry reacted by advising all educational establishments that the book does not conform to the national science-based curriculum and "should not be included in the centers of documentation and information in scholarly establishments," and commissioned a dissection and refutation of the book.
The book's pseudonymous author, a Turk named Harun Yahya ( photo left -- real name: Adnan Oktar), makes a number of astonishing claims -- including that Charles Darwin is "the real source of terrorism." For example, a photo of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers carries a caption reading, "Those who perpetuate terror in the world are in reality the Darwinists. Darwinism is the only philosophy which validates and encourages conflict." Yahya also pretends to portray "the secret links between Darwinism and the bloody ideologies of fascism and communism."
I was curious about the author, and a Google search rapidly revealed that Yahya -- who says he is 50 and the author of dozens of books, and that his pseudonym was "formed from the names 'Harun' and 'Yahya' in the esteemed memory of the two Prophets who struggled against infidelity" -- maintains an expensively-designed, multi-media English-language website. On it, Yahya quotes another of his books, "The Evolution Deceit," as claiming: ""The theory of evolution is nothing but a deception imposed on us by the dominators of the world system."
An article about Yahya on Wikipedia says that he has plagiarized much of his writings from U.S. Creationist texts published here in the 1950s; that he has been in mental hospitals; and that a shadowy foundation Yahya controls -- the BAV Foundation -- has persecuted Turkish university professors who dared to teach evolution (including a number of them who won a lawsuit against him.)
One can also find on Yahya's website another of his hobby-horses: he denounces what he sees as the dark, deleterious, conspiratorial effects of Freemasonry worldwide. In a book called "Global Freemasonry," summarized on his website, Yahya claims that, "Freemasons have played an important role in Europe's alienation from religion, and in its place, the founding of a new order based on the philosophies of materialism and secular humanism. We will also see how Masonry has been influential in the imposition of these dogmas to non-Western civilizations...[how] Masonry has been used to help establish and perpetuate a social order based on these dogmas. Their philosophy and the methods they use to establish this philosophy will be exposed and criticized." Mad conspiracy theories about the Freemasons abound in the Western world -- usually as part and parcel of a dangerous reactionary politics -- and have for centuries, but they also exist in the Islamic world: in 2004, as the BBC reported, a Turkish Masonic lodge in Istanbul was bombed, with 1 dead and 6 seriously injured.
Another of Yahya's books is called, "Judaism and Freemasonry" -- and yet another is entitled "The Holocaust Hoax," a book which has led scholars to categorize Yahya as a Holocaust denier.
Contrary to the fundamentalist Christian Creationists in the U.S. who have been attacking the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in local school boards and many state legislatures, and demanding with an alarming degree of success that Creationism be taught in the public schools, Yahya's Qur'an-based attack on Darwinism does not claim that the world and those who inhabit it were created only 6,000 years ago. Instead, Yahya admits that Earth is really 4.6 billion years old, but his "Atlas" uses hundreds of photos of fossils found over several centuries to "prove" that "the species have never changed" [sic]. This pseudo-scientific clap-trap, says noted French biologist Hervé Le Guyeder, makes this "new form of creationism even more insidious than the Christian-inspired one wreaking havoc in North America."
The photos in Yahya's "Atlas" show hundreds of fossils of fish, hyenas, ants, starfish, tree-leaves, and so on that are dozens of millions of years old, and which he then compares to photos of their actual descendants to prove his claim that "living things did not undergo a process of evolution, but were really created" [sic]. Biologist Le Guyeder commented that, "This method of argument may quite well be effective in seducing a public that is ill-informed--but the reality is that these species, which are a priori similar, are in fact very different from each other in their anatomy and genetic composition, and most of them would be incapable of reproducing between each other!"
If the millions of French ghetto youth of Muslim origin (and, for that matter, Muslim youth throughout the world) buy into Yahya's Islamic version of Creationism, the effects would be disastrous. These young people would be locked out of, and skeptical about, many of the advances in medical and scientific research in the two centuries since Darwin first articulated the theory of evolution (including the dangers of global warming, which U.S. Creationists deny exists) -- and the concomitants of such Creationist obscurantism are, as we have also seen here in the U.S with the Christian version., misogyny, homophobia, and other primitive prejudices.
