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Peter Jensen’s dangerous proposal

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Not every topic is worthy of debate. In fact some are downright dangerous.

On Mondays’ Q&A program, Anglican archbishop Peter Jensen repeatedly called for having a national discussion on the supposed lower life expectancy of homosexuals.

This issue already made headlines last week when the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL)’s Jim Wallace claimed homosexuality was a bigger health risk than smoking.

Whilst Jensen distanced himself from the inflammatory nature of Wallace’s comments, he agreed with the basic premise that homosexuality is itself dangerous. Jensen was careful to claim that his intention wasn’t to demonise gay people, but to start a much needed conversation.

Although he put forward his case in a seemingly polite and sincere manner, what Jensen is actually proposing has the potential to be extremely damaging to the LGBTI community.

The claims that gays have a lower life expectancy, which have been repeated ad nauseam by various anti-gay groups in the United States, stem from a 1997 Canadian study which found the life expectancy for gay and bi-sexual men in Vancouver was up to twenty years lower than other men.

However, as Crikey pointed out, the data for this study was collated at the height of the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s and early 1990s, well before effective treatments that significantly prolong the life of HIV positive patients. This means that the study’s conclusions are not a reliable signifier of the current life expectancy for gay and bisexual men.

This has been pointed by the study’s authors. So incensed were they at the way their research was twisted ‘to suggest that gay and bisexual men live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and to others’, that they released a statement way back in 2001 to set the record straight:

 The aim of our research was never to spread more homophobia…In our paper, we demonstrated that in a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men…if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved…As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.

The fact remains that gays are at a higher than average risk of suicide, but as was pointed out by the other Q&A panellists, this is almost universally considered to be a result of homophobia rather than any intrinsic aspect of being gay.

Jensen’s words are dangerous because they are attempting to start a debate where none actually exists. Publically announcing that homosexuality is inherently destructive when there is no scientific basis for such a claim places an already marginalised community at even greater risk of discrimination.

It is also an excellent way to try and shut down the gay marriage debate. How can gay marriage be acceptable when simply being gay is likely to kill you?

Stirring up these sorts of non-debates is a favoured tactic of groups who oppose what the scientific community already accepts.

Climate change, for instance, is accepted by 97% of scientists as a real phenomenon caused, at least partly, by human activities. And yet, despite this scientific consensus, climate change sceptics continue to inflame the ‘debate’ by insisting the science is ‘still out.’

Almost invariably, when the issue is discussed, what we actually see is not scientists debating but lay sceptics refuting the science, many of whom stand to personally profit by delaying the implementation of climate change policies.

If we are still arguing about whether climate change is even real, then we don’t actually have to do anything about it.

The same goes for evolution. It is commonly accepted by scientists that there is more evidence establishing the theory of evolution than that of gravity. Gravity.  And yet, religious commentators  in the US insist it is ‘only a theory’. By completely misrepresenting the concept of scientific theories, they decry the teaching of evolution in schools and insist on children being exposed to the ‘other side’, i.e. creationism, as if the two were equally legitimate. Consequently, many American children grow up thinking that religious mythology has scientific credibility and is a viable alternative to evolution. .

For the record, in the United States (the country which has a higher degree of belief in creationism than any other), a 1991 Gallup poll found that out of 480, 000 scientists working in life and earth sciences, only 700 were creationists. That’s just .015%.

Likewise, Jim Wallace’s inflammatory words and Peter Jensen’s softly spoken reiteration could spell a dangerous new era in the homophobic agenda to deny gays marriage and civil rights. Their attempts to stir up debate when none actually exists is a smokescreen designed to cast further negativity on homosexuality and derail that community’s ongoing fight to end discrimination against them.

Don’t be too taken in by Peter Jensen’s politeness. He may speak softly, but he wields a mighty big stick.

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Written by Ruby

September 14, 2012 at 7:02 am

The three myths of Israel

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There are three attributes for which Israel is frequently praised. First, that it is the Middle East’s only democracy. Second, that it is a nation built up from nothing to miraculously become one of the world’s most advanced nations, and third, that as a tiny, solitary state it punches far above its weight in its never-ending battle for survival.

