The basic human rights of people in Britain and abroad are threatened by an interpretation of multiculturalism that suggests cultural difference must be respected and that the idea of universal rights is an alien, western construct, the campaigner Peter Tatchell told a recent meeting in Kentish Town, north London.
He told the public meeting, organised by the Camden Green Party, that many officials and campaigning organisations in Britain were afraid to speak out against injustices, and even violence, for fear of being branded racist, imperialist or Islamophobic. “When they see certain injustices in minority communities, often they hesitate and sometimes remain totally silent. These are injustices they would never tolerate if being perpetrated by white people on white people, which makes their stance a form of ‘passive racism’.”
This left many vulnerable people — particularly women who were resisting repression by traditional values, gays and lesbians, indeed anyone who wanted to take a non-traditional choice — isolated, with nowhere to turn. “Within this wonderful city are people in certain minority communities who live in fear – some in fear from the far Right, some in fear of police and other state agencies, and some in fear of conservatives and traditionalists within their own communities.”
The co-founder of the Outrage! queer rights direct action group – best known for his attempts to arrest Robert Mugabe in Briain – reported on its campaign last year, with the Jamaican group J-Flag, to stop popular singers inciting violence against gays and lesbians through the lyrics of their songs. Support from the traditional leading human rights groups had not been forthcoming when it was needed, he said, and Outrage! had been forced to weather angry accusations of racism, despite the fact that it had the support of key Jamaican rights groups.
Mr Tatchell told the 50-strong meeting at the Crossroads Women’s Centre that the support that the Left had traditionally provided to international groups campaigning for democracy and human rights had dried up, for the same reason. Over decades British groups had stood with the Greek people against their junta, with the Chilean people against Pinochet, with the South African people against apartheid, but now there was little or no support for the democratic forces working against many repressive regimes – the victims of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, of the repressive regime in Iran, the democratic forces struggling against fundamentalist pressures in Iraq.
“More than ever now we need to stand up in defence of the principle of universal human rights. Everybody on this planet, whatever their cultural and religious tradition, reserves respect, dignity and rights – no ifs, no buts, no excuses. All members of the United Nations have signed up to these standards. They are not ‘Western’ standards. Every country and all people should be judged by the same standards.”
Asked what, in the face of such great issues and powers, could be done by individuals and small groups, Mr Tatchell replied: “What is really inspiring is that in places like Iran and Iraq there are vibrant, democratic left movements. We should be supporting them. Raise a bit of money to buy them a fax machine, or a printer – small things can help to support their struggle. And when regime goes beyond bounds we need to be there to signal our opposition, to show that people in this country care.”
The author of this article is a member of the Camden Green Party and a candidate in the forthcoming Camden council election.