Thursday, 1 August 2013
A hero of our times
Breaking a self-imposed rule not to pile up posts - as well as a vow to get on with 'proper' work - I have to give vent to this. Out of the heart of a continent where gays are being executed, imprisoned or just driven underground - 'there is no homosexuality in Mali', even our liberal-minded Sophie once said - and unspeakable state-directed barbarism in Russia comes this voice of consistent sanity and courage. Retired 81-year-old forrmer archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu does not mince his words like the Pope - though his were welcome too after Ratzinger's hypocrisy - or our own Archbishop(s) of Canterbury. Here is exactly what he said according to The Independent.
I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place.
I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.
I am as passionate about this campaign as I ever was about apartheid. For me, it is at the same level.
Predictably he was lambasted by Bob 'Hanging's too good for 'em' Mugabe, who suggested he might want to take a husband rather than a wife. But you might have expected that, and Tutu's words, too, are exactly what I would have hoped for from the man who wrote such an eloquent introduction to Bishop Gene Robinson's In the Eye of the Storm back in 2009. Mostly praising Robinson's courage, he included another unequivocal statement.
For me, the question of human sexuality is really a matter of human justice; of course I would be willing to show that my beliefs are not inconsistent with how we have come to understand the scriptures. It is not enough to say 'the Bible says...,' for the Bible says many things that I find totally unacceptable and indeed abhorrent. I accept the authority of the Bible as the Word of God, but I remember that the Bible has been used to justify racism, slavery and the humiliation of women...Apartheid was supported by the white Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, which claimed that there was biblical sanction for that vicious system.
...May I wholly inadequately apologise to my sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered for the cruelty and injustice that you have suffered and continue to suffer at the hands of us, your fellow Anglicans; I am sorry.
He doesn't need to apologise to me; I can't imagine why anyone would want to be a member of a church whose head only welcomes gay people so long as they don't express their love in sexual terms - as one wise American nun put it, like saying 'you're a bird, but you can't fly' - but I do want to see change there. It will come, sooner or later. The enormous Wiki entry on Tutu details on just how many fronts he has fought, and keeps fighting, not least support for Bradley Manning. Perhaps the greatest figure of our times, even while Mandela still lives?
Meanwhile there is much that is good elsewhere in carrying on the fight. Even Cameron impressed me with his words on why the Gay Marriage Bill, deeply flawed as it is, needed to happen. But I'm thinking mainly of excellent articles in the papers like Hugo Rifkind's light-of-touch comment on Putin's Russia in the Times, which sadly can't be read unless you contribute to the Murdoch coffers (though I would, in passing, recommend you do read Tanya Gold in The Guardian on the pathological outburst of vilest Tweeted rape threats against the woman who wanted Jane Austen on the £10 note and her defender, MP Stella Creasy).
Rifkind begins by listing the edicts that have so horrified the liberal corners of the world: 'one law prohibits the adoption of Russian children not only by gay people but also by single people living in countries that allow gay marriage, presumably just in case they ever get the urge.' [A recent extension of this logic has been to legislate for the removal of children from gay couples, or even from couples where one partner or the other is suspected of being gay]. 'Another allows for the two-week detention of gay or even "pro-gay" tourists' . That also means 'suspected of being gay', so it puts the khybosh on travel to Russia by concerned would-be visitors. My blog pals Will and Laurent have already cancelled their 2014 Volga trip; good for them.
Meanwhile violence and injustice against gays in Russia escalate daily. Perhaps the lesson embodied in Berlusconi's conviction - che gioia - is to tell us that Putin, like Mugabe, is only lashing out in his decadence and will end his career ignominiously - but when?
We can all do something in this case, even if it's as seemingly pathetic as not drinking Russian vodka, not buying Anna Netrebko CDs (perish the thought) or not going to Gergiev concerts. Does that sound weird to you? Well, let me explain. Both are among the 500 artists who lent their signature to the Putin campaign. Both have got themselves embroiled in politics, so are not performers living entirely within the musical sphere who should just be left in peace. Gergiev, as we all know, is as deeply implicated as he could possibly be. Netrebko - who, heaven knows, can't be anti-gay, and was snapped above by Manfred Werner at Vienna's Life Ball earlier this year - was told by one American activist she MUST make a stance on her attitude to the gay persecution. Well, the word 'must' is not to be used to divas, as La Cieca rather over-insistently made clear in an intriguing debate on Parterre dominated by the admirable 'M Croche'.
But it would be good if she did. It would also be good if out, proud and absolutely fabulous Marius Kwiecien - pictured above, photo from the Teatr Wieki website, though not sure what the message on the T shirt is trying to say and yes, he IS top barihunk as far as I'm concerned - could make a statement as he sings alongside Trebs and under the baton of Gergiev in the Met Onegin. But that, again, is very much a matter for his own conscience, and we won't condemn him for not doing so. Worth pointing, out, though, that even the opera's composer lived a freer life under the repressive tsarist regime, at least until his questionable end, than those who can only benefit from his example across Russia do now.
Update (7/8): Stephen Fry has just covered all we could wish and more about Putin's Nazi rulebook tactics in this superlative 'open letter' to Cameron and Co about the Sochi Winter Olympics. I'd give him a knighthood for this.