Nearly three decades ago I knew a man who used to amuse me and many of his other friends by saying he hated to see two men shopping together. There was something about it, he said, that made his flesh crawl. His feelings surprised us, because he was gay himself, and on the whole openly, though never happily so. He never formed a relationship with another man, and so never shopped at a supermarket with another man as a couple, and, sadly, he eventually drank himself to death at the age of only 50. What he hated in the same-sex shoppers, of course, was himself.


When I heard, just a few hours after the terrible killings in Orlando, that, according to his father, the killer had been incandescently angry when he’d seen two men kissing in a restaurant, I thought of my friend. Cold disapproval is one thing, but that the kissing of two men should have such an intense emotional impact on Omar Mateen suggests something much more complex than intellectually held religious or moral beliefs.

President Obama was careful to talk of the crime in the early hours as a crime of hate and of terror. Donald Trump, of course, was quick to talk of ‘Radical Islam’. It may well turn out that Omar Mateen knew something about Islam and had been attracted by radical sites intent on fomenting hate and inciting violence, but it seems Mateen didn’t know his Shia terrorist from his Sunni terrorist, and was unaware that they were as intent on killing each other as on killing unbelievers and gays in the USA. My guess is that he was looking for justification for what he was already intent on doing.

And now we hear that Omar Mateen might have been a regular at the gay club, and was often seen on gay dating Apps. Who amongst us can imagine that this was simply ‘research’? It seems entirely possible to me that what he was really fighting was the homosexuality in himself, and that he loathed what he craved and what he couldn’t allow himself to be. If there was a ‘Radical Islamic’ element to all this, it would only be that Islam in most (all?) interpretations is intolerant of homosexuality. Certainly, the Afghan culture from which he came (and this is true of Christian cultures of the Middle East too) would have been intolerant of it.

I saw a gay Muslim and a kindly imam, both British, talking about the issue on BBC News this morning. They arrived at no common understanding of what the Koran says on the issue (there are a few brave gay Muslims who claim that the Koran rails against lust but not against love) but the imam refrained from personal insult (indeed, he was respectful) and, like the Pope, said, ‘Who am I to judge?’. In his view, it is a matter for Allah not for man (or woman). But one thing the gay Muslim said sounded very plausible to me. The Orlando killer, he said, felt that the only way he could ‘purify’ himself in the eyes of Islamic society and of Allah,  and gain respect (albeit in the eyes of ISIS and other despicable groups) was by killing and being killed.

It is often said that suicide bombers in the Middle East are most easily recruited from the ranks of lonely, self-loathing gay men who can ‘purify’ themselves in their own eyes, their families’ eyes and Allah’s eyes through what they do – and end their own misery. Who knows if this is true, but I find some psychological plausibility in the idea.

So, yes, it may have something to do with Islam, but the terrible events of Saturday night were probably primarily a hate crime, a crime of hatred stemming from the hatred of the killer for himself. Sadly, it was all too easy for this angry, hateful man to obtain weapons of mass destruction and to use them.


The Rise of Unreason

Many of us have been lucky enough to live our lives in an age and geographical region where reason has dominated human affairs. Since the end of the Second World War life in Europe has become more prosperous, democratic and tolerant (and yes, the EU has helped to make it so). Minorities of many kinds, whether defined by race, ethnicity, religion or sexual identity have felt increasingly free and safe. And they have seemed ever less threatening to the majority, too, to the extent, for example, that same-sex marriage is seen by most as a strengthening, rather than a weakening, of the institution of marriage and a multi-ethnic society has come to seem culturally vibrant, flexible, creative and resilient.

There have, of course, been appalling lapses into hatred and violence on the margins of Europe, such as in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, but most of us take it for granted that reasonableness and peace will prevail, and that the checks and balances of democracy will prevent unreason and its allies, ignorance and stupidity, from ever wielding power.

But even in prosperous, tolerant societies there will be unbalanced people, who for fathomable, or unfathomable, pathological, reasons, are intent on harming others. There will always be hate crime (and sex crime and greed crime), and those who hate can usually find an ideological or religious justification for what they do (and encouragement from faraway places now that the internet allows ideologists and religious extremists to reach across the world).

Saturday night’s appalling crime in Orlando was probably a hate crime rather than terrorism (though the distinction is largely irrelevant). The facts that so-called Islamic State applauded its ‘fighter’, and that Omar Mateen claimed allegiance to so-called Islamic State in a 911 call, are surely matters of opportunism on the one hand, and an attempt at self-justification on the other. But who knows? In due course we may learn more about how he came to hate the gay community, or we may never come to understand what made him kill. Sometimes explanation fails.

