Sex is a taboo across the world, and was until very recently a significant taboo in the UK. The 1960s and the Summer of Love began to change peoples’ perceptions of sex and sexuality, but our Victorian, prudish sensibility still holds out in some places today. Despite the atmosphere of the heady love-laden days of the 60s, sex was off the mainstream agenda until the end of the second wave of feminism in the 1980s, and even then, it was a radical conversation topic.
But, like cheese hedgehogs and aspic, most people now seem happy to leave sexual taboos in the 1970s, where they belong. Older people are embracing sexuality outside of traditional institutions like marriage, statistics show, with a 2011 study exhibiting the lowest numbers ever of over 85s who believe sex outside of marriage to be ‘living in sin.’
The departure from sexual taboos in the UK is partly to do with increasing secularism. Modern taboos about sex are associated with religion in places,such as the Philippines, Nigeria, and Egypt. Regardless of which religion we are talking about, it seems that wherever faith is strong, sex outside of structures like heterosexual marriage is considered wrong.
Sexual encounters between young couples must be kept under wraps in the Middle East, and you have to be particularly clandestine if you are homosexual. A rise in the number of ‘temporary marriages,’ which are not state-sanctioned and can last for short periods of time, attests to changing attitudes and a desire for more sexual freedom.
Sexual frustration as a result of continued suppression of men and womens’ sexuality leads to aggression – an Egyptian journalist, Ali al-Gundi, was arrested and threatened with a beating for having an unopened condom in his pocket when driving home with his girlfriend late at night. Alongside trends of modernisation and/or Westernisation in the Middle East, there are also trends of conservatism.
Many women are opting to cover themselves more fully in public, sometimes in response to increasingly overtly sexualised Western trends and imports, further exacerbating the cultural divide between men and women. Gundi says “oppression brings out perversion in people,” alluding to men’s fear of the “feelings women provoke” in the absence of acceptable interaction. It may be true that all this sexual tension leads to violence – many young men cannot afford to get married, after all, and it is often young male police officers that will arrest couples for suspected sexual activity.
Homosexuality is even more taboo than sex alone in many countries. In the Philippines, gay men have to posit themselves as camp caricatures, acting up to stereotypes in order to be accepted in society. Their sexuality itself, however, is not discussed; to contemplate the idea of gay sex is anathema in such a Catholic country, where only six months ago a bill proposing sex education and reproductive health awareness was shouted down by the church. It is something that tears many religious homosexuals apart – it can be hard to reconcile one’s faith with one’s sexuality in cultures where religion is very traditional and conservative, whether it’s Christianity, Islam or anything else. The issue is especially poignant with the opening of the Sochi Winter Olympics on Friday and amidst a sustained campaign to highlight the homophobia of the Putin administration, as featured in last week’s edition.
Religion and sexuality are not mutually exclusive – indeed, even conservative clerics accept the notion of pleasurable sex within marriage, and there have always been periods of relative religious liberalism – it is all up to interpretation. Perhaps the progressive trends shown in recent years – the legalisation of gay marriage, increased debate about the rights of women over their bodies, abortion and sexual abuse, will continue to shape our perceptions of the ultimate taboo, in the UK and across the world.
My feature article from last edition of Concrete Global. Even more pressing given the start of the games is tomorrow.
Russian politics has recently been increasingly splashed across UK media. There are a host of reasons why Russian politics are relevant to us here, not least because Russia represents a significant global power in our corner of the world. Vladimir Putin, the president who has faced significant resistance at home and abroad, is infamous for his virulent homophobia, corruption and surgical attitude towards opposition activists. Themes emerge from recent events, mainly rooted in the traditional, conservative agenda that is pushed by both the state and the Orthodox Church.
