George Galloway alibis Tehran

Alan Morgan explores the MP's excuses for Iran's murder of gays and his 'pink contingent' remarks

George Galloway has so far failed to respond to Peter Tatchell’s challenge to “provide evidence for his claim that Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was hanged for sex crimes against young men”. Kazemi was due to be deported to Iran, where he himself might well have faced execution as a gay.

The Respect Renewal leader, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and standing as a candidate for the May 1 London assembly elections, made the “sex crimes” claim on Channel 5’s The Wright stuff programme. Galloway repeated the phrase used by the theocratic regime in his efforts to deny the undeniable - Tehran executes homosexuals simply for having gay sex. Mehdi Kazemi’s former partner, Parham, was hanged in 2006, allegedly after revealing under torture the names of men he had had relations with. According to islamic law any active homosexual relationship in itself represents a “sex crime” (lavat), which in Iran is punished with the most brutal and degrading treatment, followed by hanging.

In 2005 Mehdi left Tehran to study in London and subsequently applied for asylum after the Iranian authorities discovered his homosexual relationship with Parham. The application was turned down despite the EU directive to the effect that “Member states cannot expel or refuse refugee status to homosexual persons without taking into account their sexual preferences, the information relevant to the situation in their country of origin, including the laws and ways in which they are applied”. According to the home office, “Gay people can return to Iran, if they are discreet.”

Mehdi secretly fled Britain and sought asylum in the Netherlands. However, the UK government requested his return and last Tuesday Mehdi lost his legal battle to have his claim for asylum heard in the Netherlands. As a result he was expected to return to the UK within 72 hours of that decision and then be immediately deported back to Iran.

On March 13 Galloway, reviewing the morning papers on The Wright stuff, referred to an article exposing the scandal in The Independent, and commented: “This is being used as part of the ongoing propaganda against Iran.” He added: “All the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay. That’s not true.” Presenter Matthew Wright responded: “His boyfriend was hung though, wasn’t he?” To which Galloway replied: “Yes, but not for being gay. For committing sex crimes against young men ... I mean, I’m against execution for any reason in any place, but it is important to avoid that propaganda.”

Wright, slightly taken aback, sought clarification on Galloway’s views: “So you’re saying that this guy they want to deport should be deported because there is no risk of his sexuality? Or he shouldn’t be deported because he is at risk?” Galloway said: “He should not be deported - not least because after all this Iranian propaganda he will be accused of being the source, or one of the sources. It would be ridiculous to deport him, and I don’t think he will be deported now.”

Twenty-four hours later the European parliament, after intense lobbying, effectively ordered the Dutch and UK governments to “find a common solution to ensure that Mehdi Kazemi is granted asylum or protection on EU soil and not sent back to Iran, where he would be executed.” Home secretary Jacqui Smith had no choice and decided to review the case “in the light of new circumstances since the original decision was made”.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay rights group Stonewall, responded: “We are obviously delighted that the home secretary has listened to the representations that were made in this case.” But a representative for Mehdi was less charitable: “We did not ask people throughout the world to send flowers to Jacqui Smith or to Gordon Brown, because the highest British authorities have been shown to have no respect for human life. Sending an innocent 19-year-old boy to die with a rope around his neck is for them just a bureaucratic procedure.”

On Galloway’s “sex crimes” nonsense, Outrage stated that there was no evidence whatsoever to suggest that “Mr Kazemi’s partner was a rapist or sex-abuser”. Outrage leader Peter Tatchell accused Galloway of “mouthing the propaganda of the homophobic dictatorship in Tehran”.

The next day Galloway returned to the offensive on The Wright stuff: “This is a useful story for the war propaganda machine - the khaki machine taking on a tinge of pink, and becoming all gay-friendly, even though if they bomb Iran they’ll be killing gay people as well as straight people.” By “attacking Iran in the way that he does”, Tatchell had become “the pink end of the khaki war machine”.

It is certainly true that sections of the media are taking every opportunity to whip up anti-Tehran propaganda in order to help George Bush prepare the way for a possible attack on Iran. But how should partisans of the anti-war movement respond? By denying the truth (and, in so doing, implicitly side with the UK authorities in their claim that it is safe to deport gays there)? Or by telling the truth - both about the repressive theocratic regime and about imperialism’s use of such repression to excuse its own brutality?

However, even if Galloway were not an apologist for ‘my enemy’s enemy’, he would not be well placed in opposing deportations. At the heart of this case is the right of bourgeois states to decide in the interests of capital who may or may not enter, reside and work in ‘their’ country. This ‘right’ brings with it not only the risk that deportees may sometimes be sent to where they face imprisonment, torture or death, but a whole raft of inhuman measures: detention without trial, tagging and monitoring, dawn raids, the splitting up of families.

