Saturday 25 September 2010

Lessons from the Pope Protest

Now the Pope has gone home, the left needs to rediscover the courage of its convictions.

The atmosphere amongst the liberal left in the aftermath of the Pope's state visit to Britain calls to mind the uncomfortable eye-avoidance that takes place after someone suddenly turns the lights on at an orgy. Yes, we had a lot of fun, and we probably got rather carried away, but we're not overly keen to discuss it the next morning and we might well hesitate before leaping into any more messy entanglements with gay rights, feminism and anti-state activism.

The protest itself was a joyful chorus of self-congratulatory liberal paralysis. As bagfuls of naughty blown-up condoms floated up into an azure Piccadilly sky, central London thundered with the sound of twenty thousand broadly centre-left Britons failing to make up their minds about why they were there. Some of the printed-out slogans bemoaned the extra public expense of lugging the Popemobile around the country; some complained about homophobia, others about the oppression of women, but never too impolitely. There was, in fact, a horrific delicacy about this collective mumble, as if to make any real, overarching complaint about regressive state and religious indoctrination would be, well, a little tasteless.
'It's fantastic that there's a protest," said queer theorist James Butler, who I met in the crowd, "but it's telling that the only thing being chanted with any enthusiasm is 'Pope Go Home!' That sentiment seems less about creating real change than registering a formal objection while retaining the status quo."

Well, the Pope has now gone home, as he was always planning to. Hurrah. Well done us. Unfortunately, homophobia, misogyny, bigotry, intolerance and abuse have not gone home with the Pope.

The impulse towards egalitarianism and collective rationality that nominally brought twenty thousand liberals to Piccadilly last week should not now be permitted to disperse like incense in an empty church. It's vital that the left remembers that for many of us, there was more to this demonstration than the chance to stand around central London wearing pink paper mitres and making unhelpful jokes about men in dresses.
Even more dispiriting than the silly-hat brigade was the peevish fixation, by way of speeches, slogans and placards, on the cost of the Papal visit. Even Peter Tatchell and the Secular Society chose to focus attention on the twelve million pound bill to the state, in this new age of austerity, seemingly in order to rally the disparate strands of popular anti-papism into one miserly chorus of public annoyance.

This type of shoddy reasoning panders entirely to the clunky conservative line on the necessity of public sector cuts, and implies that, in this instance, liberal Britain would have been entirely happy to host the anointed head of an organisation which has covered up institutional child-rape, opposed women's rights and promoted homophobia across the globe if only it hadn't been so jolly expensive....[read the rest at New Statesman]

Sunday 12 September 2010

Zionism, chauvinism and rape culture

For months, feminists have been trying to untangle the complex knot of racism, imperialism and misogyny that is the Sabbar Kashur case, in which an Arab man was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for 'rape by deception' by a Jerusalem district court after he supposedly tricked a Jewish woman into having sex with him by posing as a fellow Jew. That an Israeli court could convict on such a charge - and that an Israeli woman could file such a claim in the first place - caused international outcry, seeming to illustrate a poisonous culture of prejudice against those of Arab descent. Compared to such a clear-cut case of racism, how could the disdainful treatment of one rape claimant by the press be of any significance whatsoever? Fresh details emerged this week, however, that seemed to throw an entirely new light on the case.
Extracts from the unsealed testimony of the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, reveal that she initially alleged that Kushur had forced himself upon her, leaving her naked and bleeding in a doorway, but the charge was changed to one of rape by deception following a plea bargain after the woman's sexual history was revealed. The victim, it is claimed, had alleged rape on several other occasions after being subjected to a lifetime of violent sexual and physical abuse at the hands of her father. She had worked as a prostitute, had fled to a women's shelter, and was so traumatised and bewildered that the prosecution were worried about putting her on the stand to face-cross examination about her past.
This changes much about the story – but nothing about its racist ramifications. Even if the victim herself could be conclusively shown to have told the entire truth about her experiences, this would not for a second change the fact that the verdict given by the Jerusalem district court was scored with ugly cultural assertions about race, religion and fear of miscegenation.
The judge in the case declared that the sex was consensual, but that the woman never would have agreed to it had she known that Kushur wasn't Jewish. He added that the state of Israel had a duty to protect victims from "smooth-tongued criminals" who sought to defile "the sanctity of their bodies and souls". It speaks volumes about the relationship between racism, sexism and imperialism in Israel that a district court was quite prepared to convict on the basis that an Arab had defiled a Jewish woman's bodily 'sanctity' simply by putting his penis inside her, but unprepared to countenance the notion that a woman who had been abused by men throughout her life might have been telling the truth when she claimed to have been brutalised yet again.
...(read the rest at New Statesman)

Friday 3 September 2010

William Hague's duty to the party.

"Well, if you're not gay, why haven't you got that nice girl pregnant yet?" It's the sort of question one expects only from atrocious, senile grandparents and the British press in silly season.

Beset by trollish gossip about his relationship with his former aide Christopher Myers, the Foreign Secretary has felt obliged to make an extremely intimate public announcement about the state of his wife's uterus to satisfy the snarling attack-dogs of the sweltering summer media hiatus. Poor William Hague. Poor Chris Myers. And poor Ffion Hague, whose multiple miscarriages have now been offered to the world as evidence of her husband's integrity and virility.

If there is one lesson we've learned in the past week, amid the breathless coverage of David and Samantha Cameron's new arrival, it's that the reproductive organs of Tory wives are extremely important and deeply indicative of their husbands' capacity to exercise power responsibly and well. After all, if a man doesn't know and control what's going on in his lady's pants, how can he be expected to run a government department?

The link between Mrs Hague's repeated, tragic loss of pregnancy and Mr Hague's heterosexuality is not necessarily straightforward, but it's the closest one can come in a public forum to "I've definitely been sleeping with my wife".

Hague seems to have accepted the rather Orwellian narrative that regular, productive heterosexual intercourse within the confines of marriage is a man's duty to the Tory party, and the press has goaded him into an explicit statement that he's been doing his duty. Will that be enough uncomfortable personal revelation to satisfy the ravenous media machine?

Unfortunately, it's probably exactly what we wanted. The British press seems to nurse an interminable fascination with what Conservatives do in bed together, and the party is clearly anxious to avoid another series of sex scandals like those that beset the Back to Basics years. Only by diverting the media's attention with a highly personal story which nevertheless emphasises that the New Tories are moral, married, faithful and fertile -- not the kinky Conservatives of John Major's premiership -- could Hague and his handlers have hoped to defuse this scandal.

Would it matter if William Hague was a closeted homosexual or bisexual? Yes, it would, simply because it would raise serious questions about the hypocrisy of his previous defence of Section 28. In the light of his extremely revealing statement, however, and in the light of the rumours having originated from that paragon of mature, well-researched online commentary, Guido "Terribly Dangerous" Fawkes, I'd venture to suggest that Hague's claim never to have had a relationship with another man is probably grounded. Yet all this juicy chatter misses the point entirely.

Even if Hague is straighter than a die, it doesn't make his ugly defence of homophobic policies and policymakers one jot more justified. Furthermore, whatever the Foreign Secretary's sexual proclivities, Ffion Hague's miscarriages have no bearing on his ability to do his job responsibly -- the Hagues could be as fertile and faithful as a pair of Catholic rabbits and William Hague would still be a grim prospect in the Foreign Office. And -- most importantly -- no woman's uterus is public property. Not even if they've had the poor taste to marry a Tory minister.