This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
Peter Tatchell once again demonstrates his fairness, generosity of spirit and commitment to freedom of expression:
Ashers Baking Company refused to make this cake
The law should not compel businesses to aid political messages
London & Belfast – 24 October 2016
The Appeal Court in Belfast has today ruled that a local Christian-run business, Ashers Bakery, was wrong to refuse to decorate a cake with a pro-gay marriage message.
“This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans,” said human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
“It seems that businesses cannot now lawfully refuse a customer’s request to propagate a message, even if it is a sexist, xenophobic or anti-gay message and even if the business has a conscientious objection to it.
“Although I strongly disagree with Ashers opposition to marriage equality, in a free society neither they nor anyone else should be compelled to facilitate a political idea that they oppose.
“Ashers did not discriminate against the customer, Gareth Lee, because he was gay. They objected to the message he wanted on the cake: ‘Support gay marriage.’
“Discrimination against LGBT people is wrong and is rightly unlawful. But in a free society, people should be able to discriminate against ideas they disagree with. I am saddened that the court did not reach the same conclusion.
“The judgement opens a can of worms. It means that a Muslim printer could be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed and a Jewish printer could be required to publish a book that propagates Holocaust denial. It could also encourage far right extremists to demand that bakers and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions.
“What the court has decided sets a dangerous, authoritarian precedent that is open to serious abuse.
“Discrimination against people should be illegal but not discrimination against ideas and opinions,” said Mr Tatchell.
Read Peter Tatchell’s detailed reasoning as to why he changed his mind on the Ashers case (he initially supported the verdict against them) and why he opposes the new legal ruling:
Why I changed my mind on the Ashers gay cake row
The law should not require bakers to aid the gay marriage campaign
By Peter Tatchell
Like most gay and equality campaigners, I initially condemned the Christian-run Ashers Bakery in Belfast over its refusal to produce a cake with a pro-gay marriage slogan for a gay customer, Gareth Lee.
I supported his legal claim against Ashers and the subsequent verdict, which last year found the bakery guilty of discrimination. My reasons for supporting Gareth’s claim were:
1. Ashers had falsely advertised their services, saying they were willing decorate their cakes with any message that a customer wanted. They did not say there were any limits on the designs or wording.
2. I feared that Ashers actions could open the flood gates to allow sectarian loyalist-republican discrimination and discrimination against women, LGBTs and other minorities – and their points of view.
But I later changed my mind. Much as I wish to defend the LGBT community, I also want to defend freedom of conscience, expression and religion.
While Christian bed and breakfast owners and civil partnership registrars were clearly wrong to deny service to gay people, this case is different. It is about the refusal to facilitate an idea – namely, support for same-sex marriage.
I will continue to oppose the proposed “conscience clause” in Northern Ireland. It is intended to allow discrimination against LGBT people. I do not accept that people of faith should be permitted by law to deny service to LGBTs – or anyone else. Discrimination against people is never acceptable.
The whole saga began in 2014 when Ashers said they were not willing to ice a cake with the words “support gay marriage” and the logo of the equality group, Queer Space; claiming it was contrary to their Christian beliefs to promote homosexuality and gay marriage.
This struck many of us as discrimination based on religious-inspired homophobic prejudice. Ashers believe that the relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are wrong and should not be eligible for the status of marriage. They translated these beliefs into action and declined to make the cake. Ashers would have decorated a cake with a message celebrating traditional heterosexual marriage and promoting a Christian organisation. Surely this was an example of clear-cut anti-gay discrimination?
Gareth Lee’s legal case against Ashers was backed by the Equality Commission of Northern Ireland. It argued that the bakery’s actions breached the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 and The Fair Employment and Treatment (NI) Order 1998, which prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on the respective grounds of sexual orientation and political opinion.
A Belfast court last May agreed and found Ashers guilty of discrimination on both grounds; ordering them to pay Gareth £500 compensation.
I profoundly disagree with Asher’s opposition to same-sex love and marriage, and support protests against them. They claim to be Christians and followers of Jesus. Yet he never once condemned homosexuality. Moreover, discrimination is not a Christian value. Ashers’ religious justifications are, to my mind, theologically unsound.
Nevertheless, on reflection, the court was wrong to penalise Ashers and I was wrong to endorse its decision.
