I just received an email from Nick Cook of DNA, the largest gay magazine in Australia, saying that I have been entirely removed from a (larger) piece on the situation of gays in Iran because – get this – ‘Several of the other people [he] spoke to in the story convinced [him] to remove [me] from it because they are concerned about the gay community being linked to the political movement to overthrow the Government. Their fear is that if gays become seen as agitating for revolution, the crackdown against them will be even harsher.’
Frankly, I am not sure how much harsher it can get. I mean being gay is already punishable by death under Sharia law. So is defending gay rights or any rights for that matter. Just being interviewed by DNA magazine is an offence in Iran, which might be why some of ‘the others’ quoted have not even given their full names though they live abroad. After all, there are 130 offences punishable by death in Iran and many other offences for which one can be imprisoned and so on.
Despite all this, these ‘other people’ are implying that agitation (or at least my sort of agitation) is what causes crackdowns and not the existence of an Islamic regime of Iran! I mean really? If they actually believe that they can lessen the crackdown on gays by behaving a certain way, then maybe they could stop being gay or having sex and hope it will all just go away…
Seriously though, this shows an important difference in our politics that reveals itself in various ways. I can’t see how gay rights activists can defend Iranian gay rights without asking why gays need their rights defended in the first place. You can’t merely complain about the situation of gays in Iran and your having to flee the country when gay teenagers are being strung up in city centres and killed in broad daylight.
Of course these activists have a right to express their views and organise in any way they want. I don’t agree with their politics and they don’t agree with mine. But unlike them I would never ask their views to be censored, which interestingly DNA magazine has happily complied with (since unlike the people of Australia we foreign type are all one homogeneous group that have the same opinion on everything including gay rights).
Anyway I am reprinting the bits I have been quoted in below (from the original draft):
Maryam Namazie is spokesperson of One Law For All, a lobby group that campaigns against the Iranian regime. She says Sharia law, the strict Islamic code of ethics and behaviour that is in force, is the main reason Iran is so violently homophobic. “Homophobia exists everywhere, but when the state actually has a law that says gay people should be killed, it’s a very different and dangerous phenomenon. And it exists in places primarily where religion and Islam are in political power.”
…In 2007 Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously declared, during a speech at New York’s Columbia University, that “in Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” Against a backdrop of boos and howls from the audience, he went on. “In Iran we do not have this phenomenon, I don’t know who has told you that we have it.” It is, of course, a ludicrous statement. As Maryam says, “There are as many gays in Iran as anywhere else in the world.”
While several hundred gay Iranians manage to flee each year, there are countless thousands left behind. They need help, but the best way to assist them is not certain. Iranian Railroad For Queer Refugees director Arsham Parsi says there is no quick political fix and that even if the Islamist regime were toppled tomorrow it would not immediately help. “Society and culture are more important than politics,” he says. “If gay marriage were legalised tomorrow there would be many people protesting against it. We need to put more effort into cultural change before political change.”
Maryam disagrees. She says, “In any society, even when homophobia is banned, it still exists but a change in the law is an important first step. Changes in law help to change culture and society. In Iran, to change Sharia law one must get rid of the Islamic Republic of Iran. How can a regime that thinks gays must die, women are sub-human and children are on par with animals be reformed or remain in power?”
One of the great difficulties for the international LGBT community, which watches developments in Iran with ever-growing horror, is knowing what can be done to help… Furthermore, the Government can use protests by gay groups in the West to defend its iron-fist policy on homosexuality, arguing that as the protector of the Iranian cultural and religious traditions, it has the mandate to eradicate these ‘social ills’.”
Maryam strongly disagrees with that line of thought and urges ever more action. “I don’t know when good old-fashioned international solidarity became unhelpful,” she says. “I think such a position is nonsense and only helps to justify inaction in the face of brutality. People have a moral duty to intervene and assist their fellow human beings. How can that be unhelpful? We’re not talking about US-led militarism and regime changes from above, but people-to-people solidarity that has always helped change things for the better.”
According to Maryam, there is a groundswell of support for democracy in Iran. “Even though 70 percent of the population in Iran were born under the Islamic regime, a large majority don’t want it. There is a huge anti-Islamic backlash in Iran. The regime wants to blame the West, but it has only itself to blame. It is antithetical with 21st Century lives.”
She says there is plenty the international gay community can do to help, including raising awareness of the issues within the wider community and galvanising support against the execution of gays and others. “We also need to show real solidarity with the movement there that is aiming to get rid of the regime.”