Muslims, The Far-Right And Gay Rights

Gay Muslims

Smashing Moronic Stereotypes

The distinctive difference between the European and American far-right is this: European fascism is often secular in nature, while the US variety fanatically adheres to fundamentalist Christianity. This allows European fascism to paint itself as “modern”, and so in contrast show that “foreign” cultures are backward. This method worked in demonising Jews in Nazi Germany, and is being deployed today against Muslims.

This difference shows itself most strongly when it comes to issues surrounding gay rights; the American right is viciously homophobic. No hurricane or earthquake can pass without some moron calling it God’s retribution for tolerating homosexuality. The American right rallies “in defence of marriage” – a coded term for rejecting same-sex unions. Meanwhile, European fascists loudly parade European “tolerance” of homosexuality as a stick with which to beat Muslims. They claim that intolerant Muslim immigrants are poisoning “our culture of tolerance”.

This is a straw-man argument. Europe’s supposed tolerance of gay rights is extremely recent, and far from universal (11 of the 27 EU members don’t recognise gay marriage). The Nazis’ slaughter of homosexuals in concentration camps is almost certainly the greatest attack on gays in history (since Sodom, anyway). Although homosexuality was legalised here in the UK in 1967, gays were still afraid to openly walk the streets until perhaps the late-90s, when public acceptance had finally reached tipping point.

The far-right method is simple: point out the barbaric treatment of gays in Iran and Saudi Arabia, where executions take place; then blur the line between these two states and the 50+ other Muslim-majority countries. All this is done while ignoring attacks on gay rights in the non-Muslim world, including in the US. While some of the worst abuses of homosexuals have come from Christian-majority African and Caribbean states like Uganda and Jamaica, these are ignored – especially when US evangelicals are found to be backing Uganda’s attempts to introduce the death penalty for homosexuality.

The fascist method is to create simple myths about whole groups of people. The idea that there is a single “Muslim culture” is laughable to anyone who has travelled extensively. The cultures of Muslim Arabia and Muslim West Africa, for example, couldn’t be more different.

As for the idea that Muslims are somehow less tolerant than Jews, Hindus or Christians? Reality flatly disputes this. A poll of British Muslims and Christians last year found that Muslims were marginally more proud than Christians of Britain’s tolerance towards homosexuals; when asked if they agreed with the statement: “I am proud of how Britain treats gay people”, 47% of Muslims agreed (contrasting with 46.5% of Christians). And how about the French Imam who blessed a gay union earlier this year? Reality undermines the myth that somehow Muslim immigrants are reducing European tolerance.

Conservative religion worldwide is guilty of extreme homophobia; American evangelical leaders, the mullahs of Iran and Saudi Arabia, and leaders in many African countries – Muslim and Christian alike – attack homosexuality as an evil. Amusingly, some non-white homophobes often refer to homosexuality as a “white disease“, showing much in common with the fascists who label homophobia a Muslim import.

My own experience agrees with the poll quoted above. Most Muslims I know are accepting towards homosexuality; and a night I spent in a very gay (but mixed) nightclub in the Moroccan city of Agadir showed me that these attitudes are widespread outside Europe too. Fascists, of course, deliberately ignore all these subtleties. Their job is to convince morons that Muslims are damaging “our culture”, and that requires simple, black and white stories to be disseminated.

Tories, Abortion and Fundamentalists

Andrea Williams, Fundamentalist

The Face Of British Fundamentalism

Abortion has been legal and easily accessible in the UK since its legalisation in 1967, and there is little public support for a change to the law. However, it’s easy to get complacent – laws can be overturned by shrewd and well-funded campaigns without any public support. The Conservative Party, beneath its new “progressive” makeover, still harbours what remains of Britain’s religious right.

Nadine Dorries MP is working hard to challenge Britain’s 24-week abortion limit – her initial strategy is to propose a cut to 20 weeks, but some Tories (including the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt) are angling for an even more draconian cut to 12 weeks. This Wednesday, Dorries will introduce a debate into the Commons on reducing the term to 20 weeks.