For example, in a very useful essay on the website of the National Center for Science Education entitled "Cloning Creationism in Turkey," which contains an analysis of Yahya's writing, Dr. Taner Edis of Truman State University in Missouri notes, "When, in another echo of Christian creationists, Harun Yahya digresses to denounce evolution because it describes homosexuality as natural, therefore 'seeking to legitimize perversion' (Yahya 1997: 307), this might seem bizarrely out of place in an argument that is ostensibly about biology. From a fundamentalist perspective, however, it makes perfect sense — worries about morality and social decay are intimately connected to the fundamentalist view of biology. "
Edis also points out the strong ties betweeen the foundation Yahya controls -- Bilim Arastirma Vakfi (BAV; the Science Research Foundation) -- and the well-funded Institute of Creation Research (ICR), the flagship Creationist institution in the U.S. In April and July 1998, Yahya's BAV held 3 "international conferences" in the major cities of Turkey, with a theme of "The Collapse of the Theory of Evolution: The Fact of Creation" -- and these conferences featured U.S. Creationist notables from the ICR like John D. Morris (son of ICR's founder Henry Morris, whose works Yahya lifts from wholesale) and Duane Gish. (At its founding in 1970, ICR was initially funded by Rev. Tim LaHaye, a major Christian Right fundamentalist leader, through LaHaye's Christian Heritage College.)
Yahya's website, by the way, links to a number of Christian fundamentalist-run Creationist websites here in the U..S., including the ICR.
What's even scarier is that Yahya's website claims that, "Many works of Harun Yahya are being currently translated into English, French, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, Albanian, Serbo-Croat (Bosnian), Polish, Urdu, Indonesian, Kazakh, Azeri, Malay and Malayalam. The target is to translate all books into English and many other languages in the near future..." One would dearly love to know who is forking over the considerable sums of money necessary for this global publication program (some suspect Yahya is getting money from U.S. Creationists); whether other countries with large Muslim populations will be targeted for an Islamic Creationist propaganda blitz as France has been; and to what degree Yahya's theories have gained a serious foothold outside Turkey in Islamic circles world-wide, especially among the young. And one can only pity those who are gullible enough to buy this illuminé's fantasies.
MORE ON YAHYA: After the above was posted, Scott Long of Human Rights Watch (he's the Director of HRW's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program), e-mailed the Euroqueer listserv -- where my post on Yahya was circulated -- to provide some additional information. Long wrote: "Harun Yahya may be new to the French, but he is a familiar face in Turkey. My Turkish colleagues can correct me, but my understanding is that he emerged in the 1980s, when the secular, right-wing, military-backed Evren-Ozal regime was trying to reach out to disaffected religious elements. The regime almost certainly funded him then, and he and his BAV (Science Research Foundation) continue to profit from close ties across the right wing of Turkish politics--the Islamist party in its successive incarnations, but also other political forces. (Unusually for a Turkish Islamist, he's spoken with particular respect of Ataturk.) The question of who's paying for him probably does not have, or need, a sinister Saudi answer. He gets resources from his murky connections in Turkish politics, where he's rumored to be a blackmailer and enforcer. He also gets heavy support from US Christian evangelicals, who are barred by law from proselytizing in Turkey and see supporting creationism as a way in through the back door. Several leading US creationists came to Istanbul for a conference on creationism in the early 90s, and the ties have been maintained." And, Long added, Yahya is "a nasty fellow."
Also, my confrere Bill Berkowitz -- one of the best journalists covering the U.S. right -- has now e-mailed me to say that the Darwin-caused-Hitler theory espoused by Yahya is another of his points in common with our homegrown Creationists -- last September, Bill wrote a piece for Media Transparency on a documentary touting this theory that was produced by Rev. D. James Kennedy's powerful Coral Ridge Ministries (also a fundamentalist fount of homophobia) -- the documentary's promo proclaimed, "The program features 14 scholars, scientists and authors who outline the grim consequences of Darwin's theory of evolution and show how his theory fueled Hitler's ovens." What madness......
February 01, 2007
FRANCE'S PRESIDENTIAL RACE: JOSE BOVE COMPLICATES THE CONTEST (Updated)
France's presidential election, scheduled for April 22, just got a lot more complicated: José Bové (left) -- the feisty founder of the militant farmers' union Confédération Paysanne, an environmental leader who is recognized world-wide as a major figure in the anti-globalization movement, a best-selling author, and a media star popular with a large slice of French public opinion -- will announce his candidacy for president of France today. In an interview last night on France 2 public television news, Bové said that the only thing now that could stop him from becoming a candidate would be "falling under a subway train."
Bové wants to be the candidate of the anti-capitalist "left of the left" -- the disparate coalition of small left political parties, Socialist Party dissidents, the anti-globalization movement, environmentalists, students, left-wing intellectuals, and ghetto activists that in 2005 gave the French political establishment a huge slap in the face when it successfully defeated the proposed European Constitution -- supported by the major parties of both left and right -- in a national referendum, leading the campaign for the "Non" vote. (see my article, "A Political Revolt in France: What Rejection of the European Constitution Means," May 29, 2005.)
