Revised Histories of Love and War

Compliant disobedience and remembered forgettings.

By Arvind Iyer, 20th June, 2014

The past: a new and uncertain world. A world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate: each choice, each moment – a moment in the ripple of time. Enough ripple, and you change the tide… for the future is never truly set. -Charles Xavier, X-Men:Days of Future Past

Ma-Lo is an amateur short film in Malayalam released in 2012, and was well-received in the film festival circuit in the state of Kerala, widely considered one of the more socially progressive states in India. The film has for its setting the rapidly urbanizing and ambivalently modernizing contemporary Indian mindscape where sexual mores are in flux, forcing a reconsideration of default notions of commitment, fidelity and personal autonomy. The short-film, though admittedly not intended as an activist intervention, lends itself to a wider discussion of the autonomy of individuals and societies in lifestyle choices and policy-making. This discussion considers both the unexploited scope of such autonomy (which postmodernist critiques help bring to light), and also of some objective constraints on such autonomy (which no postmodernist reformulation can wish away). Here, archetypal ‘breakups’ and ‘regime changes’ are treated as illustrations respectively of the individual and collective exercise of human autonomy when faced with an ‘irrevocable past’. The presentation will be in a lounging format that has become popularly associated with the Slovenian cultural critic and translator Slavoj Žižek switching nonchalantly between ‘cultural theory’ and ‘geopolitical commentary’. Much of the article hereonward references the short-film, that can be viewed below.

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Human rights law and the cultural barriers in Islamic states

An overview of the Islamic state’s capacity to adopt the current human rights norms – the author holds that the globalization of human rights remains ineffective in transcending cultural barriers. Only when the philosophical ideology is translated into different cultures, as opposed to a more positivist approach, can the gap between globalized human rights and different nations be further mitigated. 

By Shafeea Riza, 8th February 2014

In an increasingly globalising world, where international human rights law plays a dominating role in global politics, one cannot help but wonder whether globalisation of human rights law effectively translates into the domestic realms of the receiving state. I ask this question in relation to Islamic states. Islamic states have responded to the international human rights law norms in different ways. Despite the “universal” aspect of these human rights, and its somewhat adoption by Islamic states, what transpires foremost is the tension between these rights and Islamic traditions.[1] Although there is general consensus of the international human rights law among Islamic states, insistence on holding on to Islamic values appear to be pre-dominant.[2] Such an observation begs the question asked at the beginning of this paper: whether globalisation of human rights truly transcends cultural barriers?

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Fear and Loathing in the Magic Valley of Malana, India’s Cannabis Country

Satellite mapping by the authorities forces India’s famous cannabis growers deeper into the bush. 

By Shweta Desai, 10th January 2014 (Republished with permission) 

Deep in India’s Himalayas, in the remote and isolated Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh, is the quiet village of Malana. When autumn arrives each year, Malana is enveloped in what was once a hopeful air brought on by the new harvest, as lanky cannabis trees bloom wild in panoramic fields and against scattered houses. Farmers and villagers begin cultivating in late September, rubbing the buds of fully bloomed plants between their palms to extract the brown hashish resin known mystically as Malana’s crème. Today this time of year carries with it the dark pall of police interference.

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The Irony of Empire: Why the Diamond Jubilee is the Triumph of Britain without Empire

In this article, Alastair Stewart looks at the role of Queen Elizabeth II and the place of Britain in the modern world.  As many have looked to the decline in ‘red’ regions of map as the simple narrative for defining the trajectory of Britain, it can be argued that recent resurgence of the royalty has enabled it to construct a soft power empire.  Where can real influence be found today, in the distrusted pageantry of politics or in the hysterical reactions to an overt display of grandeur?

By Alastair Stewart, 8th June, 2012

Of all the transformations to have taken place during her sixty-year reign, none can be more apparent to Queen Elizabeth II than the transformation of Britain’s role in the world. But is the story of decline, and fall, of the British Empire as unassuming as it seems?

