“JE SUIS CHARLIE.” THE DAY FREEDOM DIED.

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The recent murder of the Charlie Hobdo cartoonists in Paris has reminded many in Europe of the fragility of freedom. The cartoonists had drawn images that lampooned the prophet Mohammed. This had angered some Muslims, for whom Mohammed, as founder of their faith is a sacred figure and who (in theory) should never be portrayed figuratively and never made a figure of fun or ridicule. For the cartoonists however, Islam and its prophet were justified targets, in the same way that the Pope and the catholic church were, as were religious Jews and fundamentalist Hindus. They targeted irrelevantly figures of authority who represented the absurdity of power and of superstition. For the cartoonists religious figures were as much, if not more so, a justified target to ridicule than politicians or celebrities. The cartoonists echoed in their mocking images the cruder ideals of the enlightenment from which modern Europe evolved. They were defending and utilising hard won freedoms for which Europeans had in previous centuries been persecuted and died. In the western world the right to offend is an essential barometer of liberty as much as the right to protest against that offence. Provided neither explicitly is violent or incites violence then the offender and the offended should be free to disagree.

The tragedy however, is that the murderers, despite the marching thousands holding “Je Suis Charlie” slogans, had already won. Their deaths were truly pointless. The chanting mobs of Islamic fanatics both at home and abroad, the death threats against anyone who they believe to have insulted their religion or their prophet, had already worked. The repeated calls by some British Muslims demanding that blasphemy laws should protect their “special” religion from being satirised or ridiculed, had already worked. No UK national newspaper or media outlet dared show in full the cartoons ridiculing Mohammed or Islamist fundamentalists before the murders and none have since. Already British politicians, journalists, comedians and commentators (mainly on the left,) are explaining why the cartoons were not, should not and will not be shown. Many of our illiberal so called liberal elite are already pointing the finger at the cartoonists, holding them responsible for their own murder by daring to anger some Muslims. Is this fear within the British establishment political correctness, that feeble excuse so often used to silence voices that may offend someone, some time, somewhere. Or has the fear of Muslim terror been a convenient excuse for western governments to claw back the freedoms our ancestors died for. Cynically I think that the appeasement of Islamists and the fear of Islamist terror has conveniently provided the excuse for the curtailing of liberty by our own governments with hardly a murmur from a fearful public.

Already in the Uk terrorist suspects can be detained without recourse to legal representation or be given the reason for their detention. Our private correspondence and cyber viewing habits are now easily available for the perusal of the intelligence services and the Prime Minister is eager to close down social media sites which refuse to grant the security forces access to the data of millions of users. Our right to free speech is already limited by nebulous laws on excitement to violence or hate, alleged crimes which are open to interpretation by the police. Effectively a wrong wording, or what once would have been considered a throw away or ill judged comment can result in a criminal conviction, fine and even a gaol sentence. Little by little our liberties are being chipped away and done so cynically in the name of protecting our freedoms. Islam is a convenient excuse to justify what some commentators talk of as being a clash of cultures, of civilisations. It is the western governments however, that are enacting laws that restrict our rights as citizens. Islam is not innocent, but neither is it the true enemy.

Islam is no different to any religion. The monotheistic faiths especially, because they are based on the written word, allow too easily for the widest interpretation of words, phrases and passages within their holy books. The truth is that Christianity shares with Islam a history of violence. Both faiths were spread as much by the sword as by persuasion. Both faiths are equally guilty of finding and persecuting scapegoats within their societies, homosexuals, women, non believers, non conformists. Both faiths struggle with the idea of liberty and individualism, of there being justification for a separation of the secular from the spiritual. It has taken centuries for the west to force a reluctant Christianity into the private sphere and accept a new role where it is satirised, investigated and open to deserved criticism. The Islamic world, however, for the most part, has not reached that crisis of faith, that realisation that the political interests of their faith is to the detriment of individual liberty and conscience.