Bové's entry into the race has to give heartburn to the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, Segolene Royal (left), who beat two lackluster male competitors from the party's old guard (the aging party barons are known as "les Elephants") by winning 60% of the vote for the Socialists' nomination by the party's membership (but only after the Socialists initiated a well-advertised join-by-Internet program that brought dozens of thousands of new members, mostly yuppies with only the vaguest of socialist commitments, into the party.)
A significant chunk of the left electorate isn't thrilled with the candidacy of "Segolene," as she is universally referred to in French media. She is noted for her centrist politics on a host of social issues, for having lavished praise on her model Tony Blair and his centrist "Third Way", and for co-opting some of the right's favorite themes -- including a hard line on law-and-order and espousing "family values." For example, her proposal that all juvenile delinquents should be turned over to the French army for "re-education" was widely ridiculed. Segolene was a staunch supporter of the proposed EuroConstitution -- which exit polls in 2005 showed was rejected by the traditional Socialist electorate by 56-44% (it was seen by a majority of left voters as building a Europe for the corporations, not the people.) (Right, Segolene on the cover of France's largest news magazine, the mildly left Nouvel Observateur, which gave her adoring coverage -- the headline reads, "And If It Is Her?")
To secure her nomination by the Socialists, Segolene had to change a number of her positions. For example, she was largely detested by gay activists for having campaigned against gay marriage, which her party last year endorsed (same-sex marriage is supported by two-thirds of the French in opinion polls); now she's for it. And many haven't forgotten that, as Family Minister in the Socialist government of Lionel Jospin, she had pro-condom TV spots designed to help prevent AIDS censored as "pornographic" and a danger to children.
Segolene was anointed by the media, which gave her an incredible push toward the Socialist nomination by the kind of uncritical coverage of which most candidates only dream. The result was a lightening-fast progression in the opinion polls that forced some of her opponents to drop out before the Socialist Party nomination vote ("Elephants" like Jospin -- photo left -- and former Culture Minister Jack Lang, photo right).) Segolene then easily defeated former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius (photo lower left)-- Fabius is a pro-capitalist yuppie technocrat and aging dandy whose sudden conversion into leader of the party's left was never terribly convincing; and former Minister of the Economy Dominique Strauss-Kahn (photo lower right, who represented the party's right wing and had had a number of unpleasant encounters with financial scandals. Against such opponents, Segolene won in large measure because -- to paraphrase the old campaign slogan of former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay forty years ago -- "she is fresh and everyone else is tired."
It also didn't hurt her chances of nomination that her partner in life and the father of her children is the Socialist Party boss Francois Hollande (left, with Segolene), the party's First Secretary, who controls the party apparatus with a very firm hand, and who helped her corral the support of the powerful local bosses of the regional Socialist Party federations. (Indeed, Segolene's campaign for the Socialist nomination was marked by accusations of the stuffing of membership rolls, vote fraud, and other pro-Segolene manipulations on the part of those local bosses).
For over a year, public opinion polls have shown Segolene neck-and-neck with the inevitable candidate of the Right, the demagogic, hard-line law-and-order Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy. "Sarko," (right) as he is known, called "the First Cop of France," is infamous for having inflamed the ghetto riots of November 2005 that set all France aflame, when he poured verbal kerosene on the fires, dismissing the ghetto youth in the most insulting and racist terms and calling for a policy of repression (see my article, "Why Is France Burning? The Rebellion of a Lost Generation," November 6, 2005.)
In the last week, however, Sarkozy -- a clever, diminutive man with a Napoleonic complex and a dictatorial style, but a master media manipulator and a close friend of France's press barons, who insure him favorable coverage -- has opened up a not insignificant lead over Segolene, anywhere from 5 to 9 points, depending on which poll you look at. In part this has been because Segolene's campaign has been plagued by internal dissension, mis-steps, programmatic emptiness, and a lack of focus. Two weeks ago, Segolene had to suspend one of her campaign's most prominent spokesmen, the reformist deputy Arnaud Montebourg (right), after he joked on television -- when asked what was Segolene's biggest defect -- that it was "her partner," party boss Hollande (left), who has been the target of Montebourg's barbs and reformist crusading in the past. Montebourg was quickly removed from the campaign trail by Segolene.
Lacking any foreign policy experience -- and it has shown in her many verbal mistakes -- she recently made an ill-advised trip to China (left, Segolene at the Great Wall), during which she invented non-existent Chinese proverbs before the TV cameras. The trip's itinerary was entirely planned and orchestrated by the Beijing regime, and Segolene was widely criticized for failing to raise with her hosts in a visible way the Chinese government's scabrous record of human rights violations.