It is apparent that those who challenge the values of the state, church and Russian ‘society’ are repressed and detained. Things have come to a head with the catalyst of the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics, which has triggered an outward shift in government PR from the image of ‘Vlad the Impaler’ to something marginally more softened. This change of heart, which has granted the “selective amnesty” of high-profile political prisoners such as Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot, as well as members of the ‘Arctic 30’ Greenpeace team, has no doubt been spurred by Putin’s desire that the Winter Olympics must go ahead without further hitch. It is already a scheme that has run afoul; the Sochi games are the most expensive ever, at $50bn, and Putin has been forced to defend himself and his government against allegations of systemic corruption in construction of the facilities.
Pussy Riot were two years ago convicted of hooliganism and inciting religious hatred for performing an anti-Putin song (‘Punk Prayer’) in Christ the Saviour church in Moscow. Two members, Maria Alyokhina and Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were released on the 23 December (the other, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was released earlier in 2012) in an act of what seemed to some like storybook Christmas absolution, but which was called a “disgusting and cynical act” by Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, disparaging the blatantly politicised move made by the government. She added that “selective amnesty was not an act of humanism. It was only aimed at reducing tensions with the West. It happened because Putin is afraid that the Olympic Games in Sochi will be boycotted.” They say their time in prison has made them stronger, and Alyokhina spoke dismissively of the president: “we didn’t ask for any pardon. I would have sat here until the end of my sentence because I don’t need mercy from Putin”. The two recently released singers attended court hearings of other political prisoners arrested at riots in 2012 over Putin’s third inauguration, in what they called a “gesture of solidarity with people who have been in pre-trial detention for over a year although they are innocent”.
Political motivation was again evident in the release of 30 environmentalists. The release of the Pussy Riot protesters was in timely conjunction with the release of the ‘Arctic 30’ Greenpeace activists who were detained without bail for their part in protesting against Russia’s Arctic oil drilling operations. Both groups faced trumped-up charges aimed at instilling fear in them, and in other potential dissenters; were incarcerated in degrading conditions (in the case of the Pussy Riot members, in Siberian work camps disturbingly close to Stalinist gulags); and denied basic rights. Their release is designed to look merciful on the part of the Russian government, to negate their despicable treatment of their citizens, particularly those who do not conform to their conservative societal values. This is perhaps most apparent in their behaviour towards LGBT+ groups in and out of the country.
Regardless of their position on political dissidents, what seems to trouble the Russian government most is homosexuality, which they consider to be an assault on their values and ideology. It is obvious that the Russian government cannot handle opposition, neither to their political ideology, nor their theology, nor particularly to their ‘traditional’ values. The incredibly homophobic ‘anti-gay propaganda’ law, as it has been called, came into force amidst much protest, in June 2013, making it illegal for individuals or organisations to ‘promote’ homosexuality, or “non-traditional sexual relations”. Bizarrely, it also equates homosexuality with paedophilia, a repugnant sentiment further compounded by Putin’s recent comments that homosexuals are welcome at the Winter Olympics, but that they should “leave children alone, please”.
There has been significant concern internationally that LGBT+ people are likely to face discrimination, violence and arrest at the games, with many leading figures, including ex-athletes and well-known figures calling for their boycott. Despite Russian remonstrations about how Putin is “not prejudiced” and how much the citizenry love gay performers like Elton John, the Canadian Foreign Minister rightly “remains concerned” about the regressive propaganda law, and is afraid that LGBT+ athletes and tourists might be targeted.
This concern is well founded, given that only recently a gay man, Pavel Lebedev, was arrested at the Olympic Torch relay for doing nothing more than unfurling a rainbow flag. Unjust arrests such as this are part of a continued media campaign against LGBT+ people that seeks to demonise, criminalise and alienate people that break the rigid standards of ‘normality’. Sadly it is working; many people have been beaten and attacked at gay pride rallies and demonstrations against new legislation, victims of institutionalised homophobia.
Igor Kochetkov, the head of LGBT network, spoke about how the government was pushing people that don not prescribe to their conservative agenda and ideology to the margins of society: “They are making enemies of us – not just LGBT society, but any group in society that doesn’t agree with their politics.”