Freedom is a fragile and innocent idea, perhaps too fragile and innocent to withstand the assault of oppressive and violent theology and the machinations of governments eager to re-exert control over its citizens. In Europe, and especially here in Britain, we are governed by an illiberal leftist elite who manipulate politics and the media to their own ends. Too many people are happy to acquiesce and agree “but I have nothing to hide,” every time our politicians take away another liberty. It is easy to wonder what hope has freedom as an idea, never mind as a reality, in a Europe where not only images, but thoughts and fantasies can be interpreted as criminal, where everyone is a criminal in the eyes of governments and politicians anxious that freedom may throw too bright a light onto their often corrupt machinations.

As a libertarian I still cling to the ideals of the enlightenment which were the framework on which our liberal, democratic, free western society was built. I fear the loss of that society in which I can be offended, but where I also have the right to offend. Charlie Hobdo was a magazine with a tiny circulation, but it in the end it stood for something very precious, something many of us took for granted and rarely thought about, freedom. The true sadness of the murder of those journalists and cartoonists, is that their deaths will be remembered as the day freedom died in Europe. The thousands who marched carrying their “Je Suis Charlie” banners, were not marching for freedom, they were marching to mourn its passing.

I fear for the future of Europe. The oppression of freedom and liberty will cause a reaction as people, increasingly disillusioned with politicians and a too compliant media, look instead to extremists of the left and the right who will manipulate their justified anger. Satire and ridicule is a necessary vehicle to release the frustration of people who feel disenfranchised. Politicians and the media in Europe will I fear regret their decision to censor ridicule.

FOR ONCE PUT ANIMAL SUFFERING ABOVE POLITICS…

 

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Many animal rights people, myself included, have long been opposed to both halal and Kosher (or to give it its correct name schechita ) slaughter. Our opposition to ritual slaughter has been held over many years. Unfortunately recently groups, such as the EDL, (English Defence League) have also jumped onto the bandwagon, turning a debate about animal welfare into an excuse to attack Islam in general. The intervention of the EDL has justified their opponents, alongside those unconcerned about animal welfare, to shout racist at anyone who dares to ask that ritual slaughter be banned in the UK, a move that would bring the UK into line with many of its European neighbours. Of course, even without the intervention of the EDL, those same people would still call “racist” at anyone daring to criticise anything about Islam. Many of these types choose to wear their mantle of political correctness like a ghoulish shroud, and use it as an excuse for bullying behaviour. The campaign against ritual slaughter however is not racist. The campaign is one supported by British vets and the RSPCA and seeks to outlaw a practice that would be illegal if it were not allowed under special licence granted by the British government.

Most people who have companion animals, dogs and cats for example, go to great expense to insure that their lives are comfortable and that their deaths are stress and pain free. Animal rights people want this same consideration extended to all animals, including those that some humans eat. The battle against ritual slaughter is a part of this battle. It is to ensure that an animal is caused the least amount of stress at the end of its life. As the video (and I warn you it is sickening to watch) illustrates; there is a huge difference between the western method of slaughter where the animal is stunned and made unconscious before being killed and the ritual slaughter method where the animals throat is cut while alive and often in front of its fellows, waiting their turn, for the same sickening treatment. Animals are like us, they feel love, they feel fear and they feel pain. Sadly however their suffering rarely make the headlines, which is why it was so shameful for the so called politically correct to use the racist card to slur this important debate.

Critics of the campaign against Halal slaughter also demand why animal rights people are not equally vocal about western slaughter methods and farming methods in general. If these people had been listening, rather than jumping on a political bandwagon, they would know that animal rights people are very vocal in their criticism of western farming methods.

Animal rights people for example have long argued that the transportation of living animals over long distances, in often appalling conditions, to meet a cruel death, often in a foreign land, is both cruel and wrong. They have argued that the mass production of milk and eggs and of meat leads to short and miserable lives for too many animals. Our western treatment of farmed animals in general reduces the death of living creatures to a shiny, disposable plastic coated package on a supermarket shelf. In this way as a society we loose empathy and too easily dismiss as unimportant the lives of animals with whom we rarely have any direct contact.

