[Marxism] Gay Islamophobes campaign against Iran

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 8 09:19:43 MST 2006

Witnesses to an Execution


[posted online on August 7, 2005]

On July 19 in the northeastern city of Mashhad, Iran, two teenagers, Ayaz 
Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari, were put to death for a crime involving 
homosexual intercourse. Asgari, at least, was underage at the time of the 
offense. Before the execution Marhoni and Asgari were detained for 
approximately fourteen months and received 228 lashes each for drinking, 
disturbing the peace and theft. Despite appeals from the defendants' 
lawyers and protests by Iranian human rights activists such as Nobel 
laureate Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian Supreme Court upheld the verdict and 
sentence, which was carried out by public hanging.

The hangings were first brought to international attention by the Iranian 
Students' News Agency (ISNA), a state-controlled wire service. A brief 
article posted on ISNA's website on the day of the execution included three 
photographs of the youths. One depicts them blindfolded on the gallows with 
two hooded men securing nooses around their necks. In another they are 
visibly shaken and in tears as they are interviewed by journalists en route 
to the hanging. Undoubtedly these searing photographs helped focus 
international attention on the execution, but the text of the accompanying 
article remains at the center of a dispute over the nature of their crime 
and the role of Western gay and human rights organizations in publicizing 
the case.

The dispute hinges on one question: Did Asgari and Marhoni engage in 
consensual sex (either with each other or with others), or did they gang 
rape at knifepoint (along with several other participants whose fates are 
undetermined) an unidentified 13-year-old boy?

Organizations that mostly or exclusively focus on gay issues, including the 
Human Rights Campaign, the Log Cabin Republicans and Britain's Outrage!, 
have asserted that Marhoni and Asgari merely had consensual sex and have 
denounced the executions as antigay persecution. Gay websites and bloggers 
Doug Ireland and Andrew Sullivan repeated versions of this story, mostly 
citing Outrage!'s report on the matter (in subsequent posts Ireland--a 
longtime Nation contributor--has taken a more agnostic view).

Meanwhile, in light of evidence from within Iran that the teenagers were 
convicted of rape, international human rights groups like Amnesty 
International, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Gay and 
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) have urged organizations to 
refrain from casting the incident as a gay issue. While they leave open the 
possibility that Marhoni and Asgari were hanged simply for engaging in 
consensual homosexual sex, they have emphasized that the executions are a 
violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Iran is a signatory 
to both), which prohibit the execution of minors.

Regardless of which version of the story proves correct--if indeed the 
truth is ever known--the execution of Marhoni and Asgari was a heinous act 
that ought to worry all those concerned with human rights and opposed to 
the death penalty. Human rights groups have documented numerous cases in 
which Iran has executed its citizens on charges of sodomy and adultery. 
According to Amnesty International, "so far this year, Iran has executed at 
least four persons for crimes committed when they were children, including 
one who is still a child."

In 2004, 97 percent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, 
Vietnam and the United States; in the number of juvenile executions since 
1990, Iran ranks second (fourteen) to the United States (nineteen) which 
just this past March categorically banned the death penalty for those under 18.

There's no question that the executions of Marhoni and Asgari deserve 
fierce condemnation. And it remains a possibility that this was, indeed, a 
violation not just of human rights but of gay rights--though it is highly 
unlikely that the two self-identified as gay. What's worth exploring is how 
our perception of the case has been refracted through the prism of 
ideological debates over the nature and danger of radical Islam, and how 
assumptions about the "clash of civilizations" that supposedly pits 
enlightened, secular, humane Western society against backward, theocratic, 
oppressive Islamic society seem to have impaired our ability to get the 
facts straight. The story also reveals much about the challenge of pursuing 
gay and human rights in a political climate infused by the US-led global 
"war on terror," anxiety over the recent election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as 
president of Iran and growing fears about Islamic fundamentalism, 
particularly in Europe, in the wake of the London bombings last month.

Here's how the story unfolded.

Shortly after the execution, the British gay rights organization Outrage! 
posted a release on its website titled "Iran executes gay teenagers." Based 
on a translation of the ISNA story by Outrage!, and reports from the 
National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) and the website Iran Focus, 
the Outrage! release stated, "Two gay teenagers were publicly executed in 
Iran on 19 July 2005 for the 'crime' of homosexuality." Outrage! correctly 
noted that under Iranian penal code, homosexual intercourse is punishable 
by death. They dismissed the allegation of rape under two possible 
scenarios: one, that it may have been a "trumped up charge to undermine 
public sympathy for the youths," or two, that the 13-year-old boy was a 
"willing participant but that Iranian law (like UK law) deems that no 
person of that age is capable of sexual consent and that therefore any 
sexual contact is automatically deemed in law to be a sex assault."

Peter Tatchell, a gay and human rights campaigner with Outrage!, was quoted 
in the release saying "this is just the latest barbarity by the 
Islamo-fascists in Iran...the entire country is a gigantic prison, with 
Islamic rule sustained by detention without trial, torture and 
state-sanctioned murder." Tatchell criticized the British Labour government 
for "pursuing friendly relations with this murderous regime" and urged "the 
international community to treat Iran as a pariah state, break off 
diplomatic relations, impose trade sanctions and give practical support to 
the democratic and left opposition inside Iran."

At about the same time, Andrew Sullivan posted an entry on his blog titled 
"Islamists Versus Gays" that also claimed that the two teenage boys were 
hanged by the "Islamo-fascist regime in Iran" for "being gay." He published 
an e-mail from an unidentified gay soldier that read: "Your post on the 
Islamo-fascist hanging/murder of the two gay men confirmed for me that my 
recent decision to join the US military was correct. I have to stuff myself 
back in the closet...but our war on terror trumps my personal comfort at 
this point. Whenever my friends and family criticize--I'll show 'em that 
link." Sullivan concluded his original post by saying, "I'm saddened that 
more gay organizations haven't rallied to the war against Muslim religious 
fanatics. This is our war too."




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