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.

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