Animal rights is about so many things, great and small, it is about changing attitudes and it is a never ending battle against government and corporations and it is about taking little steps and winning often small and rare victories. So lets stop using the racist card to protect an abusive and cruel method of killing. Lets instead just extend a little humanity to our fellow creatures and make sure Halal and all ritual slaughter is ended in the UK.

 

WHEN JUSTICE BECOMES A VEHICLE TO HUMILIATE THE MORALITY OF ANOTHER TIME

 

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Justice is a word used too easily and too often by those who’s intent is not the redress of wrong but to affirm a modish perception of right behaviour. Justice becomes then the affirmation of prevailing attitudes to morality and not the vehicle of redress for real wrongs. The recent hysteria about historic sexual abuse cases illustrates this point. See examples of recent trials HERE and HERE

Rape quite rightly is and should always be punishable, as should systematic sexual abuse, exemplified in cases involving the conduct of some priests and social workers who were charged, especially, with the care of children. Condemnation and redressing the crimes of serial paedophiles, as illustrated in the Jimmy Saville case, again highlights why justice  is quite rightly sought and should be administered, even if historically.

These cases however should not be used to justify the pursuit of historic cases where evidence is the contested memory of claimants who were then teenagers or young women, (and men) and where the alleged sexual abuse too often seems more a condemnation of the sexual attitudes and conduct of the period than real, aggressive and systematic sexual assault. In such cases justice becomes not a conduit to address wrongs but a condemnation and humiliation of the morality of another time.

Today it seems difficult to imagine a time where Saturday nigh family television regularly featured dancers dressed as sexy schoolgirls, and on popular television programmes the cameras would leer at the scantily, but fashionably dressed, young women in the audience of programmes like Top Of The Pops. It is hard to imagine that once upon a time, having ones behind pinched for women, (and men) was if not normal, then not exceptional, and certainly not behaviour that would cause outrage. Once popular media was full of racist and sexist language and attitudes unimaginable today. We can and do look back on that distant, but for many still living memory, of the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and tut, and express outrage at behaviour that would today be unacceptable. To seek redress however for behaviour that was borne of attitudes and the prevailing morality from that period, an unsolicited pat on the bottom, for allowing sexual favours in return for a promised whatever that was never delivered, or an unwelcome and drunken squeezing of a breast, seems more a justification of today’s victim culture than the pursuit of justice. Today everyone is aware of their rights and that, especially sexual assault should (quite rightly) be reported and compensated. Current attitudes however should not justify an historic pursuit of justice from primarily old men who’s crime was to be successful and sexually active in what was another world from the one we know today.

The prevailing compensation culture, the  prevailing hysteria about historic sexual abuse cases , casts a shadow over the pursuit of justice when prevailing hysteria and celebrity turns justice into a circus and where the popularity of the accused within the public arena may affect the judgement of any jury, no matter how well they are prepared.

It will be interesting to see how history judges the trials of today. One thing is for certain and that is that judging the moral behaviour of others from an historical perspective is a dangerous occupation because one day we will be the history being judged.

 

“CONSENT,” A SMALL WORD, BUT IT’S DENIAL HAS CONSEQUENCES FOR EVERYONE.

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This is a piece written for Harlots Parlour.

For sex workers the world has over recent years become a more hostile and frightening place. In the UK and USA and many other countries sex work is already criminalised to varying degrees and there is growing pressure, especially in Europe, to criminalise clients, and to extend existing laws that already deny consent to sell sex. The justification is a manufactured fear about human trafficking and sexual slavery which reflects in its angst the early nineteenth century “white slave trade” hysteria which led to the enactment of many of the repressive sex laws that exist today. There is an excellent study on that hysteria and its consequences in the USA , HERE  in reason.com “Sex Slaves And The Surveillance State.”

