Tag Archives: sterilization

Cluelessness abounds – a Dan Savage update

TW: heterosexism, cissexism, racism, coerced sterilization

In case you’ve missed my previous coverage of it, the longstanding problems of heterosexist and cissexist violence in Russia have become pretty apparent to just about everyone, even those who weren’t following the slow change within the LGBT communities of Russia in terms of how visibility and activism were understood and valued. Naturally enough, Dan Savage, with his history of shoddy activist projects, has organized a twitter campaign (#dumpstoli) to respond to the actions of the Russian government, by boycotting a company legally based in Cyprus, effectively centered in Luxembourg, and with its primary production centers in Latvia. Because it has a Russian name and some of its production is still based in Russia. (Funny isn’t it, how Swedish vodka, in spite of all the extreme cissexism in Sweden, isn’t bothering Savage?)

Given that Dan Savage has now taken to posting links to videos like this, we can effectively conclude that much like his racist reaction to the passage of Proposition 8 in California, he’s decided that to be Russian is to be bigoted, as previously he assumed that to be Black was to be bigoted. Because there are never queer people who are also Black or Russian.

2013-07-31_1711
(Speaking of terrible politics, his current twitter icon makes clear just how central straight and cisgender allies are to his conception of activism.)

Of course, if you actually talk to just about anyone in Russia, this whole effort seems first farcical in terms of identifying this bizarre boycott as a solution and then patently offensive in that it’s seriously considered as a substitute for actually helpful behavior. Contrary to the pushback I’ve seen peddled on a few parts of the internet (namely that Russians just don’t understand boycotts – while more radical members of the political opposition have been calling for boycotts of actually Russian products), many Russians have very effectively explained their disinterest and annoyance with this campaign in pretty clear terms.

Simply read what one Russian correspondent for Gay Star News wrote on #dumpstoli: “It will impact anyone except the companies involved a little bit. [… W]hat is the aim of this boycott? The producers, even if they become bankrupt because of the boycott (which is unlikely) will not be able to influence Russian politics and President Putin as well as the decisions of the State Duma [legislature]”. Given how the Putin government has lobbied for these many new laws (as an extension, arguably, to his use of patriarchal imagery while in office) and the federal Duma voted unanimously in favor of them, the necessary change here is pretty clearly political, not necessarily economic.

Particularly given how Western “assistance” in the past largely resulted in the restructuring of the Russian economy in favor of a very small number of elites, the wariness of Russians to receive incomprehensible Western help seems rather on point. In some sense, our governments forced their society to recreate itself in a way that relies on exports and international trade, and now we’re calling for boycotts on products simply associated with them?

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Why no one is intervening in Syria (yet)

TW: killing of civilians; marginalization of Kurds, Palestinians, and Jews of Ethiopian ancestry; coerced sterilization

Yesterday, Amnesty International posed a question on twitter, or at least seemed to while promoting their most recent report on Syria. Their official account tweeted:

Amnesty International's tweet
(An Amnesty International tweet.)

That’s a fair question to ask, especially since, as the report claims, Syrians themselves are often asking it. It claims that one Syrian woman who the anonymous research spoke with wanted to know, “Why is the world doing nothing while we continue to be bombed to pieces every day, even inside our homes?”

As near as I can tell, one of the most pressing problems with intervening in Syria is that doing so appears likely to ignite a conflict as complicated and multifaceted as the first “World War” was for Europe. And this time, that would be after almost a century of technological refinements in weaponry. On the other hand, the problem with inaction, unfortunately, is that it seems only to reduce the risk of that outcome – not actually actively prevent it.

Map of Syria and its neighbors
(Syria and its neighbors, from here.)

Syria has a geopolitical context – it shares borders with Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq, as well as a narrow maritime border that wouldn’t be terribly in the case of an intervening force having to enter Syria without land or air support from any of those five countries. Syria also has close ties with Iran, which is also the neighbor of both Turkey and Iraq. Having listed all those connections, let me explain – that is an incredibly diverse slice of the world covered in a mere seven countries. Along with that comes an incredibly diverse slice of on-going international conflicts that have in the past threatened all of the states governing those seven countries with destruction. In short, Syria is at the heart of a powderkeg.

Just to run down the events that have happened recently in that corner of the world:

-The Israeli and Iranian governments have begun speaking as if they are on the verge of starting a massive international war, which could potentially draw US, Chinese, and European support and proxies into the fray in a massive conflict between the “West” and the strongest “non-Western” nations in the world. Intervention by Iran would be read as an advance against Israel. Intervention by Israel or the US would be read as an advance against Iran. The balance of power necessary to prevent that outbreak of such a conflict in part requires that no one intervene in Syria, if not the freezing of the situation in Syria where it is.