‘Kissing rallies’ were held outside Russian embassies across the world, demonstrating the sheer scale of international disgust at such regressive policies. Large-scale boycotts of Russian vodka were encouraged amongst the gay community in 2013, and high-profile figures like Stephen Fry have advocated a total boycott of the winter Olympics. Amongst the sporting community, however, there has been considerable debate about this. Many gay athletes feel that boycotting is pointlessly damaging to athletes who have trained tirelessly to compete, while the real focus should be on the host city being unfit, and having discriminatory laws. Outside the sporting world, more people seem to advocate a boycott; Alyokhina of Pussy Riot is calling for “a boycott for honesty”, which she says is “because the current measures are totally insufficient”. Barack Obama has refused to boycott the games, suggesting that he does “not think it’s appropriate”, though America is not sending any highly ranking officials, and none of his nor Joe Bidens’ family members will be attending, in a clear, yet unofficial, statement of disapproval.
In addition to the threat to LGBT+ people at the games, terrorist threats made against athletes of various countries have further called their safety into question. Germany, Hungary, Britain and Italy have all received threats to their Olympic Committees. Although they have been dismissed as “not credible”, the level of security has been stepped up, particularly in the aftermath of suicide bombings in December.
The insanity and homophobia seems to be infectious; in the UK, UKIP councillor David Silvester was quoted to have said that the extensive flooding seen at the end of December was due to David Cameron’s legalisation of gay marriage, which he considered acting “arrogantly against the gospel”. His highly controversial views, which also link the holocaust with abortion laws, have resulted in his suspension from UKIP, in a last-ditch attempt for the party to rescue its deflating image. While Vladimir Putin and David Silvester may believe that gay people are suffering from a “spiritual disease”, most people will recognise that they are at the very least incredibly misguided. Even Nigel Farage, who is rarely known for his moderation or liberalism, has suspended Silvester in an attempt to exorcise “extremist, nasty or barmy views” from UKIP.
At UEA there will be a series of events to celebrate LGBT+ history month, beginning on 31 January with an opening ceremony reminiscent of the Olympics in the Hive at 8pm. Talks and lectures will be happening throughout February, including one from veteran activist Peter Tatchell on 25 January, and no doubt the conversation will continue as the games creep ever closer, at UEA and across the country.
The potential for renewable electrification has been largely overlooked in urban slums. This project therefore aims to evaluate the extent to which new infrastructure could supply a target of 75% of electricity demand from renewable sources by 2030 in Payatas, a slum in the Philippines. Primary meteorological and survey data is used to supplement secondary data to estimate demand in 2030 at 11MW, and to calculate the possible contribution to supply of four renewable electricity sources; wind, solar, hydroelectric and landfill biogas generation. A total 12.66±4.91MW could be generated with three renewable technologies: wind energy is an unviable option in Payatas due to low wind speeds, and therefore does not contribute to this figure. Landfill biogas could generate base-load of 0.99±0.06MW, for which the infrastructure is already in place. Distributed solar photovoltaic generation could meet peak demand, supplying 2.59±0.41MW of electricity at the point-of-use, alongside a run-of-river micro-hydroelectric scheme, the potential output of which is the most significant of all technologies analysed, at 9.08±4.89MW. Whether or not 75% of electricity demand (8.3MW) can be supplied renewably in 2030 depends largely on hydroelectric output, which is highly uncertain, and to which the model developed is most sensitive. The significant uncertainty of the study therefore limits its conclusions. Many factors beyond the scope of this study are also influential, thus further research into economic, political, and technical aspects of this study is recommended.
Development; climate change; energy security; renewable electricity generation; Philippines
Another article under one of my many pseudonyms. http://www.concrete-online.co.uk/global
It would be difficult to find anyone who doesn’t know that Nelson Mandela died at the beginning of December, particularly with the timely (or not?) release of the biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.
Most people are probably also sick of hearing about it – or at least the sycophantic brand of news the established media has been pushing. Although he was of course an admirable figurehead, their doe-eyed representation of Madiba merely serves to reinforce the status quo of capitalist monopoly in South Africa, and across the world. It is apparent even in the way politicians clamoured to praise Mandela and his work, despite in some cases having previously opposed him, in some cases vehemently. David Cameron, who was quick to jump on the ‘we-heart-Mandela’ bandwagon, was in his student days part of a Conservative organisation that campaigned to have Mandela hanged.