Like before, this modern reinvention is spearheaded by religionists, authoritarians, and so called feminists. Together this at first seemingly odd alliance have colluded in not only reinventing an age old moral panic about human sexuality but have provided a vehicle that reflects populist fears about migration of labour, foreigners, sexual liberty, and especially women’s sexual freedom and autonomy. These old fears have been reinvented to accommodate modern contexts of gender equality and to satisfy an audience of media and politicians who like to present themselves as caring, liberal and progressive. It is however a duplicitous use of modern language to justify a rush to create ever more severe laws to limit, especially women’s sexual autonomy. It is patriarchy reinvented for a modern audience and which manifests in a powerful and very lucrative rescue industry whose leaders even claim the mantle of “Wilberforce,” the famous campaigner against slavery. These claims display not only an arrogance, but illustrate how easily existing prejudice and stigma about sex work can be manipulated so that oppression can be sold to politicians and to the media as progressive social policy when in fact it is the reverse.

Behind most hysterias there is usually a truth lurking. In this case the modern anxiety about sex work and about “human trafficking,” reflects a genuine concern about the status of marginalised peoples, often migrant workers, often existing within illegal working environments. These are very real issues, passionately voiced by sex workers themselves alongside concerns about human rights abuses within existing sex work legislation, about labour rights, about social exclusion and about stigma. Politicians and real liberals and real progressives should have heard these voices and worked with sex workers to find ways to address these issues positively. Instead we have seen a so called rescue industry, funded by governments and religious bodies, evolve and use their substantial funding and powerful connections to agitate for further criminalisation, stigma, alienation, and exclusion of sex workers.

Women’s groups, notably  “European Women’s Lobby” have openly called for the elimination of sex work from Europe, effectively endorsing social cleansing. The ideals of human rights that once drove progressive social policy now lies in tatters as wealthy and influential NGOs call for ever more oppressive anti sex work legislation, most notably arguing that the denial of consent is a useful tool in “rescuing” prostituted woman.

We seem to have forgotten that as a democracy we are governed by consent. In becoming an adult we are taught the importance of consent, and that having our own consent recognised and respected is an essential reminder and marker of our autonomy, of adulthood, even of citizenship. Despite this, consent is a right legally denied to sex workers with dangerous consequences. Sex workers cannot consent to engage and work through a third party for safety, cannot consent to share a work space for safety and company, cannot engage a third party to organise travel or accommodation, cannot cross borders, cannot consent to exchange sex for money. The result is the forced isolation of sex workers making them easy targets for often brutal criminals who feel empowered by laws that isolate and deny sex workers the protection of the law, or even basic safety provisions. Because the majority of sex workers are women, recognition of the right to consent is especially emotive, not only for safety, but because it re establishes the historical context of women judged as second class citizens, inferior to men, and not worthy of rights.

The law justifies itself by arguing that the sex worker may be coerced and therefore not free to consent, or too afraid of her abusers to tell the truth of her sexual slavery. This justification conveniently allows for the punishment of all sex workers and relieves the state of the dull responsibility of proving coercion. Those in favour of denying the right of consent implicitly justify that belief by asserting that even if a sex worker is not coerced they may either be mentally ill or have been “raped” so often that they no longer know good behaviour from bad.

Laws controlling prostitution and the thinking behind them them assert the states power over the female body and reaffirm the inferiority of women within society. The fact that much of the new legislation is being forced by women is also nothing new. Reinventing patriarchy through modern notions of gender equality has simply reinforced the role of privileged women as arbitrators of other women’s sexual behaviour. Once again it is women who enforce patriarchy in order to protect their own status by enforcing through the brutality of law their ideals of normal, moral, good behaviour, which not surprisingly means controlling other women’s sexual behaviour.

Denial of consent to sex for sex workers, because they receive payment, is a powerful assertion of the states power over the bodies of all women. Women especially therefore should feel an obligation to protect the rights of sex workers, not because they agree with the choice to sell sex, but because by protecting sex workers rights they also defend their own sexual freedom.

The Swedish Model is Oppression And Alienation. It Does Not Legalise The Sex Worker.