For sure, the law suit against the bakery was well intended. It sought to challenge homophobia. But it was a step too far. It pains me to say this, as a long-time supporter of the struggle for LGBT equality in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage remains banned.
The equality laws are intended to protect people against discrimination. A business providing a public service has a legal duty to do so without discrimination based on race, gender, faith, sexuality and so on.
However, the court erred by ruling that Gareth was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation and political opinions.
His cake request was not refused because he was gay but because of the message he wanted on the cake. There is no evidence that his sexuality was the reason Ashers declined his order.
Despite this, Judge Isobel Brownlie said refusing the pro-gay marriage slogan was unlawful indirect sexual orientation discrimination because same-sex marriage is a union between persons of the same-sex and therefore refusing to provide a service in support of same-sex marriage was de facto sexual orientation discrimination.
I disagree. Refusing to facilitate a message in support of same-sex marriage is not sexuality discrimination. It is discrimination against an idea, not against a person.
On the question of political discrimination, the judge said Ashers had denied Gareth service based on his request for a message supporting same-sex marriage. She noted: “If the plaintiff had ordered a cake with the words ‘support marriage’ or ‘support heterosexual marriage’ I have no doubt that such a cake would have been provided.” Brownlie therefore concluded that by refusing to provide a cake with a pro-gay marriage wording Ashers had treated him less favourably, contrary to the law.
This may be a case of differential treatment. However, it was not discrimination against views held or expressed by Gareth but against words he wanted on a cake. Moreover, the law against political discrimination was meant to protect people with differing political views, not to force others to further political views to which they conscientiously object.
The finding of political discrimination against Gareth sets a worrying precedent. Northern Ireland’s laws against discrimination on the grounds of political opinion were framed in the context of decades of conflict. They were designed to heal the sectarian divide by preventing the denial of jobs, housing and services to people because of their politics. There was never an intention that this law should compel people to promote political ideas, such as same-sex marriage, with which they disagreed – let alone on a cake.
The judge concluded that service providers are required by law to facilitate any “lawful” message, even if they have a conscientious objection to it.
This begs the question: Will gay bakers have to accept orders for cakes with homophobic slurs? I don’t think LGBT people should be forced to promote anti-gay messages.
The court judgement also leads me to ask: Should a Muslim printer be obliged to publish cartoons of Mohammed or a Jewish one a book that propagates Holocaust denial?
If the current Ashers verdict stands it could, for example, encourage far right extremists to demand that bakeries and other service providers facilitate the promotion of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim opinions. It would leave businesses unable to refuse to decorate cakes, print posters and emblazon mugs with bigoted messages.
In my view, it is an infringement of freedom to require private businesses to aid the promotion of ideas to which they conscientiously object. Discrimination against people should be unlawful but not discrimination against ideas and opinions.
A demonstration against The Satanic Verses, in Bradford, 1989. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features
Peter Tatchell can usually be relied on for common sense, decency and a an instinct for fair play, especially when it comes to those difficult personal-meets-political questions that seem to crop up so often these days.
So when Tatchell came on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme, saying that Keith Vaz has “not broken any laws” and should not resign from his position as chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee in the light of the Sunday Mirror‘s revelations, my initial reaction was to agree.
Tatchell said he could see no public interest in publishing the story:
“As far as I can see he has not broken any laws, or caused anyone any harm and there’s no allegation of hypocrisy; buying sex in this country is lawful,” Tatchell told Radio 4’s Today Programme on Monday.
“Keith Vaz has a strong record of supporting gay rights. He has never gone tub-thumping in terms of supporting family values so what is the public interest in publishing this story … Whatever you think about Keith Vaz behaviour and some people might take the view that it was irresponsible and wrong, I don’t think it’s a resigning matter. I don’t think there is a serious conflict of interest there” [The Home Affairs Select Committee is currently overseeing an inquiry into prostitution laws. An interim report published in July recommended significant changes to existing laws so that soliciting and brothel-keeping are decriminalised].
Tatchell also suggested that Vaz may have been entrapped by the paper and argued it appeared to be a “classic tabloid sting … “It’s a throwback to the sensationalist tabloid style of the 1980s. It’s not something you’d expect to see in 2016”.