Of course Nelson Mandela was a great man – an icon of freedom and justice in an unjust system. Mandela achieved a great many things, bringing issues of state oppression to the fore and contributing significantly to the fall of Apartheid; a horrific, immoral and corrupt system of segregation. He led the movement that facilitated vast improvements for many black South Africans, and greatly changed conditions in the country. However, he stirred controversy in his later years, and many people felt his years in prison left him disconnected from the struggle. More important, though, is the dismissal of the reasons Mandela began to condone violent tactics. The rose-tinted portrayal of Madiba as a “pacifist” is akin to the South African (and other) government’s labelling of him as a “terrorist” in the 1970s and 1980s. Both strategies seek to de-radicalise and neutralise his political acts, and to strip them of their political worth. For the same reasons, no-one outside of the political left ever mentions his socialism – despite the obvious effect his political ideology had on him. By omitting this key fact, and by discrediting Mandela by linguistically taking the teeth out of his activism, the true reasons why he and the ANC were forced to use violent means are masked.
Mandela was famously “not a violent man”, but condoned acts of violence against property in protest against the structural violence (institutionalised oppression and suppression, subjugation and dismissal of citizens by the state, which keeps people in poverty) committed against poor, black South Africans, which amounted to outright class warfare. The state was responsible for acts of physical violence against opposition activists, and against ordinary people who were often unarmed, such as in Sharpville in 1960. Years of imperialism had left a rich, white elite who feared losing their privileged lifestyles, and therefore sought to reinforce the status quo with disgusting, discriminatory and repressive policies.
Apartheid was not just about race; it was about class too. Poor black people in places like Soweto wanted their fair share of the country’s burgeoning wealth. They were angry and the ANC gave them a voice. State oppression, and both physical and structural violence escalated as the elites grew more and more afraid, and the ANC recognised that fear. Violence became the way people expressed their rage at decades and centuries of subjugation.
The ANC’s Freedom Charter, which advocated “national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group — the African people”, was declared an illegal Communist document in the 1950s, and the organisation was forced underground in 1961. Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) was formed when the ANC was banned, promising to “hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom”. Differently to the state, MK activists never killed civilians, targeting instead key government buildings in acts of sabotage, whilst also engaging in acts of peaceful civil disobedience. Although the ANC began as a revolutionary organisation, with democratic power it has become less radical and more pro-Capitalist, so much so that current President Jacob Zuma was booed at Mandela’s memorial service.
It has been frequently said that the ANC did not address key problems; nationalist rhetoric changed things superficially, uniting people around a flag while failing to tackle some of the root causes of inequality. The ‘Black Economic Empowerment’ (BEE) program reinforced capitalistic inequity by putting a few black figureheads, like millionaire Kenny Kunene, in charge of private companies, while allowing the majority of poor South Africans to remain in poverty. It is apparent that vast inequality and class warfare still exists today: in the privatisation of key resources like water and the country’s substantial mineral wealth; high poverty and unemployment rates; one of the world’s highest incidences of rape and low female literacy rates; and events like the Marikana massacre that happened just six months ago. Miners striking in Marikana were engaging in peaceful means of resistance against low wages and poor conditions, but were met with the worst violence since Sharpville: many workers were shot in the back, 44 people were killed, and many more were injured.
It is clear that the revolution is far from complete. Mandela, along with a great number of other activists, may have contributed to the downfall of Apartheid, but the rise of the ANC in government has not created real change for poor people. What Madiba achieved was incredible, but we cannot forget how much there is left to change; across the world as well as in South Africa. We should not be fooled by the media and politicians telling us that the fight is over, because that is what they want you to believe – it is not. La Lucha Sigue.
This was prompted by an invitation to speak at an event debating the relative merits of voting, or not, inspired by the Russell Brand/Paxo interview. It’s rough, but mostly encapsulates what I’m thinking about the whole thing at the moment.
