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Thursday 26 September 2013

The Muslim hero of Westgate Mall horror

This is one of the most moving and viral images which came out of the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Last night we learned the identity of the man who the little girl is running towards and all of Kenya is hailing him as a hero.

His name is Abdul Haji and he is the son of Mohamed Yusuf Haji, a Somali politician based in Kenya who has served as Minister of Defence and Minister of Internal Security and Provincial Affairs.

In a riveting thirty minute interview on Kenyan prime time news Haji relates how he rescued dozens of people (video after the jump).

He received a text from his brother in the Mall reporting gunfire and went there to find him. As he arrived he saw many dead people including children and the elderly. He then linked up with a multi-racial, multi-faith group and spent around four hours trying to rescue as many as they could before he eventually tracked down his brother.

He relates the story of the photo. They noticed a woman and a number of children hiding underneath a promotional table in a spot right in the crossfire between themselves and a terrorist. He asked her to ask the eldest child to run towards them.
She ran towards men with guns. She did not cry. She remained calm throughout.
Haji says that even after the picture went viral he was reluctant to speak.
If such a girl can be so brave there is no reason we cannot.
Asked later why he did what he did and whether he is a hero he says:
I'm not sure what motivated me, I was in the moment, I was angered. I was, for want of a better word, pissed off with what had happened.

I am not a hero. I did what any other Kenyan would have done, to save anyone regardless of nationality, religion or creed. We're definitely not heroes. 
He wanted to protect his privacy, but many told him he was a hero and encouraged him to come forward because Somali-Kenyans were being criticised, as were Muslims. He says he initially feared that his brother was not safe because someone was after him as the son of a prominent Somali-Kenyan. He describes the terrorists as abnormal and that they cannot be seen as representing Muslims.
It has almost become a cliche to say that Islam is the religion of peace, but it is true. It says that if you save one life it is like you have saved the whole of humanity.

They call themselves Jihadis but one of the paramount rules of engagement in jihad is that you cannot kill a woman, a child, the elderly. So where are the getting their doctrine? Why are the trying to drive a wedge? It's physiological warfare, they're trying to divide Kenyans but I witnessed that they killed Muslims there. 
They can't say [this is revenge as] we're killing Muslims in Somalia, we're [Kenya's military] there to protect Somalia, they're the ones who have been killing Muslims in Somalia.
Early reports that the terrorists were saying they would protect Muslims and were asking people to name Mohammed's mother have become a theme of reporting the attack. This despite photos on Sunday of a Muslim burial.

In a blog post titled 'The Folly Of ‘Otherness’ – What Al-Shabaab Revealed About Us' Charles "Mase" Onyango-Obbo from The Nation points out that: "reality challenged the media stereotype of the Westgate attack":
There was an awkward wrinkle – Muslims too were among the dead. That was not supposed to happen, you know, how come “Islamist terrorists” were killing other Muslims? One of the survivors said he watched in horror when two terrorists asked some women to cite verses of the Quran to prove they were Muslim. They did…then the men shot them at point blank range. Some terrified people who were lying on the ground screamed; “why did you shoot them?”

One of the gunmen replied, “because they were not wearing the hijab”. So, it seems, misogyny and patriarchy trumped religion.
Divisions between Africans and Westeners, the poor and the middle class, between this and that tribe, all dissolved in the reality of what actually happened. Says Onyango-Obbo:
Debased “otherness” enables us to ignore the pain of others and sleep soundly at night; to discriminate against people who are different without having to trouble our consciences; to persecute those who are not our relatives, fellow citizens, not of our religion, or social station without being afflicted by a sense of injustice. This type of “otherness” is anaesthesia against having to be humane...

So perhaps it is time to pause and reflect. The outcome of the Westgate terror attack seemed to tell that not all contests between those who have and those who don’t are a Lenist class war. Not every contest between cultures, religions, or races is a battle for conquest and domination. That they are well-meaning negotiations for space, for respect, for a little share of the pie, for some of the air, for a bit of the limelight, not a tango of death.
NTV's interview with Abdul Haji after the jump:

Wednesday 25 September 2013

The horrific truth of Kenya terrorist attack?

Social media symbol of sympathy for Kenya afte...
Social media symbol of sympathy for Kenya after terrorist attack Sep 2013 (Photo credit: ILRI)
A Kenyan journalist has posted to Twitter disturbing details of the fate of hostages in the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall.

Winnie Kiziah (@WKiziah), a journalist with the State Broadcaster, posted a series of tweets around midday GMT on Wednesday from a security source which told a sickening story. A number of Kenyans responded strongly against her posts. Around 3pm GMT her account was closed. According to Twitter sources she did this herself. The tweets were saved and can be viewed here or here - please note they are truly disgusting and I will not reproduce their content.

At the time of writing one other source, @MisterAlbie, described as 'Communications, Agribusiness | Budding Entrepreneur | FX Trader | Farmer', confirmed her account tweeting:
I am seconding what she is saying @WKiziah. I was told that stuff yesterday evening by some barracks guys...
Twitter is also noting that Kiziah's account mirrors that tweeted by al-Shabab:
said this~~~>>RT : details: all hostages noses were picked up by (cont)
There has been a strong questioning by Kenyans on social media of the government's account of what happened in the Mall, some of which has made it into MSM reports as 'confusion'. Journalist Mike Pflanz today described the situation as an "info blackout".

A crowdsourcing project by Kenyans has come up with 85 questions. Pflanz notes the appearance of a new hashtag, #WeAreOne_dering.

What I would note is that in numerous accounts about the experience of foreign jihadis that join up for al-Shabab they often refer to these people fleeing Somalia when they experience how al-Shabab actually treat people. The behaviour described in Kiziah's account should be seen in that light.

Edited to add: Robert Alai tweeted Thursday:
I have heard: Hostages were being raped and beheaded. KDF decided to blow the location of the attackers saving victims further humiliations
Friday's Daily Mail repeated Winnie's claims quoting soldiers and doctors anonymously.
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Tuesday 24 September 2013

America + guns: should the world intervene?

This photo is from a post I wrote in March of some of the families of the Newtown shooting victims at the White House. This is their reaction on learning that the US Senate had rejected expanding background checks for gun purchases.

