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PORTSIDE  December 2010, Week 3

PORTSIDE December 2010, Week 3

Subject:

Senate Repeal of DADT in Global Context

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Date:

Mon, 20 Dec 2010 00:43:12 -0500

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Senate Repeal of DADT in Global Context
Juan Cole
Informed Comment
Posted on 12/19/2010 
http://www.juancole.com/

Conservative religious fanatics lost on `don't ask,
don't tell' and anti-gay discrimination. The scary thing
is, that since it is clear that fear-mongering on gays
will no longer win elections in the next generation, the
turn to hate-mongering against Muslims may accelerate.

So the Senate has repealed `don't ask, don't tell,' the
compromise policy on gays serving in the military.

The real question is why treatment of gays is such a hot
button issue in the United States in the first place.
Since America is a big island, only a third of Americans
even have a passport, and US media carefully protects
Americans from points of view emanating from abroad,
most Americans would probably be surprised to discover
that their country is an outlier among industrialized
democracies in its treatment of gays.

If we take full marriage rights as a proxy for gay
rights in general, then Argentina, Holland, Belgium,
Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and
Iceland are all heads and shoulders above federal US
policy.

Gays can serve openly in the military in Russia,
Ukraine, Canada, South Africa, Salvador, Argentina,
Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Peru, Uruguay, Israel, Nepal,
Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand, Australia, New
Zealand, and virtually all of Europe including the
Balkans with the exceptions of Greece and Turkey.

Is there anything that would make sense of this world
pattern? I can make three suggestions. First, gay
rights, including marriage rights, have been implemented
by some countries that suffered a long period of fascist
or other authoritarian governance, and which rebelled
against it. Franco's fascist Spain, in place from
1936-1975, gave way to a new Spanish parliamentary
regime and in recent years to Spanish socialism. Fascist
regimes affected a macho heterosexual patriarchy and
typically ruthlessly persecuted gays. Fascist regimes
also often, being nativist, had a special relationship
to the Church (yes, Hitler was a believing Catholic) and
took cues on public morality from the remnants of the
Inquisition. (This is by no means to deny that many
conscientious Catholics and priests vigorously opposed
fascism). In Franco's Spain mere admission of being gay
could lead to imprisonment, rape and torture.

Calvinist, Protestant regimes such as Apartheid South
Africa were likewise highly oppressive, patriarchal and
heterosexual. The hierarchical rightwing society, which
placed adult men of the most favored race, at the top of
the society, was challenged by any group that did not
easily fit on the social ladder or who challenged its
legitimacy. The Apartheid regime in South Africa

    "South Africa's apartheid army forced white lesbian
    and gay soldiers to undergo `sex-change' operations
    in the 1970's and the 1980's, and submitted many to
    chemical castration, electric shock, and other
    unethical medical experiments. Although the exact
    number is not known, former apartheid army surgeons
    estimate that as many as 900 forced `sexual
    reassignment' operations may have been performed
    between 1971 and 1989 at military hospitals, as part
    of a top-secret program to root out homosexuality
    from the service. "

Gay rights came to form part of a human-rights backlash
against rightwing policies in South Africa, Spain and
Argentina, then. Although it does not yet extend to full
marriage rights, a residue of reaction against central
European fascism informs the general European commitment
to non-discrimination against gays.

Second, gay rights are prominent in countries, as with
Scandinavia, where there is a greater degree of gender
equality and where women serve in large numbers in the
legislatures. One suspects that just as anti-Apartheid
activists saw an affinity between oppressed black
Africans and discriminated-against gays, so Scandinavian
feminists found a commonality with gays in confronting
hetero male supremacism.

But third, and inescapably, religious fanaticism
obviously plays a significant role in denying rights to
gays. There is a direct relationship between rightwing
Catholicism, rightwing evangelicalism, rightwing
Hinduism, and rightwing Islam on the one hand, and
discrimination against gays on the other.

Hindu India has been among the worst democratic
countries for gay rights in modern history, and only in
2009 finally made it legal even to be gay (though it is
still illegal to have a gay relationship!). Greece has a
little-noted almost theocratic relationship at times
with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Sri Lanka, obsessed by
Theravada Buddhism, is like an island prison for gays,
at least as far as the law goes. Despite widespread
experimentation with gay sex in the Muslim world, which
has an old history (half of the love poems in the Diwan
of classic Abbasid poet Abu Nuwas are about young men),
the public policies toward gays, shaped in part by the
influence of the Muslim clergy, are among the worst in
the world. And it is where the Church is strongest in
the Catholic world that gays are treated worst.

Regional policy can also differ from national policy
where one region of a country is more religious than
another. And here we come to the United States. White,
rightwing evangelicals have been among the most vocal
opponents of gay rights in the United States (along with
rightwing Catholics, African-American Protestants, and
Mormons). Once the religious Right became politically
active from the 1970s forward, and especially with the
swing of white southern and western evangelicals to the
Republican Party as a result of the Nixon Strategy in
the aftermath of the enfranchisement of African-
Americans, the Republican Party became a bastion of
anti-gay policies and legislation, despite the
significant gay constituency inside the party in the
Northeast and the Bay Area of California.

Only six Republicans voted `yes' in the procedural vote
that allowed the DADT repeal to go forward in the
Senate.

The Republican Party in the US is a coalition of groups,
and ironically includes some relatively liberal factions
(the Log Cabin Republicans, e.g., who sued over DADT).
But religious ultra-conservatives are a key demographic
for the party, and probably are growing in importance
within it, according to Gallup. The ultra-conservatives
are disproportionately white and committed Protestants
(likely mostly evangelicals).

The mainstream Republican Party's view on many social
issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist
Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and
related parties in the Muslim world far more than it
does the `conservative' parties of Scandinavia and
continental Europe. Religion is a big part of the
reason, but likely the other two factors play a role.
Frankly, many American whites still have a hierarchical
view of race and sexual identity in America, and many
have relatively authoritarian views of governance-
favoring the National Security State over individual
rights, e.g.

As in Europe, where some far-right parties such as that
of LePen in France that used to bait gays have recently
posed as their defenders from Muslim immigrants, we can
expect the American Right to play the same game. A plea
here to progressive gays not to fall for it, and to
American Muslims to stand for tolerance for other
discriminated-against groups.

___________________________________________

Portside aims to provide material of interest to people
on the left that will help them to interpret the world
and to change it.

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