Egos and the Gay Division Over How to Treat Iran
A year later, as dozens of cities worldwide, including New York, held vigils July 19 to mark the anniversary of the executions, HRW has hardened in its insistence that there is no support for the charge that the Mashad men were killed because of their sexuality. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) offers a more agnostic assessment, saying that Iran must clear the air but also warning against inflammatory actions by LGBT activists that could worsen conditions for gays there.And another:
Despite a skeptical stance that has persisted, IGLHRC initially stepped up to organize New York’s July 19 vigil, but in the wake of a scathing memo last week from HRW’s gay rights specialist Scott Long criticizing the accuracy, rhetoric, and motivations of anti-Iran activists, IGLHRC abruptly dropped its sponsorship.
Instead, IGLHRC joined HRW and other groups including the Al-Fatiha Foundation, a group for gay Muslims, in hosting a competing forum at New York’s LGBT Community Center, scheduled at the same time as the vigil in front of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations.
Early reports on the Mashad executions last July quickly caught the attention of Peter Tatchell, the head of the militant LGBT rights group Outrage! in London, and was picked up by conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan as well as by Ireland, who posted his first story on his Web site prior to covering the story for Gay City News. Tatchell and Sullivan—but not Ireland—used the term “Islamo-fascist” in describing the Iranian regime, a hawkish formulation that raised red flags among human rights activists unwilling to align themselves with right-wing Western critiques of the Muslim world and Bush foreign policy adventuring (though on that score Tatchell was an unlikely bedfellow).And another:
Those who disagree with Long question whether it is he who has been uncritical—in accepting official Iranian accounts of the executions. When the story broke, he sent an unsolicited e-mail to Gay City News saying, “It is reasonably certain they were executed for sexual assault on a 13-year-old” and told Ireland that HRW was “90 percent sure” rape had taken place. Yet, Hadi Ghaemi, the group’s Iran expert, said that certainty was based on one source, a story in the newspaper Qud, controlled by regime supporters. Months later, according to Ireland, Long e-mailed him that the group had additional sources for its view.
Another point Long made in his memorandum last week is that those who believe the Mashad executions were based in homophobia are “imputing a Westernized ‘gay’ identity on these youths,” the suggestion being that a level of cultural insensitivity and naiveté is involved. That perspective was echoed by a number of panelists at the IGLHRC forum Wednesday evening, most passionately by Iranian-American filmmaker Kouross Esmaeli, who voiced harsh criticism of Gay City News reporting about his homeland.
Yet in at least four stories Ireland has written since last September, based on interviews with Iranians still in their homeland or in exile—Amir, a 22-year-old gay exile in Turkey (gaycitynews.com/gcn_438/nexttimeyoullbe.html), Sam, a 28-year-old gay exile in Pakistan (gaycitynews.com/gcn_502/anothergayiraniantorture.html), Mekabiz, a self-described “transsexual man” still living in Mashad (gaycitynews.com/gcn_506/transsexualansstuck.html), and Mani, a 24-year-old gay man living in an Iranian city he was afraid to disclose (gaycitynews.com/gcn_527/gayandunderground.html)—he has demonstrated there are young people there who talk about their sexual and gender identity in ways many Americans would understand. It is, in part, this increasingly Westernized identity that Iranian authorities use torture and worse to stamp out. This is the reporting Long acknowledged was “authentic and compelling.”
Based on this reporting and other sources who told him so directly, Ireland wrote that Ahmadinejad had stepped up repression of gays when he assumed the presidency last year. The assault on gay Iranians amounts to a pogrom, Ireland concluded. Borrowing the term used to describe the episodic ouster and genocide aimed at Jews throughout European history was bound to stir controversy and clearly some believe more detailed documentation is required.
Long explained his discomfort with the characterization. “Crying wolf is a bad strategy for achieving change,” he wrote last week. “Because if human rights advocates don’t deal in facts instead of speculation, they lose all credibility in future crises… These misrepresentations actually work against the interests of Iranian asylum-seekers… and could play into the hands of the Iranian government if these claims are proven wrong.”