-Within Israel, extremist factions have successfully lobbied for even more extensive segregation between Jews and Palestinian Arabs, and the Israeli government has admitted to supporting the coercive sterilization of Jews with Ethiopian ancestry. These adds to the previous months of conflict and violence in Israel and Palestine, which has led to threats of another Intifada (active, potentially armed resistance by Palestinians) and highlighted the continuing conflict within Israeli communities over who qualifies as “properly” or “ideally” Israeli or Jewish. As a result, Israel seems particularly politically unstable at the moment and likely to make choices that are unwise in the long term.

-Turkey, which has long been plagued by undemocratic movements, has experienced a bit of panic over whether Islam has a growing political presence. This seems likely to herald both undemocratic restrictions on free religious expression and the growth of militant Islamism. This is pertinent to Syria as some of the opposition to the government is often couched in religious terms and much of the government’s violence is excused (as undemocratic acts in Turkey have been) as a preventative strategy against militant Islamists. Turkey, to some extent, finds itself fighting the same conflict as neighboring Syria, and is likely to have a stake in the outcome. That fact is complicated by the reality that Turkey has the support of NATO and much of the Western world in a way that Syria doesn’t and thus a trump card to play against Syria if the conflict is either willfully introduced into or accidentally threatens to spill over into Turkey. But Turkey also doesn’t want a destabilized Syria to serve as a training grounds and resupply territory for the increasingly intent Kurdish rebels.

In short, there are multiple ways for the conflict in Syria to ignite a broader religious conflict in the Middle East, to alter the ability of marginalized groups in Israel and Palestine to effectively protest their oppression, and to provide a means of militant Turks who want to guarantee the free expression of devout Muslims and Kurds within Turkey to militarily organize. The risks of intervention are not only that it will fail to actually improve the lives of Syrians, but that it will actively reduce the stability of almost every surrounding country.

But the conflict is already spilling into Iraq, with Syrian forces and anti-regime forces fighting in Iraq (and causing Iraqi civilian casualties). The Iraqi state is stuck in an even more reminiscent position of Syria’s government’s – as a Shia government finding itself in perpetual electoral and military conflict with various anti-government Sunnis. Both have at least some ties to Iran (although Syria’s are much stronger), and unlike Turkey, Iraq doesn’t have the means to have international actors demand that the conflict be prevented from spilling over. With all that in mind, the Iraqi government has started treating the Syrian soldiers injured in its territory. The field of conflict is broadening independent on Turkish, Israeli, Palestinian, and even Iranian interests in keeping Syria’s conflicts contained if not resolving them.

It’s worrisome to think that a better question for non-Syrians to ask themselves in the place of why they haven’t intervened in Syria is whether they will ultimately decide to intervene there and elsewhere in the future as the conflicts spreads.

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Not just choice, but legitimacy

TW: coercion and restrictions on bodily autonomy, mention of sexual assault

Earlier today, I posted over at Velociriot! about the return of personhood bills in the House and how they threaten the security of nearly any one who could become pregnant in terms of having a right to control biological processes occurring within their own body. I felt like it was particularly important to mention this, however: “In a nutshell, it’s a massive restriction on fertility that both prevents some people (for instance, Mitt Romney’s children) from having children just as much as it forces others (for instance, the approximately 16,000 people in the US each year who are raped and become pregnant) to have children that they do not want.”

The issue of how many people tolerate the existence of such measures is deeper than coerced pregnancy. The ability to independently choose what occurs within one’s body should be a fundamental right, irrespective of sex, gender, race, or sexuality. But almost as readily as powerful institutions restrict people’s ability to avoid pregnancy, others deny them the right alter their own biology towards the goal of creating life. The fear of what will happen if these restrictions are not applied seems more profound than simply mandating certain births, and involve fundamentally distrusting people’s (especially women’s) autonomous decisions about bringing life into this world or not.


(According to the Personhood Bills, these are three different people. So making them with the intent to get pregnant is irresponsible, and if one forms in your body against your wishes, well, get used to it. Image from here.)

Perhaps this is inopportune to say, but much of the popular animus against these provisions clearly comes from a fear that some people are refusing to acknowledge pregnancies than many people would like to terminate. But I think we likely will need a response that’s broader than that, that acknowledges how many women judged as being ethnically inferior have been restricted from bearing children. From India, to Latin America, to Europe, to the US, there’s a consistent pattern of women not only being coercively forced into pregnancy, but also forced away from it.

And while in vitro fertilization is by no means the only way that same-sex couples have children, the fact remains that these measures impact not only the security of some that they will not become pregnant but also complicate others’ desires to become pregnant. Were these bills to actually become law, which seems to be the end game the Republicans are hoping to push us towards as a country, we would face wholesale restrictions on biology that would harm and restrict people who want to control their own bodies, with the harm magnified in the lives of those who are simultaneously lower class, people of color, LGBT*, or women. And that harm comes in broader forms than only forced pregnancy. As pregnancy typically affects women, we seem to be stuck in the same old fears about women’s legitimacy as reporters of their experiences.

