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Tuesday 14 April 2015

Comment: The politics and ethics of solidarity

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 2nd October 2013

At the moment, LGBTI (and other forms of) solidarity are much in vogue. However, what do they actually mean, and are some forms of solidarity more "acceptable" than others? If so, to whom?

Chelsea Manning has been much in the news, after the "hacktivist" in question announced that she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and that the United States was continuing to maltreat her after her disclosure of  covert US espionage, surveillance and diplomatic data to the world as a whole. Previously, Manning had been kept naked and under surveillance as a prisoner and now the US armed forces are refusing to allow her appropriately gendered dress and hormonal treatment so that she can transition.

However, Manning's call has not been without controversy. Of course, leftist US antiwar protestors and many transgender rights activists point out that it constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" to arbitrarily deprive a transitioning person of necessary surgical and pharmaceutical adjuncts to that process. Amongst more conservative members of the LGBT community and even transwomen themselves, some have blamed Manning for setting the cause of transgender rights "back." 

Did it? Like Vietnam before it, the Iraqi and Afghan Wars have become deeply unpopular within the United States. Moreover, Kristin Beck, a former Navy SEAL before she transitioned, seems not to realise that while she was willing to undertake the equality of sacrifice involved in military duty, others make different choices based on their perceptions of the morality of warfare. 

But Manning isn't the only figure in this context with whom solidarity raises political and ethical questions. While keeping the Christian Right under my usual surveillance, I raised an eyebrow when I noticed that many evangelical, fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics apparently oppose the prospect of war against Syria. This untoward dovishness may result from two perceptions- one is that they fear for the welfare of Syrian Catholics, many of whom have supported the current Assad regime, while the other is that opponents of the Assad regime are "radical Islamists" who may end up "persecuting" those outside their conservative interpretation of Sunni Islam.

Others, like President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron, argue that the Assad regime is tyrannical, murderous, and indisputably seems to have used chemical warfare against its own inhabitants and thus favour a limited strike against military targets, although their respective legislatures are sceptical about the merits of such a measure. 

While this is a peculiar turn of events, we are on surer ground when it comes to the "usual suspect" regimes that persecute their own LGBT citizens.  Granted, as an unaccountable corrupt dictatorship, Uganda's Museveni regime is equivocating. Its hardcore fundamentalists, such as Speaker Rebecca Kadaga and National Resistance Movement MP David Bahati, want their murderous and draconian "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" passed, but appear to be meeting resistance in the context of foreign aid threats from a displeased United States and European Union.

In any case, though, perhaps Uganda is a "softer" target than elsewhere, due to its own meagre infrastructure and dependence on foreign aid- unlike Nigeria, which has its own vast petroleum reserves and which is more resistant to international pressure as a result. 

Russia is in a different category from homophobic regimes in the South. It has considerable military power, ample petrochemical resources, and can resist overseas criticism of its antigay "anti-propaganda" legislation, toleration of homophobic and transphobic violence and repression of LGBT and other protestors against repression of free speech, human rights and civil liberties within the Russian Republic under the current Putin administration and its lackeys within the Duma (Russian Parliament). 

It is excellent to see Russian vodka boycotts and calls to similarly boycott corporate sponsors of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia, but comprehensively organised boycott activity takes time to properly organise and has to resist sanction-breakers, or western governments narrowly fixated on free trade to the exclusion of virtually any discussion of human rights and civil liberties violations.

NZ Foreign Minister Murray McCully seems ill-inclined to challenge Russian homophobia if it is at the cost of several hundred million dollars trade with that country, no matter whether our "traditional allies" within the United States and United Kingdom condemn its repressive homophobic policies. 

Apart from Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, there are other nations that "slip under the radar", which do not benefit from having prominent LGBT citizens persecuted, jailed, harassed or murdered, but whose human rights violations are no less grotesque merely because of the anonymity and marginality of the victims of their oppressive policies. Nor, in such cases, is such repression always carried out by regimes themselves, although they may condone it through silence, neglect or corruption.

Turkey, Colombia and Brazil fall into this category. Organised criminal gangs and right-wing paramilitary groups can conduct "social cleansing" against marginalised transsexual street sex workers, homeless LGBT and other street kids, beggars, union organisers, anti-poverty activists, anti-drug campaigners and others, within such societies. At present, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are the only international organisations to care about the lives lost or threatened through "social cleansing."

It took forty years to pressure South Africa into abandoning its murderous apartheid regime. Unfortunately, in cases like Russia and Nigeria, we may have to wait several years for there to be any leverage to arise that enable successful and effective solidarity politics, leading to reform and remedy of existing repressive policies. We need to be in this for the long haul. 

Craig Young - 2nd October 2013

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