August 1st, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Iranian Hangings

When I blogged about the recent execution of two gay teenagers in Iran, I mentioned that they were hung on charges of sexual assault. I was skeptical of these charges since, as the Washington Blade noted, charges of criminal sexual conduct are frequently made to delegitimize sexual minorities, in Iran as elsewhere.

Some countries that criminalize homosexuality charge the person with rape or molestation. That is often the case in Iran, according to "Dan," an Iranian gay man who was granted asylum in the United States. Dan spoke to the Blade on condition that his full name not be disclosed.

Dan, now 30 and living in the Washington, D.C., area, said he witnessed two public hangings of gay men in Iran. He speculates that Asgari and Marhoni were hanged for consensual sex but the government said otherwise to squash public outrage.

"The Shariah [Muslim] law says the person needs to admit to an act of homosexuality," he said. "Even if you don't admit, they torture you to make you confess."

When Dan came out, Iran's volunteer military that enforces Islamic law came to arrest him, he said. He ran away, and eventually escaped to the United States.

Over at ZMag, however, Doug Ireland argues convincingly that the rape may well have taken place.

I was initially skeptical about the rape charge, particularly because Iran is currently in delicate negotiations with Western European powers over its developing nuclear capacity -- hardly the moment to be caught in a violation of its international commitments under two treaties (i.e., the ones outlawing the execution of minors). When I asked Hadi Ghaemi, who runs the Iranian desk for Human Rights Watch, on what basis HRW was saying they were "90 percent sure" rape had taken place (as the director of HRW’s gay and lesbian program, Scott Long -- who does first-rate work -- told me) Ghaemi said his sole source was the daily newspaper Quds in the city of Mashad where the two teens were hanged. This newspaper carried statements alleged to be from the father of the 13-year-old who was supposedly raped, and from several of the passers-by who had interrupted the "gang rape" in a vacant lot, upon which, they were quoted as saying, they were threatened at knife point by a group that included the two hanged youths.

When I asked Ghaemi why the July 24 Associated Press dispatch on the hangings cited the executions as being only for "homosexual acts" without mentioning the rape, he said that the original charge against the boys was "sexual assault based on homosexual acts," and that the first part of the charge had been somehow "lost in translation." Ghaemi said he didn’t believe that Quds -- a newspaper controlled by regime supporters --had fabricated the quotes in the article about the rape, which had appeared the morning of the hangings (not after the protests). But he also said he had no independent confirmation from sources in Mashad of the accuracy of the rape charge.

Peter Tatchell has responded to these and other critics, pointing out that the 13-year-old in question would have good reason to claim rape and the Islamic Republic shouldn't be treated as a reliable source. For the time being, however, it makes sense to reserve judgement until an objective third party can make definitive claims.

[ISL] Insular Africa Organizes

IRIN reports that the various island nations off the eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean have just finished a summit intended to help reverse their recent history of economic decline.

Host President Marc Ravalomanana, presidents Azali Assoumani of the Comoros, James Michel of the Seychelles, and newly elected Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam of Mauritius are attending, with French President Jacques Chirac representing Reunion, a French overseas territory. At least 1,000 participants are expected at the meeting, which kicks off on Friday.

[. . .]

Despite various attempts at boosting inter-island economic integration, domestic political upheavals, especially in the Comoros and Madagascar, have sabotaged these efforts. The Comoran archipelago has seen more than 21 coups since independence in 1975, while a tussle over Madagascar's presidency in 2002 almost crippled its already fragile economy.

Mauritius has long been a leading exponent of an Indian Ocean zone of cooperation, even though it has favourable trade links with France and Britain. However, the relatively well-off country finds itself facing economic uncertainty after the European Union (EU) earlier this year announced it would drastically cut the price paid for sugar imported under a quota system. Stiff competition from Chinese textile companies has added to its economic woes.

"Since this is a high-level meeting, we expect some concrete steps will be taken to ensure economic relations among the islands are strengthened. Mauritius, as one of the IOC founders, has always thought that we need to look for solutions to our economic problems among us. The meeting will also emphasise strengthening our regional cultural identity," Mauritius foreign affairs deputy director for cooperation, Dev Phokeer, told IRIN.

The five island nations have certain features in common: all have been colonies or protectorates of either Britain or France, have multiethnic populations, and a variety of religious faiths.
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[LINK] Newfoundland to Queensland

Canadian fiction author Michael Winter writes on his blog about his recent visit on a book tour to the Australian city of Cairns, in the state of Queensland.