I won’t go into the detail of the pro-choice argument here, but the important difference between 20 and 24 weeks needs to be made clear: some tests on the health of the foetus can only be done for the first time at 20 weeks. Some parents-to-be face a heart-wrenching decision after 20-weeks, as to whether to continue with a pregnancy when defects have been detected in the foetus. The vast majority of non-medical abortions will take place within the 20-week timeframe; reducing the limit from 24 weeks would most affect those people who intended, prior to the 20-week scan, to continue the pregnancy to term. To remove this choice would be an incredibly cruel act.

Dorries claims (dishonestly) to not be a fundamentalist on sexual issues, but the company she keeps is revealing. She is very close to the right-wing Christian fundamentalist Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, as shown in the video below. Williams holds a variety of extreme views, and yet thanks to Dorries, enjoys access to the Houses of Parliament. The British dislike religious fundamentalism, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels; fundamentalists are already in parliament, and trying to reverse hard-won progressive victories in the field of sex and sexuality.

Please watch and share the video:

US Elections For Dummies

That tricky choice: more drone strikes and torture or more drone strikes and torture?

As we approach another US Presidential election, increasing numbers of non-Americans are watching proceedings with great interest; however, the US electoral system is a strange thing, and many foreigners fail to understand its subtleties. As a non-Yank who takes a great interest in US politics, I felt I should explain US elections to those foreigners who would like to follow events in the run-up to November 6. So here is the MoronWatch quick guide to American elections.

Only Two Parties?

That’s right, the American system is carefully engineered to ensure only Democrats and Republicans have any chance of winning. To outside observers, used to multi-party democracy, this seems a little strange. America, in its usual efficient way, has optimised democracy to the bare minimum. Cuba, of course, has a one-party state. America has TWICE the number of parties that Cuba does, and is therefore twice as democratic. And what better measure of democracy could there possibly be?

To ensure no other parties have a chance, the Ds and the Rs have things sown up. For example, in the current run of presidential debates, the parties signed a legal contract promising not to debate with any other candidate, thus creating an unbreakable duopoly and excluding any possible third-party candidate from gaining any publicity. The media plays along with the game, ensuring that alternative candidates are seen as little more than cranks. And when force is needed, it’s freely used; indeed, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein tried to attend this year’s debate, she was arrested and held by New York police. Smell the democracy!

No Spending Limits?

Outsiders have a quaint idea that elections should reflect the will of the people. America is smarter than this (as are other advanced democracies such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc). The People, as everyone knows, are idiots and shouldn’t be allowed to make any serious decisions. Presidents should instead be chosen by the nation’s cleverest people: CEOs. Unlike many democracies, America imposes no spending restrictions, and even allows third-parties (such as corporate front groups) to run political advertising. The election result is thus a simple matter of money.

So corporations fund the campaigns and the campaign that spends the most money wins. Simple! Which party do the corporations prefer? Both of them! Since both parties represent corporate interests, it doesn’t really matter to corporations which one is elected. They fund both parties to make sure that they, rather than any accountable body, control the system. If one of the parties suddenly questioned the rights of corporations to own and run US society, that party would lose its funding and the other one would win. The system is balanced and fair (unless you’re some kind of commie who believes in “one person, one vote” type stuff).

No Progressive Party?

Real democracies represent all parts of the political spectrum, but that can be messy, and result in the people actually choosing their government; so the enlightened system in America (like that in Cuba) ensures this doesn’t happen. Most societies split into two parts – conservatives (those who think the past was great) and progressives (those who aren’t so sure about that). So the main political parties tend to represent various flavours of these strands. America has evolved beyond this crude system; since progressives tend to be uneasy about corporate power threatening democracy, they had to be excluded from the electoral process.

Instead, Americans are offered a simpler choice: pro-corporate sane people vs pro-corporate insane people. This means that a knowledge of politics isn’t necessary for voting in America, since the parties disagree on very little anyway. Just decide whether you think raped pregnant women should be forced to carry their babies to term or not, and your choice is simple.

Make Up The Rules As You Go Along

Here’s the best thing about US elections: if the vote doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t even matter! You simply ensure the voting machines will give the right answer, people have trouble voting, and the supreme court is packed with your friends.

Why bother with elections at all? Why not just allow CEOs to nominate the next President at a secret meeting? Americans are proud of their semi-democratic past, and voting reminds them of the days when they actually used to have some control over national policy. Besides, the corporations who make rigged voting machines would be very upset to lose all that business. As with many African nations, which have so carefully copied America’s version of democracy, the US enjoys going through the motions of voting, secure in the knowledge that the rich people who own everything will still be in power after election day.