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Vogue Italia’s ‘Rebranding Africa’ Disaster

In this article Elliot Ross of Africa is a Country dissects the ‘Rebranding Africa’ edition of Vogue Italia.  The author attacks the concept of outside intervention as a defining characteristic of Africa before dealing with some of the more troubling assumptions made by the magazine.  It is a fantastic read.

This article was originally published on June 6th, 2012 on the website Africa is a Country.

By Elliot Ross, 8th June, 2012

Everybody’s trying to rebrand Africa, and it isn’t going so well. Vogue Italia’s latest issue — boosted by great billowing gusts of editorial hot air from both the New York Times and the Guardian — is called “Rebranding Africa”, and as you’d expect the whole thing is an embarrassing and insulting shambles. The images are okay, but otherwise it feels like something a middle-schooler cobbled together for a class project. And then got a “D” for it.

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The Unhappiness Factory of Kashmir

In an April 2012 issue of Open Magazine, the editor Manu Joseph wrote a provocatively titled essay, “Sorry, Kashmir is Happy”. Unsurprisingly, this article became the subject of heated discussion. In this InPEC article, the author – Sualeh Keen, a Kashmiri writer, poet and cultural critic – brings some perspective to this issue.  

By Sualeh Keen, 7th May 2012

Trauma in Kashmir is like a heritage building—the elite fight to preserve it. ‘Don’t forget,’ is their predominant message, ‘Don’t forget to be traumatised.’ They want the wound of Kashmir to endure because the wound is what indicts India for the many atrocities of its military. This might be a long period of calm, but if the wound vanishes, where is the justice? India simply gets away with all those rapes, murders and disappearances? So nothing disgusts them more than these words: ‘Normalcy returns to Kashmir’; ‘Peace returns to the Valley’; ‘Kashmiris want to move on’.

When Manu Joseph wrote these words in the Open Magazine article ‘Sorry, Kashmir Is Happy’, it was but expected that ‘they’ would get disgusted and outraged. ‘They’ are the intellectual writers and online activists that constitute the second generation of Kashmiri Muslim separatists, the first generation being the Pakistan-trained mujahideen who fought with AK-47s, grenades, rockets, and bombs against ‘Hindu India’ in search of Azadi (literally, ‘freedom’). While originally Azadi meant the valley’s accession to Pakistan, after the Pakistan-sponsored armed uprising in the early 90’s failed and with the onset of internal turmoil in Pakistan, the meaning of Azadi has shifted from accession to Pakistan to independence from both India and Pakistan. This demand is largely confined to the Kashmiri Muslim community of the Kashmir valley, while finding little or no support in the Jammu and Ladakh regions of the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) State. Even in the valley, opinions are divided in favour of independence, accession to Pakistan, greater autonomy or self-rule within the Indian union, and political status quo.

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Marriage Equality: What’s the Big Deal?

In this article, the author looks at how marriage equality has become one of the most popularized social issues du jour in American national politics. By examining racial attitudes and the Obama administration’s evolving stance on the matter, LGBT activists are brimming with hope that a reelection of Obama could pave the way for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage on a federal level by 2016. 

By Matthias Pauwels, 31st March, 2012

‘They’re losing California. Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go.’ 

If film director Gus Van Sant ever decides to follow up on his critically acclaimed Harvey Milk biopic with a Proposition 8 film adaption, ‘Losing California’ by Canadian rock band Sloan could easily wind up on the film’s soundtrack, voicing the bitter and biggest defeat gay activists in California have faced since Milk’s unabashed activism of the 1970’s.

The United States has always liked to boast its much vaunted liberalism on social issues, but when Californians cast their ballot vote in favor of a state-wide constitutional ban on gay marriage in November 2008, it not only marked the end of same-sex unions in the Golden State, but also of the most expensive social-issue ballot in American national history. A triumph for social conservatism, Proposition 8 had crushed the LGBT community’s hopes that California would become one of the vanguards for the legalization of same-sex marriage across the nation, and turned liberal America into an emotional wasteland. To many, the actual passing of Proposition 8 defied all logic, especially in the context of  California’s rich history as a historical trailblazer in the fight for gay rights. And even though New York  fared a better deal with the passing of the Marriage Equality Act in a tight majority vote in 2011, it was a legislative tour de force fuelled only by a favorable power momentum in the New York Senate amongst Democrats and Republicans.