But what is mind-boggling is that a man as unstable as he was could obtain appallingly dangerous weapons so easily. Without an assault rifle he might never have set out to massacre so many, or he might have killed far fewer. Violent unreason will never be eliminated from society, but that it can arm itself so easily is astonishing. Tinkering with controls, even staffing gun shops with psychologists, will never work. The right to bear arms should be annulled.

But the unreason I fear even more is the unreason that has political power – for example, the unreason, demonstrated graphically over the last twenty-four hours, of Trump and the National Rifle Association.



Consider the claim (repeated yesterday) that if more people armed themselves then crimes such as this one in Orlando would happen less frequently. The NRA says that the US needs more guns in people’s hands, not fewer. This is surely insane. Do they imagine that gay men and women should step out for a night at a club armed with handguns or assault rifles, that they’d wear them on the dance floor, ready to crouch and fire if threatened by a lone looney with another gun? Perhaps they imagine a world of trained, responsible, capable, trigger-ready citizens, all at ease with guns. The reality would surely be a world of incompetent, intoxicated, untrained, trigger-happy, nervous/aggressive citizens often ill at ease with their weapons and daily shootouts or accidents. The slaughter would be terrible. I would rather see guns only in the hands of a small minority of highly trained, responsible, police officers. Keep them away from citizens.

And consider Trump’s claim that Omar Mateen is the product of Radical Islam. This is unlikely. Radical Islam was probably a late, convenient justification for hate, rather than its underlying cause (did he perhaps hate the homosexuality in himself?). And Trump’s self-congratulation (‘I told you so.’) was utterly disgusting. Contrast that with Hillary Clinton’s message of sympathy.

It is the unreason of the NRA and men like Trump that I fear the most. Whatever the circumstances, such as inequality, or political alienation, that have made unreason appealing to so many over the last few years, perhaps even electable, they must be addressed urgently. Hate, fed by poverty and humiliation, became appealing in the 1930s. It must be marginalised now.





Georgia – Land of Family Values

How brave and admirable it is that Georgians are this week celebrating traditional family values, by hosting the World Congress of Families, whilst in the decadent, faithless, Western world many of the rest of us are marking May 17th as the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

But after all, as all Georgians know, Georgia is the paradise that God almost kept for himself. The story goes that at the Creation the Georgians were too busy doling out hospitality, and being generally nice to other people (though probably not to members of the LGBT community), and they failed to pay attention to what God was doing with the land he’d created, and got left behind by all the other nations in the land grab. They petitioned the Almighty and so moved was he by Georgia’s commitment to family values, that he ended up giving them the special bit of land that he’d been keeping for Himself.

How appropriate then, that in this utopia same-sex marriage, abortion, gender transformation, gay adoption and so on, should be reviled. Though it must pain true-believers to say so, God must have been inattentive himself when he mistakenly created the LGBT community. Perhaps he was too busy listening to the Georgians’ excuses. But hats off to the Georgian Orthodox Church for resisting science, tolerance, and plain common sense ever since. Georgia is God’s land, and there is no place in it for sin. No gangsters, no drug addicts, no child-molesters, no murderers, no LGBT men or women. Well, no TRUE Georgians who are any of those awful things.

How lovely the world can be!

family values

Actually, Georgia must tread a difficult path. How it would loathe to be lumped together with that other bastion of plain old-fashioned gay-bashing, its arch-adversary, Russia. No, no, Georgia has found the middle way. It has retained the virtues of the prehistoric East whilst rejecting the vices of the secular West. And look how happy they are.

As Chairman Levan Vasasdze puts it in his Welcome Address to this year’s World Congress of Families in Tbilisi, ‘Georgia has to be very careful to walk the fine line between modernization and a spineless behaviour and lethal absorption into the family destructive pseudo-culture that is overwhelming Europe as we speak.’

How sad it is that family values have eluded definition. I well remember how former Tory Prime Minister John Major was derided for his ‘family values’ campaign, especially when he was forced to admit he was cheating on his wife with a Cabinet colleague. And look around you at your family and your friends’ families. I’d bet a Lari or two that they’re all entirely normal, straight, good, Godly, faithful, generous, peaceful and properly bigoted and  intolerant when the good Lord requires it. Where are the neurotics, the gays, the confused? I do not see them in Georgia.

How terribly wrong Philip Larkin was when he wrote:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
  They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
  And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
  By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
  And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
  It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
  And don’t have any kids yourself

Such ‘spineless’ cynical nonsense. If only Larkin had listened to the Georgian Orthodox Church, he’d have known that none of this is true. Not in Georgia, anyway. All we LGBT folks have to do is to pray more and we’d be normal.


