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Struggle over Middle East reaches into world LGBT movements

Published Jul 27, 2006 12:18 AM

Imagine a group of individuals standing on the deck of an imperialist gunboat, under the shadow of cannons aimed and readied to fire at a country—formerly or currently colonized. The group is shouting at the targeted government, “We demand your surrender too, but for progressive reasons!”

That’s the position of those based in the imperialist U.S., Britain and France who are directing their political fire against the popularly elected Palestinian and Iranian leaderships, based on what they say are violations of gay rights in those countries.

Their political campaign has ratcheted up. July 19 events in some two dozen cities worldwide called for regime change in Iran. And the annual “World Pride” march —incongruously themed “Love without Borders”—was scheduled to take place in occupied Jerusalem on Aug. 10, making Israel appear to be a bastion of liberty in the Middle East.

But Israel—the apartheid, theocratic imperialist power threatening the entire Middle East—was blasting the population and infrastructure of Gaza and pounding Lebanon with U.S.-supplied bunker buster bombs, while the U.S. Navy Central Command was positioning its war armada off Lebanon’s shores.

On July 21, the Israeli government canceled the pride march. The stated reason was that the widening war was drawing troops and police who would be needed to guard the march. The unstated reason is that the Israeli coalition government needs to cement unity with its own theocratic base. The Israeli ruling coalition faced a motion of non-confidence from two religious parties within its government on July 10 that demanded the cancellation of the march in Jerusalem.

Taking aim at Palestine

The July 19 events were taking aim at Iran—drawing handfuls of individuals in some cities, scores in others—at the same time that the Palestinian and Lebanese people were at ground zero of the bombs and bullets. This widening Israeli assault in the region—a proxy war waged in the economic, strategic and military interests of U.S. finance capital—is also aimed at Iran, as well as Syria.

The call for anti-Iran events on July 19 was issued by OutRage!, a British gay human rights group, and the Paris-based International Day Against Homophobia.

On the day of the July 19 anti-Iran events, Peter Tatchell, an OutRage! leader, issued a political statement from London in which he argued against the progressive movement boycotting “World Pride” in Jer u salem, which had not yet been canceled.

Tatchell claimed that opposition to the Jerusalem march was coming from groups based in Western countries—a criti cism more accurately leveled at his July 19 anti-Iran organizing.

As the Israelis laid siege to Gaza, Tatchell said his organization would actually prefer that the march be scheduled in Palestinian Ramallah rather than Jeru salem. But he added that news coverage of the Jerusalem “World Pride” event would “give comfort and hope to isolated, downcast queers throughout the Arab world.”

He concluded, “Imagine the hope and confidence such news will give to isolated, vulnerable LGBT people across the Middle East,” and that the event “might help trigger the creation of LGBT movements in repressive, homophobic Middle Eastern states, including Palestine.”

Voices from within Palestine and Lebanon sent a very different message.

Voices from Palestine

There already is a lesbian, bisexual, trans gender, queer and intersexual (LGBTQI) organization in historic Pales tine. It is called “Aswat”—which translates from Arabic to English as “Voices.” Aswat works with LGBTQI groups and individuals in the Middle East.

Aswat raised its voices early on regarding the Jerusalem march.

In the English portion of its web site, Aswat states clearly that as Palestinian LGBTQI’s living directly under military occu pation, and as part of a national min ority in Israel, “[W]e are opposing this attempt to hold the international pride parade in Israel, particularly in Jerusalem, the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the pride parade will be at a time for the gay and lesbian community to cele brate, Palestinians in Eastern occupied Jeru salem will continue to suffer under intensified checkpoints, increasing racism, house demolishing, confiscating IDs and expanding of Israeli settlements.

“Therefore, ASWAT—a Palestinian gay women group—decided not to take part in the World Pride 2006.”

A promotional DVD for the Jerusalem events had promised “great parties” and stressed that “out” gay and lesbian soldiers can fight in the Israeli Army. The propaganda DVD denounced the Palestinian Authority for its alleged treatment of its same-sex-loving population and claimed that the Palestinian resistance—the Intifada—made it harder for lesbian and gay Palestinians to “escape” to Israel. (The Coalition to Boycott World Pride)

Aswat emphasized that these are soldiers in an occupying, oppressive army. “This is an insult to our struggle for freedom and tolerance. In Israel, violence and hatred are articulated through homophobia and xenophobia, and this very same violence is evident in racism, occupation and war crimes.”

In a recent interview, Aswat co-founder and group coordinator Rauda Morcos explained, “We are focusing on our work within the Palestinian community. We believe we need to have our allies within the community before having them around the world. This is very important because without the support of our community, we cannot exist. The other thing we are focusing on is deliberating the change that is happening within the Palestinian community without comparing that to what is happening in the world. Each community has its own ways, its own scale, its own time, and our time has started, and we’re happy with that.”