You have to walk through a mall to get to downtown Cairns. From the elevated parking lot, there's a vista of the tropical mountains and the sea. The escalators take you past Angus and Roberstons's booksale, which is four tables of books covered in red plastic for the night. They look like a hasty burial of books. The first bar is the Railway Hotel. It is the hardest bar I've found in Cairns. There's a tall blonde man with a dirty unshaven face. He's dressed in mechanics overalls and his eyes are clear and blue. At the bar sit a mix of races, half aboriginal and half European. If you can say that. I heard someone say once, do they like to be called Aborigines or Aboriginals. And the person being addressed wasnt sure what the question was. It's like the Jews, the questioner said. They prefer now to be called Jewish.

All I know is there's an official tone of grave respect for Aboriginal peoples. The tourist signs that might alert you to a rock in the ocean as being two brothers
who are looking for their father will say this comes from an early folktale of a certain aboriginal group. And then stress that permission to use this story has been granted by the group. I wonder if we do that in Canada. The other part is the postcards. These expensive black and white photos of Aboriginal children holding baby kangaroos or posing with a gecko on their heads. What could be more outrageous?

[LINK] South Sudan, again?

Via All Africa, we seem to have confirmation that south Sudanese leader John Garang has died in a helicopter crash.

Reports at dawn on Monday indicate that New Sudan's First Vice President John Garang died when a Ugandan military helicopter he was travelling in crashed on Saturday night.

Ugandan authorities lost contact with the helicopter carrying him to Juba, after a weekend meeting with President Yoweri Museveni.

The Ugandan military last night could only say that they had located a signal of the presidential helicopter carrying Colonel Garang after it lost contact in bad weather, at a spot on the border between Uganda and Sudan. However, they were yet to reach the site.

Adding to the confusion, late last night sources from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) indicated he had been located and attempts were being made to take him to Nairobi. There was no information about his condition.

The Ugandan military lost contact with the helicopter carrying Colonel Garang to Rumbek in Southern Sudan late on Saturday, sending the biggest political scare of recent months in Eastern Africa.

Military search parties were yesterday morning sent to the north of Uganda where the helicopter carrying Colonel Garang and four of his aides was said to have either landed or crashed.

tI goes without saying that this is bad news, since the inclusion of the south Sudanese leader in the highest echelons of the Sudanese government was the most visible sign of the tentative reconciliation of Southern Sudan to inclusion in a Sudan dominated by Muslim Arabophones. The Sudanese state was never likely to function even in the best of situations, but the odds have just become even more remote now.

[LINK] Bad, Bad Criticism

Crooked Timber has been folllowing the ill-thought criticism of Jared Diamond by posters at the anthropology group blog Savage Minds (1, 2). Follow the links. There are flaws in Diamond's methodology, but the Savage Minds posters definitely do not pick up on them.

[LINK] The Irish in Canada

Pearsall Helms favours us with an excerpt from his MA dissertation. Speaking as someone who has a fair bit of Irish Catholic ancestry, I have to say that the strength of the Irish-American identity has always taken me aback. It's not surprising that the Irish-Canadian and Irish-American populations diverged so remarkably given their very different starting points.

[LINK] New Iraqi Freedoms

From The Guardian, on the Iraqi constitution:

The drafts released last weekend are a cause for deepest concern. Written by a committe of 46 men and nine women, they expressly state that the main source of legislation in the new Iraqi constitution is to be sharia law, which will take precedence over international law. Sharia law decrees that personal status" (that is, family law relating to marriage, divorce, custody, widowhood and inheritance) is to be determined according to the different religious sects.

Depriving women of their long-held rights and rendering them subservient to interpretations of Islamic law could well lead to the "Talibanisation" of Iraq and an escalation of violence towards women who rebel. Indeed extremists and insurgents are already using rape, acid attacks and violence to force women to wear the veil. Now a law is set to be passed that will ban widows from working for three months following the deaths of their husbands.

I'd like to congratulate the government of the United States for its success in ensuring that the new Iraqi state has guaranteed the basic rights of all Iraqis. Alas, I can't.

[BRIEF NOTE] Andrew Holleran

I've never been able to attach myself to the works of the gay American writer Andrew Holleran, alumnus of the Violet Quill (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). I only realized why yesterday, while I was reading his 1988 anthology Ground Zero. Holleran's works have achieved such an degree of technical perfection, immaculate and flawless and perfectly objective, that they don't engage the first-person narrator at all. Why bother? There's no there there. Compare, from the world of English-language Canadian literature, Michael Ondaatje.
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