I wrote then that “it should shame America”.

Henry Porter wrote for The Guardian:
In a country where people are better armed and only slightly less nervy than rebel fighters in Syria, we should note that dealing with the risks of scalding and secondary smoke came well before addressing the problem of people who go armed to buy a latte. There can be no weirder order of priorities on this planet.
That’s America, we say, as news of the latest massacre breaks - last week it was the slaughter of 12 people by Aaron Alexis at Washington DC’s navy yard - and move on. But what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis - a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? As citizens of the world, perhaps we should demand an end to the unimaginable suffering of victims and their families - the maiming and killing of children - just as America does in every new civil conflict around the globe.
The annual toll from firearms in the US is running at 32,000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is on a downward path (it is 40% lower than in 1980). If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.
To absorb the scale of the mayhem, it’s worth trying to guess the death toll of all the wars in American history since the War of Independence began in 1775, and follow that by estimating the number killed by firearms in the US since the day that Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 by a .22 Iver-Johnson handgun, wielded by Sirhan Sirhan. The figures from Congressional Research Service, plus recent statistics from, tell us that from the first casualties in the battle of Lexington to recent operations in Afghanistan, the toll is 1,171,177. By contrast, the number killed by firearms, including suicides, since 1968, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and the FBI, is 1,384,171.
That 212,994 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all wars involving the US is a staggering fact, particularly when you place it in the context of the safety-conscious, “secondary smoke” obsessions that characterise so much of American life.
Everywhere you look in America, people are trying to make life safer. On roads, for example, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years to enforce speed limits, crack down on drink/drug driving and build safety features into highways, as well as vehicles. The result is a steadily improving record; by 2015, forecasters predict that for first time road deaths will be fewer than those caused by firearms (32,036 to 32,929).
Plainly, there’s no equivalent effort in the area of privately owned firearms. Indeed, most politicians do everything they can to make the country less safe.
More >> American Gun Use Is Out of Control. Shouldn’t the World Intervene?
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Monday 23 September 2013

Why report gay terrorism victims

All through last weekend I have been glued to news from Nairobi. The terrorist outrage at the Westgate Mall particularly got me because I've had personal contact with many Kenyans. First through reporting on the digital revolution there, which is astonishing, then the LGBT(IQ) community. Some are now friends.

For the past few days I have been following reporters like Mike Pflanz and the #Westgate hashtag but also gay friends, especially Denis Nzioka, who is the go to source for queer news from Africa.

After Denis reported that two members of Nairobi's queer community had been murdered in the attack, and that one other was trapped, I tweeted this at several news outlets. On the Monday it was picked up and reported by Gay Star News.

This drew an immediate hostile reaction on social media with people asking whether reporting the sexuality of these victims was relevant or necessary, that it was "bizarre to highlight someone's sexuality in this situation". Another sarcastically noted that "what we all really want to know is were any gay men killed in Nairobi massacre."

Denis' reports had described the two who died as members of Nairobi's "queer community". If this attack had happened in Brighton, England would it be wrong to report that "Brighton's gay community is in mourning", say, if "members" had been similarly murdered?

Now some may scoff at the idea of a 'Brighton gay community', or any 'gay community', let alone a 'LGBTIQ community', and hence wonder why you'd report "members" lost. That's because we're privileged enough to have reached a point where we can be sarcastic about it. Kenyans don't have that luxury.

Gay Kenyans at a health demonstration
I've done reporting that has covered the development of this community in Kenya. In a society where gay sex is illegal and gay people need to protect themselves and each other from various threats, the growth of community resources and networks - which Nzioka documents in his reporting - is fantastic.

One of my bugbears in reporting about Africa and gays is that this positive aspect is lost in a sea of horror stories, much as general reporting on Africa is. I saw this up close when I covered an anti-gay riot near Mombasa in 2010 and its aftermath. The riot drew (inaccurate) international headlines, how it was shut down and how both gays and allies worked together to help and then go further to educate drew no international headlines.

The same is true of Uganda, where the growing community and its increased visibility is hardly reported on. All most people would know about is the 'Kill the gays' bill.

When I reported a couple of weeks ago that a number of Russian sources, including a main LGBT organisation, were saying that the latest aspect of the anti-gay tide - a bill to remove children from gay parents - would be stopped and that there was some reason to think the tide could be reversed this was mocked and derided. My reporting was even compared to Holocaust denial.

Anyone with anything positive to say about Russians, even about gay Russians, gets this treatment. Particularly those who question the boycott tactic, opposed by several Russian gay groups. In the case of the gay figure skater Johnny Weir this has led to queer-baiting and fag-bashing with one prominent gay American blogger, John Aravosis, labeling the flamboyant Weir a "freak" and a "quisling". On his blog Aravosis allows commentators to abuse Weir in ways which wouldn't shame a High School jock tormenting a fey teenager.

It is not 'journalism' if places like Kenya, Uganda and Russia are solely presented as hell holes. In fact it does a serious disservice to gay people there.

Our disaster too

Regarding the Westgate Mall disaster and its gay victims - and it is a 'disaster' - gay people have particular needs in disasters which usually are ignored.

The need to take into account gay disaster victims needs is something which relief bodies and governments have become, and need to become, increasingly aware of. This is not just an issue in somewhere like Pakistan, where transgender (hijara) flood victims in 2010-11 were blocked from relief, but also South Florida.

Nzioka reported that he would not name the two queer terrorist victims because they were not out. Even in death Kenyan society requires them to be closeted. The support for the people they've left behind will come from the community which supported them in life.

That community exists and in a disaster like this reporting its existence is one step to demanding that it be respected and equally aided. Yes, we must report that gays exist in disasters because, first, they need to be visible.