So Does Voting Make Any Difference?

Yes. Despite the fact that both parties are largely funded by the same interests, small changes of direction can make a big difference. The Republican party has been taken over by people who will happily start a nuclear war, since they believe God’s on their side and they’re guaranteed a spot in heaven whatever happens. And the difference between “nuclear war” and “no nuclear war” is pretty significant. Romney has signalled a more aggressive attitude towards Russia, China and Iran if he’s elected, which is bad news for global stability and the economy, but good news for the oil and weapons companies that back him.

So here we go again: through some joke of history, the entire future of global humanity rests on the whims of a handful of badly-informed morons in a handful of swing states. If there is a god, he has a wicked sense of humour.

Report From Palestine

In this audio interview, I meet with a British activist who has visited Palestine twice this year. She reports back on the reality of life for people in the West Bank and Gaza, and we talk about Israel’s actions and plans to “cleanse” and colonise Arab land.

Find me on Twitter: @MoronWatch

The “Evil Menace” of Page 3

Because nipples corrupt the morality of our youth. Or something.

It shouldn’t need stating that many social conservatives have a big problem with nudity.

Mankind did, of course, start out naked – and in the benign climate of the African tropics where we began, there was little reason to change that. But human expansion into colder regions required the invention of clothing (the needle and thread were invented in Europe around 15,000 years ago), and once invented, taboos began to develop around nudity, especially in Europe. It’s no coincidence that chilly Britain (and its diaspora in North America) still has problems with the public baring of female breasts.

When the British were finally reunited with their African cousins, 70,000 years after their ancestors had originally left Africa, they noted that nudity was commonplace. They of course concluded that this was due to Africans’ lack of civilisation, and set out to “civilise the savages” by persuading them to cover up. Later, the Victorians hid away nude artwork (or pornography, as its detractors might have called it), and the sight of a female ankle was met with disapproval.

The social and sexual revolutions of the late-60s to early 70s challenged British attitudes to nudity. The youth of that time challenged the attitudes of the conservative post-war generations; in 1970, The Sun newspaper began to print a daily topless photo on page 3; today, the very phrase Page 3 is synonymous with topless photography.

The Sun’s move was cleverly timed to capture the zeitgeist. The decision to publish topless photos was a radical one, and of course it was designed to cause controversy, which in turn would create publicity and drive sales. But the old British fear of bare breasts was never far from the surface, and Page 3 generated a moral backlash. Campaigners in the 1980s tried (and failed) to get it banned.

Now, in this newly conservative era, yet another campaign to end Page 3 has surfaced. This time, it comes armed with new language. Instead of screaming that the morals of Britain’s youth are under attack, the campaign wields its favourite buzzword: “objectification”. The benefit of objectification (from its advocates’ point of view) is that it’s effectively meaningless. The idea is that someone who opens The Sun and sees a topless woman thereby becomes corrupted to view all women as “sex objects”, and incapable of viewing women in other roles.

The problems with this idea are numerous: for a start, who says that a woman who poses topless is a “sex object”? The “objectification” brigade seem to have little respect for the women they pretend to defend. And do they really believe that the men (and, yes, women) who enjoy Page 3 are so stupid that, having seen one woman pose topless, they think all women must therefore do so?

“Objectification” only applies in sexual situations; it is a coded attack on sexuality. Just as the conservatives of Victorian times feared sexuality, and tried to suppress it, so the conservatives of today try to suppress sexuality, and rationalise their irrational fears by trying to find harm… harm that only exists in their fearful imaginations.

If there’s irony in “feminists” allying themselves with the religious right’s quest for “morality”, they fail to see it. They claim to disapprove of the way women are covered up in conservative Muslim societies, yet their own beliefs stem from the same basic idea: their reasoning may vary, but their dogma is the same: female flesh must be hidden from weak, stupid men.

The arguments used against Page 3 are beyond moronic. I haven’t yet seen a single intelligent attempt to explain the backlash, just angry shouts that “Page 3 is a backward relic of the 1970s” and similar (the depiction of naked women, by the way, has a far older pedigree than the 70s). And as for objectification – I’ve tried for several years to get a coherent explanation of how it’s actually supposed to operate, and have yet to see one (if you think you can remedy this, please do write it in the comments below).