From a concept cradled by John Locke to the dominant political force in the Western hemisphere today, liberalism has triumphantly survived two world wars and major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. For several centuries now, a strong focus on human rights has been one of the paramount liberal tenets. But for gay men and women everywhere, the harsh reality of liberalism’s shadow side often revealed that human rights did not encompass gay rights, a perception which was publicly invalidated only last December by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at International Human Rights Day in Geneva. The gay community has come a long way since New York’s Stonewall riots in the late 1960s or Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 but  nonetheless the 21st century was ushered in without absolute gender equality.


‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, a controversial military policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from military service was only recently repealed under the Obama administration, setting the official end date of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for September 20, 2011. Furthermore, the sodomy law in Texas, classifying consensual, adult homosexuality as illegal sodomy, was only struck down in 2003 in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court case.

For the past five years, the intensifying debate over same-sex marriage has become the new social issue du jour, marking a clear and distinct cleavage between religious traditionalism and progressivism.  Widening the gap between social conservatives and liberals, the issue of marriage equality echoes the growing pains of gender equality in the 21st century. Its global legislative struggle fully testifies to the fact that it is still a deeply divisive and emotional issue on both sides of the fence. From the majestic Golden Gate Bridge to the Big Apple, the United States has been a perpetual arena of conflict and contention on the issue of marriage equality. The religiousness of America’s social conservatives and their moral objections have more than once provided a filibuster on the matter, but what the Rick Santorums or Kirk Camerons of this world fail to see is that gay people’s longings to be wedded is fundamentally conservative, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes. Once denounced as sexual libertines who brazenly flouted society’s norms, the fundamental message of the LGBT community is that marriage is an institution worth aspiring and fighting for. In a time where more than half of births to American women under 30 happen outside marriage and the divorce rate estimate of first marriages flirts with the 50% mark, the LGBT community is surprisingly pleading for a return to conservatism – only to be told by many, including political leaders, that that’s not O.K. either. So is the only possible takeaway for gay couples then to remain outliers forevermore, unworthy of the experiences and affirmations accorded others?

Not recognized on a federal level due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [1], same-sex marriages are state-bound with marriage rights granted in Massachussets, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Iowa, plus Washington D.C. and Oregon’s Coquille Indian tribe. Earlier this year, Maryland approved a draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Maryland vote came one day after Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, adding to national momentum for gay nuptials across the States.

But why do some states succeed in legalizing gay marriage where others, such as New Jersey, have failed? In the end, does it all depend on a favorable Democrat vs. Republican power momentum in the State Senate? There are two main elements that are instrumental in gaining state-wide support for a gay marriage bill. Firstly, any bill  – especially those which touch upon the social fibres of society – trigger a period of lobbying to build support for the respective piece of legislation, which can be a long and tedious process. On the issue of same-sex marriage, New York saw its judicial system stymied by a political cat-and-mouse game between the Assembly and the Senate that eventually dragged on for seven years. Each time, a draft bill was approved in the Assembly but shot down consecutively in the New York State Senate. As Senators came and went and a long process of shadow diplomacy unfolded, it was eventually the adding of a discrimination clause for religious institutions, allowing them the freedom to refrain from performing same-sex marriages, that provided the much-needed swing vote in favor of the Marriage Equality Act. A similar clause was paramount to the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland and has also been added to a draft marriage bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives in February.

Across the pond, the United Kingdom faces the exact same challenge. The UK government has launched a 12-week consultation in support of a process that would legalize same-sex marriage by 2015 for England and Wales. And while Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said that the state should rejoice in people’s desire to marry, senior church figures, as well as a number of conservative MP’s, were getting in gear to oppose the measure. Here the inclusion of a discrimination act, regarding protection against discrimination lawsuits for ‘benevolent organisations or religious groups refusing to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnisation or celebration of marriage’ could appease members of the Church of England, giving the Cameron administration an incentive to unequivocally approve on the measure.

