New global fault-lines over moral matters are emerging
THE PHENOMENON known in American domestic affairs as the culture wars has gone well and truly global. If anyone needs proof of that, consider the row that has erupted at the United Nations in recent days over plans for a highlevel meeting next month on the fight against HIV/AIDS.
The United States, the European Union and Canada are appalled by the fact that 11 gay and transgender groups have been barred from the gathering under pressure from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which groups 57 mainly Muslim lands. Egypt spearheaded the OIC’s diplomatic moves.
According to agency reports, America’s UN ambassador Samantha Power (pictured) raised the matter in an indignant letter to the president of the General Assembly. She wrote:
Given that transgender people are 49 times more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, their exclusion from the high-level meeting will only impede global progress in combating the HIV/AIDS pandemic...The movement to block the participation of NGOs on spurious or hidden grounds is becoming epidemic and severely damages the credibility of the UN.
Around UN headquarters on New York’s East River, the origins of this “movement” are clear enough: it reflects a social-conservative diplomatic coalition orchestrated mainly by the OIC and Russia, with some opportunistic support from China.
Last year, all those parties tried to overturn a decision by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, to recognise same-sex marriages among the world body’s staff. Feelings are running high this week because of yesterday’s International Day against Homophobia.
This traditionalist coalition has been rallying its forces even as LGBT rights gain prominence in the diplomatic agenda of Western countries. Ms Power, a respected writer on the subject of genocide, has made the LGBT question a personal priority.
She recently invited 17 of her fellow UN ambassadors, including the envoy of Russia, to watch a musical set in a small American town about a father and daughter who are both gay.
It’s striking that Vladimir Putin’s Russia, while taking a strident stance against Islaminspired terror, has been eager to team up with Islamic governments in resisting the global movement for LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.
Moscow’s foreign-policy rhetoric has raised the standard of “traditional” values and cultures which have a common interest in resisting the liberal tide.
As is pointed out by Lucian Leustean, a scholar of geopolitics and religion at Britain’s Aston University, Russia’s new national-security strategy makes prominent mention of “spiritual security”, in other words the idea that Russia’s moral and metaphysical values are under global threat.
This converges, at least in part, with the concept of “faith security” which has been used by the Egyptian government to justify strict government oversight of religion, clamping down on atheism and “blasphemy” as well as ultra-pious extremism.
And in Russia and Egypt alike, being an international advocate for traditional values seems perfectly consistent with dealing fairly harshly at home with forms of religion that don’t conform to officially approved norms.
Forum 18, an independent religious-freedom campaign, said today in a report that it knew of 119 individuals who had been prosecuted in Russia last year for exercising freedom of religion; they ranged from Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons to followers of China’s Falun Gong movement.
Most had received fines, a few found themselves briefly in custody. The total was a sharp rise on the 2014 figure of 23 prosecutions.