All of which is true and needed saying: well done Peter!
So why am I not inclined to take up cudgels in defence of Vaz?
It isn’t just because ever since entering the Commons in 1987 (the first Asian MP since 1929, alongside pioneer black MPs Paul Boateng, Diane Abbott and Bernie Grant), he’s been a rank opportunist and unprincipled careerist of almost breathtaking shamelessness (well described here); his personal dishonesty and contempt for free expression, secularism and enlightenment values was exposed once and for all within two years of entering parliament:
Rushdie affair (from Wikipedia):
Shortly after being elected in 1989, Vaz led a march of several thousands of Muslims in Leicester calling for Salman Rushdie‘s book The Satanic Verses to be banned. According to Rushdie’s autobiography Joseph Anton, as quoted by Douglas Murray in The Spectator, Vaz had earlier promised his support against the fatwa:
- Vaz said, in that phone conversation, that what had happened was ‘appalling, absolutely appalling,’ and promised his ‘full support’. A few weeks later he was one of the main speakers at a demonstration against The Satanic Verses attended by over three thousand Muslims, and described that event as ‘one of the great days in the history of Islam and Great Britain.’
Vaz is a Catholic of Goan origin. But even so, I’m sure he’s familiar with the Buddhist concept of Karma (an attractive idea, even for an atheist like myself): it means, roughly, “what goes around comes around.”
Tatchell’s reasoned argument from last year needs to be repeated and taken to heart right now:
I’m backing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership, despite his unsavoury “friends”
International Business Times – London, UK – 3 September 2015
By Peter Tatchell
Like many others, I face a real dilemma. I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for over 30 years and love nearly everything he stands for. Yet there are a few important issues on which I profoundly disagree with him. Does this mean he should no longer have my support?
Jeremy is not a saint. He’s never claimed to be. Even the best, most admirable politicians usually get some things wrong. Jeremy is no exception. On a majority of UK and foreign policy issues he’s spot on, with real vision and an inspiring alternative. On a small number of issues he has made lamentable misjudgements. Despite these shortcomings, I’m backing his bid for the Labour leadership. Here’s why:
I look at the big picture and judge politicians on their overall record. What are their ideals, motives and aims? What kind of society are they striving for? How would their policies impact on the average person? On all these assessment criteria, Jeremy is on the right side and is the most progressive candidate on nearly every issue.
He has strong, unique policies for social justice and equality – to secure a kinder, gentler, fairer and more inclusive, harmonious Britain. I am with him in opposing austerity. So is much of the country – including the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom I hope Jeremy and Labour will make common cause in a quadruple alliance.
Jeremy’s plan to invest in infrastructure to reboot the economy is backed by 41 economists (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/22/jeremy-corbyn-economists-backing-anti-austerity-policies-corbynomics) , including a former advisor to the Bank of England. His strategy echoes FDR’s New Deal and proposals from the International Monetary Fund.
A Corbyn premiership would reverse damaging, cruel welfare cuts and the privatisation of vital public services. He’d tackle climate destruction and rocketing rents and house prices. Trident renewal, foreign wars and the sinister Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership would be nixed. His administration would bring rail and energy companies back into a new, decentralised form of public ownership. These are sensible, compassionate policies. Good for him.
In my book, he is head and shoulders above all the other Labour leadership candidates, both in terms of his past political record and his political agenda for the future.
But the single most important over-arching reason for supporting Jeremy is that Britain needs to turn away from the flawed and failed policies of business as usual. He is shaking up the Establishment and breaking with the cosy political consensus that has been shared by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. The mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies of the last decade are not the answer. All they offer is more of the same, which is what got us into the current mess.
Jeremy is thinking beyond what is. He’s imagining what could be. It’s a much needed political rethink, which leaves his rivals lagging far behind.
Now that he has a serious chance of winning the Labour leadership, Jeremy has faced a barrage of accusations over his contacts with anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and Islamist extremists (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142706/jeremy-corbyns-friends-re-examined) .
This puts me in a very difficult position, given my advocacy for human rights. At what point do links with bad people put a politician beyond the pale? How many flawed judgements does it take to cancel out all the good that a MP might have done and espoused?
