Jesurgislac’s Journal

September 16, 2010

Peter Tatchell: Not the Pope

Over at Mercatornet, Michael Cook, the editor, is having Conniptions about a documentary on Pope Benedict, released by Channel 4 the Monday before the Pope’s arrival in the UK on a state-funded visit.

Cook dismisses Peter Tatchell as “a vigorous campaigner for lowering the age of consent to 14″ and summarises a documentary that touches on such things as the bans on contraception inspired by Catholic doctrine which cause such suffering in developing countries, to the ban on stem cell research, to the re-admission of a Holocaust denier to the fold, as “about the Pope and the sex abuse scandal”.

Peter Tatchell began his life’s work as a campaigner for human rights as a teenager in Australia, where he campaigned against the death penalty and for aborigine kids to have scholarships to attend his school.

This is Tatchell on the Channel 4 documentary he presented this Monday:

Rather than interview atheists like Richard Dawkins, which would have played to expectations, I chose to interview mostly Catholics, both allies and critics of the pope. To some extent, the film reflects a debate within Catholicism, between the liberal and fundamentalist wings of the church.

I wanted to give Catholic leaders an opportunity to put their side of the story. When we went to Rome, the production company, Juniper TV, requested an interview with Pope Benedict or a senior cardinal. The Vatican turned us down. Our approach to interview Archbishop Vincent Nichols in London was also knocked back, with the rebuke: “We do not wish to co-operate with a programme presented by Peter Tatchell.”

Although the church did put up a spokesperson at the last minute – Fiona O’Reilly from the pressure group Catholic Voices – it strikes me as a sign of weakness that no Catholic leader from the Vatican or Britain was willing to be interviewed in defence of the pope.

In the forty years since Tatchell began his life’s work for human rights, he has campaigned for democracy, civil liberties and rights, and human rights almost literally without stopping. He campaigns for clean water, for the right of Muslims to live without harassment, for the rights of women and LGBT people under Shari’a law, for the right of free assembly, for the right to vote. He was beaten twice by Mugabe’s bodyguards when he attempted to put the dictator under citizen’s arrest for torture.

Does he feel resentful towards his attackers? “No. There’s an element of regret in that I wish these injuries hadn’t happened.” Mugabe’s henchmen attacked him three times in Brussels – once in the lobby of the Hilton hotel where the Zimbabwean president was staying, and twice on the street outside, leaving Tatchell paralysed down his left side for several days. On television news footage of the beating, you can hear a crack as the bodyguards make contact with Tatchell’s skull. In Moscow he vividly remembers the thugs kicking him to the ground with “heavy, black boots”. Afterwards the Russian police arrested Tatchell and let his attackers go free. How can he not feel resentful? “What’s the point? Bitterness is a very destructive emotion.” He breaks off. “Obviously, I think they’re bastards,” he says with a grin, “but I don’t hold some grudge… The best reward for me would be to change them.”‘ link

“Age of Consent” is top of the alphabetically-ordered list of things he campaigns for on his website – http://www.petertatchell.net/ – and you may or may not disagree with his belief that a 14-year-old has the right not to be prosecuted or persecuted for having consensual sex.

Ratzinger may outlive Tatchell. Ratzinger has led a far more sheltered, protected life. At the age of 16, Ratzinger joined Hitler Youth, because his family didn’t see any alternative but to go along with the social norms. No one can blame a teenage boy for doing what’s easy, not what’s right, especially when doing what’s right would have got him and his family into such serious trouble.

But knowing what we do about Peter Tatchell, in the same situation, he would have died rather join Hitler Youth. Tatchell has the moral stature that Ratzinger lacks: the willingness to stand up for and suffer for what he believes, that Ratzinger has never demonstrated.

His doctor has told him he should take a complete break of at least six months, but Tatchell, who works 14 hours a day, seven days a week, and ekes out a living of £8,000 a year, largely from donations, is politely ignoring them. He spends his time orchestrating campaigns and answering a constant stream of emails and phone calls. He is extremely thin, subsisting on a diet of raw vegetables and cups of tea. On a comparatively uneventful day, he goes to bed at 3am and wakes up at 9am. Doesn’t he ever pine for a quiet life? “I can understand why people want a quiet, relaxed, material life, but on another level I can’t understand why people just accept things the way they are. One billion people woke up this morning without clean drinking water. That is outrageous. We live in a world of such plenty that it’s unconscionable that so many people don’t have the basics… That is just morally unacceptable.” link

The notion that Pope Benedict, who instigated the worldwide concealment of child abuse by the Church and supported the systematic transfer of paedophile priests from parish to parish, is somehow morally superior to Peter Tatchell?

Some people think Ratzinger’s critics are holding him responsible for acts that were carried out before he became Pope, simply because he is head of the institution involved. This is an error. For over 25 years, Ratzinger was personally in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the part of the Vatican responsible for enforcing Catholic canonical law across the world, including on sexual abuse. He is a notorious micromanager who, it is said, insisted every salient document cross his desk. Hans Kung, a former friend of Ratzinger’s, says: “No-one in the whole of the Catholic Church knew as much about abuse cases as this Pope.” Johann Hari

Benedict lives in a city state where he is supreme ruler: Tatchell lives in a small flat in London. Tatchell has fought for his beliefs all his life: Ratzinger has always taken the easy path. That’s the difference between them.