Gay people have a dream too: the racial minority vote on legalizing same-sex marriage

Another interesting factor relating to the perception of gay marriage is how the racial factor will play out. In the aftermath of the narrowly approved Proposition 8 in California and in the search for answers, it did not take long before another well-publicized story made national headlines, pointing the finger at a rather surprising culprit for swinging the ballot in favor of Proposition 8: California’s racial minorities. Exit polling indicated that roughly 70% of blacks had cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 8, together with 53% of Latino Californians, 49% of Asians, and 51% from those of other racial or ethnic identity.  The American media quickly dubbed this the ‘Obama effect’, since the 2008 presidential election happened to coincide with its Californian state counterpart, causing racial minorities to cast their votes in large numbers. These figures quickly sparked the debate that Latino and black Californians had backed the proposed same-sex marriage ban at rates higher than whites, aiding to provide the margin of victory. These results were disappointing to many gay rights activists who had hoped that the election of Barack Obama to the White House would usher in a new era of advances on gay rights, but gave cheer to Proposition 8 proponents who believed that the issue of same-sex marriage had been revealed to be a potent issue dividing liberal Californians on the basis of race and ethnicity. In California, the evangelical community was well aware of the black community’s sensitive stance on gay rights, and chose to target Californian African Americans in a manner they saw fit. Just days before the general election on the 4th November 2008, the ‘ – Yes on 8’ campaign targeted African Americans in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area with rather misleading mailers featuring Obama and several African American pastors, suggesting that Obama heavily favored a ban on same-sex marriage. Efforts to target the black and Latino community were primarily channeled via a clerical framework, and since both ethnic communities traditionally strongly identify themselves with Christian movements, the stakes were high for Evangelicals in reeling the Latino and black communities in to join their crusade against same-sex marriage.

Religion is a powerful tool that has been shown to structure attitudes across an array of issues, and it is particularly relevant to the discourse-framing dynamic investigated here, given the importance of gay issues to religious communities and churches. While Latino and African American communities tend to embrace traditionalism on matters of morality and are highly religious, they usually affect ballot voting in different ways, with strongly Latino districts traditionally enhancing support for gay issues, and strongly African American districts depressing support for them. However, this theory can easily be undermined. In the case of Proposition 8, registered Latino voters clearly did not support the concept of same-sex marriage as gay activists would have hoped.  Gay marriage has recently become legal in Maryland, but a draft bill on the issue died in the Maryland House of Representatives last year following strong opposition from several African-American lawmakers. In fact, race has proven to be a sharply divisive factor on the issue of same-sex marriage in Maryland. Maryland Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature, are sharply divided by race. A Washington Post poll published in January showed that among whites in Maryland, 71% back same-sex unions, while only 41% of blacks support it. Button, Rienzo, and Wald’s research [2] indicate that while African Americans tend to support the notion of equality opportunities for homosexuals, they tend to be less supportive of civil rights advancements or protections, which in the case of Propostion 8 could explain the alleged high number of African American proponents. Moreover, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released in March 2012 showed support for marriage equality amongst African Americans at 50% – which may prove that there still is a great deal of division amongst the black community on the issue.

But is the ethnic community really to blame for America’s sluggish and capricious advancements on gay marriage? Not really. A number of important characteristics that shape Americans’ view on many important political issues – including party identification, ideology, and religiosity – have simultaneously played strong and pivotal roles in determining the choices of individual votes. Research has shown that a thorough analysis of the structure of black, Latino and white attitudes on same-sex marriage finds that after accounting for differences among demographics, partisanship, and core values, interracial group differences in opinion on the issue are unsubstantial.

In California, all Latino, black and Asian registered voters were still a minority compared to its Caucasian counterpart. Even if all Latino, black and Asian registered voters had voted against the ballot initiative, Proposition 8 still would have passed due to the high number of Caucasian voters eligible to vote, and their high support for the same-sex marriage ban.