Edited to add: Tris Reid-Smith, editor of Gay Star News, sent in this comment:
Just to help explain our news values here... We do not report on 'gay issues' we report on LGBTQI people. Just as a French newspaper would highlight French victims, we have highlighted LGBTQI victims of this tragedy. We are not 'singling out' people – we care equally about everyone – but reporting on our community. The points raised are very good but our approach is pretty much standard for all media in the world, whatever audience they serve. Let's hope the remaining people caught up in this get out safely. Meanwhile our thoughts will be with all the victims, their friends and families.
And there's also this angle, pointed out by Owen Barder, Senior Fellow & Europe Director at the Center for Global Development. Development:
@pauloCanning people think it normal to report on victims' nationality and occupation; why not on this aspect of who they are?
And Marcus O'Donnell, former Editor of the Sydney Star Observer, noted that:
@pauloCanning I got the same reaction when I did report at sso after 9/11 on reactions from NYC gay community
On the Tuesday Denis Nzioka ‏tweeted:
@pauloCanning I cannot allow the memories of #KenyaLGBTI to be swept under, even in such a situation as #Westgate. It would be an injustice!
On Facebook Nzioka added this point:
It's critical to show that even in such incidents, LGBTIQ persons are also victims and remembering them is one way we can show solidarity with them.
Update, October 1: JJ survived. 'In trauma but alive'.

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Tuesday 17 September 2013

Music · Funk Fusion Band · Can You Feel It

As far I can tell this is the sole record this crew produced.

On the nexus of jazz-funk and disco this is the dog's bollocks, the epitome, the example. Utterly wonderful.

When I had my deejaying peak at RAT, Sydney, 80sblah, 5-8am shift, this was the last record I played.

Bliss follows the jump:

Thursday 12 September 2013

Refugee Convention assaulted by Australia and Israel

'illegal asylum seeker' is an oxymoron - Refug...
Refugee Action protest 27 July 2013 Melbourne (Photo credit: Takver)

Although the issue of refugees and asylum seekers has been the subject of furious - and often intemperate and ignorant - debate the world over only now is the actual Refugee Convention under serious threat.

In the run up to Australia's election something happened which caused a collective gawp for the sizable Australian minority who haven't lost their minds about refugee boat arrivals.

The then Labor government proposed a new policy of shipping boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and refusing them asylum in Australia, thus abrogating a basic principle of the Refugee Convention, which almost all nations are signed up to, either the 1951 Convention and/or the 1967 Protocol.

Australian policy towards asylum seekers is described by politicians as "harsh". 'Vindictive' and 'cruel' would be more apt. The place in PNG where boat arrivals are being sent (and only them, not those claiming asylum at an airport, logic has nothing to do with this politics) is a dump, on a tropical island, where rape and torture has been uncovered as ocurring - the government tried to cover that up. They are sending children there. The 'PNG option' came from strong arming and aid threats. Locals to the camp, on Manus Island, say they are being shut out of jobs and get no benefit from it. They say they would welcome the asylum seekers living in their community.

This was sold to Australians as "humanitarian" because it would 'stop the boats' coming from Indonesia as some of them sink and over 1000 are thought to have drowned since 2001. But another investigation found more cover up of a failure to stop boats at risk of sinking and aid them - another two-finger salute to international law, in that case the international law of the sea which demands mutual aid on the high seas.
In the dead of night on 17 December 2011, an asylum seeker boat called the Barokah left the coast of Java with around 250 men, women and children on board. One of them was ethnic Hazara man, Esmat Adine. The boat was so crowded, Adine couldn't even find a place to sit. The Barokah was just 40 nautical miles from Indonesia when it fell apart.
'At first I couldn't believe that our boat has sank,' Adine recalls. 'But I saw a toy is coming from the inside of the boat; it is coming by water. When it comes close to me, I realised that no, that was not a toy. That was a kid. That was a kid named Daniel. Daniel was with his mother; they were sitting in front of me, next to me, while we came by bus. When I saw Daniel's body, I realised that our boat has sank, and there is no further hope for us to be alive. '
Eight hours later, at 3 o'clock that afternoon, a passing fishing boat found around a hundred people in high seas, desperately clinging to debris. It was only able to rescue 34 people. Adine shouted to the people in the water, 'Be patient—we will bring you more boats, and they will rescue you.'
In Canberra that evening, Australian agencies became aware the Barokah had sunk. They told Indonesian authorities, because the boat was in their search and rescue zone.
Months later, customs officials would tell a Senate Estimates hearing that Indonesia had initially declined Australia's offer to help with the search and rescue.
But the official incident timeline, which Fairfax obtained under freedom information laws, revealed that BASARNAS, Indonesia's search and rescue agency, had asked AMSA to coordinate the rescue response—AMSA refused.
For two days, while men, women and children struggled to survive in waves up to six metres high, Indonesia and Australia did nothing.
Finally, on December 19, BASARNAS asked again for help. This time, AMSA agreed, and dispatched naval and Customs assets to the scene.
But it was too late. Two hundred and one people were dead.
(I should note there have been similar criticisms of the Italian and Greek's border protection services and the EU.)

Australia actually wanted the Refugee Convention to be changed to suit them. Fortunately they were rebuffed but who knows if either the new Australian government or some other governments peaked by the Australian effort will try again.

The Convention was drawn up in the wake of World War Two, during that period when most of the world worked together to draw up the basic laws which make up a decent, peaceful world. It was a reaction to the shameful way Jews attempting to flee Nazi Germany had been treated in the 1930s, as well as the immediate needs of those fleeing communism.

The latter is why Israel's abrogation of the Convention is causing such consternation as it acts much as Australia is doing. In Israel's case, I kid you not, trading refugees for weapons with Uganda.

Writes Natasha Roth for +972 Magazine:
That this is a war on asylum seekers and human rights is self-evident. But it is also a war on dignity and an assault on human memory and conscience. Whether or not the deal goes through, the fact remains that the Israeli government has seriously considered forcibly dispatching thousands of Africans, to a country not of their choosing, as part of a trade agreement. This brings up a historical recollection of such offensiveness that it is difficult to address it directly. Furthermore, the overlooked “commodity” in this proposed deal is space – for that is what the Israeli government will receive for its part in the potential bargain. This reported agreement is nothing more than a chapter in Israel’s playbook for ‘making room’ and homogenizing; it is persecution as ‘preservation.’ Doubtless one of Netanyahu’s spokespersons will find an appropriate moniker to try and lend some legitimacy to the proceedings (when the Serbs did the same thing in the 1990s, they dubbed it “ethnic cleansing”).
The Israelis characterise the refugees as "infiltrators". The Australians insist they're all "economic migrants".

