A response to Helem’s speech at IGLTA 2010 symposium in Beirut on Oct. 14th
Disclaimer: This article only reflects the opinion of its author. Raynbow agreed to publish it in order to preserve objectivity and to provide a space for presenting opposing arguments. Raynbow supports Helem decision to boycott IGLTA’s 2009 symposium in Tel Aviv.
Author: Grant H.
Oct. 19th, 2010
“I don’t think that the US and Israel do not recognize that they kill thousands, perhaps millions collectively, of people in the wars they participate in. They may gloss over it, try to legitimize it in the context of national security, but at the very least they admit, to a large extent, that the killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, that the slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza and the occupation is not preferable and should be avoided, as long as it doesn’t disrupt the safety of their own citizens and sovereignty.
The primary thought of most states is to protect and maintain their citizenry. Even in the case of the most cruel dictators, they would choose the survival of the people of their country over the people of some other country, if not for nationalistic reasons then for reasons of power maintenance.
Would we say that the oppression of the LGBTQ and Palestinian communities in Lebanon is critical for national security? Or is it just point blank a violation of human rights? We cannot keep on using the excuse that the granting of Palestinian rights would be a refutation of their identity, which must be kept for their future return to a Palestinian state, as the sole justification. Arab states to a large extent have constantly abused the Palestinians–although sometimes helping them–and using them for their own political schemes. For over 60 years Palestinians in Lebanon have consistently been denied the most basic rights afforded even to foreign workers in many countries. This is even despite the fact that very recently Palestinians in Lebanon were granted some extremely basic work rights.
As far as the LGBTQ community, its oppression is in line with the ideology of the religious authorities, of which Lebanon is made up of ultimately. The national security comes in when the Palestinians add to the Sunni population–disrupting the balance of the confessional system. Granting LGBTQ people automatic rights in Lebanon (if any sect/s would actually be brave enough to start this process, such as simply the repeal of Article 534) would almost certainly elicit a response from the religious authorities, or if this is overreaching, at the very least stir up tensions in religio-political terms– threatening, if even in a minuscule way, the foundations of the delicate state balance. The continuous harassment of the Lebanese LGBTQ community and smaller actions, such as the recent closing of Acid, continues. This proves how privy the community is to the will of the state, which will not sacrifice social order for human rights. In some cases the state uses the LGBTQ community as a scapegoat for what it perceives as the upholding of social order. I’m not seeing a difference between the actions of the US, Lebanon, and Israel–all are interested in national security, even to the point of violating human rights.
Israel still oppresses the national aspirations and equal status (economic, political, and educational) of Palestinian citizens of Israel. This is in relation to how the Lebanese government ostracizes and violates the human rights of the LGBTQ community, who are members of their citizenry. However, like Lebanon, all citizens of Israel, even in the context of the self-defined Jewish state, still have access to many common benefits, albeit the route to these benefits for non-Jews (and even, in some cases, Mizrachim, or Eastern Jews) are laden with obstacles and inequalities. However, I don’t see much of a difference (in this overall context) between an Israeli Ashkenazi Jew discriminating against a Palestinian citizen of Israel and a Lebanese governmental official denying a job to a guy that society would perceive as being a member of a minority sexual orientation.
The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are not considered citizens of Israel and, thus, are not afforded the rights of Israeli citizens. To put things in an even greater context, once again, Palestinians in Lebanon are not afforded the same rights as Lebanese citizens because the refugees are not Lebanese nationals. This sounds vaguely familiar when talking about how Israel treats the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The IGLTA symposium, if it took politics into context, could also not go to Lebanon for the same reasons that Helem says it should not go to Israel. The many confessional communities of Lebanon, particularly the Christian sects, are ardently opposed to the granting of equal rights and citizenship to the Palestinians. They justify it by saying that the Palestinians would upset the delicate balance of the confessional system in the country proper (which, if it were truly correct, would take away much of the power that Christians hold unfairly already…a census hasn’t been held in Lebanon since the 1930s for a reason). They’re using national security as a reason for denying human rights to Palestinians.
Any Lebanese opposed to the granting of Palestinians equal rights in Lebanon would not call themselves violators of human rights, but rather upholders of national security. But I would call them blatant transgressors. For reasons stated before, Israel and the United States repeatedly violate human rights, with a national security justification. They don’t call themselves, however, outright violators of human rights, but rather justify them in a national security context. Lebanon is no different. If Helem wants to oppose the IGLTA conference because it went to Israel, it should also oppose it because it originated in the US.
If the IGTLA is opposed because of Israel’s attacks on Lebanon, then I certainly would agree with that–the harshness of Israeli bombing in the 2006 war was completely unnecessary and was absolutely abhorrent. Since all national experiences are personal–since the nation one of the sole identifiers of the person in the context of shared community and shared experiences–anything that happens anywhere else would be irrelevant. However, bringing the treatment of the Palestinians into the mix is not really fair.
I think that another justification for the IGTLA’s presence in Beirut and in Lebanon would be on the grounds of promoting a false image of the real lives of the LGBTQ community in Lebanon, as stated. Of course, as tourism and money are two of the main goals of the organization, I don’t think that the IGTLA is as interested in promoting the human rights/real life experience aspect of Lebanon as it is in showing foreigners a good time.
Even if the LGBTQ community on a wide scale supports the granting of Palestinians the same rights as Lebanese nationals and even citizenship, it cannot separate itself from what is going on regarding the Palestinians in Lebanon by not speaking out against it in this and all statements. LGBTQ Lebanese, if they choose to be outspoken about the Palestinian issue, have an obligation to speak out against all of the wrongs committed against the Palestinians, and not pick contexts…or not speak about it at all.”