Acceptable, Respectable or Prejudiced

Last Friday, somewhere five miles above Afghanistan,  I began a blog about prejudice (Race, Culture, Nationality, Religion and Citizenship – Tiptoeing Across a Minefield). I’d been annoyed by the fuss surrounding Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone’s remarks about Israel, which were widely branded as ‘anti-Semitic’.  I disagree with the view that Naz Shah’s remarks were anti-Semitic, even if I strongly disagree with her (now withdrawn) suggestion that Israel should be relocated to the United States. I therefore agree with Ken Livingstone that her remarks were not anti-Semitic, even if they did imply criticism of Israeli policy, and even of the United Nations’ vote in 1948 to establish othe state of Israel. To criticise Israel is not necessarily to be anti-Semitic. It is important to establish this.

The controversy inspired me to think about prejudice in general and about the nature of argument. Broadly, I think, there are two kinds of view. There are views for which ‘respectable’ arguments can be made, where disagreement as to the facts of a matter, differences as to interpretation and sometimes even differences as to principle can be discussed rationally, even if opposing parties might finally agree to differ. And then there are views that are beyond the pale of civilised argument, views founded on prejudice that are not amenable to rational discussion, where no facts, interpretations or principles could ever be persuasive.


In general, a good test of a ‘respectable’ view is to ask whether there are any imaginable circumstances that might cause one to change one’s view. This is what determines whether a scientific theory is properly scientific. If a theory cannot be falsified  by observation then it isn’t scientific. (Thus Relativity replaced Newtonian theory.)

But, of course, science is one thing and politics and ethics are another. Facts are generally amenable to discussion, interpretations are to some extent, but principles are often  not. Especially if your principles are based on ‘divine’ text then argument will usually reach a roadblock.

My own view is that arguments based on ‘divine text’ are not ‘respectable’. Arguments based on ‘universally’ agreed concepts of human rights, however, are. To that extent my views on the demarcation between ‘respectable’ views and ‘prejudiced’ views is also ideological. I subscribe to a secular, scientific view of the world and I will never believe that ‘God says so’ could ever be an acceptable principle.

I set myself a challenge. I made a list of statements, almost all of them ones I disagree with, and asked which of these might be classified as ‘respectable’, and therefore amenable to rational debate, and which might be classified as ‘prejudiced’. And if ‘prejudiced’ what type of prejudice?

Now that I have to decide, I find it rather difficult!

For a start, I must  take a flexible view on vague generalisations. For example, if I say ‘Germans have no sense of humour’ I don’t mean that no German could ever understand a joke, but rather that ‘by and large’ no German could, and I probably mean ‘sense of humour, as I understand humour’.

‘Respectable’ (but often false, in my view)

  1. Asians take education more seriously than Europeans (possibly demonstrable?)
  2. Christians are guiltily obsessed with sex (a view I share)
  3. Germans have no sense of humour (probably wrong)
  4. Italians make the best lovers (unlikely, but amenable to experiment)
  5. The Kurds should not be given their own homeland (amenable to discussion)
  6. Israel should never have been created where it is located today (amenable to discussion, but for the record, I disagree)
  7. The Jews take education very seriously (possibly demonstrable?)
  8. Hitler for a time supported Zionism. It was an aspect of his anti-Semitism. (A lot depends on how you view the word ‘support’, but this is discussable, and has recently been discussed).
  9. Zionism is racist to the extent that it favours Jewish immigration to Israel (this is amenable to discussion, and this would centre around what ‘racism’ is)
  10. Israel’s policy of settlement in the West Bank is wrong and in breach of international law (amenable to discussion)
  11. There aren’t enough actors and actresses of colour nominated for the Oscars
  12. Gay couples shouldn’t be allowed to adopt (I disagree, and no evidence supports this view, but I believe the view can be ‘respectably’ discussed)
  13. African Americans commit more crime than white Americans in proportion to their population (I do not know if this is true, but assuming we could agree on a definition of ‘crime’ I can imagine facts that would support or undermine this view).
  14. European civilisation is in decline (a vague statement but a starting point for highly academic discussion)


  1. Muslims should be treated with suspicion (religious intolerance)
  2. Arabs are lazy (racist)
  3. Americans are stupid, blinkered imperialists (nationalist)
  4. The French don’t wash (nationalist)
  5. Americans are arrogant (nationalist)
  6. Gays shouldn’t be allowed near children (homophobic)
  7. Women drive cars less well than men (sexist)
  8. Gays should be flung to their deaths from tall buildings (theologically based homophobia)
  9. There’s a gay mafia in the film industry (homophobic because what would establish the truth of this?)
  10. Gypsies (the Roma people of Central and Eastern Europe, for example) should never be trusted (racist)
  11. Gays have no place in the military (rejection of the ‘established’ evidence that being gay makes no difference would suggest underlying homophobia but I am less certain of this classification)
  12. Asians are less inventive than Europeans and Americans (racist)
  13. Women shouldn’t drive cars (sexist – I listed this twice!)
  14. There is only one true faith and it is Roman Catholicism (religious prejudice)
  15. Black people are less intelligent than white people (racist)
  16. Mexicans are rapists (nationalist)
  17. African Americans are more criminally inclined than white Americans (racist)
  18. Immigrants are spongers (nationalist)
  19. The Swiss have never invented anything more interesting than the cuckoo clock (nationalist)