The campaign has attracted pro-censorship morons from both left and right. When so-called Marxists find themselves in agreement with religious conservatives, they should perhaps decide whether their views are really about “protecting women from objectification”, or whether they’re not quite as radical as they think.

I should point out that I think The Sun, purchased by Rupert Murdoch in 1969, is a detestable rag, and I’m pleased to say I’ve never purchased it in my life. It has been guilty of frequent racism, homophobia and sexism. It helps spread right-wing, nationalistic propaganda through British society, and has been at the forefront of disseminating anti-EU lies. Nor do I find Page 3 interesting – its photography is dull, and its choice of models is narrow and predictable. But do breasts damage society? No more than ankles were a threat to the stability of Victorian Britain.

Sure, it would be nice if there was more diversity on Page 3 – why not feature men as well as women? How about trying out larger, older or disabled models? If The Sun still had the radical edge it did in 1970, it might be brave and try these things out. But The Sun, like its feminist opposition, has stagnated and become conservative over the past four decades. The inescapable fact is: Page 3 sells papers. If it didn’t, it would vanish.

We British find breasts fascinating only because our society has a taboo about the baring of them in public. When we finally outgrow that infantile fear, we will cease to find Page 3 interesting. Until then, nipples will equate to sales, and Page 3 will live on.

The Strippers Strike Back

Stripper Edie Lamort

Photo of Edie Lamort, courtesy Millie Robson Photography http://www.millierobson.com/

We welcome back our striptease correspondent, Edie Lamort, who takes a look at the history of the attacks on her trade in the UK, and the fightback by the strippers.

The bell may be about to sound for round two in the fight against censorship so before that happens dear readers let me give you a bit of a background; the story so far, of how this attack on dancers has evolved over the past few years. Before that we were working, studying, partying, creating and just living our lives like everyone else. Now we have had to organize, unionize and fight for our freedom. Here is the story from a Shoreditch point of view.

Once upon a time there were many strippers from all over the world working in London’s East End. There was a really nice combination of stage shows, private dancing, a good camaraderie between the girls and management and most of all lots of money to be made. This gave people freedoms they had never experienced before. People who’d come from nothing could suddenly buy houses, have holidays, study, buy a nice car and send money to the family in Brazil/Argentina/Ukraine/Middlesborough where ever. The new opportunities were wonderful and life was good.

The dancers were also talented, independent and strong willed. A lot of them very creative and unable to sit bored senseless in an office job all day. So they started experimenting with the pole and making up moves. Other girls saw this and copied them, shared knowledge and over time the strippers of the western world created a new and amazing art form. They became great friends because you stick together. In a world where most people will judge you harshly for what you do, you need to have each other’s backs. Maybe you get this level of friendship in the army too but you definitely don’t get it in office world. There is also an intimacy that comes with being in an environment where you can be open and free. When you are in a changing room with someone going, ‘Is this spot on my arse really noticeable? Can you have a look? Thanks’. So you peer at your friend’s arse, dab concealer on it and tell her not to worry.

The first time the dancers ever encountered the haters was over ten years ago. Mark our gay manager decided to have a birthday party. So he used Browns on the Sunday night, when it was closed to the public. There were DJs, bands and the hot Brazilian bar man did a strip for everyone. It was a great party. Then someone came in and said ‘hey there’s a protest outside!’ So we went out and saw Anna Van Heejswick and her nascent hate group Object shouting and waving their slogans around. The dancers started laughing at them and told them they had come on the wrong night, ‘hahaha there are male strippers here if you want to check them out!’ But the haters kept on shouting outside, on a cold November night.

No one thought about them for years, believing people wouldn’t be stupid enough to listen to such a group of extremists but alas. You think ‘oh most people are sane, extremist groups will just be laughed at and ignored’. Unfortunately this is not always true and we now find ourselves in a battle. Object had the ear of Harriet Harman MP and so a handful of people changed the law to the detriment of the many.