September 9, 2010

Do pro-lifers really think of women as animals?

The pro-life argument is, in essence, a refusal to see women as human – or to perceive women at all.

It’s easy to see this in terms of slavery. The pro-life movement is the heir of the aggressive, racist-eugenic fascism before WWII*: which in turn inherited so many of its beliefs from the calm white-centric belief that inferior people shall be slaves to their superiors. Women in this scenario are the slaves of men: women have no right to decide for themselves how many children to have, and when. The forms of contraception which the pro-life movement is most likely to passionately campaign against are the contraceptive pill, its younger sister emergency contraception, and the IUD: contraception which is under the control of the women who use it, and which a man is not likely to be able to sabotage and may not even be aware the woman who is “his” is using. Emergency contraception even enables a rape victim to take control of her body and say no, at the least you will not make me pregnant: naturally, pro-lifers oppose emergency contraception being provided automatically to rape victims as soon as they seek medical treatment.

*The aggression in pro-life attacks on Margaret Sanger speaks of an enmity far older than the modern pro-life movement: Sanger was a believer that even the poorest women should be allowed to “improve the breed” (yes, she was a eugenicist, as were the pro-lifers who opposed her then) by her passionate pro-choice support of even the poorest woman’s right to decide how many children to have, rather than – as in her day – being forced by denial of contraception and denial of the right to refuse their husbands, to have as many children as they could until they died of it. Margaret Sanger’s eugenics was a form profoundly opposed to the fascism inherent in the white pro-lifers who opposed her: who believed white women owed it to “the breed” to be forced to have as many children as they could, and let two-thirds of them die. The strongest would survive, these pro-lifers felt: why give women the right to decide?

Slaves are not allowed to decide when they will be bred, or how many children they will have: pro-lifers want to roll back the human rights movement to the days when a man could literally own the women he bred, and the children he produced.

But even a slave may be cared for by her owner, at least to the degree of concern that she should be maintained as a healthy breeder: for some pro-lifers, who openly maintain that when a pregnancy goes wrong, the woman should be forced to continue the pregnancy though she dies of it, and regardless of what damage the pregnancy does to her. This is thinking of a woman as an incubator – a cheap, easily replaceable machine, used to produce babies, use till it breaks.

But there is still another sticky undercurrent to the pro-life movement: the belief that women are morally equivalent to farm animals.

A few weeks ago a New Zealand pro-life blogger, Brendan Malone, published an outraged post in which he complained that a Green politician, who’s pro-choice, had recently

issued an official press release which passionately attacked the NZ dairy industry for inducing the premature birth of unborn cows, a practice which often results in the death of the calf.
Yes, you did read that right; unborn cows, and look at the language used by Kedgley when talking about this issue, and the sort of action she wants the government to take against it…

Brendan describes this as “unbelievably hypocritical”, because the same politician is pro-choice.

Now, if you’re pro-choice, you believe that the pregnant woman is the person who has the best right to decide whether to terminate or continue her pregnancy: it’s a basic human rights issue, a basic healthcare issue.

What does this have to do with humane farming practices?

Dairy farming is an inhumane business. Male calves are of no value to a dairy farmer: they’re sold young for veal. Female calves are taken from their mothers young, reared and fed indifferently by humans, so that their mothers can be milked for food for our use: milk, cream, butter, cheese. Cows are bred to produce far more milk than their calves could use, so much milk that if they aren’t milked twice a day they suffer terrible pain and eventually die. Dairy farming is emblematic of how we as humans treat animals as if we have the absolute right to use them at our will to provide for our needs, regardless of how this twists and distorts their lives.

What does this have to do with a woman’s right to choose? If you are pro-life, you believe that women can be bred against their will – but surely even a pro-lifer would see some distinction between a human woman, even one deprived of her basic human rights, and a dairy cow? Women do not, even in the most extreme pro-life fantasies, lead lives in any way resembling a dairy cow’s.

But apparently Brendan Malone, and multiple regular pro-life commenters who follow his blog, really see no difference at all between a pregnant woman and a dairy cow. To them, arguing that the farmer of dairy cows ought not to be allowed to induce the cow early to get the milk production started, because this is an additional layer of cruelty on top of the regular day to day use of a dairy cow’s life, is “hypocritical”, because this same politician who opposes a farmer’s mistreatment of cows, opposes pro-life mistreatment of women: she believes that women ought to allowed to decide for themselves about their pregnancies. But to these pro-lifers, and I wish I was joking, women are no more than cows.

Indeed, in a later thread on the same blog, a pro-lifer Mikestruth was insistently arguing a Dolcett-like belief that being vegetarian and being pro-choice was somehow “inconsistent”: as if believing women have the right to choose was somehow inconsistent with not eating meat. (Dolcett, if you didn’t know and I often wish I didn’t, is the eroticisation of cannibalism – specifically, men consuming women as meat. Sorry: my tolerance for human perversity lapses at that point, as it has firmly lapsed with Mikestruth’s belief that women are food animals and arguing for human rights for women is weird if you’re a vegetarian.)

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