Well, I am not certain of these classifications. Opinions please – but, NOT on whether you disagree or agree with a view, but rather on whether you think I have classified a view correctly as ‘respectable’ (in my sense of ‘amenable to rational discussion’) or ‘prejudiced’.

Pride and Prejudice

Yesterday, in City of London, I attended The Economist’s first event on the subject of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Diversity and Inclusion – Pride and Prejudice – an event held over nearly 24 hours on a rolling schedule in Hong Kong, London and New York.


The Economist has been campaigning consistently for economic and personal freedom for two hundred years, and this event was held to promote discussion of the economic case for inclusion (pride), and the economic costs of exclusion (prejudice).

The event was hosted in London by Zanny Minto-Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of The Economist, and attended by representatives of the LGBT community and their allies. Speakers, on site or via video link, included:

  • The Mayor of London
  • The Chief Executive of Arsenal Football Club
  • The President of the World Bank Group
  • The Director of the CIA
  • Lord Browne (former Chairman of BP)
  • Sir Martin Sorrell (CEO of WPP)
  • Activists, HR specialists, economists, and interested spectators

Some of them are members, and some of them are allies of, the LGBP community. Who knows which, or cares?

Debate covered:

  • How to calculate the additional cost to an individual of being LGBT
  • How to calculate the cost to an economy of prejudice and exclusion of the LGBT community
  • How global businesses and Governments can foster inclusion in LGBT-hostile countries

Vivienne Ming, Founder and Executive Chair at Socos, presented her company’s fascinating research into the ‘tax’ imposed by society on membership of the LGBT community, the additional lifetime cost to an LGBT individual of compensating for prejudice. These are costs arising from the harder work, better schools, and higher qualifications LGBT individuals need in order to achieve the same success as their non-LGBT peers. I didn’t entirely understand how this research was done, but it involved comparing data on hundreds of thousands of people trawled from the internet.

  • The additional lifetime cost of being a gay man in the UK is around 35,000 GBP.
  • The additional lifetime cost of being a lesbian woman in Hong Kong or Singapore is around 700,000 GBP (this cost reflects gender discrimination as well as LGBT discrimination)

This is what it costs to achieve the same as a straight man or woman. It’s largely wasted cost.

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group, spoke of research the World Bank will sponsor into the economic cost of prejudice, costs arising from the exclusion of talent from the economy, of emigration and of the utterly wasteful enforcement of legal prohibitions. He explained the controversial position he adopted on loans to Uganda, which, he argued, placed LGBT people in danger if Uganda’s discriminatory laws were to be passed and enforced.

Is it any wonder, everyone asked, one after another, that countries and cultures that habitually exclude the LGBT community are less innovative, and usually poorer. Three million jobs created in Silicon Valley might have been created in the conservative mid-Western states of the USA if young and talented LGBT people had felt equally comfortable in their home states. And is it any wonder that cities with thriving LGBT communities, such as San Francisco, London, Berlin, and New York, have the highest number of start-ups in the world?

Is it any wonder that Moscow, Singapore and Jeddah don’t incubate novelty and that talent emigrates?

There was interesting and lively discussion, indeed considerable disagreement, on how business and Government should encourage change. Should they refuse to participate, and absent themselves from this or that country or event, or should they demonstrate inclusion by example and through participation? Should they advocate quietly, or campaign publicly?

Of course, the answer is that it depends on the circumstances. Sir Martin Sorrell noted that the adoption of public adversarial positions doesn’t work in China, and activists suggested that global campaigners should take the advice of those who are locally oppressed. Others emphasised the importance of role-models, others cautioned business and Government against making things worse by being too vocal.

But everyone agreed that the rise of populist leaders and extremist ideology, including buffoons such as Donal Trump, as well as the contraction of civil society in the emerging world, are a threat to progress on LGBT inclusion.

The LGBT community is everywhere, represented in all walks of life. From my perspective the greatest progress is not only that we can stand up and make our case but also that when we do so, we look just like everyone else.

Thanks to The Economist for joining the campaign. I look forward to the next event.