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Bryan Fischer on eugenics

TW: eugenics, biological views of race, dehumanizing racist rhetoric, policing female sexuality, physical and mental abilism, coerced sterilization

Bryan Fischer has been one of many contributors to the growing presence of cultural racism in the past decade. As noted yesterday, this has particularly come in the form of “Western” Christian-influenced demands for assimilation of Native Americans, Muslims, and other groups to his cultural norms. In spite of this form of racism being very modern and “in vogue”, given the War on Terror, his word choices have revealed at times a passion for a less current variant of racism. Fischer has spoken of Muslims’ “darkened, benighted lands” and Native Americans’ “savagery” – revealing his penchant for an older language of racism, even if used in a more contemporary strategy.

In a few additional statements, however, it becomes clear that Fischer hasn’t just contributed to the recent wave of cultural racism, particularly targeting Muslims, but has been keeping alive earlier biology-heavy racist arguments. This, much like the eugenics of old, comes in the form of pseudo-scientific racism, that focuses (with anecdotes and poorly sourced facts, it should always be remembered) on birth rates, on sexuality, and on intermarriage. From that horrible, unfortunately unforgotten place has come the idea, which Fischer promotes, that Black Americans “rut like rabbits” and consequently have abused and overloaded welfare programs (which he likewise claims “incentivized [sic] fornication rather than marriage”). The sheer gall necessary to refer to Black Americans in such terms, as subhuman animals mainly concerned with sexual gratification, is nauseating. Fischer has since modestly edited his statements in response to public outcry. You can read his now modified article here.

Fischer works with this neo-eugenic view of fertility and race to reach multiple conclusions – not only condemning entire racial groups for failing his purity tests, but also questioning their collective usefulness to his politics. His fretting about the “illegitimacy” rate within the Latin@ community and how that reduces their capacity to fit his narrow definition of “pro-family” is a striking example of the latter. Fischer explains “the illegitimacy rate among Hispanic women is over 50%. I’m not sure pro-family values are as strong in the Hispanic community as Dr. Land [a pro-immigration social conservative] wants to believe“. There’s potent slut-shaming in these statements which fits into this larger paranoia over what ethnic groups are having the most babies, which clearly (in Fischer’s mind) relates to marriage, the role of women, and sexual propriety. In spite of the differences in description, Fischer again defines an entire racial group (of course, never Whites, though) within terms of fertility and sexuality.

Some people are born to be a burden on the rest
(Bryan Fischer is hardly the first to believe that “inferior” humans are out-breeding their “betters” as this poster from Philadelphia in 1926 shows. Originally from page 219 of Transforming Better Babies into Fitter Families.)

In keeping with his contemporary islamophobia, however, Fischer mixes these traditional “farm animal” comparisons of the “stock” of people of color with a new racist concern about individuals of Middle Eastern ancestry. Based on Nicolai Sennels’ crackpot “research” (more accurately described as irrational, baseless claims about Muslims, more on that here), Fischer parrots that “massive inbreeding in Muslim culture[s] may well have done virtually irreversible damage to the Muslim gene pool, including extensive damage to its intelligence, sanity, and health“.

This nonsense is the perfect “intellectual” framework within which to raise the historic concerns that people of color had racially-determined lower intelligence quotients (IQ), and Fischer doesn’t fail to argue as well that uncited “research shows that children of consanguinous [intra-family] marriages lose 10-16 points off their IQ and that social abilities develop much slower in inbred babies”. He likewise implies that children of (ancestral) Muslims are more likely to suffer from cystic fibrosis, spinal muscular atrophy, and other genetic disorders. He ties this to not only physical disabilities but also mental ones, obliquely arguing “[t]he closer the blood relative [presumably in marriage], the higher the risk of schizophrenic illness [presumably in children]”. Fischer clearly believes (as he’s recently restated these opinions about everyone of Middle Eastern or Central Asian descent, available here) that Muslims aren’t merely ideologically dangerous but are also genetically contaminating.

From these momentary slips in his longer racist screeds it becomes clear that the modern feel of Fischer’s racism is more than cosmetic, but has been grafted onto arguments so clearly lifted from eugenic theories. His arguments may have a primarily cultural orientation and show a fixation on conversion and assimilation, but they hold the same concern for controlling (primarily female) sexuality so that it creates outcomes based on an individual’s race and class. He holds the same paranoia of those who are physically or mentally different – treating them as contaminating elements to the population that should be geographically segregated. His solutions are ostensibly different from historical eugenicists’ – mostly in that he concludes these screeds with the same inevitable call for conversion to Christianity rather than coerced sterilization or wholesale genocide. His solutions are, nonetheless, terrifyingly vague and I think there’s valid room for worry about where he runs with these ideas. Even if he doesn’t come to the same conclusions as his historical precedents, until he changes those underlying ideas about people of color, disabled people, and women, he will lend credence to policies that are openly hostile to them.

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This is the second of four posts as part of Bryan Fischer Week, in which I hope to lay out that Bryan Fischer is among the worst human beings on the planet, a terrifying influence on the United States’ body politic, and a threat to the security of a sizable chunk of the country’s population

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