Islam and homosexuality
As a supporter of GLW, I am very disappointed that Leon Harrison (GLW #519) is attacking us like a right-wing columnist. It would have been very easy for him to contact myself through GLW, which has my email address and my phone number. Had he bothered to do so, he would have been able to get the facts on these baseless and malicious allegations.
Firstly, Sheik Shady did not call for the introduction of an Islamic court. What he did was to outline the scriptural penalty for homosexuality and then he was very careful to make sure that everyone in attendance knew that such a penalty could not be implemented by anyone other than an Islamic court and an Islamic court cannot be established unless through a Caliph. As there was no such person, such a penalty cannot be applied.
He stressed that those who disagree with the gay lifestyle can only resort to counselling, he preached respect and peaceful means to resolve disagreement. He never called for the stoning of any person for any crime, sin or activity.
As for me, I never called for or endorsed vilification or discrimination of homosexuals. In answer to a question about counselling, I told the person that counselling must be based on principles and on what the person believes to be correct. If you believe that a person is engaging in self harm, counsel them with advice that would help them to break away from that self harm. If this advice is against workplace policy, then you have to determine whether the interest of the person and your principles are greater or the workplace policy.
As for Hanan, she is also misquoted. She never said that she denied any person the right to attend the lecture, it was an open forum. It is ludicrous to suggest that the person mentioned could not attend when a number of senior gay activists were welcome and were allowed to pose any question they wished. The allegations are self-negating by their very nature.
What Hanan said was that she would not allow another person on the panel, this was her prerogative as it is the prerogative of any organiser to choose whom they wish to be presenting their argument. The other person could organise their own forum and speak anytime they wish, the other person was also welcome to attend along with those who attended. I am extremely disappointed that GLW did not give me the courtesy of addressing these allegations before they were published.
All credit goes to the Gay and Lesbian community papers for refusing to publish such baseless accusations.
I was glad to see the "fruity bits — celebrating diversity in our community" float in the Launceston Christmas parade on November 30. One of its signs read "Diversity: sexuality, gender and ability".
The importance of such a float being in the parade was highlighted to me when I was enquiring about what guidelines existed regarding floats, I was told "no gays". Although the person on the end of the phone backed off when I expressed my shock, it shows that despite Tasmania's legal reforms, there is a long way to go before discrimination is ended and diversity welcomed.
Congratulations to all involved!
Religion and policy
Rory Dobson (Write On, GLW #519) contends that since most politicians and people are religious we should expect laws based on religion. If so, we should work to reduce religious belief to get improved policies on bioethics, gay rights, etc.
Despite religion, most Australians support legal abortion and euthanasia in certain circumstances. Majority will does not prevent some law reform. Anyway, politicians frequently pass unpopular legislation.
Mr Dobson shares my concern for human and animal well-being but the sanctity of human life doctrine is an obstacle. I only labelled extremists those who claim this creed saves us from Nazism or Stalinism. However, the view that one should never deliberately take an innocent human life regardless of the consequences is also an extreme (and minority) position.
Most religions are not pro-animal-life, yet discriminating on the basis of species, rather than differing individual interests, is no more justifiable than race-based discrimination.
I argued (Write On, GLW #518) that the youngest humans lack an interest in ongoing life and further arguments are available in Abortion and Infanticide by Michael Tooley and Practical Ethics by Peter Singer.
Anti-war movement and unity
I noted in Peter Boyle's article on Socialist Alternative's "unity" proposal to the International Socialist Organisation that a reason given by SAlt for not joining Socialist Alliance is that our supposed focus on elections "detracts" from building the anti-war movement.
Well the day after the elections here in Victoria, there was a 15,000-strong march against the war on Iraq. At the rally, I approached a prominent SAlt member from Melbourne and asked him how many people SAlt had out the previous day to build the rally. He replied that they had had their usual lone Saturday stall.
By contrast, I pointed out that Socialist Alliance had mobilised 200 members and supporters over five electorates for the whole day. Those 200 people had not only handed out how-to-vote cards (prominently advertising the details of the anti-war rally) but had displayed posters opposing the war, did chalk-ups around the booths opposing the war, collected petitions against the war and talked to many people about the war and the rally.
This is on top of the thousands of election leaflets (also prominently advertising the rally) letterboxed in the lead-up to the election as well as the numerous election stalls, speakouts and campaign meetings in which Socialist Alliance promoted the anti-war campaign and built the December 1 rally.
To which the SAlt member replied, "We were told that Socialist Alliance had nothing about the war on their stalls". Clearly, in this election campaign a large section of the radical left was able to pull together and carry a sustained anti-war message that aided in building the December 1 rally far more than any number of grouplets acting separately could have done.
US-Australia free trade agreement?
I am a little surprised that your excellent newspaper has not yet raised significant concern about John Howard's latest stirring of the international trade pot, the clear move towards establishing a(free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and the US.
It is quite ridiculous to suppose that — because of the Howard government's puppy-dog support for Bush's America and all the rottenness that it stands for — Australia, even with its pretensions of leadership in our region, can hope to gain more than crumbs from the groaning US table.
Waiting to gobble up bigger "meals" are profit-hungry US corporations and investors who, impatient of the WTO's slow pace, are more than anxious to offer challenges to Australia.
One such target is our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme which enables us to have drugs and medicines at reasonable prices — but which, in US eyes, constitutes a "barrier to trade" and, therefore, under a FTA, fit only to be scrapped.
FTAs essentially mean the removal of protection and regulations for the benefit of consumers — which could only mean that global corporations would be able to gather strength to challenge successfully Australia's current provisions for public health, education, social security and environmental/workplace protection.
All of these institutions and more would be at stake under a US-Aus FTA as they would no longer stand as essential public services, but as "barriers to trade" — with obvious implications.
Submissions and expressions of concern can be made by letter to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra or by email to <firstname.lastname@example.org> by January 15.
From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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