Asked to explain her group’s abrupt bailout from leadership of the New York July 19 vigil, [IGLHRC Executive Director Paula] Ettelbrick voiced concern that the protests worldwide might have an “inflammatory” impact on the Iran situation, creating a link between gay life there and a Western agenda in the regime’s eyes.How do I begin? This article truly is excellent - it expertly outlines the divide in gay activist between bullish revolutionaries and tiptoed precautionaries.
“I wanted to make sure that our participation was consistent with our approach,” she explained. “What can we do to be effective? The name of Peter’s group is Outrage! The name of our group is the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.”
I have said before that I think Tatchell and Sullivan hold extreme views, and their irresponsible use of "Islamo-fascist" reaffirms that. I've also said that the protests might make not make things better for gay people in Iran, but I don't think it'll make it worse. I really don't think Iran's regime would confuse the West's opposition to it getting nuclear technology with gay rights organizatiosn protesting the hanging of gay teenagers - the may equivalate the two publicly, but that's propaganda, and they would do that anyway, regardless of the protests.
It was wrong for IGLHRC, HRW, and the Al-Fatiha Foundation to hold a competing event. If you disagree with another gay group's actions, it's fine to say so. It's also fine to abstain from supporting them, or distribute materials which contradict their stances. These groups, however went beyond that. The groups in the vigil, a lot of which had Iranian support, were there for a good cause. It's one thing to say they're overreacting, but another to vehemently oppose them.
IGLHRC acted like a cowardly dog, shying away in fear rather than barking at danger. It's overtly clear that they acted out of pressure from Long, rather than of their own accord. Sure, they don't want to overreact (evidenced by Ettelbrick's inane comparison of organization names), but if this is not a time for action what is? Are two young lives not enough? Many similar cases have been reported. Would 50 be enough? 100? How many does she need? I, personally, side with the groups supporting the protests, for I've seen numerous Iranian sources that side with them, but none that oppose them (Al-Fatiha doesn't really count).
It's also clear that the entire debate overstepped the boundaries of being about Iran. Many of the participants in the dialogue, especially Long, seem to have gotten their egos mixed up in their politics. All the name-calling and verbal attacks are dispicable. Throughout the article, it becomes increasingly clear that the players are less concerned with learning the truth than they are about being right, which is absolutely shameful. Long, for example, seems to have less facts than the rest of them, but is more adament than they are - how does that work?
Long does make one semi-germane point, though. It's true about what he says about crying wolf. If the sources are proven wrong, it would be detrimental to the human rights movement, gay people in Iran, asylum seekers, etc. But proving the claims wrong is as about as likely as solving the Bermuda Triangle mysteries. It's extremely doubtful that all these Iranian sources are in a huge conspiracy to fraud the human rights movement, or that they are wrong. Even if it's not a "pogrom", it's still horrifying.
I guess it all boils down to the word "pogrom". Are the killings in Iran really worse than the killings in Saudi Arabia? Or the torture in Egypt? Probably not. "Pogrom" just makes them seem worse than the others, because it envisions the Jewish holocaust. So, in effect, gay activists went from arguing about the extremity of gay persecution in Iran to its validity, as if disproving a "pogrom" would invalidate everything.
As a final note, I hate what Long says about "imputing a Westernized ‘gay’ identity on these youths", which is a steaming pile of donkey-#$%@. Islamists are putting a gay identity on people in the Middle East just as much as the West is. Gay people in the Middle East didn't experience the current level of persecution until the 1990s, when the gay movement began to gain momentum in the West. Why? It's simple - Islamists want to distance the East from the West. By showing how gay the West is, and how gay the East isn't, they accomplish their goal. Why do you think there has been so much coverage of gay marriage in Western nations? Gay people are a group that evokes relatively little sympathy in the Middle East, and are an easy target for the Islamists. The current crackdowns targeting gay people are merely an extension of the Islamist vs. Western Imperialism battle that has been raging for decades. Islamists superimpose the term "gay" just as much as Westerners, and it's uninformed - and a bit ethnocentric - to say otherwise. (This is going to have to be another post; I have loads to say about this.)