Earlier this week, confidential memos were made public in a courtroom in Maine, revealing the National Organizaton for Marriage’s attempt to drive a wedge between the LGBT and ethnic communities during its winning campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the US state of Maine. The documents detail the anti-gay organization’s active interest in fanning the hostility between the LGBT and the black and Latino communities in an attempt to stymie any advancement of gay civil rights in Maine. For anti-gay lobbying groups, the stakes remain high in targeting ethnic communities to endorse the crusade against same-sex marriage. But with the tides of time turning and support for same-sex marriage reaching an all-time high, how long will a conservative approach on the issue hold out?

The Obama administration and marriage equality

So where is marriage equality to go from here in the United States? As gay activists nationwide count their wins and losses, the only certainty they seem to have is that any advancement on LGBT rights is highly dependent on who is in the White House.

During his 2008 presidential election campaign, Obama took what many on both sides of the gay marriage debate viewed as a straddle. While publicly denouncing the California ballot proposition measure, he also communicated his opposition to same-sex marriage, leaving gay activists puzzled by his unwillingness to endorse gay marriage. And although Obama criticized the divisive and discrimatory nature of Proposition 8, the abstruseness of his argument was reflected in how he squared his position for overall equality with his refusal to embrace actual equality in marriage.

Once elected, Obama has upped the ante in conveying his equality message. Although having never publicly endorsed same-sex marriage, the Obama administration has been adamant towards communicating its progressive stance on equality in a post-Proposition 8 era. By repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, endorsing initiatives such as the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, offering hope and support for LGBT youth who are struggling with being bullied, and hosting a high-profile LGBT event at the White House in 2011, the President of the United States has made no secret of his firm belief in equality for all. And for those willing to read between the lines, Obama’s opposition to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, indicates that his full endorsement of civil unions with federal benefits for all is similar to his understanding of the institution of marriage, although his Christian beliefs do not allow him to communicate this. Praising New York in 2011 on the legalization of same-sex marriage while tiptoeing around a public endorsement of the issue testifies to the aforementioned.

If anyone has taken the least equivocal stance on gay marriage, it has to be First Lady Michelle Obama. In March, while campaigning for her husband’s second term in the Oval Office, Michelle Obama reminded people twice that it is the president who makes appointments to the US Supreme Court and that those appointments could impact gay marriage.

Asked about the First Lady’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later issued the following statement: ‘the president and first lady firmly believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal protections and the ability to thrive just like any family does. The first lady has said she is proud of his accomplishments, including the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ensuring hospital visitation rights and calling for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and obviously our actions attached. Our decision not to defend DOMA is well known.’

Having famously remained neutral on the same-sex marriage issue throughout his first term, Obama has communicated he is ‘evolving’ on the issue. But what does evolving really entail? Is that just a clever word politicans throw around not to take a stance? An unexptected surge in support to place same-sex marriage on the Democratic Party platform at the August 2012 convention has energized LGBT advocates and complicated an already delicate situation facing Obama’s reelection campaign. Gay activists are brimming with hope that any evolvement which will affect their civil rights further on a federal level will happen in his second term in office. Obama has done reasonably well during his first term in office on gay rights, and a reelection could give him the political green card to further push for equality and possible tackle the Defense of Marriage Act.


The issue of LGBT rights and marriage equality has already proven to be an important factor in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, and it will be incredibly interesting to see how this social issue will play out in an Obama vs. Romney showdown.

[1] The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted 21st September 1996, is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton on 21st September, 1996..

[2] Button, J.; Rienzo, B.; Wald, K., 1997. Sexual Orientation and Education Politics. Gay and Lesbian Representation in American Schools. In: APSA (American Political Science Association), 1999 Annual Meeting.

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Homophobia: the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries and the Evangelical Connection

GOP Candidates

In this article, the author looks at the evangelical presence in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries and how the issue of gender equality has resurfaced in the civil rights debate.