When asked how Palestinians viewed her as an “out” lesbian, Morcos concluded, “I think Aswat’s existence proves there are seeds of change. I think we are on the agenda—of the Palestinian social agenda. I think we’re there, and I think it’s very important that the change has to happen. I think it wouldn’t happen without Aswat, and it wouldn’t happen without the support within the community and without having supportive media in our community.” (gay.com)

Lebanese support for Palestine

The group Helem (translated into English as “dreams”) describes itself in the English-language portion of its Arabic website as a non-profit organization in Lebanon, working on various human rights issues, including LGBTIQ equality.

As part of its emergency action under Israeli bombardment, the website explains that the Helem center is helping to provide shelter, food and other supplies to the refugees who have poured in from the southern suburbs of Beirut and the south of Lebanon. (helem.net)

The organization states, “Helem supports the global movement to boycott Jerusalem World Pride 2006 as part of the international boycott of, and divestment from Israel. Helem strongly condemns holding World Pride in a city beleaguered by violence and conflict, and where the words ‘Love without Borders’ belie a reality of separation, ubiquitous borders, destruction of homes and livelihoods, land theft, gross human rights violations and the apartheid policies of Israel.”

Helem concluded that, “the rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders should not be placed in competition with the long struggle of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian LGBT people, for self-determination, for the right to return to their homes, and the struggle against apartheid and the occupation of their lands.”

Progressive opposition to the week of “World Pride” events in Jerusalem had been building around the world. The march—expected to draw tens of thousands—would have violated the widening call to boycott Israel, infused the settler state’s tourism economy with cash, and politically promoted the Israel settler state as a “democracy” in the Middle East.

Faisal Alam, a gay Muslim of Pakistani descent who co-founded Al-Fatiha—an international gay Muslim organization—wrote that the Israeli occupation of Palestinians is so brutal that, “With this in mind, I cannot support an event that will seemingly ignore the suffering of Pales tinians—both queer and straight—in the Occupied Territories, the West Bank and Gaza.” (southernvoice.com)

The Coalition to Boycott World Pride, which described itself as “individuals and groups working for the liberation of all oppressed peoples,” stressed that “LGBT, intersex and other queer-identified people, should not be placed in competition with the long struggle of the Palestinian people, including Palestinian LGBTIQ people, for self-determination, for the right to return to their homes, and the struggle against apartheid and the occupation of their lands. We urge all people who seek peace and justice to support the travel boycott of World Pride Jerusalem as part of the boycott of Israeli goods, and the call to divest from Israel.”

Turn the political guns around!

This political struggle regarding Iran and Palestine takes place within the context of a burgeoning battle between imperialism and the countries of the Middle East that are resisting its demands to surrender their sovereignty and right to self-determination.

Those who argue that Islam is the problem and that pressure from the imperialist democracies—who have historically arrayed their forces under the banner of Christianity—is the solution are lining up with the oppressor in this war, not the oppressed.

It was colonialism and later imperialism that imposed anti-“sodomy” laws—a term that comes from the Bible, not the Quran—from Africa to the Middle East, from Asia to the Americas, in its effort to restructure social relations in these countries to its economic interests.

The French Mandate imposed anti-sodomy laws in Lebanon; the British Mandate made it law in Palestine.

Imperialism is not going to bring democracy as a form of state rule to the Middle East or Central Asia or any other part of the world it seeks to dominate economically.

In the imperialist centers, democracy is a form of class rule by the capitalists over the vast laboring class. But even in a democracy, state repression—particularly against nationally oppressed peoples within the imperialist citadels—is cruel. And challenge to capitalist rule can shift the form of state quickly to a more iron-fisted rule, as the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Spain demonstrated.

Imperialist super-exploitation around the world requires a much more brutal form of state dictatorship than democracy. The Iranian people remember. They lived under a fascist “regime change” by the U.S. and Britain that installed a king—the Shah—on the peacock throne.

Imperialism is not looking to bring “progress” to the oppressed. Washington cheered the restoration of semi-feudal social relations in Afghanistan after drowning in blood a democratic revolution there that had been supported by the Soviet Union. And the CIA has brought medieval torture techniques, employing anti-gay and anti-trans humiliation and violence, to its makeshift prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For decades, U.S. imperialism has waged a war to annihilate the left-wing leaders of resistance movements in the Middle East and Central Asia, creating a void that the Islamic forces are filling today.

So now, imperialism—which had relied on some of these same forces to crush communist resistance in the region—has turned to Islam bashing as its justification for economic and military warfare against any government and people who resist its rule, from Afghanistan to Iraq, Iran to Palestine.

Like the German Homosexual Eman cipation movement, which was derailed when it supported is own ruling class on the eve of World War I, any progressive movement that does not fight its own imperialist bosses and oppose a war for an empire built on super-profits surrenders its independence and kneels before its own oppressor class.

The gay liberation struggles in the U.S. during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s gained power from organizing against the Korean and Vietnam wars.

It is too late to expose the pretexts and “justifications” for imperialist war after the fact. The movement for sexual, gender and sex liberation needs to turn its political guns around now on the real enemy of the world’s people—imperialism! n

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