A group of UK politicians have made the headlines by calling for prostitution to be legalised while increasing the already punitive penalties that exist for pimps. At a glance this headline suggests that at last MPs are considering what every liberal and right minded person has been demanding for years, that sex work be decriminalised and regulated and the sex worker recognised and protected by the law. The truth however is that this headline in the Independent is an insidious and disingenuous lie.

What these MPs truly want to impose is what has become known as the “Swedish model.” The Swedish model means criminalising the client, an approach which independent academic evidence illustrates has nothing to to do with either legalising or decriminalising sex work. It is social cleansing, that is removing the sex worker from society

The Swedish model is social engineering based on a radical feminist ideology that sex work perpetuates gender inequality and that women within sex work, even if doing sex work willingly, are victims of male aggression and oppression. Men, this legislation insists, need to be coerced into behaving in a manner that the state believes is correct. The Swedish model effectively employs state violence to punish both the sex worker and the client for doing something that the state believes is wrong even though it is consensual between two consenting adults.

Those in favour of this model however persist with pushing the lie that if the Swedish model is adopted the sex worker can no longer be arrested for soliciting, will no longer receive a criminal record for selling sex and therefore is legalised. This may be true but it is never the less a perverse understanding of what sex workers and I believe the general public expect from true legalisation or decriminalisation.

To put the Swedish model in context let me explain the legal situation as it is in the UK now with how the Swedish model operates in Sweden and those few nations who have adopted it and more importantly what sex workers mean when they talk about decriminalisation.

At present in England and Wales (virtually similar laws exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland) the sex worker is already legal. A sex worker can sell sex and anyone can buy sex. The only time selling sex is illegal is when a sex worker solicits for sex on the street. In respect of clients kerb crawling is also illegal and if it proven that the sex worker has been trafficked or coerced then the client again faces prosecution if caught. Since the vast majority of sex workers work indoors and the vast majority are not trafficked or coerced (despite the propaganda paraded as bogus fact by anti sex work agitators) the vast majority of sex workers are already legal, not criminalised and neither are their clients. It is also illegal for two or more sex workers to work together, ie two sex workers sharing  premises to share costs, companionship, and for safety. This is classed as running a brothel which carries severe penalties. Similarly the existing law prohibits a sex worker from employing a third party to represent them or to offer protection etc. This means that agents and those who operate brothels can face prosecution with again already existing very severe penalties.

This in brief is the law as it currently stands in the UK. When sex workers say they want decriminalisation it is these laws which they refer to and which they want removed from the statute books and replaced by legislation that treats sex work as work and sex businesses the same as any other business. Sex workers ask legislators to look at the New Zealand model which allows upto four sex workers to work together without a licence in a private property. Any brothel with more than four sex workers has to apply for a licence and is subject to the usual rules and regulations of any other public service provider. This is real legalisation or decriminalisation and is very different to the so called legalisation offered by the Swedish model.

The truth about the Swedish model is that sex workers continue to be forced to work alone. Two or more sex workers working together face prosecution for brothel keeping. If a lone sex worker rents a flat their landlord faces prosecution and the police regularly inform landlords if they know of a sex worker living or working from premises they own, therefore forcing the landlord to evict the sex worker, effectively putting them out of business or worse making the sex worker homeless. If a sex worker or workers employ a third party to represent them then that third party faces the likely hood of prosecution. The sex worker is not therefore in any way decriminalised or treated as a normal worker. Advocates of course argue that the real focus of the Swedish model is to punish clients. To punish the clients of sex workers however means that the sex worker has to be coerced to give evidence, this means that the sex worker has to be pursued and harassed by the police in order for them to catch the client. The truth is that the Swedish model is abut insuring that the sex worker looses work, and is effectively starved into submission by the state. Since sex work is considered by the Swedish government an act of a victim then the state has either an obligation to rescue that victim or if that victim persists in doing something the state disapproves of then the state feels obliged to act to alienate, stigmatise and to punish that person. One favoured action is to remove the children of a known sex worker. The case of Petite Jasmine illustrates the murderous consequences of this state cruelty. To further increase pressure upon the sex worker, despite their notional legality, sex workers under the Swedish model are not allowed to claim any state benefits unless they give up sex work even though they are obliged to pay tax. Public servants, from dentists to doctors and hotel staff are expected to inform on suspected sex workers which means even the buying of and carrying of large numbers of condoms could lead to suspicion and being reported to the police. The Swedish state encourages the censure, alienation and stigmatisation of the sex worker to coerce the sex worker to stop selling sex.