The ones in Israel are all black, mostly Sudanese and Eritrean. The ones arriving in Australia by boat are mostly Muslim, Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis.

Makarere University Security Studies Professor Paul Omach told that Israel's actions are 'just another example of a richer nation paying a poorer one to solve its problems'.
Israel looks at these immigrants, mostly Africans really, as unwanted in its country. So if somebody can take it and you can just sign the checks, and you get somebody who is itching for money, that is definitely what they will do.
The co-founder of the International Refugee Rights Initiative in Kampala, Dismas Nkunda, told that the deal would completely undermine the Refugee Convention:
What happens to them, certainly that is going to be a very big legal problem, because on what basis are they being admitted in Uganda? They have not sought refugee status in Uganda, they have not sought asylum in Uganda. They sought first asylum in the first country they thought of, which was Israel. Actually, you might say that they might end up becoming stateless.
If Australia gets away with it and Israel gets away with it who will be next? If they want to do this just unsign and stop pretending to be 'humanitarian'. Why are there no consequences for those who sign up and then ignore the rules?

As Laissez Passer points out, Kenya's courts are doing a better job of defending international law than Israel's - you could say much the same of Australia's courts. And Kenya hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees. Israel 55000 and Australia far, far less.

Jerome Connolly and Joan Roddy write that:
An unwritten assumption underlying the Convention is that States Parties would not be faced with unmanageable flows of asylum seekers. But experience has belied that assumption on a number of occasions and shown how, in practice, this and other assumptions on which the smooth running of the Convention depends can be invalidated. Asylum determination procedures may be overwhelmed or made irrelevant by mass movements engendered by political violence, especially when conflict spills over frontiers. There may be an associated breakdown of political authority or alternatively borders may be closed as an emergency measure to protect the authority and resources of the host country. This may deny asylum to many refugees or lead to greatly diminished protection for them.
But neither Israel nor Australia are "overwhelmed" except by rhetoric saying they are "overwhelmed". Their actions go far beyond criticism you could make of the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers by Greece or the UK or Turkey, they undercut the basic concepts agreed on for years.

And this is happening when many are worried that growing conflicts and problems like climate change and water shortages will also test the Convention, that protections need strengthening not weakening.
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Wednesday 11 September 2013

Desmond Tutu schools NAACP over Africa and gays

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Anyone spending anytime reporting on the situation of gays in the different regions and countries of Africa will soon learn that the issue is complex. It varies widely, for example in West Africa between Sierra Leone - see this horrific story of outing and beatings and exile - and Ivory Coast, which is relatively safe.

Look at something like the historic UN vote to include sexual orientation in a resolution against extrajudicial killings, supported by or abstained on by numerous African countries. Or Malawi, which has gone from being internationally condemned for locking up gays to seriously debating decriminalisation.

How you achieve change also varies widely. In some places it's about the very basics of survival in underground communities living in viciously hostile societies, in others it's about openly working with allies and becoming increasingly visible and treated decently in the media. So the tactics used by supporters vary widely and can't be copied from one place to the next even within Africa, let alone copied from the West.

I would have thought all I've just written is obvious but apparently not to the NAACP, America's premier civil rights group. Writes Colin Stewart:
American human rights advocates have undercut the work of their African counterparts by insisting on Western-style advocacy of gay rights from African supporters of human rights for all, says a group of prominent religious leaders and human-rights activists, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

The issue arose this summer when Dartmouth College in New Hampshire chose, then rejected, an African bishop as the new leader of its Tucker Foundation, which “educates Dartmouth students for lives of purpose and ethical leadership, rooted in service, spirituality, and social justice.”

After he was announced as the new dean of the Tucker Foundation on July 14, the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga resigned from his position as bishop of Southern Malawi.

In a message to the Dartmouth community on July 18, Tengatenga said, “I support marriage equality and equal rights for everyone.”
The Dartmouth College chapter of the NAACP led the opposition to his appointment citing his 2003 opposition to the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire and a 2011 statement that Malawi’s Anglican provinces remained "totally against homosexuality."

The NAACP said they were "deeply troubled" by Tengatenga's appointment, despite his "newfound views on marriage equality and gay rights." He was subjected to an idiotic and ignorant campaign in the College's media, local media and this offensive stupidity in Huffington Post.

Dartmouth then cancelled Tengatenga's appointment.

A group of supporters, led by the legendary Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have condemned Dartmouth and the NAACP. They say:
It reflects badly on western human rights advocates who consciously or unconsciously engage in forms of cultural imperialism that undermine their own success and credibility by demanding proofs identical to their own kind and, in this instance, by also ignoring the voices of Africans and church leaders who have known and worked with Tengatenga in some cases for decades.
Tengatenga had said:
I have risked my life by advocating good and just government. As I told the search committee when I visited Dartmouth this spring, I have expected to die for the past decade because I have dared to speak out against official corruption and in defense of those Jesus called “the least of these.” I joke to my friends that I don’t leave the house after seven o’clock at night because I want to see who kills me.
His supporters say:
The phrase used on the ground in Malawi is “human rights for all Malawians,” because to speak about “LGBTQ rights” as such would be to add fuel to the flames of opponents for whom gay rights are “special rights,” and therefore indefensible.

The fact that James Tengatenga did not leave behind a record of press releases or public pronouncements — Western forms of activism — does not mean that he was only recently converted to the cause nor that he has not been a loyal and helpful ally to gay activists.  Rather, it means that he has been using the methods of the place in which he was trying to make a difference.
This letter from Malawian human rights defenders supporting Tengatenga expands on how they work on the ground and what Tengatenga's role was.

The well respected global gay supporter the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, writes in SDGLN that:
The Dartmouth saga is the most recent example of American Christian liberalism paying more attention to the symbols of LGBT equality and inclusion rather than actually in the business of forming new moral paradigms for the 21st century.