On a recent trip to Israel, Segolene -- in a blatant appeal to France's Jewish electorate, which favors the pro-Israel Sarkozy -- endorsed the Wall of Shame that fences off Palestinians and divides their communities, thus outraging both the electorally-significant Franco-Arab communities (in which there was a major post-riot voter registration drive) and a large section of French public opinion that is sympathetic to the cause of the stateless, starving Palestinians (over half of whose children suffer from malnutrition.) (Right, Segolene and Israeli Prime Minister Olmert) And on many issues she has taken no position at all, content to repeatedly mouth her slogan, "My position is the position of the French" (which is rather like the old joke that says, "There go the people -- I must follow them for I am their leader.") It's no wonder that, for many left voters, the nomination of Segolene confirms the French Socialist Party's transformation in recent years into a tepid and programmatically bankrupt centrist party whose primary vocation now is taking and holding on to power.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy has ably outflanked Segolene on many issues -- this week, he even went to London to receive the enthusiastic embrace of Segolene's model, Tony Blair (photo left, Sarko and Blair pose for the press at 10 Downing Street). In fact, Segolene has never met Blair -- while Sarko has had eight different meetings with the British Prime Minister, albeit up until now away from the eye of the cameras. But now that Sarko is his conservative party's official candidate, a beaming Blair willingly lent himself yesterday to this blatant Sarkozy campaign photo op.
Fed up with having been told by the media for over a year now that their only real choice was between Segolene and Sarko -- and feeling that the two candidates' policies resemble each other more than they differ -- more and more French voters are beginning to take seriously the candidacy of Francois Bayrou (right), leader of the smallish, centrist UDF party founded decades ago by former French President Valery Giscard-d'Estaing. Once French President Jacques Chirac's coalition partner in the current conservative government in power, Bayrou has become one of Chirac's sharpest critics. Bayrou is an articulate, mediatic politician whose "franc-parler" -- meaning a discourse that seems to embrace unpleasant truths in a frank way and contrasts sharply with the traditional wooden language, or "langue de bois," of the French political classes of left and right -- plays well with the cynical French. And this week there are polls showing that he has finally made his breakthrough, and crediting him with 14% of the vote (twice what he got in the 2002 presidential election.) A lot of the new Bayrou voters are drawn from the disaffected middle-class portions of the Socialist electorate, to Segolene's dismay.
Comes now Bové, whose insouciant and much-publicized acts of bold, non-violent civil disobedience, for which he has served brief prison terms -- like dismantling a McDonald's, or destroying genetically-modified crops (of which the food-conscious French are justifiably highly suspicious) -- have made him and his ample mustache instantly recognizable to the French, and highly popular too (left, Bové in handcuffs after his dismantling of a McDonald's.) A poll this week for the daily Le Parisien showed that 39% of voters support his ideas and wished to see him present himself as a presidential candidate.
But has Bové made his move too late, with only 11 weeks left before the first round of voting in the presidential election?
For over a year, the network of local committees and "collectives" which had sprung up to campaign for a "Non" vote against the proposed EuroConstitution, and which had transformed themselves into local anti-capitalist committees, had led an effort to have a unity candidate of the "left of the left," a process in which they joined with the Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR), whose 2002 presidential candidate, the attractive and articulate young postman Olivier Besancenot (right), had won 4.25% of the vote; with the Communist Party (once France's largest political formation, the Communists -- sanctioned by their electorate for having been the Socialists' governing partner in successive governments that pursued center-right economic policies -- got only 3.37% in 2002); with a faction of dissident Socialists led by left-wing Socialist Senator Jean-Luc Melanchon; and with a dissident chunk of the Green Party (disgusted at the Greens' participation as a very junior partner in Socialist-led governments that did little for the environment.)
Many in this "left of the left" coalition dreamed of Bové as their ideal unity candidate. Bové was clearly tempted, but engaged in a hesitation waltz, declaring himself "available" but making no overt moves on his own behalf. By last November, the "left of the left" coalition had begun to fall apart. The Trots of the LCR decided they could better build their own party by re-nominating postman Besancenot in 2007, and pulled out of the coalition. This left the way clear for the Communists -- in a typical maneuver reminiscent of old Stalinist tactics -- to stuff the voting rolls of the local committees and collectives born in the Non campaign on the EuroConstitution, which the party sent its cadres to massively infiltrate. Given these circumstances, the handwriting was on the wall -- the Communists would have the upper hand in the coalition's designation process -- and so Bové definitively took himself out of contention shortly before the "left of the left" primary, which was held just before Christmas. And sure enough, when "left of the left" coalition members voted, thanks to the Communists' ballot-stuffing they narrowly chose the Secretary-General of the Communist Party, Marie-Georges Buffet (left), as their candidate with 55% vote against three lesser-known contenders..