By Matthias Pauwels, 9 Jan, 2012

With the United States Republican Party presidential primaries in full swing, the issue of marriage equality has regained considerable momentum over the past weeks in American national politics. In early December, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas – until Rick Perry decided to deck the halls with rabid homophobia rather than holly. In a bizarre ad, Perry equated the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell[1]” to a blatant attack on people of faith. Michele Bachman, perhaps one of the most extreme and contested anti-gay candidates in the GOP presidential contest, has an impressive anti-gay track record, including likening being gay to being a “part of Satan”.  However, Bachman has suspended her campaign following a poor result in the Iowa caucus of January 3rd, 2012.

When the Iowa votes were in on that first Tuesday of 2012, Mitt Romney won the caucuses after publicly promising to support an amendment to the United States constitution barring same-sex couples from marriage. But perhaps the one to watch on the marriage equality front is Rick Santorum, who came in a close second to Romney and continues to court the support of extremist organizations and has strong ties to many anti-gay groups. Santorum has a long track record of trying to score political points by bashing the LGBT community. In Iowa, his anti-gay stance almost led him to victory. In New Hampshire however, Santorum’s anti-gay rhetoric got an icy reception as he got booed off stage after comparing marriage equality to polygamy.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum

Santorum and the Anti-Gay Lobbyist Force

Religious Right activists are positively giddy over the new momentum behind Rick Santorum’s candidacy for presidency, praising his appeal to women and evangelical centers on a desire for authenticity. In many ways, the conflict over marriage equality and gay rights represents what is arguably one of the dominant cultural cleavages of the post-material era in the United States. The specific battle over gay marriage represents a cultural cleavage between religious traditionalism on the one hand and progressivism on the other. In a similar fashion to the highly contested Proposition 8[2] vote in California and the legislative battle of the Marriage Equality Act[3] in New York, the evangelical movement was quick to jump on the anti-gay bandwagon in the presidential primaries. But Rick Santorum isn’t just close to traditional Religious Right organizations and activists: the former Pennsylvania senator even has ties to the most fringe parts of the movement. Santorum, for example, is a heavy supporter of Ron Luce’s cult-like group “Teen Mania”, which focuses on challenging a youth-culture that, in Luce’s words, promotes homosexuality. Luce’s organization Teen Mania, which hosts teen-oriented prayer rallies, was recently featured in the MSNBC documentary Mind Over Mania, where former interns described Teen Mania’s cult-like practices, such as faith healings and enduring verbal abuse and extreme sleep deprivation.

Last month Santorum attended the Presidential Pro-Life Forum hosted by Personhood USA, accompanied by fellow Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich. As a radical anti-choice activist group, Personhood USA’s ultimate goal is to ban abortion and even common forms of birth control without exception. Earlier the group launched unsuccessful referenda in Colorado and Mississippi on the matter, characterizing President Obama as “the Angel of Death” and likening opponents of the proposed abortion ban to Nazis.

But perhaps there are three other organizations whose connection to Santorum is more worrisome, especially on the LGBT-front. For the Presidential Pro-Life Forum, Santorum was in close contact with Lou Engle’s The Call, also a host of the forum. In 2009, Engle used his The Call prayer rally to bolster Ugandan legislation that would criminalize and in some cases give the death penalty for homosexuals. The other organization is the highly evangelical Oak Initiative, a project of South Carolina pastor Rick Joyner. Joyner has previously argued that hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the advancement of gay rights. And last but certainly not least, there is Focus on the Family, a non-profit group that, despite its warm and fuzzy name, is in tenor and in practice an anti-gay hate group. Focus on the Family is a recurrent factor in the evangelical ability to create powerful networks and was instrumental in gearing up to endorse Proposition 8 in California. Santorum has been a regular guest on Focus on the Family radio broadcasts, engaging in topics such as gay marriage and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, stating that injecting social policies into the military weakens its morale and that there is no place for “any type of sexual activity in the military”. Additionally, Santorum has found support in the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family’s political lobbying arm.