Most liberal institutions in the USA including academia and the faith community have not taken the time or spent the resources needed to understand global homophobia. We are not paying attention to our own collusion in building up a new faith-based [and anti-gay] industry supported even by funding from the American taxpayer. Dartmouth’s response is only another example that we are really not listening and are prepared to throw good and resourceful people like James Tengatenga under the bus to protect some public persona that we are somehow more inclusive than we really are. Image trumps substance. The Rev. Kapya Kaoma, who was deeply shocked by this sad melodrama, expressed the delineation of battle zones simply as: “America is right. Africa is wrong.”
Tengatenga was more bluntly critical of Dartmouth and its NAACP chapter. He said that the college had "chosen to trust bigotry over truth and justice." Of the NAACP, he said:
Of all the groups to take the lead against a black person on flimsy grounds. … So much for the advancement of colored people … It is sad that such an institution can stoop so low.
Indeed. This reaction from Dartmouth to the Tutu-led statement suggests a whole lot of arrogant, deaf people -- and that reflects a much wider and willful ignorance, as Ogle points out. The fact that the Tutu statement was sent as a letter to The New York Times and they thought it not newsworthy, and that the statement has had virtually no gay (bar SDGLN) or black media attention, just underlines what appears to be willful, dangerous ignorance.
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Tuesday 10 September 2013

Behind the scenes of Assange's WikiLeaks Party disaster

English: Picture of Julian Assange during a ta...
Assange during a talk at 26C3 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Assange's Wikileaks Party got less than 1% in Australia's election at the weekend.

This followed damning revelations about party operations and preferences given to the far-right in the Senate. Formerly loyal insider Gary Lord here unloads on Assange and his Australian praetorian guard.
I first met John Shipton [Assange's father] when he was contacting National Council members prior to the formal registration of the WikiLeaks Party. As a long-time vocal supporter of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, I was honoured to have been invited to join the Council. But given that the party would soon be under huge public scrutiny, there was something I needed to explain: I had gone bankrupt a few years earlier (after the failure of Kevin Rudd's Green Loans scheme, ironically) and I was still not formally discharged, so I was not sure if I was legally allowed to be on the Council.

John made a quick phone call to lawyer Kellie Tranter, later the party's NSW candidate, and then told me I would not be able to join the Council. After years of dedicated support for WikiLeaks, I felt gutted. But I accepted the decision in the best interests of the party.

"Never mind," smiled John with a sly wink, "we all have a few skeletons in our closets, don't we?"

John did not seem too unhappy at all about my situation, and I couldn't help wondering if that had something to do with my friendship with Julian's mum Christine. It was never going to be easy for the two of them to work together. [removed at request of Christine Assange - Gary]. My original understanding was that John would help set up the WikiLeaks Party and then step away from the day to day running of it. It's a pity this did not happen.

Months later, as the divisions within the party became more obvious, I contacted the Australian Electoral Commission myself, and learned that bankruptcy did NOT in fact prohibit me from being on the National Council (it only made me ineligible to run as a Candidate in the election, an option which was also discussed).

In retrospect, sharing my financial situation with John Shipton may have been one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I do not regret it because I did what I thought was right for the party and the values WikiLeaks represents. But given the WikiLeaks Party's own subsequent lack of honesty and transparency, my voluntary personal disclosure seems bitterly ironic.
In New South Wales, the White Nationalists from Australia First and the militant Shooters and Fishers party were preferenced above the Greens. In Western Australia, Julian Assange's staunchest parliamentary supporter, Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, was preferenced below his strongest rival, the National Party. Even in Victoria, the Greens were well down the list behind minor parties. By contrast, the Greens had preferenced the WikiLeaks Party (WLP) extremely highly in every state. 
I had just spent a week on Twitter trying to suppress rumours that the Greens would be preferenced well down the WLP list, and now it turned out the rumours were true. Worse yet, the source of those rumours was a WLP National Council member, Cassie Findlay, who helped submit the NSW preferences. And after helping me and others look like fools, Cassie conveniently disappeared off Twitter and ignored my DMs (thanks for that, Cassie). 
The WikiLeaks Party issued a statement blaming an "admin error" for the preferencing debacle and promising a review AFTER the election. That was never going to be good enough. Social media was going off. The mainstream media was all over it. Our biggest detractors were rubbing our noses in it and there was nothing we could say in reply.  
We clearly needed a proper public response from the party ASAP. But all the WikiLeaks Party insiders were suddenly - and very strangely - silent. This was not OK.  
I spoke with the only National Council members I knew personally, Sam Castro and Kaz Cochrane. They were both in tears on the phone. I urged them to be patient and give things time to work out, but they explained that others were already walking out the door. When Leslie Cannold's resignation prompted a wave of departures the next day, I started publicly demanding answers from @WikiLeaksParty on Twitter.
The WikiLeaks Party had promised a full inquiry AFTER the election. But Julian's August 30th appearance on ABC The Drum suggested that no inquiry would be necessary. Mistakes were made but nobody would be held accountable, the people who resigned over these errors were somehow out of order, even if Julian accepted responsibility, and in any case he agreed pretty much with everything that was done anyway.  
Was her serious? Or just trying to bluff his way through? 
I am deeply concerned that the WikiLeaks Party was unnecessarily politicised, not by Greens supporters, but by people with a hidden right-wing agenda, including John Shipton, Greg Barns (campaign manager, former Liberal Party candidate and advisor to former PM John Howard) and Julian Assange himself.  
Gary joins a long, long line of former supporters burned by arrogant prat Julian Assange.

More >> Jaraparilla: Where's That WikiLeaks Party Inquiry?
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Monday 9 September 2013

Some contrarian thoughts on Russia and The Gays

Zhuravlyov and his colleague Nikolai Valuev, who is also no fan of sexual minorities
Is Russia's 'remove kids from gay parents' bill the straw that will break Russian anti-gay forces? When will Western media finally report that the Russian version of America's Christianist anti-gays have Russian opposition?

Last week the news came out that a long hinted at new anti-gay bill had been introduced in Russia's parliament, the Duma. Deputy Alexei Zhuravlyov's bill would make sexual orientation a factor in cases when the government is deciding whether to take a child into state custody.

Zhuravlyov (also written as 'Zhuravlev') said in an explanatory note to the bill that, according to experts, 5 to 7 percent of Russians have a "nontraditional" sexual orientation and a third of them currently have children. In accompanying supporting documents, Zhuravlyov refers to the fraudulent and debunked paper on gay parents published in 2012 by University of Austin professor Mark Regnerus. And in interviews Zhuravlyov has sounded more or less like a mirror image of the American anti-gay right-wing.