The result of the Swedish model however, despite the whole apparatus of the state being targeted upon their abolition. has not been a reduction in sex work as claimed by its advocates but rather the silencing of sex workers and the enforced invisibility of sex work. This has had dangerous consequences. Support agencies, offering safe sex advice as well as support for a host of other issues, including exiting sex work and obtaining evidence of coercion, now find it difficult or even impossible to contact sex workers. In their place criminals have moved into what they naturally understand to be an exploitable market, by offering safe places to work, safe advertising, security against dangerous so called clients who now target sex workers to rob and to rape because they know fear of the law means that it is unlikely for sex workers to report acts of violence. In short sex work has moved into the shadow world of criminality and fear.

The Swedish model advocates know all of this and yet persist in the lie that this legislation protects the sex worker and they even claim that it has diminished sex trafficking even though there is no academically accredited evidence to support this and in fact anecdotal evidence suggests the contrary. The truth, which they know, is that the Swedish model has resulted in increased alienation, increased stigma, increased criminal involvement and the abandonment of the sex worker as an equal citizen deserving of protection and rights the same as everyone else.

I do not believe that this increase in persecution of the sex worker is really what we want in the United Kingdom. I do not believe this is truly what the British public wants for their mothers, daughters and sons who sell sex. This is why it is so important that the British people understand that when Swedish model advocates adopt the language of legalisation they are lying and being duplicitous because in reality what they want is the opposite, they want the complete alienation and segregation of the sex worker and to deny them rights and equality in the eyes of the law.

I urge the British public, even if you dislike the idea of prostitution, to never the less insist that your MPs vote for justice and not for laws that strengthen already pernicious laws that deny basic human rights to sex workers. I urge those members of the public who are genuinely concerned about trafficking and about coercion to remind themselves that historically rights have never evolved from further criminalisation and alienation and stigma. Rights evolve only when the marginalised are given the protection of the law and are enabled to defend themselves and to evolve legislation that recognises, consent, autonomy and choice. Sex workers do not want special rights or considerations but the same rights as any other worker in the United Kingdom. They do not want the Swedish model or further state oppression and aggression.

Douglas.

Drop The Attitude Luv…..

Am I the only one who cringes when reading even positive articles about sex work and sex workers written by journalists? I always have the impression that when they write about sex workers, even positively, they do so with their noses slightly screwed up, as though there was a bad smell floating just under their delicate noses. Airing prejudices with phrases such as “even if we dislike their choice to do so,” or, “we have to accept that some women-and men- willingly sell sex, even if we don’t like that choice,” and other similar wording makes me shudder. It infuriates me because it reinforces that stigma, that gut churning distaste that society feels obliged to express over the choices of women-and men- who sell, you know, that ichy dirty thing called sex.

The journalists of course are simply reflecting the views of a society raised on idealism about sex. Sex after all they, all of us, have been taught is about attraction, about falling in love for ever and having children and roses growing over the porch. NO?…what do you mean NO?…Well yes I agree sex is not really like that and journalists and the world and its grandmother also know that that particular idealism is a fairytale and has little reference to real life. Knowing the truth however is not the same as accepting the truth. Sex workers know the truth. The truth is that sex is very complicated, love is very complicated and the two rarely walk hand in hand, and very rarely for ever and ever.

So journalists when writing about sex workers and about sex work please remember that the sex industry is a service industry that serves the needs of our society, which is very diverse in its needs and requirements. Also journalists please also remember that your job is to report the truth and not simply to reflect popular prejudices. Reporting the truth means researching your subject, asking probing questions, especially about statistics and anecdotal evidence. This is especially important when interviewing government ministers and those opposed to sex work (or anything else). Too often I have seen sex workers interrogated while antis produce evidence which is accepted and published as though it were the word of God handed down from on hight, and that is never the case.