Santorum’s sentiments on homosexuality have often contradicted his own statements. He has spoken ardently in favor of personal freedoms, opposing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill[4] in 2002 on the grounds that it was an “affront to personal freedom and liberty.” But at the same time, Santorum argues that states do have a right to “limit individuals’ wants and passions” – striking an eerie resemblance to his comparison of marriage equality to polygamy and the need to curtail “any type of sexual activity” in the military and reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Evangelicals and Politics: Hit or Miss?

Santorum’s views didn’t affect him negatively in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up a large part of the Republican electorate. The religious groups voted heavily in his favor and helped propel him to top status just days before the Iowa caucus. But the story is different in New Hampshire, a state where gay marriage is legal and which boasts a much more moderate set of Republicans. So while Santorum’s views on traditional marriage and the sanctity of life might serve him well with certain constituencies, he is also alienating and bashing an entire community of his fellow Americans. Santorum’s views could be problematic for him in less conservative states – hence the icy reception he got in New Hampshire, which is next on the list in the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries.

Santorum is likely to receive a more friendly welcome in South Carolina, but nationally, his views could come back to haunt him. But Santorum is no fool – enter the PR machine. One of his former aides who is openly gay recently jumped to Santorum’s defense, saying the former senator is not homophobic but simply opposes gay marriage.

It remains to be seen, however, whether or not an intricate set of evangelical lobbying networks can create a favorable power momentum for either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney when focusing on social issues such as marriage equality. In Lobbying Against Progressivism: The Evangelical Power of Mobilization Against LBGT Rights in the United States I have previously argued that it is highly debatable whether the approval of Proposition 8 in California was exclusively enmeshed in evangelical lobbyist efforts. The legislative struggle for gender-neutral marriage in both California and New York testifies to the fact that it is still a deeply divisive and emotional issue on both sides of the fence. California’s highly contested approval of a ban on gender-neutral marriage and New York’s legislation of marriage equality – taken into account its long legislative struggle – still echo the growing pains of equality. For many Christian Right groups, opposition to gay rights has been a major agenda item for the past 30 years and in many ways, it has been their rallying cry.

But does having the support of American Evangelicals as a grassroots movement create any real political power, or is any outspoken religious affiliation more of an obstacle rather than an asset in the Republican presidential primaries? Many political observers in the Republican camp have been adamant on de-emphasizing Mitt Romney’s Mormon conviction as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For many Republicans, Romney is an appealing candidate with compassionate conservative allure. Moreover, we would all like to believe that a politician’s religious affiliation is not an obstacle to higher office. Americans have indeed become more religiously tolerant, but Romney – as the first Mormon to run for President – will clearly have to change some minds. In the late 1960s, the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jewish or Catholic presidential candidate was in the double digits; by 1999, those numbers had fallen to 6 and 4 percent, respectively. Compare that to the 17 percent of Americans who currently say they would have qualms electing a Mormon to the White House. That number has not changed one bit since 1967, the year that Romney’s father considered a presidential run.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

In the end, it remains to be seen how both Romney and Santorum will wield their newly gained status as the Republican answer to Obama, and whether or not Santorum is looking to further intensify his relationship with evangelical movements.

[1] “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a controversial military policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from military service. It was only recently, under the Obama administration, that a congressional bill to repeal the aformentioned military policy was enacted, setting the official end date of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for September 20, 2011.

[2] Proposition 8, also known under its ballot title “Eliminates Rights of Same Sex Couples to Marry: Initiative Constitutional Amendment” was a 2008 ballot proposition and constitutional amendment which added a new provision to the California Constitution. This initiative measure, additionally cited as the California Marriage Protection Act, aimed to add section 7.5 to the California Constitution, stating that “only marriage between a man and women is valid or recognized in California.” The ballot proposition passed in the California state elections on November 4, 2008 but was later overturned by a federal judge on grounds of unconstitutionality.

[3] The Marriage Equality Act was a senatorial bill in the state of New York legalizing same-sex marriage. The law took effect on July 24, 2011.

[4] The McCain-Feingold Bill was a bill which was introduced to the United States Senate in 2002 in an attempt to reform campaign financing in the United States.

