Miriyam

What I will talk about mainly is the recent events and what they mean for the struggle against racism. The attack in Paris was, particularly for Dutch anti-racist activists, a quite bizarre experience. I was very active in the Dutch anti-racist movement when [?1:05] came up firstly after 9/11 in 2001 and then Theo Van Gogh was killed two years later. Watching Paris was like being thrown back 10 years, with some similarities and differences that I want to going into because I think they are important for our analysis in how we deal with the current form of Islamophobia and how we understand also how it changed.

charlie-hebdo-2What is interesting is, everything you hear about Paris, similarly what we heard about Van Gogh in the Netherlands, is that it’s very unique and that it’s “unprecedented” and “historical.” All the news framings are giving us the idea that this is a historic phenomena. The only reason why it’s unique is the sense that terrible things happen in the world but they happen in the periphery, or they are proxy wars elsewhere, in which Europe or the West is involved, but they don’t happen in the centre. This is the “unique” element used in framing this as a “shocking” event. For those of us who know people in other parts of the world, who are in solidarity with other struggles, it doesn’t quite feel that way. Of course it’s unique for other reasons but we sort of have an ability to internationalise and frame these events in a different light. But an identical narrative was given when [?3:06] was killed: it was the first political assassination in 300 years in the Netherlands.

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There are several extracts from social anthropologist Sindre Bangstad’s book Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia that challenge the assumptions of ‘freedom of speech’. I’m sharing these as I think they contain some ideas to bear in mind when formulating a response to the murder of the Charlie Hebdo journalists, and for analysing whatever shit’s about to come. I’m a big fan of letting words stand on their own merit. Sometimes you don’t need to interject and explain. So below are a few of the strongest points from chapter six of Anders Breivik and the Rise of Islamophobia, a chapter on freedom of speech and hate speech. Of course, this is a book that deals with the populist right (namely the Progress Party) and far-right in Norway, but the parallels hardly need to be laboriously explained.

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Some parts of this review could be considered spoilers. There are events and periods of time that happen in every playthrough, but since so much is determined by your choices, it is not especially narrative driven. As such none of these ‘spoilers’ will impede your enjoyment of the game.

In the existing strategy and first-person shooter games you can battle on the side of just about any empire or freedom fighter imaginable, whether historical, recent, or fictional. There is no such glory for those with no dog in either side of the fight. In This War of Mine, by the Poland-based game developers 11 Bit Studios, you are in control of a small group of civilians with nothing in common who have sheltered together with just one ultimate objective: survive.

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Your bare shelter is located in the devastated fictional city of Pogoren, caught up in a conflict between a rebel group and the state military. Everyone in your small group, which starts out as three of twelve playable characters, has a back-story that explains their unique talent. Zlata is a musician who was accepted to study at a music academy shortly before war broke out, and is able to cheer up the other housemates. Bruno was a celebrity chef, making him best placed to do the cooking around the house. These and the ten other abilities have varying degrees of usefulness in a survival situation. The day is time for improving the shelter, cooking, and making other resources; at night, one out of your party can scavenge and steal from another location, such as a hospital, church, or military outpost. The others stay behind and sleep or stay on guard. (At this stage, the game is being, and will be, frequently updated. Initially the character selection was random. Now, after completing it once, you have the option to choose your favourite characters, or the worst three to give yourself a challenge. In the same update a new shelter was added, which I look forward to playing around with.)

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My most memorable day of 2013 was being part of a huge crowd of anti-fascists preventing the British National Party from having a march around London on June 1st. The slogan that still rings in my ears among many from that day is, “The BNP is a Nazi party – Smash the BNP.” It’s not in my nature to be violent or confrontational. But when faced with supporters of the BNP or the National Front, many of us who usually want a quiet life become a different person. There’s no doubt why this is. It’s because you know what they think of you and what they’d do to you with any power. You know what they think of you whether you’re queer, a trade unionist, non-white, a religious minority, or you simply care for the wellbeing of any of these people. When I shout, “Smash the BNP” it isn’t just a scary chant but it’s what I want to happen.

They still have a couple of councillors but hopefully, with bankruptcy, internal crisis and splits, and no more MEPs!, the nationalists really are smashed. Though they might like to pretend otherwise, UKIP has taken a great deal of their vote. It is wrong to call UKIP fascist and probably wrong to call them far right. But the people they are a threat to are the same people who have been intimidated by the BNP. (No, I’m not talking about the ‘political establishment’.) Being gay myself (more-or-less) I can’t help but focus on their homophobic element.

