Sunday, July 30, 2006

World Mobilizes on Anniversary of Iran’s Execution of Gays

Small Crowd Turns Out for Anti-Iran Protest; Leftists Question Timing


Copyright © 2006 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The turnout for San Diego’s event was small — only 10 people showed up for the protest vigil at Front and Broadway across the street from the U.S. Federal Building July 19 — but they were part of a worldwide movement that chose the first anniversary of the execution of Iranians Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni to mobilize against the anti-Queer laws and policies of Iran’s Islamist government. Carrying signs that included blow-ups of video frames showing Asgari and Marhoni, both 17, being hanged for having consensual sex with each other, the protesters mostly kept silent, waved their signs at passing cars and talked with journalists about why they were there.

Most of the protesters were not part of San Diego’s usual activist crowd, but ordinary citizens who’d seen and been shocked by the video of the executions of Asgari and Marhoni and remembered their initial reactions when the call for a worldwide mobilization came down a year later. A number of the participants carried placards criticizing the death penalty in general and its application to children and teenagers in particular, as well as signs calling on the government of Iran to repeal its laws that allow homosexuals to be punished by death.

The principal organizer was a young man named Michael Mussman who, asked why he had called the demonstration, said, “First of all, being a Gay man, I can sympathize with Mahmoud and Ayaz. But on a much deeper level, I feel that with everything going on in the world right now, it’s time for Gays and Lesbians to take a stand for each other around the world. It’s not just American issues, it’s not just issues here in California. There are actual human-rights issues involved with Gays and Lesbians everywhere, and especially in totalitarian nations like Iran. We who are so fortunate in the United States need to be doing more to support our brothers and sisters in those other countries.”

Surprisingly, the worldwide call for the July 19 mobilization aroused a good deal of controversy in the Left-wing press and on radical Queer e-mail lists. Opponents raised at least three major objections. First, a number of writers repeated claims made by the Iranian government after the original executions that Asgari and Marhoni were actually put to death for raping 13-year-old boys, not for having sex with each other. Second, they questioned whether Asgari and Marhoni should really be considered “Gay” in the Western sense when the Iranian cultural norms surrounding sexuality and its expression are different from the West’s.

Third, and most significantly, they questioned whether progressives should be mounting demonstrations against Iran right when the U.S. government is threatening a war on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack, to force it not only to abandon any plans it might have to develop nuclear weapons but to give up its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to manufacture nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. Though the official call to the action worldwide included a statement opposing foreign intervention in Iran — “regime change must come from within: by and for the Iranian people themselves,” it read — opponents like Leslie Feinberg, writing in the July 20 Workers’ World newspaper, claimed that many of the organizers supported a U.S. attack on Iraq and said that a U.S. invasion would be far worse for Iranian Queers than their current situation.

“Imperialist-instigated regime change, invasion or occupation of Iran would usher in neocolonialism — a form of enslavement that the 70-million strong Iranian population as a whole would certainly fight with the same tenacity as the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and Palestine,” Feinberg wrote. “The Pentagon is no vehicle for Gay liberation. The CIA is using anti-Gay and anti-Trans humiliation and rape — from Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo — as bedrock components of its science of torture.”

Barbara MacKenzie, medical marijuana activist and participant in many local demonstrations against the U.S. “war on terror,” joined the July 19 protest against Iran and bristled at the suggestion that the action would somehow encourage the U.S. to launch a war against Iran. “Standing up for human rights is not going to push us any further into a war with Iran,” she said. “If that excuse is used, then we should all just expose it as an excuse. I don’t think anyone is that stupid out here to really believe that George Bush would have a war over Gays’ rights. Over oil, yes.”

But one participant in the action, Iranian Kurdish émigré Dara Rizgari, said he supported a U.S. attack on Iran. Rizgari said he fled Iran 17 years ago — 10 years after the revolution that ousted the pro-U.S. Shah and installed the “Islamic republic” that has governed Iran since — because he and his friends “were being hunted. Many of my friends were cut up, hanged or shot.” Rizgari said he and his friends, who were teenagers at the time, were also afraid of being drafted to fight in the 1980-88 war between Iran and Iraq, and that he personally knew some Gay Iranians “but they never dared to say anything because they knew they would be killed.”

Rizgari said he hoped the demonstration would “make people aware that this [Iranian] government is a killer government,” and said that his family and most of his Iranian-American friends joined him in supporting a U.S. attack on Iran. “I hate war, but to be honest with you, we support that,” he said. Asked how he could back a U.S. invasion of Iran given the current situation in Iraq, Rizgari said that things had been worse for both Iraqis and Iranians when Saddam Hussein was still in power and the two countries were at war. “Saddam Hussein killed in his own hands more people every day than are killed there now,” Rizgari claimed.

Another participant, Mark Kenner, said he was inspired to join the action because he himself was Queer-bashed just a few days before the executions of Asgari and Marhoni in Iran in July 2005. “It happened in San Ysidro,” he recalled. “I was coming home in the early morning hours … [when] a young man attacked me all of a sudden. He punched me in the face [and] called me ‘fucking faggot.’” According to Kenner, he was able to restrain his attacker and call for a police officer — police routinely patrol the area near the U.S.-Mexico border — but “instead of arresting my attacker … they were very homophobic to me.” Kenner said the officer who came to the scene said that if Kenner persisted in pressing charges against the attacker, the officer would arrest him.

“I insisted that my attacker be arrested for what he did, for a hate crime, and they said, ‘If you insist, we have to arrest you, too.’ I said, ‘I’m the victim. Look at my shirt and my face. It’s full of blood.’ They arrested me, as I insisted he be arrested, and they treated me horrifically.”

Kenner said his experience encouraged him to participate in the demonstration against Iran because “it’s the same type of hatred. It’s the same type of bias. It is the same type of no existence of objectivity in a person when they look at a Gay or Lesbian. Because of either their upbringing or their personal choice of bias, or their religion, or their state law, they cannot choose objectively to do what is morally right, to not discriminate in any way against a person just because they are different.”