The Lighthouse in the Desert

By Jack Hamilton, 9 Oct, 2011

Folklore spills across time creating and undoing history as it ebbs. Whole identities can be constructed and deconstructed in these stories but it is rare in these ages that entire maps can be reimagined due to a single small tree. The old addage “so geographers in Afric maps, with savage pictures fill their gaps” has long since faded but this is a story about one such ‘gap’, the one piece of life within it and the price of life that goes with it.

The Sahara Desert is awash with a sandstorm of whispers and this particular spec is the lonely Tree of Ténéré. It is a story which entails trust amidst gossip as well as the dangers of blind trust in a terrain in which one can see for miles. Upon first hearing the story I didn’t believe that such a tree could ever have existed. In recent weeks a terrorist cell linked to al-Qaeda was undone by their belief that the tree still existed. However, I must start by describing the story of the tree.

There was once a solitary tree standing in the centre of the Sahara Desert. Between the Baobabs of Senegal and the Olive Trees of Tunisia remained one sole survivor of a bygone era. Millenia ago the tree had been part of a great forest which had gradually died off as the Sahara became the inhospitable mother she is today. One tree remained to guide all those who dared to traverse the barren lands. It was a beacon: the lighthouse in the desert.

The nomads of the desert alone knew of this tree and used it as a tracking mechanism when traversing the most desolate depths of enduring beige. When these Tuareg would encounter the Fulani in north east Mali they would recount their tracks in order to let the Fulani know of their passage, including the waypoint of the tree in the middle of the desert. Having listened politely to the detailed directions the Fulani would thank the Tuareg and see them on their way providing that no disagreements had been reached.

At this stage the Fulani would all agree never to follow the route of the Tuareg. These men had seemingly been driven dangerously insane by the desert. Of course, there is no chance for a tree to exist in such a place. There are no trees for hundreds of miles in the Sahel (the shoreline of the desert), let alone the Sahara. If this route had a proclivity for perverting the minds of the fearsome Tuareg, it was no place for men.

This story circulated until the times when modern technology made it possible for mere mortals to take the route. Safe inside the machinery that would be used to fight the Second World War, Europeans were able to cross the desert here in hopes of cutting off a rival. It was at this time that they too believed themselves to have gone insane too as in the horizon the withered spectre of an acacia tree loomed. They had not been in the desert long enough to have reached the Libyan coast and had not crossed the Italian lines that would have inevitably preceded the water. It could not be Algeria as there had been no sign of the southern Air mountains. The story was true. They had discovered the Tree of Ténéré. The most isolated life on Earth.

It is here that a part of the mystery ends. Confused and in search of the truth the Europeans (a French division) decided to dig underneath the tree and discovered a well 35 metres down. While the fairytale of the tree was slightly depleted the beacon took on a new significance as not only being the only life but suddenly becoming a redeemer of life in the harsh conditions of the Sahara. The tree was not a mirage but the literal symbol of water in the desert.

However, as with all of these stories of the desert, it ends in tragedy. In the 1970s a Libyan truck driver somehow careered into the tree, allegedly drunk. Upon hearing this part of the story I was always interested to hear how the driver could explain this to his boss. He had somehow managed to hit the only tree in a 400km radius.

The reason I was reminded of this story was due to reading intelligence reports from the security forces tracking al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (the Saharan branch of the terrorist organisation). One of the Algerian trackers claimed that they had an intimate knowledge of the desert and in the pursuit they had passed the Tree of Ténéré. Today in the place of the tree stands a simple metal sculpture representing the optimism of the tree. Unfortunately the tracker described in great detail the tree as it looked before the 1970s, exactly the description that was recounted to me. It was clear that the ‘trackers’ did not know the desert and had possibly never crossed into Niger where the tree used to stand. They were found out immediately.

The idea of the Tree of Ténéré had always seemed to me like one of the lies which whispers around the desert. It brought a smile to my face that the myth was actually the truth and it was this fact that unveiled the fiction.

Jack Hamilton can be followed on Twitter @jmhamilton