Everyone knows that Nick Griffin hates us. He has used homophobia to appeal to traditionalist Christianity; uses slurs like “poof”; has intimidated individual same-sex couples; and has out-right called gay couples and men who kiss each other ‘creepy’. A great deal of media attention has been directed to the more outrageous comments made by UKIP candidates and supporters. Some have been suspended but it has ultimately had little impact on the outcome of the European Parliament elections. Roger Helmer MEP has been re-elected in the East Midlands despite his comment that “Homosexuality is not a valid lifestyle worthy of equal respect”. Nigel Farage has predictably defended Helmer by pointing out how old he is, apparently letting him off the hook: “If we asked the 70s and over in this country how they felt about [homosexuality], most of them still feel uncomfortable.” Farage doesn’t harbour the same hatred as someone like Nick Griffin but you’re a fool if you think his party doesn’t benefit from his kind of thinking being mainstream.

But how can UKIP possibly be homophobic! They also just elected David Coburn, an openly gay MEP in Scotland! We all know this excuse. “I’m allowed to make those comments – some of my best friends are disabled.” A National Front member once told me: “Why are you calling me a racist? I’ve got black family,” to which I responded, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you bring them on a fucking NF demo!” An openly gay MEP is just as capable as anyone else of internalising homophobic and sexist junk and being an oppressor. The only openly gay MP, Rokas Zilinkas (Homeland Union Party), in Lithuania is one of the key politicians in that country in opposing equal rights of protest and assembly for LGBT organisations like Baltic Pride. He also supports Russian-style laws against ‘gay propaganda.’ Coburn’s attitude suggests that he will do nothing to further the cause of queer liberation; he feels the battle has been one with civil partnerships.

I’ve heard Black and Asian comrades describe the racism they face day to day by saying it often makes them want to cry and hide under the covers. This doesn’t mean they are lesser activists or that I don’t consider them heroes. It’s the same way I feel most of the time faced with homophobia. It doesn’t hurt to hear one increasingly irrelevant and desperate fascist idiot like Griffin say what he has to say about sexuality. It hurts that his party has shifted the debate and that so much of his hate speech has mainstream acceptance.

There’s a particularly nasty conversation I overheard in school that I still play over in my head. I failed to intervene, probably because it was so accepted in secondary school that being gay was in some way sick or wrong. One of my classmates was telling about how his brother’s best friend recently came out as gay. Another student advised, “You should tell your brother to sew his arse-cheeks together.” Most of the class laughed. The teacher must have heard the conversation but ignored it. What’s the implication of this joke? Firstly that all gay men are sex addicts and attracted to every other man they meet; secondly that gay men are more likely to be rapists. These two ideas are the substance of so many jibes and insults you hear every day made against gay people which so often go unnoticed. There’s a parallel here with what one rs21 speaker called, in a meeting on racism and resistance, ‘politically correct racism’. He gave the example: “I don’t hate Muslims but don’t they treat women appallingly?”

Anyone can see a problem with the racism of a neo-fascist party, but the ruling class—the political establishment that UKIP must now admit it is part of—will always find a new way to make oppressive language acceptable. The efforts of Hope Not Hate and others in ‘exposing’ UKIP are not enough. I’ll leave it up to someone cleverer to work out the details, but to truly remove homophobia from political acceptability, sexuality and gender studies must be taught and understood in a way that allows future generations to see through the evasive language of ‘politically correct bigotry’.

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The panel. Picture from Eric Segal’s facebook page.

Aylesham’s ‘Club Ratling’ hosted a commemoration event on May 5th to recognise the struggle nationally and locally in this former mining village. Had the strike ended in victory and the pits stayed open, there would be more of a choice of locations for this event. As things stand the Ratling was the only option. But here you find a community used to pulling together to make the best of a situation, and what a great spirit there was. Music was provided by the Snowden Colliery Brass Band and later their Male-Voice Choir. Socialists of different tendencies showed up to show respect and support. Two Socialist Workers’ Party members had a stall, letting people know about the annual Marxism Festival and selling a great 12-page special paper with some of their best articles from the 1984-5 period. I was helping out at the Red Stuff Shop stall and selling the latest Kent International Socialists’ bulletin. 47 sold altogether! The Socialist Party, TUC, and RMT also participated, but most of the people enjoying and creating the festivities were the locals themselves. The famous strike is remembered as a loss, but a loss that gave people a glimpse of what might be possible. “Although there was a great deal to celebrate,” said the first of six speakers, Terry Harrison, “this has to be a commemoration rather than a celebration”.