The first battle was in Hackney. No one knew about the nil policy consultation for a while until the owner of the White Horse found out about it. An East End matriarch born and bred, Sue had taken over the pub when her Dad retired. She was born and raised in Hackney, had seen the area change and gentrify over the decades, and now faced having the family business closed due to the moral objections of a few new, middle class residents. She was furious and sent the information to everyone she could think of. She started a Facebook group and within days all the dancers were as livid as Sue and began to fight back. Sue and Denise, the owner of Browns, got together with Thierry from the GMB trade union and organised a legal team. The dancers took over in terms of publicity, speaking and being the face of the campaign. They all knew that it had to be dancer led to counteract the patronising narrative that all dancers are ‘poor weak little victims of horrible wicked men’.

A few weeks later Xtalk and the GMB organised a meeting between the workers and the council. The meeting was attended by many dancers, bar staff, DJs, Xtalk and the GMB rep but only one councilor bothered to turn up to listen to the people they were about to make redundant. Then the dancers approached the Hackney TUC and won the unanimous support of everyone. The owners funded a viral video and the dancers organised a protest. ‘Giselle’ liaised with the police and they got the support of the Vicar of Shoreditch. They also wrote to the councilors individually and went to meet the local MP. Thierry the GMB rep said afterwards the councilors were astonished. They had never before received so many letters about a consultation, had never expected the strippers to react like that and were amazed to see a stripper protest outside the town hall!

Round one had been won but the dancers knew it was only the beginning. A few had been in Equity for a while but then more joined due to the fact that it had helped and the unions had supported everyone regardless of where they were members or not. It calmed down for a bit but then the prohibitionists started again in Tower Hamlets. A public debate was announced featuring a rogues’ gallery of the religious right and so called ‘feminists’ who would like us all to live the Dworkinesque nightmare. Immediately dancers began to protest and asked why it was being advertised as a debate when there was no one at all on the panel willing to defend the dancers? Eventually the organisers agreed to let one of the dancers speak and allowed one other person to accompany her. Hardly a debate, just a pathetic gesture.

The email went around, ‘who wants to go speak at this event?’. No one in their right mind wants to but someone has to. I volunteered and was allowed 5 minutes amongst the 3 hours of ranting. It was a shocking experience to see how politics works. A small group with an agenda and some funding create stigma and fear against an unrepresented subculture and use them as a scapegoat. This panic they create is then used to justify a change to the law and for more freedoms to be taken away. We are all aware that these methods are used but to see it in action is a truly shocking experience.

The consolation came and went and now the results have been suppressed. Could it be that it did not go their way I wonder? This has given the clubs time to consult with legal teams. The dancers then decided to organise an event called Dancers Speak Out, to start the fight back in Tower Hamlets. The meeting was held one rainy evening with speakers from the clubs and John McDonnell MP. Who pointed out the hypocrisy of Tower Hamlets borough endorsing Olympic sponsors Dow Chemicals, of Bhopal infamy, yet calling the dancers immoral.

The prohibitionists then moved on to Portsmouth were they are trying hard to close Elegance and Wiggle. Another recent target has been Leeds where religious and ‘feminist’ groups joined forces and sought to close all seven clubs in that city. Once again the dancers and club owners mobilized and fought for their jobs and for freedom. Supported in their campaign by Leeds University researcher Dr Teela Saunders, author of The Regulatory Dance. The licensing committee in Leeds then agreed to reissue licenses to all seven clubs, much to the fury of those opposed. Rachel Reeves MP was upset by this decision and worrying has proposed changing the law because she did not get what she wanted out of the democratic process. What is this strange thought process? ‘The vote didn’t go my way so I will ignore democracy and change the law accordingly’, which is a scary route to take. It also reminds me of the reaction of an older South American dancer two years ago in Hackney. When she heard of the nil policy campaign in Hackney she panicked saying, ‘This is the attitude of dictatorship! I grew up under dictatorship. I came to this country because there were freedoms and opportunity. What are these people doing?! This is the mentality of dictatorship.’

What will be the next chapter in this sorry saga? Without a doubt the Tower Hamlets fight will restart now the Olympics have finished. Coventry is consulting and Lancashire has just thrown out a nil policy bid. UK Feminista have been touring Universities preaching hate towards dancers and customers, and training students on how to close down their local strip clubs.

Most everyday people don’t know or really care about this but when you tell them they are usually shocked to hear about more of our freedoms being taken from us. Be aware that this puritanical backlash is simmering away and oppose it in your local area. This is censorship and it can only end in tears.