But the outcry and deception among the "left of the left" coalition's rank-and-file at the Stalinist-style maneuver that had won Buffet that vote was enormous. Buffet, tainted in the eyes of many anti-centrist leftists by her serving in the Socialist-led Jospin government as Minister of Sport and Youth, got her political training as a fervent disciple of the Communists' ultra-Stalinist, dictatorial former leader Georges Marchais (left), a slavish defender of the Soviet Union for whom Buffet edited the party's ideological journal -- a fact which many anti-Stalinist leftist voters haven't forgotten.. The best-selling libertarian philosopher Michel Onfray (right), who with his talented pen had been -- in a series of daily newspaper op-ed pieces -- one of the most ardent advocates of a "left of the left" unity candidacy, and who declared -- in a much-talked about, lengthy interview with the daily Le Monde -- that, after Buffet's trick nomination by the manipulated "left of the left" primary, "a vote of conscience" in the presidential election was no longer possible for left-wing voters, who would now have only to choose between casting a blank protest ballot or supporting Segolene to block Sarkozy and the right. (Onfray today told me he has now enrolled in the Bové campaign.)
It is in this context that Bové today will declare his candidacy. Does he have enough time left to mobilize the left-of-the-left electorate behind him -- especially when it is already divided by the candidacies of the Trots Besancenot and Laguiller and the Communist Buffet?
Moreover, Bové faces another major hurdle -- to gain a place on the presidential ballot in April, he must gather sponsoring signatures from 500 of France's 35,500 mayors. And Socialist boss Hollande has proclaimed that any Socialist mayor who signs for anyone other than Hollande's domestic partner Segolene will be severely disciplined and expelled from the party. The Socialists have no desire to see a repeat of the 2002 presidential election, in which the two Trot parties (the LCR and the highly sectarian Lutte Ouvriere, represented by their perennial candidate Arlette Laguiller, left) got a combined total of 10% of the vote, taking enough disillusioned left protest voters away from the Socialists' presidential candidate, then-Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, to rob him of a place in the run-off (Jospin notoriously had declared during the campaign that his was "not a Socialist program."). Instead, it was neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen and his race-baiting Front National which made the runoff against incumbent conservative Jacques Chirac (right, Chirac and Le Pen). This led to the bizarre situation in which the Socialists, for fear of Le Pen, found themselves obliged to support the re-election of Chirac! (A popular slogan at the time in the wide-spread anti-Le Pen street demonstrations that mobilized millions of French leftists was, "Votez l'Escroc, Pas le Facho" ("Vote for the Crook, Not the Fascist.) For my analysis of the 2002 French Presidential Election, see my article for THE NATION, "The Center Folds," April 25, 2002
Thus, even if Bové can find 500 mayors willing to sign to put him on the ballot (no easy task), the fear of a replay of the 2002 result -- Le Pen (left), now 78, is once again a candidate this year and moderating his discourse -- may well keep many left voters sympathetic to Bové from casting their ballots for him. Still, Bové's declaration of candidacy today has Segolene sweating -- because you can be sure she will be the target of his effective, witty barbs, and because he can appeal to left voters who would not consider voting for the Trots or the Communists. Moreover, Bové (right) has an extraordinary talent for attracting media coverage -- and the broadcast media controlled by the right will be sure to give him lots of air-time to help torpedo Segolene. Bové today thus becomes the French presidential election's wild card.
UPDATE FRIDAY JANUARY 2: Bové said today on radio that, if he loses in the first round of presidential voting, he will call for a vote for Segolene in the run-off to block Sarkozy and the right, because Sarkozy "is a real danger for the country" and a demagogue "whose dangerous words are creating a climate that will lead to hopelessness and even more suffering." Bové added that, "At the same time, it is necessary to seriously question Madame Royal, who is perhaps a littlie naive. She says she has 'projects,' but we really don't know what they are. She doesn't attack the real problems that are the causes of hopelessness, and it's important that there's a real alternative" to her.
In his announcement of candidacy yesterday, Bové said, "Now is the moment to declare an electoral insurrection against savage and under-regulated free-market economics, " and proclaimed he wanted "to represent la France invisible....to be the voice of the voiceless, of those millions of citizens who suffer from social and economic precarity and discrimination." You can read the entire text of Bové's announcement, in French, by clicking here.