Harvey Fierstein cited the possibility of such a bill in his fiery New York Times editorial, which kick started the movement to boycott the Winter Olympics in Russia. American media has widely covered the move of lesbian journalist Masha Gessen from Moscow to New York with her family, citing the fear that her kids could be taken from her.

What is being ignored is that a wide number of sources think that such a bill is too absurd to pass Russia's Duma and be signed into law by President Putin.

The Moscow Times described the reaction of Mikhail Fedotov, head of the Kremlin's human rights council, as "indignation". It quoted him saying to the BBC's Russian service:
Will we deprive left-handed people of their driver's licenses now too? They're left-handed, you know, and all our vehicles have the steering wheel on the left side, so it's harder for a left-handed person to drive.
Fedotov told Interfax that if the bill rises 'to the top of public consciousness' that would be a 'disaster, and then we do not know what to do with it'.

The Kremlin's western-facing news service, Russia Today, reported that several top Deputies were "very skeptical about the initiative."

The St. Petersburg LGBT organization Coming Out, who were included in the civil society group which met President Obama on Friday, said:
We may derive consolation from the thought that this initiative won’t be approved due to its obvious absurdity, and legal complications in proving the fact of the parent's homosexuality. After all, deputy Elena Mizulina’s (“Fair Russia”) idea of removing children from homosexual families (initially all children, later adopted only) did not catch on.
(Mizulina is the one who has led the anti-gay activity in the Duma through her committee chairpersonship, and in the media. She has used the state to harass her critics and those who've made fun of her.)

The controversial activist Nikolai Alexeyev also thought it was unlikely that Zhuravlyov's bill would be signed into law. He described it to Interfax as "absolute nonsense".
I can't imagine how this initiative would be accepted in the Duma. I think it's just the latest populist move to attract attention to a certain individual. Deputies are competing to see who can come up with the most absurd initiative.

I don't believe that things like this can end up in law and be signed by the president. The president says the rights of homosexuals are not infringed upon, but initiatives like this will create excessive tension between Russia and the West. It's a provocation against the Russian government.
Russia has uplifting stories you're not reading

The idea of Zhuravlyov's bill as being 'anti-government' seems a bit odd, given that Zhuravlyov is a prominent member of Putin's United Russia party.

But the idea that the bill will not become law does make sense if you perceive Russia as not being a universally anti-gay hellhole. Alexseev's comment that the bill is a populist, careerist move makes sense if you compare Zhuravlyov's bill with the antics of Tea Party members in the US Congress, such as them voting to repeal Obamacare - what is it? - 60 times? But you would not judge America solely on the antics of those absurdist US Congresspeople.

Apart from those prominent Russians describing Zhuravlyov's bill as absurd, a quick skim of the Russian gay news portal Gay Russia reveals numerous examples of prominent Russians opposing anti-gay laws and defending gay people.

Many of these stories would obviously translate to interesting and insightful background for Westerners. Such as that of Ksenia Sobchak, a rich, glamorous 'it' girl turned media star and dissident who has 750k followers on Twitter. Sobchak has been one of the main targets of Deputy Mizulina in her at times farcical pursuit of her critics.

Sergey Lazarev сергей лазарев Take It Off 2012...Another one would be the hunky pop star slash actor Sergey Lazarev (450k on Twitter), who says he doesn't care about rumours that he's gay and that "I'm always loyal to the people with a different sexual orientation."

Gay Russia has an story about a prominent economist saying that it is inevitable that the anti-gay laws will be repealed because Russia's destiny is as part of Europe. Vladislav Inozemtsev said:
Everyday life in Russia today is too European. The same individualistic society, as there. And even more. No big[ger] individualists than Russians.
Inozemtsev suggested a repeal may happen quicker than most would think, 'within one or two years', and compared how quickly another civil society set back perceived as irreversible was actually reversed, from Putin appointment to the direct election of regional governors.

One incident highlighted for me how reporting on Russia and The Gays has become seriously skewed and, I would argue, is thus hurting LGBT Russians because it's hurting Western decision making on how and where to try to help them.

The venerable Russian American journalist Julia Ioffe (who was recently yelled at on air by a MSNBC host because she gave a 'counterfactual' answer on Snowden and Putin) wrote for the influential liberal magazine The New Republic 'Eight Horrific and Uplifting Stories About Being Gay in the New Russia'. These come from her own life and from Russian media and alongside the skinheads beating up gay and trans teens are friends aiding gay friends. It colourfully demonstrates the mixed, nuanced picture elsewhere absent.

The New Republic's URL for the story is 'gay-life-russia-eight-horrific-stories'. The lying page title, what you see in a Google search, is 'Gay Life in Russia: Eight Horrific Stories | New Republic'.

Seeing an upside to an absurd bill

Moves against gay parents are not just confined to Russia and Russia's anti-gay laws and rhetoric is being supported and echoed by right-wing forces in several Western countries. Coming Out's comments could also be said of some parts of America: that the real damage of such a bill is "the fact that such an initiative could be developed and put forth", that its mere existence amounts to "cruel harassment of LGBT families".

Thus even though she may well be wrong that the bill will become law and that a real threat does exist to her family (I would like to see someone put that to her), Gessen is understandably playing it safe as a parent because, as Coming Out puts it:
Politicians, endowed with power to guarantee safety and well-being of citizens, chose the most vulnerable social group – minorities with children – as their target.
(Edited to add: G. Rayner points out that "Masha Gessen has some special and unique concerns. Not only is she concerned about the proposed law about taking children away from gay people in Russia, there is the June law passed by the Russian Duma which prohibits gay foreigners from adopting children. Gessen is an American citizen with an adopted child, so, indeed, at least theoretically, she can be affected by this other law." I would say that as far as I'm aware she has cited what is now Zhuravlyov's bill rather than the existant adoption law.)