Problem is, none of these are entirely true. Not that anyone who had watched last Monday’s (August 21) episode of Q&A would be any the wiser, when all three of these mythological praises of Israel were sung by two of the panel’s guests.What’s worse, with the possible exception of the first, none of these assertions were challenged by the other members of the panel. This is indicative of the wider mainstream media’s consistent failure to provide accurate contextual information vital to a true understanding of this most acrimonious of conflicts.

Visiting American conservative blogger, Daniel Pipes, was the first panellist to sing Israel’s democratic praises, claiming the Jewish State provided a strong role model for the Arab Spring. Here he was briefly challenged by author Hanifa Deen, who, despite calling Pipe’s viewpoint a fantasy, wasn’t able to go into any detail as to how Israel fails in its claim to be a true liberal democracy. Deen could have pointed out the segregation that, amongst other things, deems certain roads for “Jews only” and forbids the Palestinian spouses of Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship.Then there is the fact that unlike actual liberal democracies, Israel does not even have a constitution.

Whilst Israel’s democratic status is arguable, it is the other two myths are perhaps the most damaging and long-running. As part of my master’s degree I recently researched how the Israel-Palestine conflict was reported in the US media. There have been many such studies before mine, and they continuously turn up the same results: that the media exhibits a strong, pro-Israel bias.

According to media researchers from the famed Glasgow Media Group (GMG),  the media plays a key role in extending the conflict by not providing two crucial historical facts. The first takes us back to Israel’s formation in 1948. Far from being built from ‘nothing’ as former liberal Senator Nick Minchin claimed on Q&A, Israel was founded on land that had been continually occupied for many hundreds of years by indigenous Arabs. Tens of thousands of these occupants were displaced, some forced from their homes, others fleeing the impending violence, but all taking their keys with them. Many of these displaced families still hold onto these keys, desperately clinging to the hope they will make their way home again. The keys, which have come to symbolise the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees, even get passed down from generation to generation.

The GMG reports that this information; that the Palestinian refugees exist, and that the United Nations has consistently upheld their Right of Return by the United Nations for 63 years, is largely missing from the common media narrative. Without this vital piece of information, it is not surprising that media audiences believe it when commentators such as Minchin insist that Israel appeared, as if by magic.

The second factor missing from the media’s narrative of the conflict is the reality of Israel’s military occupation. On Q&A, Pipes and Minchin sought to blame “the Palestinians” for all the violence in Israel/Palestine. To do to so they drew on the common narrative that Israel is locked in an existential battle for its very survival, and as such, its actions are purely retaliatory.

This too is a myth. Both Pipes and Minchin, conveniently overlooked the fact that Israel continues to occupy, in a manner deemed illegal by international law, the West Bank of the Jordan River and East Jerusalem, territory it first captured in 1967. The West Bank also happens to be where so many of the original refugees had fled to in 1948. Furthermore, Israel continues to build and expand residential settlements in these territories, again in defiance of international law. Not only does Israel divert water to these settlements, it also confiscates Palestinian farms to allow for this expansion, with some Palestinian farmers suffering the humiliation of working as farmhands on land that has been in their family for generations. The Jewish settlements are linked to each other and to Israel proper by an intricate system of roads forbidden to Palestinians who are literally cut off from one another, further diminishing the hopes of a continuous Palestinian state.

Without this information the public accepts the so-called “Washington Consensus” that is forwarded by the media: that both sides are to blame in their own way (Palestinians by being aggressive, Israel through disproportionate response); that the US is not a direct party to the conflict; and that it is up to both sides to reach a solution.This approach has merit only if one fails to consider the billions of dollars in aid the US supplies Israel and the diplomatic cover it provides in the UN. Israel is in absolutely no danger of being “wiped off the map”. It has nuclear weapons (the only Middle Eastern country to do so), the fourth strongest military in the world, and the unrelenting support of the world’s only superpower.  If anything, it is the Palestinians hope for a homeland that is being scrubbed away.

These three persistent myths, all of which were presented on Q&A, ignore the basic motivations of the conflict’s participants: Palestinians seek to overthrow Israel’s 44-year military occupation, whilst Israel aims to maintain it. The media’s failure to highlight this simple fact is clearly to Israel’s favour and the Palestinians detriment, as Israel has far more to gain from continuing the conflict and the Palestinians from ending it.

Written by Ruby

August 30, 2011 at 4:28 am