Some of the accusations against Jeremy are exaggerations and distortions. Others involve McCarthyite smears of guilt by association. Jeremy has made reassuring noises and given plausible explanations for several of the allegations (http://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/142656/jeremy-corbyn-responds-jc%E2%80%99s-seven-questions) .
He says, for example, he was not aware of the Holocaust revisionist views of Paul Eisen when he attended meetings of his Deir Yassin Remembered organisation. I can believe that. Some extremists hide their views and politicians sometimes lend their support to what they genuinely believe to be legitimate campaign groups.
On the basis that Jeremy has his heart in the right place and that he is not an Islamist, Holocaust denier or anti-Semite, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.
Nevertheless, it is true that he has been often careless in not checking out who he shares platforms with and has been too willing to associate uncritically with the Islamist far right.
While I’m certain that Jeremy doesn’t share their extremist views, he does need to explain in more detail why he has attended and spoken at meetings alongside some pretty unsavoury bigots who advocate human rights abuses – and especially why he did so without publicly criticising their totalitarian politics.
Jeremy supported, for example, the visit to parliament of Sheikh Raed Saleh, who has reportedly slurred Jews as “monkeys” and repeated the anti-Semitic “blood libel” which claims that Jews used the blood of gentile children to make their bread. He called Saleh “a very honoured citizen who represents his people extremely well.” What? Just because Saleh opposes the Israeli occupation and supports Palestinian self-determination does not make him a good person deserving such praise.
While Jeremy is right to dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah as part of a peace initiative, as Tony Blair and the Israeli government have done, he was wrong to call them “friends”. These are Islamist political parties with poor human rights records that are not consistent with humanitarian – let alone left-wing – values.
Jeremy says he doesn’t agree with their views but I have not been able find any instance, until very recently, where he has publicly criticised either Hezbollah or Hamas, both of which are guilty (alongside Israel) of war crimes (https://www.hrw.org/news/2006/10/05/hezbollah-needs-answer) and the abuse of their own citizens (https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/03/gaza-arbitrary-arrests-torture-unfair-trials) .
Jeremy was also wrong to call the Islamist extremist Ibrahim Hewitt “my very good friend” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-g5jmXLRUM&feature=youtu.be) and to share platforms with him, given that Hewitt allegedly supports the death penalty for apostates, blasphemers, adulterers and LGBT people.
I don’t buy the excuse that Jeremy’s use of the term “friends” was “diplomatic” language to win over extremists and encourage dialogue. He would rightly not accept a similar explanation by a MP who used those words about, and shared a platform with, the BNP, EDL or European fascist parties.
Islamists are a religious version of the far right. They want a clerical dictatorship, without democracy and human rights. They do not merit friendship, praise or uncritical association of any kind.
Jeremy has also made misjudgements on Russia, Ukraine, Syria and Iran. He says he wants dialogue and negotiations, not war. I agree. But this should not include collusion – even if unintentional – with human rights abusing regimes.
We don’t often hear Jeremy condemning Putin’s oligarchs, show trials and tamed media and judiciary. Where is his solidarity with democracy and human rights campaigners, beleaguered civil society organisations and harassed journalists, LGBT advocates and left-wing activists? I’m sure he opposes all these abuses but he rarely says so publicly.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group is one of the most respected human rights figures in Ukraine. Fearless in tackling all abusers from all sides, she says some of Jeremy’s views on Russia and Ukraine echo Putin’s propaganda (http://www.hscentre.org/russia-and-eurasia/corbyn-wrong-says-ukrainian-human-rights-legend) .
Other rights campaigners have confirmed (http://www.equalrightstrust.org/news/equal-rights-trust-launches-first-comprehensive-report-inequality-ukraine) that the dominance of pro-Russian factions in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk has led to increased persecution of ethnic, religious and sexual minorities. Jeremy has not spoken out clearly enough against these abuses by Russia and its local allies.
On Syria, Jeremy seems to have no policies, apart from “Don’t Bomb Syria.” I concur. We don’t want escalation and war. But surely 250,000 dead, 1.5 million wounded and 10 million refugees merits some action? Total inaction aids the survival of Assad and ISIS.
