Thursday, August 8, 2013

Reading Signs of Times: Race-Baiting and Gay-Bashing in America, Ruthless Repression of LGBT Citizens in Russia

Some days, you wake up, begin reading the news, and it's as if an entire book--a gripping novel--is right in front of your eyes. Article segues into article, as if they've intentionally been linked to enhance narrative flow. And so today:

The first thing I read online is Tom Kludt's report in Talking Points Memo about the defacing of a statue of Jackie Robinson in Brooklyn. Yesterday, it was found painted with racist epithets, swastikas, and "Heil Hitler."

Then I move on in the TPM daily newsfeed and see Perry Stein's report about the ugly racial taunts protestors in Phoenix screamed Tuesday when the president spoke there: "47 percent Negro!"; "Bye, bye black sheep!"; "Impeach the half-white Muslim!" As Steve Benen points out at the Maddow Blog yesterday afternoon, the Phoenix events come right on the heels of a recent diatribe by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) accusing the president of race-mongering and dividing the nation over issues of race. A year ago, Kelly informed us that the president's insistence on covering contraception in the Affordable Care Act was like the attack on Pearl Harbor or 9/11.

Mike Kelly is a member of my church, a Catholic and graduate of the University of Notre Dame, which he attended on a football scholarship. His Congressional website notes that he has received Catholic Charities' Mary DeMucci award, which Catholic Charities awards annually to a person who has  "performed outstanding service to church and community."

After I've read TPM, I turn to the New York Times and spot the video by Allison Klayman I've uploaded at the head of the posting reminding us of the spate of attacks on gay couples in New York City this year. I encourage you to watch it, painful as it may be to do so.

I then move on to Jim Burroway's good report at Box Turtle Bulletin about the decision of President Obama to cancel his planned summit next week with Russian President Putin. Burroway notes that Mr. Obama appeared on the "Tonight Show" Monday evening, and told Jay Leno that he has no patience for the Russian government's decision to target gay citizens of the country.

Leno's comments about the Russian situation strike me as very important:

Something that shocked me about Russia and I’m surprised this is not a huge story. Suddenly, homosexuality is against the law. I mean, this seems like Germany. Let’s round up the Jews, let’s round up the gays, let’s round up the blacks… I mean, it starts with that: you round up people who you don’t like… I mean, why isn’t more of the world outraged at this?

Leno's observations here intersect with what Wayne Besen says in a powerful essay published by Truth Wins Out this week, which places what's happening in Russia in the context of a centuries-long tradition of persecuting the Jewish people in that nation. Besen argues that "what we are witnessing in Russia is a modern pogrom," and he maintains that the goal of the anti-gay measures the Russian government is taking is to impose "social death" on LGBT citizens of the country, to make openly gay Russians disappear through force and intimidation.

Then I read Huffington Post's top-billed story this morning about how Russia is systematically and ruthlessly muzzling journalists who attempt to report violations of human rights within the country as the Olympics approach. Huffington Post is citing a recent study released by Human Rights Watch, which has been following the situation in Russia for some time now.

As I say, some days I wake up, read the news, and it's as if I'm reading a single narrative of which each separate report is a facet. And some days lately, I read the news and have the distinct impression that I'm reading a report about a world on the verge of what the human community faced in the 1930s as Hitler came to power in Germany.

And I wonder if we're all sitting by watching with as little understanding of or concern about what's happening around us as many people had at that important historical turning point in the 20th century.

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