Galloway wants to make the system less inhuman. Notoriously he believes: “Every country … must have control of its own borders - no-one serious is advocating the scrapping of immigration controls” (Morning Star February 12 2005). He called for “an economic-social-demographic plan for population growth based on a points system and our own needs” (read the needs of British capital) and claimed that the scrapping of immigration controls would mean “urging all the most accomplished and determined people to leave the poor countries of the world and come to the richest [making] the poor countries even poorer and the rich countries richer”.

In this way Galloway helps perpetuate the prejudice and fears of outsiders - be they black, Asian, muslim or eastern European - that are stirred up by the establishment in order to set worker against worker. But there are many migrants who have bypassed border controls through various means. These are the workers who provide cheap labour for the capitalist machine, picking vegetables for the supermarkets, toiling on building sites and suffering the cruelty of forced prostitution. These are the workers who are employed and exploited with no regard for health, safety and other rights. Morecambe Bay provided an extreme example of how capital profits from their very illegality.

Of course, in a previous existence Galloway was beyond criticism for the comrades of the Socialist Workers Party. John Rees and Lindsey German kept quiet about Galloway’s Morning Star article despite the SWP’s commitment, carried every week in Socialist Worker’s ‘Where we stand’ column: “We oppose all immigration controls and campaign for solidarity with workers in other countries.”

They consistently mobilised their cadre to vote down open borders in the pre-split Respect. While the SWP continued to talk about the need for workers’ unity to combat attempts to divide the working class, in reality it abandoned this central principle - the right of all to move across borders without restriction.

On the March 15 London anti-war demo Galloway claimed that the “khaki war machine now has its pink contingent”, whose purpose is “to bamboozle the public to go along with [imperialist] mass murder in Iran”. If I wished to respond in the same vein I might say that the left has its anti-pink contingent, and its purpose is to bamboozle the public to go along with the Iranian regime’s repression and execution of gays.

Mehdi Kazemi must be allowed to stay

Statement from Hands Off the People of Iran

Hopi fully supports Iranian gay asylum applicant Mehdi Kazemi and his struggle to remain within the UK.

Mehdi’s case highlights the homophobic record of the Iranian theocratic regime against lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender (LGBT) people. Mehdi must be granted immediate asylum in the UK. In Iran, homosexuality is treated as a crime and is punished by death. It is estimated that there have been around 4,000 executions of gays and lesbians since the victory of the islamist counterrevolution in 1979.

This case also highlights the hypocrisy of the British ruling class. Jacqui Smith might try to pass herself off as the voice of reason by granting Mehdi a review of his case, but the British state continues to back regimes like Jamaica, Saudi Arabia and Uganda that repress homosexuals and send other asylum-seekers back to face poverty, imprisonment and worse. The government’s change of policy in this case is the result of a successful LGBT campaign.

But it is also true that sections of the establishment and the media have seized upon this case to win support for their threats against Iran. Only a year ago the British media couldn’t care less about cases such as that of the persecuted Iranian lesbian, Pegah Emambakhsh. This propaganda effort is as inexorably linked to the war drive as the sanctions that are currently strangling Iran.

And it is seeking to influence sections of the workers’ movement. For example, the March 6 ‘global day of action’ in support of arrested Iranian trade unionists Salehi and Ossanlou made no mention of the fact that Iranian workers are suffering under the burden of UN sanctions, let alone are faced with the prospect of being bombed!

In contrast, Hopi calls for solidarity that is independent of both imperialism and the Iranian theocracy. We reject the hypocritical talk of democracy and freedom amongst our rulers, as they step up their war threats. Neither will we act as apologists for the reactionary Iranian regime and its brutal counterrevolutionary agenda. Principled opposition to war and sanctions against the people of Iran necessitates telling the truth.

That is why Hopi condemns those within the anti-war movement who are using Kazemi’s case to attack LGBT activists in Iran and Britain. Respect MP George Galloway said on The Wright stuff (Channel 5) on March 13 and 14: “All of the papers seem to imply that you get executed in Iran for being gay: that’s not true.” He then stated that Kazemi’s boyfriend was hung “not for being gay, but for committing sex crimes against young men … What I can’t accept is the propaganda that says you get hanged for being gay in Iran: you don’t.”

This apologia led him to suggest that Hopi steering committee member Peter Tatchell represents the “the pink end of the khaki war machine - that’s what Peter Tatchell has become, by attacking Iran in the way that he does”. He repeated those charges at the March 15 anti-war demonstration in London.

Hopi utterly condemns this appalling homophobia and rejects the implication that if one supports the LGBT community in Iran, one also supports imperialism.

This is nonsense, as anybody who has taken the time to even glance at the social dynamics within Iranian society will soon realise. Many of the militant movements in Iran - such as those of the workers, women and students - fight against war and the theocratic regime. Their struggles demonstrate that there is another way forward for Iran and the Middle East: real democratic change comes from below - and can never be delivered from above through imperialist surgical strikes, sanctions, occupations or faux-democratic movements.

Hopi calls on members of the Stop the War Coalition and the Respect party to condemn Galloway’s homophobic and insulting remarks and fight to reverse the decision of the STWC officers’ group to ban Hopi from affiliating.