A good start might be a UN General Assembly authorised no-fly-zone, arms embargo, peacekeepers and civilian safe havens – plus cutting funding to the ISIS and Assad armies by a UN blockade of oil sales. Such measures – enforced by non-western states such as Argentina, India, Brazil, Nigeria and South Africa – would help deescalate the conflict and reduce casualties. Jeremy’s wariness of intervention is understandable. I share it. But surely a UN mandate designed to limit war fighting is reasonable and legitimate for a left-wing candidate?
Like Jeremy, I don’t want war with Iran. I opposed the indiscriminate, blanket Western sanctions that hurt ordinary Iranians. But I’ve struggled to find examples of where he has spoken out against Iran’s mass jailing and torture of trade unionists, students, journalists, lawyers, feminists, human rights defenders and sexual, religious and ethnic minorities (such as the Arabs, Kurds, Azeris and Baluchs). Why the silence? He often and loudly criticises Saudi Arabia. Why not Iran?
It is very distressing to see Jeremy appear on the Iranian regime’s propaganda channel Press TV; especially after it defamed peaceful protesters and covered up state violence at the time of the rigged presidential elections in 2009. Moreover, how can Jeremy (and George Galloway) appear on Press TV, despite it broadcasting forced confessions by democrats and human rights defenders (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/13/iran-middleeast) who’ve been tortured into admitting false charges and who are later executed?
Based on these serious lapses, Jeremy’s critics say his foreign policies make him unfit to be Labour leader and Prime Minister. I understand some of their reservations but they ignore all the international issues where Jeremy has a superb record, including support for serious action against global poverty and the arms trade, and his opposition to the Saudi Arabian and Bahraini dictatorships (two tyrannies that most other MPs ignore and which Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have actively colluded with).
Moreover, Jeremy’s been a long-time champion of the dispossessed Chagos Islanders, Kurds, Palestinians and Western Sahrawis. Few other MPs have shown similar concern about the fate of most of these peoples.
That’s one of many reasons why, despite misgivings about some of Jeremy’s policies and associations, I support his bid to be Labour leader. Taking into account his overall agenda, on balance he’s the best contender. I am confident that he will respond to fair criticism and reconsider some of his past associations. And I’m certain that if he became Prime Minister he’d adopt a somewhat different stance. Already he’s modified his position on NATO and the EU, from withdrawal to reform.
Some of Jeremy’s supporters may accuse me of betrayal and of aligning myself with his right-wing critics. Not so. My criticisms are rooted in a leftist, human rights politics that is democratic, secular and internationalist.
Support for Jeremy does not require suspension of our critical faculties and a knee-jerk unthinking allegiance. As he himself has often said, it is a citizen’s responsibility to hold politicians to account – including those we support. Nobody is entitled to a free pass – not Jeremy, me or anyone.
Readers may remember the incident a week or so ago when Fran Cowling, the NUS lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with Peter Tatchell, whom she described as “racist” and “transphobic”. The row was covered in some detail by Comrade Coatesy here, and in the Guardian here.
Tatchell, a long standing campaigner for gay rights and human rights more generally, quite understandably, decided to mount a public defence of his good name against these outrageous slurs. As a result of doing so, he was denounced yet again, in this hysterical Open Letter – which includes the truly Orwellian charge of Tatchell referring to a “confidential email chain” that had been forwarded to him “without permission”, thus apparently making Tachell’s accuser the true ‘victim’ of this story!
The signatories include not just the usual NUS suspects and their petty bourgeois and authoritarian friends in academia, but shamefully, the editor of the anarchist Freedom News has signed, too.
It’s a depressing read, but serious in its way, as an example of the anti-free speech, authoritarian logic of extreme identity politics and the hysteria it can induce.
Note, in particular, this paragraph:
“Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.”
So, at some point, it has apparently become acceptable for supposed leftwingers to consider speaker tours for homophobic bigots to be a matter of indifference, and that it is “racially insensitive” for LGBT rights campaigners to object to people expressing “religious opinions about homosexual acts“. Most decent lefties (and liberals) will find this euphemistic description of far-right hate preachers pretty sickening. Now, some might disagree with Tatchell on minor tactical issues of precisely how he approaches this, but my gut response, when ‘lefties’ tell gay rights campaigners to shut up about organised far-right bigotry is: “fuck off”.
Also: “The particular urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims“? Well – which Muslims? All of them? An attack on a far-right preacher who thinks all gay people are animals is an attack on all Muslims? Isn’t it “racially insensitive” to identify all Muslims with the hard-right ideologues that Tatchell feels “urgent” about?
