I know that the comparison between the U.S. and Lebanon isn’t quite an even one, but something about the headline I saw at HuffPo caught my. I mean, a country where politicians too busy to persecute gays? Coming from a country where politicians (some, at least) are never to busy for that favorite pass-time, and where it’s practically become a cottage industry, can you blame me for doing a double take?
In Lebanon, homosexuality is becoming less of a taboo. It is discussed with much greater candor on TV and radio talk shows.
The Arabic word widely used in reference to gays means “pervert.” Now many leading newspapers have begun using a more neutral term.
New gay bars have sprouted, joining mainstays such as Acid, creating a flourishing nightlife that is attracting locals and foreign tourists alike.
“It’s not that the political class is more open today,” said George Azzi, a prominent gay rights activist. “But authorities, by portraying themselves as the new guardians of democracy and civil rights, find themselves rather bound not to attack gays.”
Funny, but setting themselves up as “guardians of democracy and civil rights” doesn’t seem to have the same effect upon authorities in this country. And even the ones who are supposed to be our friends are afraid to go too far.
The 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri unleashed a political firestorm that led to the ouster of Syrian troops from Lebanon. But with its heady rhetoric about freedom and rights, the so-called Cedar Revolution also unwittingly set in motion an unspoken cultural transformation.
Moreover, the political instability that followed Hariri’s assassination has left many politicians and clerics too preoccupied with factional feuds to pay attention.
“Politicians are simply too busy today to persecute gays,” said Salah Srour, a lawyer who works for gay rights. “They have too many problems to deal with.”
Now, I’m not saying that we need a bombing or some other violent event to happen in this country, but can you imagine a country in which political leaders are too busy dealing with matters of security, etc. to persecute gays?
It’s not that we haven’t had similar events happen here. There was 9/11, after all. You’d think, after something like that, there would’ve been tons of thing to deal with besides gay bashing. Right? But the dust had barely settled after 9/11 when the usual suspects — two of the most prominent merchants of the cottage industry I mentioned earlier — blamed gays outright for causing the attack.
(The logic goes that gays, feminists, etc., caused the attacks because their existence and activities caused God to essentially withdraw his protective hand from America. Going back to a previous post, you can see this as an extension of how the need for certainty necessitates attacks against any threats to that certainty, anything that threatens to upset the way things must be if people are to have any ground under their feet.)
It wasn’t long after that, actually less than a year, when the Federal Marriage Amendment was introduced in 2002. This, in the aftermath of a devastating terrorist attack and in the middle of a war that ensued in its wake. A few years later, after the invasion of Iraq brought us to the point of fighting wars on two fronts and on the eve of a presidential election we found congress voting on it again. By the time of the vote, July 14, 2004, the Taguba report on Abu Ghraib — which hit the news in April of that yeas— had been out for a month. That vote also took place, according to the Iraq War timeline at Think Progress, just a couple of months a car bomb killed 74 people in Basra and after Bush joked about the failure to find WMDs in Iraq, after U.S. contractor Nicholas Berg was beheaded in Iraq, and less than a month after the U.S. transfered sovereignty back to Iraq.
A month later Bush admitted certain miscalculations of post-war conditions, and in September the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq reached 1,000. Here’s a bit of what happened in the months that followed.
SEPTEMBER 15, 2004: Bush administration requests that the Senate shift $3.4 billion of the $18.4 billion Iraqi aid package meant for reconstruction work to improving security measures [NYT, 9/15/04]
SEPTEMBER 16, 2004: Intelligence report delivered to Bush warns of civil war. Bush’s response: the CIA is “just guessing”:
A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq, government officials said Wednesday. The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that could lead to civil war, the officials said. [NYT, 9/16/04; Bush, 9/21/04]
SEPTEMBER 16, 2004: U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan declares Iraq war illegal
When pressed on whether he viewed the invasion of Iraq as illegal, he said: “Yes, if you wish. I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.” [BBC, 9/16/04]
SEPTEMBER 23, 2004: Bush heralds Iraqi poll
I saw a poll that said the right track/wrong track in Iraq was better than here in America. [Bush, 9/23/04]
SEPTEMBER 28, 2004: Another report showing Bush was warned about conditions in post-war Iraq
The same intelligence unit that produced a gloomy report in July about the prospect of growing instability in Iraq warned the Bush administration about the potential costly consequences of an American-led invasion two months before the war began, government officials said Monday. [NYT, 9/28/04]
OCTOBER 5, 2004: Paul Bremer: Never had enough troops
We never had enough troops on the ground. [CNN, 10/5/04]
OCTOBER 7, 2004: Duelfer Report: Iraq did not have WMD
Saddam Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and had not begun any program to produce them, a CIA report concludes. [CNN, 10/7/04]
OCTOBER 25, 2004: The New York Times reports that about 380 tons of powerful explosives disappeared from military installation called Al Qaqaa sometime after the U.S.-led war began in March 2003 [NYT, 10/25/04]
NOVEMBER 2, 2004: Bush wins re-election [Washington Post, 11/4/04]
And while election day drew closer we were seeing mailings like this in our mailboxes.
By early 2005, the president was peddling his Social Security package, after the Fallujah massacre, the declared end of the WMD search (with none found), news that the U.S. had lost track of $9 billion in Iraq, and after a month in which 106 U.S. Soldiers were killed. And, around the same time, we saw ads like this one popping up on the web.
Those are just a couple of examples, and I’m sure there are many more than I could even begin to name here. But even just these examples would suggest that politicians in the U.S. ought to be too busy to gay bash. That, of course, hasn’t been the case. That’s probably because, for while at least, it’s a tactic that’s worked quite well.
There’s one, though, in which we’re in the same shape as Lebanon.
Helem has grown significantly in the last few years “from an underground group at the end of the ’90s into a well-established organization, recognized and supported by many other local” groups, Azzi said.
Despite the advances, it remains difficult for Helem to lobby for legislative amendments that would give gays legal protection because parliament is paralyzed by a political deadlock.
Some activists worry that the unresolved legal issues could become a problem down the road.
“Any change in politics can set us back,” Azzi said.
For the most part, any legislation that could give us and our families legal protections is also paralyzed by political deadlock, and any change in politics could set us back as well. No matter who ends up in the White House.
Maybe it’s a question of whether the next administration will be too busy to gay bash and/or to busy to kowtow to those who do.