Russia’s Anti-Gay Mentality? What about Palestine's?

If we (rightly) criticize a nation like Russia for its anti-gay mentality, it is only fair that we focus the same level of scrutiny and condemnation upon others, like Palestine

by Richard Elliott on 13 August 2013 07:03

We have been hearing an awful lot in recent weeks about the lamentable enforcements, both legally and socially, opposing the practice of homosexuality in Russia. Amendments to Russian law have made it illegal to endorse “homosexual propaganda”.

The scope of this ranges from teaching schoolchildren that “non-traditional marriages” are equal in worth to “traditional” heterosexual marriages, to being openly gay in public (whether this includes earrings in one’s left ear and Springsteen-esque handkerchiefs in one’s back pocket, I just don’t know).

These legal enforcements, at the behest of Vladimir Putin, have also been seen, particularly in the Western media, as giving a social licence to the cruelty which often meets homosexuals by intolerant fellow members of Russian society.

It has been these acts of social violence which have gripped the spotlight of the media perhaps more so than the mere legal technicalities: recent pieces from publications and sites as opposing in political outlook as Taki’s Magazine and The New Statesman describe in graphic detail the torture and sometimes the butchering of homosexuals by gangs of thugs.

Much of this violence is said to stem from the fact that the vast majority of Russians, some sources suggesting 84 percent, do not think that homosexuality should be tolerated in their society; the grotesque acts documented can be seen as the extreme outcome of this intolerance (an aside: if I hear one more person calling Russian public opinion regarding homosexuality a symptom of a ‘conservative’ society, and saying that conservatism is a legitimate way of explaining their anti-homosexual stance, I’ll throw something at them).

Not for one minute shall I suggest that anybody is wrong to be outraged by the way homosexuals in Russia are being treated. Looking into the details of the extremity of the vicious acts carried out on some of these innocent young men has shaken me more than the many atrocities and injustices which I have researched on the internet.

The inaction of the Russian authorities is inexcusable. As a Spectrum Human Rights report  states: “No arrests have been made and no charges were pressed. Putin’s law enforcement seems to fully condone these actions.” What, however, has been overlooked during all of this moral outrage is that the troubling situation in Russia is small fry injustice compared to the way homosexuals are treated in Palestine, that great cause celebre of the Left.

Russia’s recent atavistic intolerance towards homosexuals, while it still being legally permissible to be gay, is notable, since Russia has a paradoxically long history of tolerance for homosexuality. Practice of same-sex relations was legal between 1917 and 1930 (before most civil rights took a bit of a holiday under Stalin), being made legal again in 1993.

Palestine, on the other hand, has never properly endorsed legal freedoms for gay men; the Palestinian authority in the Gaza strip still legislates that homosexuality is illegal and faces severe penalties of up to 10 years in prison. The West Bank is a slightly different matter; homosexuality was made legal as far back as 1951, and there has been no repealing of this law.

The difference between the West Bank and the Gaza strip, however, is that the legalisation of homosexuality in the former was installed by the Jordanians, not the Palestinians.

The legal punishments in place for homosexuals in Gaza may strike many readers as terrible; but the social injustices often outweigh the legal ones. In Russia, while the injustices enforced by law are technicalities compared to the far more serious civil intolerance and often physical cruelty which gay men face, so it follows that the social outweighs the legal in Palestine.

Several years in prison, as is the legal recommendation for homosexuality in Gaza, is nothing compared to what could happen if a gay man were to fall foul of a gang of radical Islamists. One standard practice by many radical Islamist groups for ‘dealing’ with homosexuals is to drive a tank into a wall so it collapses and falls on the victim, crushing them.

There is nothing new about gay Palestinians fleeing to Israel because of the hostility they face from their fellow countrymen. Reports dating back to at least 2003 from the BBC suggest that many gay Palestinians who undertake the risk of fleeing to Israel feel far safer and socially accepted there than in their native Palestine.

Palestinian homosexuals in Israel proper are grateful for the legal protection they receive from the kind of intolerant violence many men sharing their orientation are used to in Palestine; a report documented in a piece for Vice magazine suggests that there are at least 2,000 homosexual men originating from the Palestinian territories living in pluralist Tel-Aviv. Evidence that integration of Palestinian homosexuals works is that the gay bars in Tel-Aviv are filled with both Arabs and Jews.

There is at present a large community of Arabs working to institute LGBT rights in Palestine, working under the name Al-Qaws. No doubt this is a noble endeavour, but one cannot help but notice the irony when the article states both that Al-Qaws is based in Jerusalem, and that the next edition of their monthly ‘Palestinian Queer Party’ is given the location of “TBD, Israel”.

None of what I have mentioned is in any way an attempt to justify Russia’s recent reversion of tolerant standards; but the comparison with Palestine, the championed moral cause of so many, is worth noting.

It might, therefore, be expected that while Russia takes fire for the legal actions and social inactions over the maltreatment of gay men, Palestine receives nothing of the sort, despite the situation being more harmful and more tragic there.

The past few days have seen a well-circulated public address from television quizmaster and tea connoisseur Stephen Fry, directed at Prime Minister David Cameron, Lord Coe and the Members of the International Olympic Committee, to boycott the upcoming Russian Winter Olympics in 2014. I myself shared Mr Fry’s address, and I also think that there is some merit to this kind of consciousness-raising political statement.

But if we criticize a nation like Russia for its laws and threaten to boycott one of the largest events on the international stage as a result of them, it is only fair that we focus the same level of scrutiny and condemnation upon others, like Palestine, which are guilty of not similar but much worse acts against homosexuals.

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