Yet if this bill is a step too far for those anti-gay politicians then a point I made in 'Some Comment on Russia and the Gays' is relevant.
It is also worth noting, as Alexander Kondakov explains at openDemocracy, that the received opinion that Russians are extremely homophobic may not be all it seems. He suggests that actual opinion, based on his reading of polling, shows a population actually much closer to Western opinion - 'not bothered', 'leave them alone' - than assumed, though due to ignorance and an absence of any information.
(Which reminds me of received opinion about British Muslims when polling shows tolerance: that they may religiously reject homosexuality but support anti-discrimination, that almost all UK Muslim MPs voted for gay marriage.)
So if the laws can become seen as somehow burdensome then maybe those evangelically believing in and prosecuting them can be isolated, as a minority. This is a familiar trajectory in many countries.
If the bill does advance (and especially if he is being asked to sign it) then given Putin's genuflections on 'non-discrimination' is it absurd to think he might publicly denounce it? That, as has happened so many times elsewhere (think of the Briggs initiative against gay teachers in California in the 70s, which Reagan opposed), that Zhuravlyov's bill might make the choices so stark that a path toward change opens up?

This is happening, recall, whilst the Russian LGBT and allies organised movement is visibly growing. 14+ Russian cities took part in global #Russia4Love protests last week, see more pictures like the one right in this album.

What will Russia do, what will Putin do, if the bill advances and, as Fedotov puts it, 'we [meaning the Kremlin] do not know what to do with it'. What if, as Inozemtsev suggests, rejecting the evangelical anti-gays does become seen as part of Russia's economic development, as about becoming more European? What if Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Kostyuchenko succeeds in collecting evidence in order to 'out' gay but anti-gay Deputies, those hypocrites always found at the centre of anti-gay activity the world over, and actually publishes?

And is it so absurd to think that Coming Out's wish may come true?
We are convinced that the best evidence of tolerance towards LGBT people today can be a public apology from “United Russia” for debasing LGBT citizens and same-sex families with children with discriminatory statements and legislative initiatives, followed by repeal of such legislation, and further treatment of LGBT as equal in rights and dignity to all citizens of Russia. As is, this is yet one more in the list of legislative proposals that further promote discriminatory and homophobic attitudes in society, paint LGBT as an abnormality and a danger to children, and lead to grave violations of rights of LGBT people in Russia.

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Saturday 7 September 2013

Music · Earth, Wind + Fire

Not a good time for me right now, maybe last post for whatever?, but a rather odd link to Go-Go from DC, goddam Chuck brown, sorta via Tomansky and Youtube related linked me back to this transportation. Fitting. The first music which really got me into black American music, + thence a world beyond my little one.

Yeah, it blew me away as a 70s, white, Brit, provincial teen. I was 14. I had a friend intense in his Greenwaldian way (he later joined Militant) determined to convince me on the Nobel obliqueness of the Beatles. Via BBC American chart reports I discovered this, Earth, Wind and Fire's live album, and Ringo and Lennon and my mate's pretentiousness could forget it. I wore 'Gratitude's grooves out.

Right after this I discovered George Clinton and P-funk and ... and I still cannot stand unfunky white whiney #firstworldproblems music.

The shadow EWF turned into - if you hear this? Well, depress me some more. Don't Googles. Nile Rodgers is a hyper-exception. This music is jus raped by Grand Theft Auto millenials as pimpsic. Fuggit yr racist aholes. This was my G-spot in 70s Britain, + this is their G-spot as history.

Embeds after the jump from 'Gratitude':

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The people we're OK with killing

There's a powerful piece of writing by Tommy Christopher on Mediate about a major US network excusing the murder of a disabled child.
People with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are routinely slandered in the news media, even by parents of autistic children, but nothing comes remotely close to a CBS News report that sickly excuses the murder of 14 year-old Alex Spourdalakis by his mother and an accomplice. The report has spurred a petition to have CBS News take it down, but they really need to air a complete retraction, and discipline everyone involved in this travesty.
On Friday’s CBS This Morning, reporter Sharyl Attkisson delivered a report that was fatally flawed on several levels, but I hesitate to even mention the reporting itself, because even if everything in the report was 100% above-board and true, it would not support the sick conclusion that permeates it: that Alex Spourdalakis’ mother had no choice but to murder him. This sounds like an exaggeration, surely, but it is not. This was the explicit message of CBS News’ report.

The closest anyone in this report comes to denouncing Alex’s murder is anchor Gayle King, who introduces the piece by saying “The case is extreme, but it shines a light on the struggles of hundreds of thousands of families coping with autism.”
Why can so many journalists involved in compiling and presenting this report be so blind? Christopher quotes Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and the first presidential appointee with autism:
"An ideology, a dangerous ideology that preaches that people are better off dead than disabled, is what led to Alex’s murder."
This is hardly just an American problem. Hate crime against the disabled is going up in the UK, aided by, yes, them again, the media. In the UK's case it's a drip-drip of stories about fake benefit claimants, allegedly sourced back to the government.

In another powerful piece for ABC Australia Stella Young details harrowing case after harrowing case of:
Disabled people who have died at the hands of family members, and so often the media uses terms like 'compassionate homicide' or 'mercy killing' to describe the actions. But the killing of a disabled person is not 'compassionate'. It is not 'euthanasia'. It is murder.
In one case a daughter was starved to death.
Angela Puhle pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond. Further, the judge described Puhle as "a loving and devoted mother". He said:
"You did all you could over the years to ensure she could live as happy a life as possible for a person with severe disabilities that she suffered from."
She will not serve time in prison.
Consider for a moment the fact that in South Australia where Kyla Puhle died of starvation, the offense of ill treatment of an animal - whether or not that ill treatment results in death - carries a maximum penalty of $50,000 or four years in prison (PDF). Earlier this year Adelaide man Hally French pleaded guilty to bashing a dog with a pole and suspending it from a clothes line. He received a three month prison sentence. The dog subsequently made a full recovery.
Like Christopher, Young makes this point:
While the disability support system may indeed be woefully inadequate to support these parents, it cannot possibly be used to justify murder.
Of course not, but I do wonder if there is not a collective responsibility. A community, neighbours, relatives, who let down those disabled people. Professionals who, like is often reported when a child is neglected and murdered, who saw warning signs but failed to take action?

If we can understand racism or homophobia as being something pervasive, as not limited to 'bad' and 'good' individuals, as not a personalised 'sin', then surely disabalism is also a collective and pervasive issue? That disabalism killed these people?

