Gay Muslim filmaker Parvez Sharma is my hero

I went to a UN side-event sponsored by UN Watch, affiliated with the American Jewish Committee. It is another Orwellian group that works to delegitimize the UN but says it does so because it cares deeply about human rights.  (I’ll have a lot to say later about the stunningly cynical ways superficial human rights language is being deliberately deployed by groups like UN Watch and The Israel Project to actually undermine and gut the human rights infrastructure.)

The panel featured truly extraordinary people like Esther Mujawayo who  survived genocide in Rwanda or Ahmad Batebi who endured repression in Iran. They all talked about the ways the UN failed them, since that is the agenda of UN Watch (do they know they are being used? It is hard to say- they are all wonderful and inspiring.) The icing on the cake, Canadian human rights lawyer, and strangely knee-jerk defender of bad Israeli behavior, Irwin Cotler, used soaring and inspiring language to praise the panelists, condemn racism, and verbally tear Ahmedinejad, and the UN for hosting him, to tiny little pieces.

(There is no mention of the UN’s obligation to allow any head of state who wants one a platform. Is this the same as an endorsement? It’s the UN, so clearly not. The UN includes everyone, from bullying empires to tinpot, wacked out dictators. They all get a say.)

The speakers insistently say that genocide starts with extreme racial discrimination institutionalized by the state. In Rwanda, they were forced to have ID cards with their ethnic identity etched on them. Sound familiar?

And yet, sitting in the room were exactly the Palestinians who could speak beautifully about systematic racial/ethnic discrimination in Israel-Palestine. Three young lawyers/legal researchers from Al Haq, the legal rights group based in the West Bank, are sitting quietly in the room. Yeah, I’m sleep deprived, but I feel the injustice of it all- they have been completely denied a way to speak at a side-event. They are experts on precisely the topic at hand, but they virtually have no voice at this conference. I start to cry, and rush over to Maysa’s side (she reminds me of a dear friend of mind, we could chat for hours) and ask her “how can you sit here and listen to this?”

“I am so angry inside,” she tells me. “I am staying here until the end and I will ask questions and that will make me feel better.” I am amazed at her composure. Worried for all of them. And then…..Parvez.

It’s Parvez’ turn. He made the film Jihad for Love about gay Muslims. He starts by saying that he objects to the one-sided panel, the attacks on Ahmadinejad and Islam (not that he defends Ahmadinejad). He is proud to be one of over 1 billion Muslims.

He objects to the conspicuous absence of talk about apartheid in Palestine, the killings in Gaza, the lack of another Muslim voice with a different perspective. You can see how emotional he is. Maysa claps wildly. I can’t believe it. Cutler answers with the old talking point, “Israel should be treated like any other state and should be held accountable, but it’s singled out.” Parvez responds some more. The UN Watch director somewhat disengenuously says, “We knew you disagreed with us and that’s why we asked you here, so what you said is what we expected.”

Parvez is clearly emotional and I want to find him and hug him and thank him. I want to cry again. What he did was brave. I turn to Maysa. She is beaming. “What he did released me,” she says. She takes a big breath. How we must speak with and for each other.

The event gets no mention on the UN Watch blog of the panel.

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