Voting is one of the most fundamental civil rights we have in society – it is supposedly one of the most significant methods of expressing our opinion as citizens, and exercising our power. However, election turnouts are dwindling, perhaps showing the widespread mistrust of politicians and apathy in the electorate, which begs the question; is it worth voting at all?
In my mind, we have one of 3 options:
- Vote, and choose the best (or least bad) candidate for the job. Collude with the system, affirm it, and contribute only to change from within the system, and nothing to radical change.
- Don’t vote, and void any opinions or ideas you might have about party politics, because you did nothing to change the system itself.
- Spoil your ballot, register your disgust with the system as a whole, and state your determination to change things for the better, and create an alternative outside of party politics.
I will opt for the third option on every occasion, a hundred times over. I respect people who vote, and those who don’t, as long as they can provide reasoning. If you think candidate x will genuinely change things, I can think you’re misguided, but ultimately I will respect that opinion and the fact that you voted. If you are simply voting for someone that you hate because they are the least worst option, I might suggest you think about engaging in politics outside of the ‘legitimate democratic process’, i.e. get involved in union organising, or direct action, or some kind of political movement. Voting tactically makes sense locally – where I’m from in North London, the local Labour MP, Jeremy Corbyn, is a pretty radical bloke, and has achieved a lot of really cool things in the time he’s been elected (some 30 years). In that area, voting Labour makes sense locally, even if it may not make sense nationally – it depends on how you value the trade-offs between local and national politics.
If you don’t vote and don’t engage in politics on any level, I think that in short; you’re an idiot. You have no valid claims to make about politics and you certainly can’t complain about things if you have made zero effort to change things at all. It reminds me of an advertising campaign run during the early noughties elections. If you think everything is absolutely perfect as-is, fair enough, but I doubt you will find a soul who changes their mind about perfection as quickly as the government changes colours. People who engage in politics outside of the party-political pseudo-democratic sphere I can understand – I know a lot of people from the London Left (Dirty Commies and Filthy Reds), who I am most familiar with, having grown up there – opt for this. This is the point of contention for me, and something I have an internal dilemma about. If you actively try to remove the corrupt system that is in place (AKA Smash the State/Crush Capitalism/etc.) and in its place create something better (Transition Towns/Co-operatives/Community Centres/etc.), yet choose not to vote, I can accept your utter rejection of the state in all its forms. It’s a bit purist, but I get it.
My justification for spoiling my ballot is that I am doing the best of both; pursuing a multi-pronged attack. I am a) registering my discontent/disconsolateness/disgust/repulsion (delete as appropriate) with the political system in its own terms whilst b) actively trying to remove it from outside and create a better alternative in its place. I respect those who don’t vote, yet strive to create something better outside of the framework of our so-called ‘democracy’. However, those who seek to cultivate the impression of being left field, living the ‘anarcho’ lifestyle, are just as bad as anyone else who doesn’t vote and doesn’t engage. Narcs who do pretty much nothing but go to demos to bait cops and drink special brew are just as bad as any tabloid-regurgitating square.
Ultimately the argument of ‘the suffragettes fought and died for your right to vote’ will come up – I think it is one’s own decision whether or not to exercise that right to vote, and that whatever you decide is valid, as long as you can justify the choice. Engaging with politics on any level, whether its student politics, attending national marches against unjust wars, listening to debates in Parliament, writing letters to MPs, chaining yourself to banks or being a keyboard warrior over the internet (as long as it’s reasoned) is all legitimate – and if you do something on any shade of the spectrum, you have a basis for not voting. It’s only if you refuse to engage in politics entirely – whether its with a big P or a little p – that you should be condemned.
Politics is relevant to everyone and everything, yet party politics is such a turn-off. It would help if people were more educated on the alternatives. Doing things and changing things for the better can be so exciting, and could change the way we do things as a society, if only we taught it in schools. I would still encourage people to choose option 3 because it challenges the status quo from within and without, but it only works if you are involved. That’s the crux of the matter – more people need to get engaged, get angry, and get involved.