If these parents were killing their kids because they're gay then we'd understand that the parents are personally responsible but also that the community let them get away with it and allowed that level of hate to fester?

Hugh Ryan wrote a powerful piece last month in the New York Times reviewing a exhibition about the first five years of HIV/Aids in New York. He chronicles how the exhibition whitewashes those institutions, like, but far from limited to, the Catholic Church, who were perfectly happy to watch gays die.
Bad history has consequences. I’m not afraid we will forget AIDS; I am afraid we will remember it and it will mean nothing. If we cannot face the root issue — that we let people die because we did not like them — AIDS will become a blip on our moral radar, and this cycle will repeat every time we connect an unpopular group with something that scares us.
I survived that time and I can well recall: people wanted people like me dead, that's just the truth. It wasn't just individuals, it was something far more rotten.

If murder and ill treatment of the disabled is getting worse that's not about a few bad apples, it's about our collective decision to allow it to happen.
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Tuesday 3 September 2013

Three missing gay stories: Iran, Turkey, Belarus

Still from video of mob hunting gays in Jamaica

It's Russia, Russia, Russia when it comes to 'foreign gay news' these days. But it's a much bigger and badder gay world out there.

Although the video footage of gays being tormented by Russian Nazis is mainstream news, worse footage from Jamaica is failing to attract anything like the same attention. The Jamaican situation is getting so bad, with the government doing nothing about what seems to be a wave of murders and violent attacks, that the veteran, exiled gay leader Maurice Tomlinson is on the verge of calling for economic sanctions.

Should Tomlinson call for sanctions -- and get support from the organised Jamaican LGBT community -- I wonder if that will break through and get anything approaching the attention Russia has? I have to say I'm cynical.

Jamaica, however, does get at least some attention but there have been three recent stories which leapt out at me and I think deserve at least some coverage (as opposed to none) because they obviously qualify as serious news.

LGBT activism now 'terrorism' in Belarus

Belarus is the former Soviet republic now known as Europe's 'last dictatorship'. It's leader, Lukashenko, has accused 'the West' of trying to turn Slavs gay and is known for bon mots on the gays like that 'women become lesbians because men are worthless'.

The country may not yet have a 'gay propaganda' law like Russia's but there have been repeated rumours that it might actually recriminalise gay sex. When a gay group tried to officially register last December police raided gay clubs and activists found themselves hauled into police stations, one had his passport confiscated.

Now the government has adopted new policy on 'the fight against terrorism' which extends the logic of some of the statements coming from Eastern Europe (or from some anti-gay American activists for that matter): gay activism is 'terrorism':
The document also notes that the internal source of a terrorist threat can become a "weakening of patriotism and traditional moral values among the youth due to the insufficient level of development of civil society, the destructive impact of information on the process of socialization of young people, a manifestation of trends towards the increased social stratification, the presence of a significant number of criminal and other unlawful acts against the person and property"
Given all else that has happened to them, local gay activists sound wearied. Alexandr Paluyan from Gay Alliance Belarus told me:
Relative to the new law. Indeed, information about non-traditional family values, as it used to be called in post-Soviet countries, the authorities can really be regarded as terrorism. Due to the fact that since the beginning of this year is the total pressure on the LGBT movement in Belarus, it is not excluded, and this fact is to apply the law in the future, however, it seems to me that this will not happen. But the fact of the possibility of equating LGBT activists as terrorists, and information resources called terrorist, of course, a matter of concern.
Exactly how this might work out for them seems, from the limited information I could find, opaque because exactly how the policy will be applied is not clear. Nor is whether the equation of gay activists with terrorists will spread, but I would not be shocked if it does.

Iran criminalises homosexual identity

Last month amongst the Russia-related coverage National Geographic ran a story reminding everyone that 76 countries criminalise gay sex and ran through details on some of the worst places to be gay. In the midst of which this caused a double take:
An updating of Iran's penal code in May 2013 criminalized homosexual identity, rather than specific acts, making it punishable by 31 to 74 lashes.
There was no source given in NatGeo's story but I tracked it down to the veteran Iran watcher Hossein Alizadeh at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). He confirmed it:
The new Iranian Penal code that was passed by the Guardian Council of the Constitution in Iran on May 1, 2013, states, "male homosexuality , in other cases rather than lavat [sodomy] and tafkhiz [rubbing penis between another man's tights without penetration], such as passionate kissing and lustful touching - is punishable by 31 to 74 punitive lashes of 6th degree." [Article 237].

The wording of the law [such as..] allows the judge to consider any other "homosexual" conduct - whether imaginary or real - as deserving punishment .... This vague law, in practice, paves the way for the punishment of anyone arrested on suspicion of homosexuality, but can't be tried on sodomy charges due to the lack of evidence.
(Here's the full text of the law on the Guardian Council's official website.)

I looked. This story got no publicity, in English at least.Why did the Iranian regime do this and what might it portend? I know reporting from Iran is difficult if not impossible but it would be good if some news outlet at least reported that this happened, and answered that question.

Turkey writes LGBT into draft constitution

Alongside Albania, Turkey is a Muslim-majority country which does have legal protections for LGBT people.

Contrary to preconceptions, those protections aren't the result of European Union pressures but of Turkey's thriving LGBT movement and the political support it receives.

The proposed new constitution is controversial, with many seeing it as a power grab for the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and Prime Minister Erdogan. However the current draft does, in a concession from the AKP, include "sexual orientation and gender identity, and other factors" as protected classes.

The language is in the preamble rather than the main text but even that concession, won by opposition politicians from the BDP (Peace and Democracy Party) and CHP (Republican People's Party), is being seen as a "milestone", according to Turkish politician Rıza Türmen and IGLHRC:
That identities be recognized at a constitutional level, even if it is in the preamble, by constitution drafters, is a significant gain for the LGBT. This step is a milestone for LGBT people in the Republic of Turkey’s constitutionalism.
If the constitution is passed it would be Turkey which would become the third country (after South Africa and, as I discovered, another very surprising African country) to offer LGBT explicit protections in its countries founding legal document. Yes, Turkey ...

There may be different reasons why these three stories aren't surfacing in international media but they're all information which should be more widely known.
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