What a wretched, hypocritical shower these self-righteous NUS authoritarians and their academic friends, are!
Like (I’m sure) most decent people, I was appalled to read in today’s Observer that the NUS’s LGBT representative, one Fran Cowling, has denounced Peter Tatchell as “transphobic” and “racist”.
The “evidence” for this nonsense is non-existent to any rational person, so I don’t intend, here, to even dignify it with a response: Comrade Coatesy deals with it here.
Suffice to say that my immediate reaction was that Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT representative who made these comments, may be mentally ill: certainly, she should not be taken as speaking on behalf of the NUS: the NUS told the Observer “Tatchell has not been ‘no-platformed’ by the union as a whole, and that it was up to Cowling to make her own choices with regard to this event.”
So I assumed this was the reaction of one strange and disturbed individual, carried away by the self-righteous logic of identity politics. Until this was drawn to my attention:
Here is what passed – overwhelmingly – at NUS LGBT conference 2015
Motion 101: End Transphobia, Biphobia and Islamophobia on Campus
Content warning: Transphobia, biphobia, and Islamophobia
1.1. NUS LGBT has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as part of LGBT NUS, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.2. All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus where they can learn, develop as an individual, and achieve their full potential. This safe space must include an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and prejudice including but not limited to: homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
3.3. Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as Trans, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and genderqueer people, and anyone who does define into the gender binary norms of society.
4.4. NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’ Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach prejudice and discrimination based on an individual’s identity, and who incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity or beliefs.
5.5. The NUS LGBT Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign have previously passed policy refusing to share a platform with Julie Bindel, a journalist and author who is notorious for her transphobic publications and views, and other individuals who hold transphobic views.
Conference further believes:
1.1. Julie Bindel is renowned for her transphobic viewpoints, which first came to light in her article Gender Benders, Beware (2004). Bindel has apologised for the ‘tone’ of this article, but has not renounced further writings which argue that Trans people should be denied medical care. Moreover, she has spoken at events such as Femifest 2014 that explicitly exclude Trans people.
2.2. Julie Bindel argued in her latest book, ‘Straight Expectations’ (2014) that that bisexuality doesn’t exist as a sexual identity, thus erasing bisexual individuals’ identities and experiences.
3.3. Julie Bindel has also criticised women who wear the niqab in her article for the Daily Mail: Why are my fellow feminists shamefully silent over the tyranny of the veil (2013); in refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency.
1.1. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT committee shall not share a platform with Julie Bindel.
2.2. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT Committee shall not engage with transphobic, biphobic or Islamophobic speakers
And here is a motion that passed at NUS Trans Conference in autumn 2015 – note “The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform … Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform”
Motion 108 | Hate has no place on campuses
Content Warning: Transphobia
1.NUS has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as trans, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.All students, regardless of their gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus.
3.Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as trans.
4.NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’, “no sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach and incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity.
5.Legally “hate speech” does not cover transphobic speech
Conference Further Believes:
1.1. Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or antiSemitic speakers have no place at universities or colleges.
2.2. “No sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies do not limit the freedom of speech
3.3. Transphobic speech should be legally recognised as hate speech
4.4. Transphobia and transphobic speakers have lead to poor access to health care and welfare services by spreading myths about trans people.
5.5. By allowing transphobic speakers onto campus this can affect the mental health of trans students on campus.
6.6. By giving a speaker a platform it is a method to legitimises their views
7.7. The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform
8.8. Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform.
9.9. Transphobic speech is still transphobic hate speech even if they are a member of another or the same liberation group.
10.10. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination.
11.11. Universities and Colleges should be a place for trans people to thrive where they feel safe and accepted.
1.1. To support all campaigns, protests and petitions making people who are Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or anti-Semitic speakers not to invited onto campuses.
2.2. To not share platforms with and not to invite onto campuses all transphobic speakers including but not limited to: Germaine Greer1 , Julie Bindel2 , Julie Burchill3 and Milo Yiannapolous4 .
3.3. To actively campaign against the platforming and inviting onto campuses of all transphobic speakers at universities.
