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Struggle over Middle East reaches into world LGBT movements

...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...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.
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

Email:  lfeinberg@workers.org

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