I am not anti journalists, journalists please note. Sex workers need as many friends as they can muster, and we will always be kind, even if you write with that smell of urghh sex drifting under your delicate noses. But I do ask that you please remember that sex workers are people, people who may have made different choices from yours, but never the less people who do a job and who deserve respect for doing that job. Let the antis and the government deal in assigning prejudice and stigma, you , as good journalist, have a duty to report facts and to report the truth.

Little rant over.

Douglas,

ONE STEP FORWARD AND THREE BACK..Sad Day For The World..

Liberty is an increasingly fragile ideal. In Russia and Eastern Europe, and in Africa, the forces of oppression are gaining ground. The Ugandan president today signed new anti gay laws despite strong international pressure calling for him to reject the bill. In Russia, their president, Vladimir Putin, relishes in his new role as the messiah for so called “traditional family values.” This article in the spectator explains clearly the new role that president Putin is creating for himself on the world stage.

Even here in the UK there remains a solid constituency of support, of admiration even, for Putin’s anti gay rhetoric and for the actions being taken in Africa against the homosexual community. Gay rights have become the international litmus paper of a nations liberalism or, alternatively, its adherence to “so called” traditional, conservative values.

The roots of anti gay hatred lie, just as it once did (and still does), against the Jews, within the dogma, tradition and writings of Christianity and Islam. The idea that gay sex is abnormal evolves from the “interpretation” of some passages in books that claim to be the word of God. The key word is “interpretation.” In the west most Christians now choose to interpret anti semetic and anti gay wording in the Bible in a non literal way or even to reject what is written as being what they are, words written at a certain time and place for a particular readership, and not as being relevant to a modern, tolerant and inclusive world. Being raised a devout Roman Catholic, (although now lapsed and a Pagan,) I understand how religion can be and was used and still is used to instil tribalism and mistrust and even hatred. Religion has many positive attributes but ultimately, orthodox monotheism especially, is about power. Belief is a powerful tool in the wrong hands and history has taught us how religion has been used to stir hatred and to justify persecution. We must remember that it was the Catholic church which initiated the yellow star as a badge to identify and to alienate the Jew, a heritage of exclusion and mistrust that Hitler used to instigate the most atrocious act of genocide. In this same tradition both Putin and his African counterparts are now justifying their attacks upon their homosexual communities by cosying up to, in Russia, the powerful orthodox church, and in Africa the wealthy USA backed evangelical churches.

As an outsider looking in I can clearly see that the targeting of the homosexual communities in both Russia and in Africa is a cynical abuse of power by those governments anxious to divert domestic and international attention from their own corruption. They do this firstly by engaging populist prejudice, secondly by targeting a defenceless minority and thirdly by selecting a minority identified as being protected in the west. By associating homosexuality as a western perversion the Russian and African governments incite both populist prejudice and xenophobia. For Russians the west is the old enemy and for Africans the west is the old colonial power. Both the Russian and African governments know that the west is impotent. Incredibly short sighted decisions by our own UK government and other western governments has left Russia holding in the short term the key to our oil and gas supplies while in Africa the west knows that if corrupt African governments feel threatened they will find solace in the welcoming arms of Russia, (or China). As a consequence the gay communities of Russia and Africa will I fear to be abandoned as the power struggle between west and East once more grows, threatening world stability. History repeats itself and I fear the consequences.

In the meantime I admit to breathing a huge sign of relief that I was born in the United Kingdom, in the west, and not in those areas of the world where my sexual orientation could mean my death or imprisonment or at best a miserable and secret life. A coldness shudders down my spine knowing that for thousands of men and women living in fear will be there lot and for many torture and even death. President Putin and his African counterparts are a sobering reminder that while it seems that the world has progressed in much of the world it has also stepped backwards, and it seems to be doing so at an increasingly fast rate as governments hide their wrongdoing behind defenceless scapegoats.