4.4. To encourage the platforming and inviting onto campuses of people from liberation groups, specifically pertaining to the issue at hand.
5.5. Encourage students’ unions to have safe spaces for trans people, as well spaces where they can operate autonomously
6.6. To work on making transphobic speech covered under the definition of “hate speech”
So it would seem that Fran Cowling is not just an individual lunatic, but is acting on behalf of the NUS’s LGBT conference: in which case socialists have a job of work to shake these tossers out of their self-righteous idiocy, before society as a whole declares them beyond the pale.
Some of Jeremy’s supporters may accuse me of betrayal and of aligning myself with his right-wing critics. Not so. My criticisms are rooted in a leftist, human rights politics that is democratic, secular and internationalist – Peter Tatchell
From International Business Times
Like many others, I face a real dilemma. I’ve known Jeremy Corbyn for more than 30 years and love nearly everything he stands for. Yet there are a few important issues on which I profoundly disagree with him. Does this mean he should no longer have my support?
Jeremy is not a saint. He’s never claimed to be. Even the best, most admirable politicians usually get some things wrong. Jeremy is no exception. On a majority of UK and foreign policy issues he’s spot on, with real vision and an inspiring alternative. On a small number of issues he has made lamentable misjudgements. Despite these shortcomings, I’m backing his bid for the Labour leadership. Here’s why.
I look at the big picture and judge politicians on their overall record. What are their ideals, motives and aims? What kind of society are they striving for? How would their policies impact upon the average person? On all these assessment criteria, Jeremy is on the right side and is the most progressive candidate on nearly every issue.
He has strong, unique policies for social justice and equality – to secure a kinder, gentler, fairer and more inclusive, harmonious Britain. I am with him in opposing austerity. So is much of the country – including the Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru, with whom I hope Jeremy and Labour will make common cause in a quadruple alliance.
Jeremy’s plan to invest in infrastructure to reboot the economy is backed by 41 economists, including a former adviser to the Bank of England. His strategy echoes FDR’s New Deal and proposals from the International Monetary Fund.
A Corbyn premiership would reverse damaging, cruel welfare cuts and the privatisation of vital public services. He’d tackle climate destruction, rocketing rents and house prices. Trident renewal, foreign wars and the sinister Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership would be nixed. His administration would bring rail and energy companies back into decentralised public ownership. All sensible, compassionate policies. Good for him.
In my book, he is head and shoulders above all the other Labour leadership candidates, both in terms of his past political record and his political agenda for the future. But the single most important over-arching reason for supporting Jeremy is that Britain needs to turn away from the flawed and failed policies of business as usual. He is shaking up the establishment and breaking with the cosy political consensus that has been shared by Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and UKIP. The mainstream, middle-of-the-road policies of the last decade are not the answer. All they offer is more of the same, which is what got us into the current mess.
Jeremy is thinking beyond what is. He’s imagining what could be. It’s a much needed political rethink, which leaves his rivals lagging far behind. Now that he has a serious chance of winning the Labour leadership, Jeremy has faced a barrage of accusations over his contacts with anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and Islamist extremists. This puts me in a very difficult position, given my advocacy for human rights. At what point do links with bad people put a politician beyond the pale? How many flawed judgements does it take to cancel out all the good that a MP might have done and espoused?
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Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
This statement from Peter Tatchell first appeared at Harry’s Place, a site we don’t usually have much in common with. But in this case, it’s impossible to disagree:
The BNP & EDL claim to oppose Islamist extremist bigotry but in reality they generalise and abuse all Muslims. Many of their protests are menacing, even violent.
Islam is not the main problem. Islamist fundamentalism and violent jihad are what we should focus on opposing. It is important to make a clear distinction between Muslims and Islamist extremists. Don’t confuse the two. Unite to isolate the main threats: the Islamist far right and its BNP and EDL equivalents.
I support today’s Unite Against Fascism (UAF) counter-protest against the BNP. But UAF is not consistent. UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.
This silence and inaction by the UAF is a shocking betrayal of Muslim people – abandoning them to the Islamist far right.
Islamist fascists want to overthrow democracy, establish a clerical dictatorship, suppress human rights and kill Muslims who don’t conform to their hard-line interpretation of Islam.
It is time the UAF campaigned against the Islamist far right, as well as against the EDL and BNP far right.
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