Home > LGBT - Politics > A response to Helem’s speech at IGLTA 2010 symposium in Beirut on Oct. 14th

A response to Helem’s speech at IGLTA 2010 symposium in Beirut on Oct. 14th



BDS campaign

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.”

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  1. Rami-ng
    October 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I agree to some of what you mention (though I find your approach and basis on which you built your argument, extremely offensive to say the least). Since I agree to some point, I thus agree that IGLTA shouldn´t visit Lebanon advertising it as gay tourism haven! I think many of those represented by Helem´s speech would agree on not welcoming IGLTA nor its approach! So we are on the same side, Granty-boy!This established, IGLTA, next time, don´t come to Lebanon or Israel.. even better, everywhere tourism is exploiting something be it the environment, indigenous people, local cultures..etc..etc, so might as well stop existing! Oh, and that would be the day the music lived again!

    Now on the other hand, I don´t think that the daily and continuous massacres of the Palestinian people in Israel/Palestine would rank on the same level as the Apartheid of the Lebanese government. It is – to name but a few – because of the amount of deaths, detentions, torturing, cultural and environmental genocides, land thefts, destruction of the economy..etc..etc. I mean would you equate Pinochet with Sarkozy? I mean both are (was in Pinochet´s case) criminals and oppressing sectors of society, but one murdered hundreds and jailed thousands, and destroyed the very essence of his own people. Let us not mix cards in our attempt to stand for human rights. In such a mixing is a not-so-innocent attempt to silence dissent and criticism, and also to play the norther European/US white discourse towards “solving” the world´s problems. Something PR queens are very familiar with, and something I find REPULSIVE.

    The building of your whole argument on the face that “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” denies the very basis of international solidarity and globalizing resistance on the basis of “Think global-act local.”
    It also denies the international solidarity on which a lot of LGBT people are depending worldwide to face repression, criminalization, homophobia, and violence. Why would we care what happens in Sudan? Why would we care about what happens in Haiti? It is a “personal national experience” after all, no? I don´t speak this dialect, and many who are represented by Helem´s speech don´t as well.

    Now coming to the speech, would I and many, have liked it to be more radical, more outspoken and more inclusive of wider issues? Yes. Do I believe it could have tackled things better? Yes. But in the quarter-of-a-mile that it crossed, do I fully agree to it? Yes, yes, yes! And many, MANY, in the Lebanese activist scene do.

    “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.” True, but then why speak against Hitler, I mean in the end of the day, he chose the survival of his people (well, excluding the Jews, homos, sex-workers, immoral women..etc.) Why speak against the injustices of Iran? of China? of Egypt? of the USA? of the EU in general? At the end they are all looking for the survival of their people some through murder and war, some through racist and violent immigration policies, some through abusing minorities, some through homophobia, some through genocides against indigenous people…. etc..etc..

    Your article is a very good example, on how, a very good argument, a very good point regarding human rights, can be used in the most abusive and insulting ways if based on all the wrong roots.

  2. Grant H.
    October 20, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Rami hunny-

    I didn’t express a view, one way or the other, about whether or not I believe that the IGLTA should come to Lebanon, or Israel for that matter. I’m commenting on the mentioning of the Palestinians as a reason why they shouldn’t come to Lebanon. I’m not expressing my view on whether or not they should actually be there because, mainly, I want to address the reasons stated why they shouldn’t come to Lebanon. I would do the same thing if it was a speech in favor of the IGTLA’s presence. If there were reasons in an alternate speech that I felt were not entirely justified, I would have responded to that as well.

    “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.”

    I’m equating the experiences of Palestinian citizens of Israel and the experiences of LGBTQ Lebanese CITIZENS–in this context, the mere acquiring of a job. Those Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens in Israel, and the Palestinians in Lebanon are also not citizens.

    I’m not equating Israel’s killing of Palestinians and the oppression that the LGBTQ community in Lebanon is subjected to. Rather, I’m equating the lack of human rights that the Palestinians in Lebanon are forced to live with and the occupation and oppression of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Neither group of Palestinians are given full human rights, and I believe that the Lebanese government wouldn’t act so differently from Israel if the Palestinians in the camps showed resistance to the policies of the Lebanese government towards them. This is where the national security aspect comes in.

    I also never said that I don’t think that the LGBTQ community in Lebanon should ignore the plight of the Palestinians. But rather, it should address ALL human rights abuses against Palestinians, even those committed by its own government. Singling out Israel is hypocritical, because the speech does not mention at all Lebanese policies against the Palestinians. Which, if it did, would call into question whether it should be in Lebanon as well, which would actually, in a turnabout way, be agreeing with the fact that that the IGLTA should not be in Lebanon in the first place. As the US is cited in the speech because of its policies in Afghanistan and Iraq, it should also be rejected by Helem simply for being an American organization.

    If political contexts can’t be ignored, then fine. But don’t do contextualized politicalization. If the LGBTQ community in Lebanon must defend the Palestinians, then do so in ALL contexts, or pick other battles because, clearly, it is a sensitive topic. It is a sensitive topic in the fact that by the LGBTQ community in Lebanon speaking out against all human rights abuses upon the Palestinians, it would also be speaking against its own government on something that is not LGBTQ related. I the need for national solidarity in Lebanon is great, given the divisiveness of the political system and Israeli attacks. But you have to choose between standing up for all human rights abuses against the Palestinians or not speaking about them at all, lest hypocrisy sets in. I’m not saying fighting for LGBTQ rights everywhere is not something that should be on Helem’s agenda–because it directly correlates to the aims of the organization. Nor is speaking out against genocide, etc. But you have to speak out against genocide EVERYWHERE, against LGBTQ abuses EVERYWHERE…and against the treatment of Palestinians EVERYWHERE.

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