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In response to growing rates of unmarried cohabitation, a bill is being prepared for the Riigikogu (Estonian parliament), which, if passed, would allow couples to formalise their relationship through civil partnership, regardless of gender. The bill seems very likely to succeed, having already gained the support of MPs from all four major parties, including a minority from the most conservative of these, the Pro Patria and Res Publica Union. There is no talk of it leading to anything like the UK’s Equal Marriage Bill. (Even if we were to assume that a marriage equality bill could provide full equality, what we have in the UK is not truly ‘equal’ as it does not accommodate transgender couples.) According to Gay Star News: “it seems unlikely that the bill will create adoption rights for same-sex couples in Estonia as this is strongly opposed by government coalition member party the Union of Pro Patria and Res Publica, whose leadership are opposed to same-sex partnerships being recognised.”

The truth is, for many of us, that same-sex marriages and civil partnerships are our very smallest concerns. It is such a small step, which offers some extended property rights and perhaps more tolerance, but little else. Anyone who doesn’t buy into the fantasy of “gay affluence” knows this. Far more urgent problems specifically affecting LGBT people include unemployment, homelessness, censorship, and violence at the hands of fascist gangs in collusion with the state. Being so close to Russia and Lithuania, Estonians must feel a particular urgency against the violence and censorship of “gay propaganda”.

From June 2nd to 8th, the annual Baltic Pride festival will be held in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn.

Baltic Pride logo

Baltic Pride logo

It is likely that this will be a betterindicator of public opinion on sexuality than the civil partnership law. Homophobic protesters fromthe conservative Pro Patria and Res Publica Union should be expected, as well as from the small but visible far-right Estonian Independence Party, which uses white supremacist symbolism and has ties to neo-Nazis who annually display support for the Estonian Waffen SS.

We cannot rely on a change in the law to destroy institutional sexism and people’s commonly held prejudices, when lawmakers have historically sought so much to divide and conquer the working class along lines of sexuality and gender. Our goal as socialists is queer liberation, and those kinds of discussions will appear in Baltic Pride, not in parliament. We must find some way to show solidarity with this campaign.

National LGBT rights organisation Lithuanian Gay League cooperated with ILGA-Europe in publishing a report at the end of 2013 on ‘Homophobic and Transphobic Hate Crimes in Lithuania’ for the year. Lithuania has the highest hostility rate of any EU member state, with 61% of its LGBT community claiming they suffer discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Only one in ten people reports a perceived hate crime to the authorities, often because they are reluctant to disclose orientation or identity. There is likely to be distrust of the authorities as well: the report describes a gay man who believed the police were ‘indifferent’ to his concerns. The findings of this report, based on interviews from March to November 2013, help us to break down incidents of discrimination and violence, and understand where they are coming from.

The Law in Lithuania currently does not allow legal recognition of gender reassignment or same-sex marriage. Like in Russia, censorship against ‘gay propaganda’ can be practiced. Adverts for Baltic Pride, an event held annually in one of the three Baltic countries, were banned by the Ethics Office. The LGL protested against this in October. Petras Gražulis, an MP for the Order and Justice party, wants to push this censorship further and institute fines for the „denigration of family values“. Among these so-called crimes are public speeches, protest signs, posters, slogans, and promotional videos, and of course demonstrations like Baltic Pride. 46 MPs voted in favour of Gražulis‘ ammendemnts, 10 voted against, and 22 abstained.

Three key opinion-makers are the source of a great deal of homophobia in Lithuania. First is the press and in particular tabloid journalism. Nationalist paper Respublika is most strongly compliant: they ran a media campaign against LGBT people from 2004—2006. Secondly: church leaders, especially the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. A statement by the Lithuanian Catholic Church said that “homosexuality is perversion”. Politicians are just as bad, with frequent statements comparing gays to paedophiles and calling for the death penalty for homosexuality. MPs were asked for their opinion on the statement “homosexuality is perversion” and over two thirds were in favour, with more abstaining than being against it. Even one of those against the statement, Vilma Martinkaitiené, showed a homophobic nature: “There needs to be more tolerance towards the disabled and the sick. I think that these people are sick, in a way.”

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